erasing clouds

15 Reviews of Music

by Dave Heaton, Anna Battista and Erin Hucke

Bad Religion, The New America (Atlantic)

1998's No Substance saw Bad Religion as sharp lyrically as ever, cutting into societal hypocrisy and corporate greed. The New America feels like a companion piece; if the former was the diagnosis, this one's the prescription for change. Despite the image of martial law on the album cover, the new America of the title is an idealized one, the country we could have if people organized and fought to shake up the power system. The album starts with "You've Got a Chance," a reminder that nothing will change until we make it change. The band keeps this optimistic tone throughout, from the title song ("We don't have to be afraid to re-invent/We've got to start to build, progress and implement") to "There Will Be A Way" ("I don't know where we are going but we're here on this ride/And we'll stand side by side all along the way"). Somewhere in the middle is "Believe It," one of the best anthems they've created in a while (also, perhaps not coincidentally, co-written with former member Brett Gurewitz). Here, Graffin sings about overcoming circumstance to make something of yourself, to a sublimely catchy melody. Who else could sing put lyrics like "Would you ever have thought persistence could prevail against the almost unbearable weight of the system" in a pop/rock song without giving in to the temptation of dumbing them down or condensing them into a simplistic slogan or catchphrase? Like with all Bad Religion albums, I could quote lyrics all day. Nearly everything Greg Graffin writes is socially relevant, especially in the current atmosphere of U.S. politics (don't get me started). Yet there's something else significant to The New America besides the lyrics. Fitting the call for change and the theme of hope, Bad Religion has added a hefty dose of melodic power-pop to their music, and chose someone who knows about such music, Todd Rundgren, to produce. Unlike the band's unsuccessful work with Ric Ocasek as producer, this collaboration really works. These songs are purely Bad Religion songs, yet they also have hooks catchier than they've created in a long time, and are performed with a catchy energy that makes the music sound as optimistic as the lyrics. Far too many music fans seem to have written Bad Religion off as "sell-outs" years ago. If you're one of them, your homework assignment is to listen to this album closely and loudly. This is a band that has never compromised, hasn't given up and has important things to say. Pay attention. ( Heaton

Bjork - SelmaSongs (OLI)

The word "sympathy" comes from Greek and is formed by two terms, the verb "to suffer" and the preposition "with." Hence, sympathy literally means "to suffer with," to share someone else's desperation. If you are wondering why I am doing all this etymological wanking, well, it's because usually musicals are based on sympathy, they deal with tragedy and happy moments and try to move the audience and to make people cry, but they only end up in making people buy the memorabilia of the show. Andrew Lloyd Webber lived on that shit for ages. That is why if you know musicals you avoid them, especially the pumped up productions. Now, what happens if the supposed musical is called Dancer In The Dark, it is a movie directed by Lars Von Trier and the main character, the Czech immigrant Selma, is played by Icelandic queen Bjork? The answer is simple: pure poetry. Given all the gossips about their quarrels on the set, the musical result of the neurasthenic relationship between two sociopaths might have only been a majestic flop with a depressing soundtrack. Instead, SelmaSongs is a miracle of sufferings indeed, from the first track, "Overture," which echoes Delibes' "Sylvia Ballet Suite," to "Cvalda," featuring Catherine Deneuve, a track celebrating dance and explosive joy, disjointed and disruptive; from the spooky, scary and doomed "107Steps," featuring Siobhan Fallon to "I've Seen It All," featuring an incredible Thom Yorke, at his best, a heart rending song, sad and painful, evoking the Great Wall in China, famous kings and emperors and exotic animals and comparing their allures to the force of real love; from "Scatterheart," which sounds as if it were sang by a character out of Dante's Purgatory to "In The Musicals," a harp interspersed endless melody. Honestly, we don't know if, after working with Lars Von Trier, Bjork managed to save her mental sanity that, according to the music press, she never had. What we do know is that she managed to save her wondrous and melancholic voice: if this is the result of high sufferings, then Bjork should suffer more. ( Battista

The Caribbean (Little Voice)

