ALL THE ROADRUNNING
Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris (Warner Bros./Nonesuch)
Knopfler and Harris both are arguably at their best when not over-produced on disc, when the elegance of their songs and the individual character of their voices and guitar are squarely the focus. So it is a testament to their talents that despite the smooth-off-the-rough-edges veneer, this release is as delightfully appealing as it is.
The duo worked off and on for seven years to make the CD, which tends too often to sound like a Knopfler release, with Harris sitting in, partly, perhaps, because he wrote most of the songs. The ambience is laid-back and comfortable, and the overall tone is country, though there s a rocking, guitar-based sound to This Is Us and Right Now.
The lyrics tell of relationships that are past, bittersweet ( Donkey Town ), or still strong, and most poignantly on If This Is Goodbye, of farewells on 9/11.
There s a warmth and engaging lack of pretension underlying this disc which, while not as good as it could have been, still is plenty good enough.
Cassandra Wilson (Blue Note)
Combine the sultry and well-disciplined voice of Cassandra Wilson with the vision of talented roots music of aficionado-producer T Bone Burnett and you ve got a smooth, flowing, and soulful disc. Wilson exudes her jazzy warmth with conviction on four of her own compositions, plus six others including Closer to You, a Jakob Dylan song that almost sounds as if it was written for her. Other highlights include a great rendition of Easy Rider and Willie Dixon s I Want to Be Loved. Burnett s rootsy influence is felt throughout, but is especially strong on Wilson s powerful performance on the traditional Red River Valley.
MY HEART S IN TEXAS
Smokin Joe Kubek and Bnois King (Blind Pig)
The roadhouse Texas blues dished up by these two guitar masters has been seasoned to perfection over nine previous albums. Here, in their first live recording, they show clearly why their different musical styles and backgrounds complement each other so perfectly. Kubek s fiery and intense blues/rock chops match remarkably well with the finesse and jazz-rooted licks of King, whose distinctive vocals make the tandem package complete. The 11 songs here were recorded last December at J&J Blues Bar in Forth Worth, Texas, and the disc is in stores this week.
Scotch Greens (Brass Tacks)
The Scotch Greens is a ferociously hard-rocking unit that somehow manages to play bluegrass punk. Seriously. The inherent grittiness of an Idaho punk band playing bluegrass fast enough to send a banjo player s fingers flying right off his hand is pretty obvious, but, Lord, it s fun. It works exceptionally well thanks to the band s tight arrangements that feature a fiercely played banjo in the center of the punkish romps, and lyrics that are razor smart. The intensity can be a bit trying if you re in the wrong mood, but for a jolt of aural caffeine, this is your band.
Bubba Sparxxx (Interscope)
Boasting production from Mr. Collipark (Ying Yang Twins), Organized Noize (Outkast), and Timbaland, The Charm is Sparkxxx s most balanced disc. His first, 2001 s Dark Days, Bright Nights, was full of booming songs ready-made for the clubs; his second, Deliverance, was a more introspective look at life in rural Georgia, where Sparxxx was born. The Charm blends the formulas he used on those releases. Songs like the Top 10 hit Ms. New Booty, Heat It Up, and Claremont Lounge will keep dance floors packed. And fans of lyrics need look no further than The Other Side and Ain t Life Grand.
WAY BACK, Willie Big Eyes Smith (HighTone) Six originals among these 11 songs show Smith remains at his creative and performing zenith, a master of both the Delta and Chicago blues styles. Whether he s playing his harmonica or rattling the drums, Smith delivers in his dependable style. K.R.
THE SHAGGY DOG, Various Artists (Walt Disney) This soundtrack has its big-hearted, fun and furry moments, but they re overshadowed by the predictable ones. It s really two albums: an overworked collection of dog-themed funk and R&B, then a solid score by Alan Menken. T.H.
EDUCATED HORSES, Rob Zombie (Geffen) Rob Zombie knows a secret that separates him from all the other dead hearts who fall roughly into the classification of goth music: if you don t take death and destruction seriously, it s pretty funny. Zombie s fourth disc is a trashy blast where sexy romps like Foxy Foxy are followed up by the noisy death march of 17 Year Locusts. It s a horror show, no doubt, but Educated Horses is set in the fun house right where it belongs. R.L.
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