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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Four new or recent releases reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Issue: "Cities of God and Man," March 27, 2010

American VI: Ain't No Grave

The release of a second album from the same sessions that yielded American V-even when the second album lasts only 32 minutes-makes one wonder just how much material Cash and his producer Rick Rubin socked away. One thing's certain: If whatever's left is as rich as American VI, no one will complain. Cash's decaying voice perfectly suits both the gentle, acoustic accompaniment and the somber, often biblical mixture of the well known and the obscure. Title of the sole Cash original: "1 Corinthians 15:55."

Need You Now

You can no more call this group deep than you can call it country. These songs sound like mid-'70s Fleetwood Mac if Linda Ronstadt and some Eagle had joined instead of Buckingham and Nicks-like above-average grist, in other words, for the pop-radio mills of yesteryear. Not that there's no depth. The "little white crosses" in the churchyard of "Hello World" are almost certainly pro-life symbols. And not that shallow is bad. Even in two nearly identical versions, the title cut doesn't wear out its welcome.

Soldier of Love

This album made headlines because recordings by publicity-shy chanteuses a quarter century past their heyday don't usually top charts, especially when, as this one does, they sound pretty much like everything else the chanteuses have done. Actually, there's no mystery. People still like Norah Jones, after all, and Sade is more soulful. Is she still too somnolent at times? Of course. (She wouldn't be Sade if she weren't.) Does she nevertheless often carve out a deeper groove than you'd suspect? Yes. (She'd be Norah Jones if she didn't.)

Labour of Love IV

This British reggae band's first Labour of Love (1983) remains a classic; Labour of Love II (1989) and III (1998), all-cover albums like the first, had their moments, but they also sometimes resembled the last refuge of a band incapable of writing its own hits. This volume feels fresh, probably because the replacement of lead vocalist Ali Campbell by his brother and Maxi Priest has renewed the group's sense of purpose. And the return to other people's classics (as opposed to other people's songs) doesn't hurt either.

Spotlight

Moonlighting as The Hotrats from Supergrass, the long­running British band they've sung lead and drummed for, respectively, since 1994, Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey may finally have their first U.S. hit with Turn Ons (Fat Possum), a collection of 12 by no means obvious cover songs spanning the '60s (the Kinks, the Velvet Underground, the Doors, Pink Floyd), the '70s (Roxy Music, David Bowie, Squeeze, Gang of Four, Elvis Costello, the Sex Pistols), and the '80s (the Cure).

As almost half the originals were released before Coombes and Goffey were born and the most recent before the duo were teenagers, Turn Ons is clearly an homage to the radio and 45 collections of their youth. It's also played with the kind of verve that could make you forget how old (relatively speaking) these musical touchstones really are. The prize: the Beastie Boys' "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)" rewritten to sound like a mid-'60s hit by the Who.

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