The Caribbean is a DC-based band with a sound of their own. Call it dreamy folk-pop, I suppose, but with a tinge of jazz, a self-referential wit (a la Pavement), a lackadaisical, vaguely psychedelic haze and a habit for throwing weird metallic noises in the background of their songs. That might sound like they're a stylistically diverse band but they're not really; all of this is going on at the same time, and holds together in a unique way. The Caribbean's self-titled EP gives us six songs with a gentle, riveting atmosphere. One noteworthy aspect of this CD is how much it opens up when you listen with headphones or with your head real close to the speakers. Songs that seemed haphazard or messy when the CD was on in the background made perfect sense up close. Yet while your proverbial "headphones album" is filled with so many sounds that you need closeness to capture them all, the Caribbean do a lot with a few instruments, mostly acoustic guitar, bass and drums. It's a sparse setting used to create a warm, enveloping musical architecture, at once comfortable and edgy. A band with a distinct sound is rare these days, when so many musicians seem to cobble a sound together from two or three obvious sources. That makes this CD something worth searching out and spending some time with, for sure. ( heaton

Johnny Cash, Love God Murder (Sony)

This collection of themed discs, with songs hand-picked by Cash himself, is a superb collection of material by one of the true individuals from country music and U.S. popular music in general. They are also on sale separately, and apparently the Murder disc is the most successful. Leaving aside what that might say about society or whatever, that isn't a surprising fact considering Cash's songwriting strength has always been with the darker side of life. "Delia's Gone," his tale of a murderer going through with the deed and then being haunted by the victim's memory, is one of the scariest songs ever, maybe matched only by "Joe Bean," a terribly sad song about an innocent man being hung that includes the sound of the hanging at the song's climax. The Murder disc also includes the classics "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," the live at Folsom Prison version of "Cocaine Blues" and "Jacob Green," a great poke at the hypocrisy behind governmental drug policies. One shouldn't ignore the other two discs, however. Both are filled with classic Cash. Love has some truly beautiful ballads, plus his hits "I Walk the Line" and "Ring of Fire." God includes many songs I'd never heard before; at least for me Cash's gospel side is the side I've most often bypassed over the years. This disc has fine versions of traditionals like "The Great Speckled Bird" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," as well as his own delving into issues of spirituality, like "Man In White" and "What On Earth Will You Do (For Heaven's Sake)." This collection showcases Johnny Cash as a man who is devoted to God, loves his wife and is also interested in what makes people fall into violent habits. But above all, Love God Murder displays Cash's amazing talent as a songwriter, a singer and a musical legend.--Dave heaton

Color Filter, I Often Think In Music (Fuzzy Box)

Color Filter's Sleep In a Synchrotron was one of the freshest pop albums of the later 90s, packed with melody, electronic beats, breathy female vocals, space imagery and a hefty dose of peace and love It was more pop-oriented than your average "electronic" album, and more electronic than your average pop album, a perfect mix. Another intriguing point about Color Filter is who makes up this "group": Ryuji Tsuneoshi, a nuclear physicist from Tokyo, and whoever he recruits to contribute vocals, usually singers from other Japanese pop outfits. All Color Filter songs (that have vocals) are sung in English, yet when I checked out their web site to figure get more information on the group, it was all in Japanese. Ah, life's mysteries and the joys of globalism. I say that sarcastically, I suppose, but really it's pretty cool that a scientist in Japan can put together an album in his home studio and I can go buy it at my local record store here in the U.S. Anyway, Color Filter's I Often Think In Music is their second album, not counting a collection of remixes, and it builds up their sound with great success. The first album had both ambient mood and great pop songs; I Often Think In Music has even greater doses of both. The album is filled with sensory overload. Tsuneoshi has added more sounds of all types, including not only beats, programming and more conventional instruments (witness his blazing guitar playing on "Summer of Dub.") but also a variety of "found sounds": bird noises, dogs barking, etc. A couple songs leaped off Sleep In a Synchrotron as obvious singles, catchy four-minute electropop tunes. This album has a few even catchier and more memorable singles, especially "Stars Shine So Bright, The Sun Rises So High," the perfect summer song, with whispery vocals, classy beats and a repeating melody that'll stick in your head until next summer (or the next Color Filter album, whichever's first). There's also some beautiful mid-tempo dreams ("Far Above My Head," "Vision") and, as on Sleep, a cover of a classic rock song, in this case Pink Floyd's "Fearless." But Color Filter saves the biggest treat for the end. The final track, "Give This A Whirl" is a splendorous dance club track much energetic (and, in a way, more ambitious) than the tracks that came before. Sarah Collins sings a quick-paced pop love song in the vein of St. Etienne, but at the same time the track is an ambient piece with ocean sounds. The track takes the ocean and throws it onto the dance floor; in that way, despite the way it stands out from the album, it's very representative of what Color Filter does so well, opening up pop music to include the universe.--Dave heaton

De La Soul, Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump (Tommy Boy)

