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A fiery Burnside; Ben Folds one; and a not-so-Invincible Jackson


R.L. Burnside -- Burnside On Burnside (Fat Possum/Epitaph)

It must be downright cool being a 74-year-old alternative music star, but considering it did take former sharecropper R.L. Burnside nearly 50 years to gain the respect he rightfully deserves, you could say he's paid his dues... and then some. Despite being introduced to the masses by collaborations with Jon Spencer and Beck's producer, Burnside's latest proves this blues dude ain't no gimmick -- he's just that good. And what better way to capture the incredible authenticity of the songwriter's Mississippi juke joint blues than in a live setting. Most of the 12 boot-stompin' tracks on the record (no slow-burners here) were recorded earlier this year at Portland, Oregon's Crystal Ballroom, which, coincidentally, is located on Burnside Street. Not only does the live recording capture the raw power and spirit of the singer/guitarist, it comes complete with the humorous in-between song banter as well -- and what real blues player doesn't have a story to tell? Burnside, along with drummer (and grandson) Cedric Burnside and longtime collaborator and master slide guitarist Kenny Brown, serves the blues up as thick as the hand-rolled cigarette smoke that filled the ol' juke joints, and as strong as the hard liquor they'd down out back. -- LF

Einsturzende Neubauten -- 1991-2001 (Mute)

This is a pleasant enough 90s retrospective of the infamous clangcore Teutonic twiddlers. While better known for their rather iconic logo (which, it was recently noted, probably exists on more folks' tattooed bodies than in their CD collections), the band's 1991-2001 is a feast for fans of their sound, a sort of symphonic mess of melodious garage noises -- wrenches and hammers, sheet metal and steel. Many of the pieces had their genesis in film and theater projects and art installations. As such, it sounds like it: spare, self-conscious, and pointed in their attempt to evoke reaction. More so than any Neubauten record in the past, this does include some vocals of the non-German variety. However, the music loses something in the process, as the hard vocal sound of the German language was a great mix with the NuIndustrial ruckus the band brought to the table. Still, the sharpness of the music is a nice tonic for those sugar highs one gets from most new releases. -- TD

Ben Folds -- Rockin' the Suburbs (Sony)

Tamer of the Ivory Monster, Ben Folds, is back with a new solo album. However, this is not his first solo attempt since the dissolution of Ben Folds Five, but it bodes well as the first critical success. Volume I, Folds' first attempt at a solo career, was released under the pseudonym "Fear of Pop" and didn't really even make it onto radio's radar -- though it contained a "stellar" track called "In Love," which highlighted the vocal styling of one William "Kirk" Shatner (sarcasm should be noted). The new album is much less a collective of strange sounds and closer to the music that drove Ben Folds Five back in their heyday. Most of the album is pretty low key, without the jazzed up punk sound that rocketed Folds' career in the beginning with songs like "Underground." There are many lamenting songs of near misses, loves found, and loves lost, with the emotion being captured most perfectly in the heart-wrenching track "Gone." There is one track, the title track, which not only rocks but also makes a hilarious commentary on all the "angry white-boy" bands (Limp Bizkit, Linkin' Park, etc.) that seem to keep crawling out of the suburbs to bitch about their "difficult" roots and how "angry" and "angst-ridden" it makes them feel to be "male, middle class, and white" (as Folds says in his anthem). The album is solid, but really not much different from typical Folds fare. -- MM

Fu Manchu -- California Crossing (Mammoth)

Imagine waking up in '78 or '79, reading your sister's new Dynamite magazine, drinking some OJ, adjusting your Farrah poster on your wood-paneled wall, and slipping on your jeans and Keds. You're going to see David Lee Roth and Van Halen later that night in your hometown of Santa Monica. You fire up a big bowl in your El Camino before picking up your friend Raoul at his house, who's a bit late as he wants to catch the end of C.H.i.P.s. You pick an 8-track to pop in the player as you cruise down the boulevard, the brown scrub ground covering a blur as you lose yourself in the music and the red-and-purple-tinted sunset. This is what you listen to. -- TD

Michael Jackson -- Invincible (Epic)

You can't pull some of the shit Jackson has -- the messianic poses, the power trips and the like -- and not expect people to criticize your missteps. Michael's misstep here, to listen to most early critics of the album, sees him falling completely off the cliff of relevance, from the mountain he once stood at the top of. It's certainly not Thriller, or even Off The Wall. It's not even Bad -- but it ain't that bad. Sure, the album is as much producer Rodney Jerkins' as it is Jacko's. But a few good songs are here, at least in a VH1 kinda way. "You Rock My World" is a slower, simpler number, which sounds good on Jackson at this point in his career, a sort of updated "Rock With You." There are other unofficial song updates too, such as the Rod Serling(!) introduced "Threatened," blueprinted by Mike's earlier "Thriller." The album's downfall is the same as our government's: In an attempt to please everybody, he takes no real stands. Carlos Freakin' Santana plays guitar on the Spanish-flavored "Whatever Happens," and rapper Biggie Smalls returns (from the grave; now there's some symbolism) to rap on "Unbreakable." Jackson may be unbreakable, but he's also unremarkable. The album's not going to be a landmark achievement that will stand the test of time, to be sure, but in today's disposable music climate, it ought to fit in just fine. -- TD

The Strokes -- Is This It? (RCA)

Believe the hype... mostly, at least. Critics everywhere are stroking themselves over the Strokes, the New York garage-cum-new wave It Boys. They all look like those cigarette-smoking hipsters one sees in fashion ads, and lead singer Julian Casablancas' dad is indeed modeling guru John Casablancas (they don't talk, by the way). The closest comparison is usually to the Velvet Underground, a fave of the five, but the music's serrated edge recalls someone like Television, who managed to sound like the newest thing in the world despite using the same chord progressions everyone else does. It's a simple equation with the Strokes, albeit one with an unconventional answer. Drummer Fab Moretti lays down deceptively simple beats, equal parts hip hop, Moe Tucker and Ringo Starr. Bassist Nikolai Fraiture's ballooning bass lines lift the songs, and guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. attempt to shoot them down with arrows of jagged guitar. Casablancas sits back on the grass and comments on the whole affair. Most songs deal with relationships and general ennui, but instead of griping, it mostly comes off as some particularly good coffee shop philosophizing after a long walk through a New York winter, where something about walking around in -- hell, surviving -- the gray, seemingly indifferent surroundings makes one feel like anything is possible. For about 11 songs, it is. The kind of guys Pete Yorn pretends to be. -- TD

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