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Published: Sunday, 2/24/2008

Nada Surf's 'Lucky' is pop, perfected

Here's hoping some savvy TV producer gloms onto "Lucky," sticks a song from it on an episode of Gossip Girl or One Tree Hill, and it becomes a huge hit that is so ubiquitous you never want to hear it again.

Until a few years later when you stumble across the song and realize just how great it sounded.

Just like the '60s. (Only with television playing the role that radio played way back when.)

Nada Surf's sixth release in 12 years is a finely polished pop gem and a bit old-fashioned in its reliance on intricately constructed, multi-layered songs that sound great coming out of car speakers.

More in the tradition of Phil Spector, the Beatles, or Brian Wilson than American Idol, Nada Surf's sound is sunny and seductive while still maintaining a level of sophistication that rises far above the drivel that passes for pop today. The band also echoes Crowded House and XTC on songs like "Whose Authority," "Weightless," and "Are You Lightning?"

There are no extended guitar solos or gimmicky breakdowns, just lots of tight hooks and tunes like "Beautiful Beat," which sounds like an endless July day: warm, buoyant, and full of romantic anticipation.

And another thing: if "Lucky" doesn't grab you right away, give it a few more tries. It's the kind of CD that at first might sound a tad cloying, but that over time reveals songwriting and vocal arrangements that are undeniably charming.

- ROD LOCKWOOD

The debut solo recording by songwriter/vocalist/musician Raya Yarbrough, due to be released Tuesday, is a captivating blend of jazz and pop sung by a 20-something West Coast artist whose sweet voice is surpassed only by her bold, confident, and innovative style.

Appropriately described as a Joni Mitchell jazz hybrid, Raya began performing in jazz clubs with her father at the age of 7. While still in school, she performed at the Playboy Jazz Festival. She demonstrates enormous talent as a songwriter on this disc, performing a number of original songs and showcasing a range of vocal dexterity that includes a pretty good handle on scat.

She's opened for Terence Blanchard, appeared on Neil Young's "Living With War" album, and with the re-formed Oingo Boingo; in fact, this album was produced by former Oingo Boingo guitarist-composer Steve Bartek.

The winner of several major vocal competitions, whose songs have been featured on TV shows such as Girlfriends and Battlestar Galactica, Yarbrough is an emerging force.

- TOM HENRY

As a country singer/songwriter, Wicks had to spend many lean years parking cars to survive in Nashville while hoping for a big break. He apprenticed himself to a handful of successful tunesmiths, slowly learning the ropes as he honed his vocal skills and writing talents. And he parked more cars.

Now he has his chance with an RCA album, and he's making the most of it. He wrote or co-wrote 10 of the 11 tracks, ranging from dreamy ballads to thought-provoking laments and uptempo romps.

He's good-looking and has a fine baritone, but such aspiring youngsters are plentiful in Nashville car lots. It takes much more to make a mark in the country music industry, and what has moved Wicks to the front of the pack is his creations.

The words have meaning, the melodies are better than merely good, the musicianship and backbeats are interesting, and the delivery is solid. From traditional to contemporary, Wicks delivers the goods. "Stealing Cinderella," the first single, is a memorable tale of a storybook romance.

- KEN ROSENBAUM


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