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No Thanks! The '70s Punk Rebellion

One of the most famous Bogart lines in Casablanca is "Round up the usual suspects," which is what Rhino did, gathering the best-known tunes by the legends -- Ramones, Clash, Jam, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag -- and collecting them into a thoroughly annotated four-CD package. Also swell is attention paid the lesser-knowns, bands who had one amazing single (or maybe one OK album), then disappeared: Penetration, Adverts, Only Ones, Ruts. There's those that transitioned into the mainstream, more or less -- Elvis Costello, Blondie, Joe Jackson, Talking Heads, Pretenders -- and the stalwarts, still retaining some of that wild creative spark of yore: Pere Ubu, Wire, Suicide, Buzzcocks, Patti Smith. Indispensable as this collection is, one track is worth the purchase: the Pop Group's awesome, never-before never-again "She Is Beyond Good and Evil."

Sonata and Dances

Aram Khachaturian

Best known primarily for his piece "Sabre Dance" (beloved by movie and cartoon directors for chase scenes), Russian composer Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) had a lot more goin' on. Despite its historical context, his music had more in common with the Romantic era -- but that didn't stop Soviet government officials from giving him grief for being so un-PC "modern." (His music influenced Miles Davis during his Kind of Blue period, too.) This Koch disc of Sonata and Dances, which spans the years 1925-54 and includes some world-premiere recordings, is a real treasure: It's full of heart-swelling (but never obvious) lyrical beauty infused with delicate dissonances, flawlessly performed by Hideko Udagawa (violin) and Boris Berezovsky (piano).

Blood Sutra

Vijay Iyer

Jeez, with all the comfort and joy flying around this season, you might require some sounds with teeth as a tonic. To that end, meet Vijay Iyer. Like other local jazz talents (Kenny Wollessen, Rob Burger), pianist Iyer followed the yellow brick road from the Bay Area to the Big Apple, from whence springs Blood Sutra, a set of thorny, economical compositions for piano, tenor sax, acoustic bass, and drums. Iyer's style is a fine balance between brainy abstraction, quirky lyricism, and percussive vigor -- think of the late Don Pullen's Quartet with George Adams or a full-of-piss-and-vinegar Andrew Hill.

Under the Moon

Barbara Sfraga

Do you want to like contemporary jazz singers, but find many of them either employing too much "technique" or getting stuck in a 1930s-1950s my-man-treats-me-like-crap-but-he's-my-man/standards time warp? Then do we have a singer for you: NYC's Barbara Sfraga. She wraps her voice around and inside a song, interpreting it like an instrumentalist, soaring, but never treating it like a mere "vehicle," never losing respect for the song. About Sfraga's repertoire: She holds songwriters Duke Ellington (an affecting "Mood Indigo," best version you'll hear this year) and Bob Dylan (a luminous "Every Grain of Sand," with just voice and acoustic bass) in equal esteem. If a mad gene-splicer could cross kd lang with Sheila Jordan, the result might be Barbara Sfraga. (And she's nobody's doormat, pal.)

When the Sun Goes Down, Vol. 7: Rock Me Mamma

Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup

Bluebird's series of blues collections is subtitled The Secret History of Rock & Roll, a savvy marketing ploy to hook the history-nerd set of the "rock" audience -- works for us. One of the latest volumes presents a little-known figure outside the realm of most blues historians: Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, whose rhythmic, loose-limbed, proto-rockin' uptempo blues lit a fire under an American icon-to-be. Crudup was a source of considerable inspiration for the young Elvis Presley in Tupelo (along with Dean Martin -- that's another story), who went on to cover several Crudup songs. Elvis' version of his "That's All Right Mama" (from the Sun Records years) is a luminous rock 'n' roll touchstone -- Elvis taught the world, but Arthur taught Elvis.



Though the heat surrounding other members of the Elephant 6 musical collective/record label (comprised of members from lo-fi bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, and Apples in Stereo) has cooled off somewhat, the sextet of Bay Area gentlemen known as Beulah puts out one sublime disk after another. Beulah's fourth album, Yoko, the 2003 follow-up to 2001's The Coast Is Never Clear, abandons Coast's sun-drenched, Beach Boys-esque orchestral pop for lush songs from a darker region of the heart. Local scuttlebutt has it that four members of the band cut ties with wives and girlfriends during the album's creation; perhaps that's why the moody lyrics trace a path from heartbreak to loneliness to righteous anger and back again.

Room on Fire

The Strokes

Much to the surprise of fans who thought the Strokes' sly retakes on classic art rock riffs signaled the second coming of relatively obscure critics' darlings like Television and the New York Dolls, 2001's Is This It went gold within a year of its release. Was America experiencing some kind of garage rock revolution? asked a trend-hungry press. As it turned out, hell no; records from mainstream outfits like Nelly and 50 Cent sold exponentially more copies than any of the garage rockers, and the Strokes' big breakthrough was simply a fluke. A delicious, sing-along, fabulous fluke. The band delivers more of the same with Room on Fire, a record so similar to Is This It that it might as well have been part of a double album. No matter; it's still music to our ears.




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