De La Soul have always been staunch individualists, doing whatever they like despite trends or fads. Yet despite the legendary status given their debut album Three Feet High and Rising, they remain one of the most underrated groups in hip-hop. Every album after the first has received less praise; even the fantastic about-face they did on their fourth LP, Stakes Is High, was fairly widely panned or ignored. That album found them transferring their energy away from abstract poetry toward straightforward, no-nonsense rhymes over sparse, powerful beats. It also featured a few great collaborations with some of the hottest MCs at the time, like Common and Mos Def. Mosaic Thump, the first edition in the three-disc Art Official Intelligence project, continues stylistically in the path of Stakes Is High, with a straight-ahead hip-hop sound, but has much more of a laid-back feel. Here, with the help of an even larger gang of talented guests, De La Soul is relaxing a bit and throwing a hip-hop party, instead of trying to make statements. They're maintaining and having fun, not trying to break any new ground but still creating music that is distinctly their own. From start to end, the feel of Mosaic Thump is loose and fun. The majority of the songs are either feel-good party jams and playful tracks about love or energetic hip-hop anthems built to showcase the talents of Plugs One, Two and Three, Posdnuos, Dave (formerly Trugoy) and Maseo, and their friends.. Some of the collaborations here are downright mind-blowing; especially "My Writes," with Tash and J-Ro of the Alkaholiks and Xzibit, "I.C. Y'all," with Busta Rhymes, and "Squat!," an old-school-style track with Mike D. and Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys. De La also get big points for bringing back old school legend Busy Bee, and for doing a song with Freddie Foxxx, one of the edgiest MCs around. If Mosaic Thump doesn't stand out quite as strongly as their previous albums, it's because it's obviously meant as the first chapter of a book, not the whole thing itself. It feels like just the start of an expansive showcase for real hip-hop. If the next two are anywhere as enjoyable as this, it'll make one amazing three-disc set.--Dave heaton

Elks Skiffle Group, The Space Age Sounds of the Elks Skiffle Group (Happy Beat)

The members of Elks Skiffle Group are not really puppets from outer space, they just act like it. They're actually aliens acting like puppets, according to the press materials for their debut CD The Space Age Sounds of the Elks Skiffle Group. But wait, let me step back a minute---I'm rather wary when it comes to bands who pretend to be puppets or, for that matter, bands with puppets or bands made up of puppets or whatever. I think the gimmicky side of rock music only works if 1) you write good songs, or 2) you're funny enough that it doesn't matter if you can write songs or not. The Elks Skiffle Group are definitely gimmicky, and they're definitely not funny enough to ignore the songwriting side. Their CD includes some fake radio snippets about aliens coming to earth and landing in Blackpool, England, yet most of the gimmick lies outside of the actual music, in the CD cover art and who the band members claim to be. The cover art, which looks like it was printed on somebody's home color printer, has drawings of the four members of the Elks Skiffle Group, a description of them as "your favorite puppet pop group from outer space," postcards from the members, a guide in "how to care for your puny human" and other such things, all of which might be funny, except that it's not. My big question about all of the non-music paraphernalia is "Why?" My response to the CD is a bit more ambivalent. The music involves Casio-type keyboards playing Ventures-like surf songs, and pretty, mellow female and male vocals. The songs are simple and on the pop side. Most of them are relatively unforgettable, except a couple that are really catchy and memorable, like "Beep Beep Cyberbaby," which has a real retro-70s feel but is friendly, bouncy and gets caught in my head easily. The lyrics on the whole CD are cutesy, unexciting things about UFOs and space. Still, when the group hits the right note in terms of melody, the lyrics don't really matter. There's some pop talent here, for sure, which makes me wonder even more why they even bother with the whole space-age costume. Then again, maybe other people find that whole shtick more compelling or entertaining than I do. For me, this CD has a couple nice pop songs and not much else.--Dave heaton

eyesinweasel, Wrinkled Thoughts (Luna)

