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Published: Sunday, 8/24/2003

CD reviews: Sparks resurfaces with a quality effort

There is no categorizing “Lil Beethoven,” no easy label you can slap on something so inventive and addictive.

Sparks - the brothers Ron and Russell Mael - have been off the pop music landscape for years. They made their mark in the much more experimental '70s as a sort of prog-rock/disco band and then pretty much disappeared.

Now they pop up with this weird, fun work that is packed with intelligent wordplay, multi-layered symphonic arrangements, and general madness. The central instrument for “Lil Beethoven” is, no surprise, the piano work of Ron Mael.

But there's so much more, including Russell Mael's ethereal vocals and the brothers' wit that pours out of each song in an endless stream of in-jokes and irony.

Highlights are the narcissist's anthem, “I Married Myself,” “What Are These Bands So Angry About?” and “Suburban Homeboy,” a hilarious take on white boy hip-hop.

But the killer cut is “Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls,” a booming seven-minute guitar-driven track that poses the question we've all wanted answered: “What is she doing with him?”

Russell Mael's vocals on the song are sinister and funny at the same time, capturing the essence of Sparks: pure creativity and a willingness to let the tension of the words and arrangements have their way with a song.

- ROD LOCKWOOD

“Live at the Blue Note,” a two-disc set, is an impressive production wrapping up 16 Camilo originals with two covers - a “Happy Birthday-Blue Bossa” medley and the always exciting “Tequila.” With jazz pianist Camilo are drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez and bassist Charles Flores. Camilo is inventive and creative, starting with a basic melodic theme and then tossing in notes, riffs, and, in some cases, whole recognizable passages from other jazz works, to create tracks that never seem too long.

- LARRY ROBERTS

Austin wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 12 numbers on this album, paying some attention this time around to story songs, not just laments about love and yearning. Her roots come through loud and clear, and while they are pure country, they are from Australia. Her tunes about childhood, simple things on the farm down under, and discoveries of emotions, are a step away from the usual Nashville output. The album is a satisfying mix of slightly uptempo numbers and ballads.

- KEN ROSENBAUM

BRIEFLY NOTED

  • NOW THAT'S CHICAGO, Various Artists (Legacy) If the hit movie Chicago whet your appetite for hot, gangland-era music, you'll do cartwheels over this generous collection of 21 jazzy numbers recorded from 1925-1933. These oldies get a modern sonic cleanup. K.R.

  • POETRY & AEROPLANES, Teitur (Universal) Singer-songwriter Teitur's debut is full of melodic and richly produced songs in a folk/folk-rock vein. Strummed and finger-picked guitar and restrained arrangements accompany his distinctive vocals. RICHARD PATON

  • AMERICAN ANTHEMS, mixed by DJ Skribble and David Waxman (Ultra) This 2-CD Ministry of Sound compilation of dance tracks is worth the price for the remixes of Panjabi MC's “Beware of the Boys,” and The Streets' outstanding “Weak Become Heroes.” R.P.



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