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Published: Saturday, 1/19/2008

Avenged delivers solid hard rock

Avenged Sevenfold is not your obnoxious little brother's metalcore band.

Eschewing noise for the sake of noise, dull rat-a-tat rhythms, and unintelligible vocals, the California band offers up dynamic arrangements and a welcome diversity to its sound on its fourth release.

What allows Avenged to lap its competitors is a readily identifiable guitar sound that transcends the usual muddy, generic thrashing of most anything labeled metalcore or even metal, and the vocals of M. Shadows, whose wide-ranging bellow echoes The Cult's Ian Astbury.

Put it together with some fine songwriting and the band's own production and the self-titled disc comes across as solid hard rock without taking any shortcuts. In fact, Avenged takes some intriguing chances that echo old-school acts.

The double-tracked guitars on the coda of "Dear God" sound a bit like the Eagles on "Hotel California;" "Gunslinger" features some tasty acoustic blues guitar licks before morphing into a storm-the-gates rocker ignited by Shadows' roar, and finally there's "A Little Piece of Heaven," an impressive 8-minute epic featuring a full string arrangement and a vocal approach that sounds like the boys have been listening to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" non-stop.

By producing the disc itself and risking a little cred for the sake of a limber creative approach, Avenged Sevenfold proves it's a band built for the long haul.

- ROD LOCKWOOD

The musicianship on this disc, a debut on the Nonesuch label for Argentinian composer-pianist Fernando Otero, is gorgeous. Otero blends elements of his native Argentina with classical, jazz, pop, and rock, all with a touch of tango.

At times frenetically paced, the disc's energy is balanced by a moving and inspiring sense of South American romance. For as multi-layered as the compositions are, so is the format.

The songs, all Otero originals, are performed by a quintet, a trio, a duet, Otero's solo piano and, in the case of two numbers, a 25-piece orchestra ensemble that he conducts. One of the most unique aspects is his inclusion of the bandoneon, an accordion-like instrument at the heart of tango music that complements the music he has written for piano, violin, cello, acoustic bass, and other instruments.

Some songs appeared on Otero's 2002 CD, "Plan," which was recorded on an Argentinian label and distributed independently in the United States.

- TOM HENRY

It is rare, perhaps unprecedented, for a historical figure to be given the honor of an entire tribute album in his memory. Here, Shaka Zulu, the young warrior who united the Zulu nation with its neighbors in the 1700s and is considered one of the greatest leaders in African history, gets such an album.

Who better to deliver this homage than Ladysmith Black Mombazo, the virile-sounding all-male vocal group from South Africa who first captivated the world with their Zulu a capella rhythms on Paul Simon's "Graceland" album.

With the language barrier, however, a lack of full appreciation immediately becomes evident and is a drawback. Three of the 12 songs, all written by the group's leader and founder Joseph Shabalala, are in English, where the words help convey the power of the messages. The other tracks rely exclusively on the call-and-response melodies and Shabalala's vocal exhortations.

The eight artists use all the vocal tricks in their repertoire, which makes for some very interesting music at times, but except for a few standout tracks, it's too much of the same throughout.

- KEN ROSENBAUM

While this disc isn't something you'll listen to over and over, the music is actually pretty good - tongue-in-cheek stuff that took a lot of thought and got the right mix of silliness and strength from rising comedic actor John C. Reilly.

Reilly pulls off each of the 15 original songs, penned by a number of writers including Marshall Crenshaw, with a surprisingly good voice and vocal technique, skewering with biting zest the styles of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, and the psychedelic-era Beatles, to name just a few.

The disc will have limited staying power because of its natural limitations: Any form of comedy loses its edge and appeal as its freshness wears off. But the music does its part in helping this highly rated farce poke fun at the rock icon biopic.

- TOM HENRY

Insert: WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY John C. Reilly (Columbia)



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