With three albums and a handful of singles and other appearances under his own name, Tobin Sprout has built up a fine enough songwriting career that he should no longer be tagged as "ex-GBV." He writes gorgeous pop-rock in the vein of Paul McCartney, Cardinal, the Flying Nun bands, etc., but with his own artistic viewpoint, one with dashes of poetry odd enough to throw off anyone expecting just straightforward love songs. He also has a lovely voice, one used to great effect to complement Bob Pollard's voice on GBV records, but used to even greater effect to relay albums worth of Sprout's own material. With this album, his fifth counting the album he made with his pre-GBV power-pop band Fig. 4 (but not counting his recent vinyl-only b-sides collection), Sprout returns to a rock band format by recruiting three other musicians, including two from Fig. 4. Together the four are eyesinweasel. The songs aren't necessarily more rock-oriented than some of Sprout's previous material (especially some of the songs on his last album Let's Welcome the Circus People), but the album on the whole has a more consistent sound to it due to the band presence. Let's Welcome... in particular was an all-over-the-place affair; Sprout has followed it up with a cohesive set of rock/pop songs that holds together nicely. There are a few guitar-heavy songs that rock fast and hard, especially the "Seven and Nine" and "Hint #9." The former track opens the album with a bang, as if to say "check out this rocking band I've got with me this time around." From there the album proceeds through a mix of upbeat guitar rock, mellow pop ballads (similar to those on Sprout's Moonflower Plastic album) and songs that meld the two. And, like always, Sprout throws in some true surprises, songs that don't fit any songwriting mold he's displayed thus far. The biggest here is "Little Bored," a beautiful little song with overlapping vocals constructed like it's made for a choir or something. Really, though, even the seemingly standard rock/pop songs have nothing mundane of usual about them. Not only can Sprout write the nimblest, most pleasurable melodies and harmonies you can imagine, but his lyrics are consistently oblique even when you don't expect them to be. He has a skill at throwing odd couplets into what at first seems like just another song. Who else would write about a relationship in this way: "I followed your rainbows/I I studied your star gaze/you covered my sunshine/I clouded your day." And, if you ever thought of Sprout as the clean-cut nice guy from GBV, you might be thrown off the dark tone of "Marriage Incorporated" or the praise of carnality that is "Pure Flesh." But this album has a bit of everything; you can't sum Sprout up too quickly. There's both snarling rock and roll (well, as snarling as you can get from someone with such an angelic voice) and truly fabulous pure pop songs, like "Daughters of the Moon," "There She Goes Again" and (my personal favorite) "Hands and Covers." All in all, this is another fantastic block in Sprout's wall of music. His music deserves to reach wider ears than just people who are now or once where GBV fans; maybe this will be the album to do it. ( heaton

Freedom Sings (First Amendment Center)

Put together by the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University to highlight the importance of freedom of speech, Freedom Sings collects songs recorded by various folk, blues, rock and country musicians during a live performance at the Bluebird Café in Nashville (It's available for $3, postage paid, which makes it perhaps the best-buy of this issue). The songs played include many that have been the center of controversy or lead to censorship attempts over the years, as well as a few famous protest anthems of the 1960's and a few songs written by the performers, concerning issues of social justice and free speech. It's a hodgepodge of musicians, including some famous ones (John Kay of Steppenwolf, Steve Earle, Beth Nielsen Chapman) and many I wasn't familiar with (including Jonell Mosser, Greg Trooper and Tommy Womack). Most fall vaguely into the category of folksy singer-songwriters, yet there's also a folk-rap song (if not a very good one; an awkward cover of PE's "Fight the Power" by Stone Deep) and a couple rock songs, including an on-fire version of the Stones' "Street Fighting Man" by Dan Baird and a sufficiently rocking take on Neil Young's "Ohio," courtesy of Trooper. This is a really compelling listen, not only because there's so many gifted musicians and they cover a ton of fantastic songs (including Janis Ian's "Society's Child," Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee" and Iris DeMent's "Wasteland of the Free"), but because, through between-song stories and an informative booklet, the album offers an intriguing trip through U.S. history by way of politically motivated censorship attempts throughout the years. It's an entertaining, varied musical collection that also gives insight into what offends people and why. ( heaton

The Go-Betweens - The Friends of Rachel Worth (Circus)

