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CD reviews and news: Fleet Foxes, A-Trak, the Rentals, jazz

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The spring rush is peaking, and there's a ton of music out next week ...

Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues" (Sub Pop) (3 and a half stars) -- As appealing to fans of folk music of the '70s as to regular visitors of Renaissance fairs, the music of Fleet Foxes comes on like wilderness hymns. That's not just because of the exquisite harmonies, which are heavily reverbed here as if the album was recorded in a church. On this album moreso than the band's platinum-selling 2008 debut, chief singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold speaks more plainly, and occasionally plaintively, about his hopes, yearnings, needs. In the hard-strumming, hard-thinking title track, he wrestles with whether he should pray for salvation. While the debut lyrically and musically looked to the "Blue Ridge Mountains," the signposts on the follow-up are more worldly -- "Montezuma," "Bedouin Dress," "The Cascades," allusions to Yeats, a greater diversity (and proficiency) of instruments. Whereas they introduced themselves sounding like a reupholstered Fairport Convention, now Fleet Foxes begin to sound like their own animal.

In rotation this week ...

Various Artists, "Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology" (2 stars) -- Jazz is a big mountain to climb, especially now with a nearly century-old history (on record, anyway). Where do you start? Smithsonian Folkways offers up this sampler, a six-disc box set chronicling American jazz from its Southern beginnings to its scattered present. Use this box as just that: a sampler. Don't look for relation or context -- there's not much -- just run through it and see what catches your ear for further pursuit. Stick with it through the end, too, where you'll find the rhythmic Art Ensemble of Chicago ("Bush Magic") and the wicked Medeski, Martin & Wood ("Hey-Hee-Hi-Ho").

Jen Olive, "I Say Love" EP (2 stars) -- Are there female XTC fans? I have yet to meet one. Perhaps Jen Olive could be a gateway drug for women to embrace that kind of classically structured, modern guitar pop. The Albuquerque singer-songwriter released an EP this month, a follow-up to her "Warm Robot" debut on Andy Partridge's Ape House label. Olive's detached, Feisty voice and nimble finger-picking drive a few jerky gems here. It's perhaps a good warm-up to the revisionist Kate Bush album coming mid-May.

A-Trak -- Someone probably forwarded or Facebooked the video below (come for the earworm riff, stay for the blink-and-you-miss-it Kanye cameo) last year. "Barbra Streisand" was a one-hit quickie by Duck Sauce, half of whom is a DJ named A-Trak. He's on a great bill this week with Chicago's own Kid Sister, Thursday night at the Mid.

Speaking of the Mid -- remember the Afrika Bambaataa show scheduled there in January, the one that was canceled? It's back on there Friday night.


Also released on Tuesday ...

The Rentals have a new album, but it's not a friend of P. The title of "Resilience: A Benefit Album for the Relief Effort in Japan" explains the purpose of its proceeds, but the music is not pop, not uplifting and probably should not fly under the Rentals' name. Originally titled "Tokyo Blues," Weezer co-founder Matt Sharp and Lauren Chipman recorded these 18 tracks of minimalist violin-and-piano music for a film project, which is exactly what it sounds like. The music has been repurposed for this more timely purpose.

Loudon Wainwright III, "40 Odd Years" -- A box set of this bittersweet singer-songwriter's career thus far -- three CDs of music, one disc of bonus tracks and rarities, plus a DVD of filmed performances and a documentary.

Stevie Nicks, "In Your Dreams" -- The witchy woman from Fleetwood Mac returns with her first solo album in a decade, with production and songwriting assistance from Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) and Glen Ballard. Lindsey Buckingham cameos, of course.

Sade, "The Ultimate Collection" -- A best-of priming the pump for this summer's tour by the smooth operating band. They're here Aug. 5-7 at the United Center.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on April 29, 2011 7:00 AM.

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