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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Five new pop-rock releases reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Issue: "Back to School," Aug. 27, 2011

Back Pages

The recent death of America's long-estranged third member, Dan Peek, points up this almost pleasant enough all-covers album's main problem: It could use another voice. Vocally, Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley may be up to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Simon and Garfunkel, and solo Brian Wilson, but the Zombies are clearly beyond them. As for Fountains of Wayne's "A Road Song," Bunnell and Beckley's sounds exactly like the original-except for one measure near the end when it almost turns into "Sister Golden Hair" then doesn't.

One Beer, One Blues

Broonzy spent almost half his threescore years demonstrating the depth and breadth of acoustic blues better than anybody else except Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Yet he gets less attention than either, maybe because, unlike Johnson, he didn't have a hellhound on his trail and, unlike Waters, he'd died before the blues had a baby and called it rock 'n' roll. This excellent 18-song overview/introduction suggests no answers, but its inclusion of "Tell Me What Kind of Man Jesus Is" ensures that it asks profound questions.

Drums Between the Bells

Eno's insistence that this album represents a technological breakthrough in adapting the human voice to music makes one wonder whether he's ever heard of Laurie Anderson. Still, if it's by keeping his head in the sand that he dreams up soundscapes as eerily beautiful as these, more power to him. As for the poetry of Rick Holland read to the soundscapes by an assorted cast, it's OK as far as it goes. But the music goes further on its own-as the deluxe edition's voice-free bonus disc confirms.

Relient K is for Karaoke

On the surface, this EP is a good-natured trifle: seven songs made famous by Cyndi Lauper, Tom Petty, Justin Bieber, They Might Be Giants, Gnarls Barkley, Tears for Fears, and Weezer, played with skill and affection by one of Contemporary Christian Music's more reliable ("relieble"?) indie-type bands, with the only theme being that there is no theme. But no theme doesn't necessarily mean no purpose. After all, the original performers just might hear these versions, admit they're good, and wonder what makes Relient K tick.

Spotlight

For some singer-songwriters, re-recording their youthful catalogues is simply a business move. For others, though, it makes sense as well as dollars. Take, for instance, Randy Newman, who at 67 has just released The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 2 (Nonesuch), his latest installment of solo-piano renditions of songs that he originally wrote and recorded between 1968 and 2008.

The main reason that Newman's revisiting his oeuvre matters is that, more than any other popular composer, his reputation, and therefore the predispositions that one brings to his work, has changed. When he first recorded "Yellow Man" (1970) and "My Life Is Good" (1979), he was known for his unflinchingly lacerating satire, and therefore even a trifle like "Short People" was scrutinized for misanthropic intent. But since then Newman has composed and performed the songs for the Toy Story trilogy, revealing a more sensitive side, and, voila, even the flagrantly insensitive "Lucinda" (1970) takes on an elliptically tender dimension.

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