Rejoice, my friends, because Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, better known as The Go-Betweens, are finally back after splitting up at the end of the '80's. For those who don't remember them, well, it can only be said that The Go-Betweens were the responsible for the best lyrics around at the time. What can be best remembered of their art are those mysterious 'he's and 'she's haunting their songs and their dreams, visiting gurus, torching people, destroying one another with a painful love like that between the mythical a "man o' sand and a girl o' sea." Today's bands seldom manage to evoke landscapes and genuine feelings, ending up in singing about plastic skies and fake flowers, whereas The Go-Betweens had a storytelling talent in their compositions, their art was true lyrical craftsmanship, based on songs that, if printed down on paper, might have been sold like pamphlets to an audience of iconoclastic aesthetes. The Go-Betweens are finally back in true form, with an album that is once again haunted by their lyrics, and graced by their music ability, apart from being gifted by some help from Sleater-Kinney and Quasi. "Magic In Here," the opening track, is a manifesto, stating that the band have, to paraphrase the song, "no time for fear," they are too busy working and singing, making their mellow guitars work on "Spirit," telling of the time when they lived in seclusion in Germany in "German Farmhouse," regarding us with what might be compared to a Beach Boys number, "Surfing Magazines," or making your heart crack in two halves in "Orpheus Beach" and "He Lives My Life," a scary ballad enriched by charming cello and violin. "When She Sang About Angels" closes this work of art a song in which Patti Smith's figure can be detected among the lines. Like every day, the sun goes down, but The Go-Betweens ' star will always be up there shining high on true talent, true and perhaps unrecognised talent, a flaw that made them the outcasts of the world of music. But if you think about it, Camus's outsider was condemned because he never managed to toe the line in this stupid word; if The Go-Betweens will ever be condemned to obscurity it will be for what, substantially, is the same reason, for not wanting to bend to the rules of the killing music biz logic. Who cares: Camus was great and so are The Go-Betweens. ( Battista

The Harvest Ministers, The Embezzling Kisses EP (March)

On their latest EP, Dublin's The Harvest Ministers step down the relatively common path of pop songs about love, worded in terms that apply as easily to a more desire to find meaning or spirituality in one's life. The songs are all love ballads, but they are ambiguous enough to apply to anything that would fill the holes in one's life. The music throughout is mostly mellow pop, with the occasional tinges of jazz or folk. The majority of these five beautiful songs are from the perspective of someone who feels lost, who is at a final turning point of despair, seeking change for the better. What keeps the CD from becoming dour or repetitious is both the smart lyrics, which express a viewpoint which is alternately hopeless and hopeful, sweet and somber, and the band's craft at creating mature, complex pop songs. Many of these songs, especially "Madame Gris," have a rather dour view of life as filled with despair and loneliness; yet beneath these feelings there's always hope for escaping them, glimpses of a better life. This idea is crystallized in the absolutely gorgeous final track, "Make Me Your Insep'rable." Lead singer Will Merriman asks an unnamed other to become the one person he can lean on, as pianist/organist Padrig McCaul sings pretty, right-in-time backing vocals which add a sense of plurality and universality to Merriman's solitary longing. It's a nice bright ending for a quick but entirely satisfying collection of interesting and intelligent pop songs. ( heaton

Robyn Hitchcock, A Star For Bram (self released)

Available only at

I always thought the word "outtake" in the music world represented something inferior, something that wasn't good enough to make it to the album. Even when it's from a band you like, outtakes are usually something of a goof, something lesser than what was actually included on the album. A Star For Bram is an album of outtakes from Robyn Hitchcock's best album in years, 1999's Jewels For Sophia. Fit the traditional definition of outtake, these songs do not. Hitchcock is extraordinarily prolific, releasing more than 25 solo and Soft Boys albums since 1977. That habit certainly could explain a few outtake albums. The feel of A Star For Bram matches that of Jewels For Sophia aside from a slightly lower production quality used on Bram. But it has fun songs like the reminiscent "1974" (featured on Storefront Hitchcock) and "I Saw Nick Drake." Hitchcock has always had an altered sense of humor that enables him to come up with lines like "You've got hair in places most people haven't got brains," and "I'm dancing with a sandwich that costs $11." Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of one of the two CDs I've been willing to spend $16 on this year. It's worth every penny.--Erin Hucke

International Airport - Nothing We Can Control (Geographic)

If you have ever wondered how a record that includes Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone and Peter Thomas all rolled into one and remixed with The Pastels might sound like, you can stop cracking up your stressed brains, because it has just been released. International Airport are a well-known combo for those who saw them playing live at the School of Art or at the 13th Note in Glasgow, sometimes covering Morricone's "Una Stanza Vuota," other times playing with other Glaswegian bands. With a little help from The Pastels, Appendix Out, Teenage Fanclub and John McEntire, International Airport have released their first album that is mostly made of ethereal instrumental tracks that have the magic of Ennio Morricone and of the '60s soundtracks. Barren and desolate, mild and quiet, calm and heartbreaking, still always sophisticated in their childlike wonder that allows the band to use melodica and toy clarinet, lo-fi but never pedestrian, these spooked mellow-out symphonies such as "Western," the terrifically sad "Mountain Music," the heart-ripping "Remnant Kings," the more experimental "Does Chocolate Live Here?", the happier and bright "Gold Strike" and "Icerink" and the loungy "Cyclionic Lanes," evoke the rain incessantly falling on Glasgow, the river Clyde running under the bridges, the School of Art drenched in architectonic talent, the Necropolis towering above the city centre, the intoxicatingly green Kelvingrove Park and the talented gigs of all the musicians revolving around the town, messing up in club, pubs and recording studios. Self-educated in the underground, obsessively obscure and independent, International Airport have spawned fragile melodies that rise to the power of a Morricone and are composed by the innocence and unpretentiousness of kids watching on the world with uncorrupted eyes.--Anna Battista

IQU and Friends - Teenage Dream (K Records)

Come on, don't be shy and tell me what you dreamt when you were a teenager. I dreamt to be a pop star, but I'm so crap at playing that I ended up being a frustrated music journalist. IQU must have dreamt of Japan and Tokyo, here's how the genesis of this record can be explained. This album, released in two formats, vinyl and CD, the latter with two bonus tracks, is a collection of remixes of IQU's track "Teenage Dream" which can only be described as a Japanese adventure in sounds to paraphrase the sample at the beginning of the song. Samples of kids chanting in Japanese, a spooky voice calling out "Toookyo-tooookyo," pumping bass, more deranging voices and slashing guitars form the background of this track. Remixed by Scottish maverick Looper, the more experimental Lexaunculpt, TEAM714, Dub ID, K.O. , SONIC BOOM and CONCENTRICK among the others, the track gains new colours and shades going from dance to d'n'b, from Oriental melodies to eerie and ethereal and experimental sounds. Bizarre, exotic and kinky this album is a kaleidoscope of sounds, complicated like the art of calligraphy, intriguing like only quasi-anonymous bands can be. Experimentalism never sounded so good. ( Battista

Mark Kozelek, Rock N Roll Singer (Badman)

The terminally neglected Red House Painters have always been superb at setting a mood while playing enveloping pop/folk/rock songs. Lead singer Mark Kozelek's gorgeous voice complements the melancholy musical atmosphere and lyrics that use specific detailed images to express universal feelings. They're also a band with a series of label problems, stemming I suppose from their determination not to change their sound or give up their individuality for the sake of commercial/corporate pressure. It's been a while since their last release (though they have a completed album that's been in search of a home for a long time), but fans now can delight in this solo mini-album from Mark Kozelek. The only real difference between this and a Red House Painters release is that, without the rest of the band, these songs are sparser musically, mostly voice and guitar. They also meander less than the band tends to do from time to time; these tracks are more concise and more song-oriented. Rock N Roll Singer includes three songs by Kozelek that fit right in with the Red House Painters releases, as far as songwriting goes. "Find Me, Ruben Olivares" are "Metropol 47" are classic Kozelek, the former a lonely plea for a companion, the latter a love song with typically sweet yet simple lyrics ("Flash your smiling face at me/open your eyes wide at me/lay down every day with me/til there are no days"). Those are both great songs, but the third, "Ruth Marie," is the real heartbreaker, a longer, thoroughly down love song that magically captures sadness in the way that the best Red House Painters songs do. The rest of the CD is occupied by four cover songs, three by AC/DC (a fact that no doubt occupies much of the "buzz" around this release) and one by John Denver. The Denver song, "Around and Around," is fantastic; Kozelek's a big Denver fan and has a clear knack at capturing the gentleness at the heart of his music. The three AC/DC songs demonstrate Kozelek's knack at interpretation, already displayed on earlier Red House Painters releases, where they covered Yes, Paul McCartney, Simon and Garfunkel and the Star Spangled Banner. I'll be honest with you, I have no interest in AC/DC whatsoever. Yet I enjoy all three of these songs. This isn't a case of me associating with AC/DC with "bad" and Kozelek with "good" and therefore ignoring the fact that the same songs are involved. It's a case of Kozelek being able to take any song, no matter how covered in phony cock-rock-isms, and distill it down to its essence. He makes these songs his in the way that the best interpreters do. If I played his version of "Bad Boy Boogie" to unfamiliar ears, no doubt they'd have a hard time pegging it as an AC/DC song, even though in one sense he sticks closer to the song, without changing the basic structure and lyrics of the song. With Rock N Roll Singer, Kozelek (who, by the way, is also one of the members of the fictional band Stillwater in the movie Almost Famous) continues to demonstrate who talented he is, not only as a songwriter but as a musician and a performer. His fans already know they need this; it also is as good as any for introducing new fans to his music.--Dave Heaton

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