nolead begins Björk
nolead ends nolead begins Volta
nolead ends nolead begins (Atlantic **1/2)

nolead ends The latest from Icelandic iconoclast Björk is experimentally intriguing but melodically deficient. Oh, there's plenty of cool-sounding stuff on Volta, whose title suggests it should be electric in its intensity. It contains three successful collaborations with Timbaland, in the martial first single "Earth Intruders," the gorgeously gurgling "Hope" (both featuring Congolese thumb-piano-wielding electronic ensemble Konono No. 1), and the even kookier pile driver "Innocence." But just as often, Volta sounds awkward and strained, with Ms. Gudmundsdóttir's harshly enunciated vocals, a dearth of catchy tunes, and two chilly duets with castrato-soul singer Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons) adding up to a frustrating, if fascinating, listening experience.

- Dan DeLuca

nolead begins Colin Hay
nolead ends nolead begins Are You Lookin' at Me?
nolead ends nolead begins (Compass **1/2)

nolead ends Best known as the lead singer for the '80s Aussie band Men at Work, Hay had a beguiling but minor comeback (championed by Scrubs' Zach Braff) earlier this decade as an acoustic balladeer. His first release in four years takes him in a quirkier direction, a little more cabaret, a little more skiffle. It even contains (shades of Mungo Jerry) a kazoo ensemble. The basic mood falls somewhere between Ray Davies ("Lose to Win") and Mark Knopfler ("No One Knows"). Are You Lookin' at Me? may not leave an immediate impression but the more you listen to it, the more it grows on you. It's a comfortable old sweater of a CD.

- David Hiltbrand

nolead begins Chuck Brown
nolead ends nolead begins We're About the Business
nolead ends nolead begins (Raw Venture **1/2)

nolead ends If there's a funk equivalent of Viagra, Chuck Brown must be taking it by the handful. Now in his 70s, Brown has been serving up the D.C.-based hybrid known as go-go - a piping-hot brew of funk, blues, jazz, R&B and Latin music topped with a splash of offbeat cowbell - for three decades.

Of late Brown has been showered with elder-statesman honors, but on We're About the Business, his first new album in nine years, he has no goal more lofty than to "keep the party rockin' until the cops come knockin'." Unfortunately, hip-hop producer Chucky Thompson (Mary J. Blige) dulls the mood with groove-sapping interludes, and gives the instruments a metallic sheen that smells more of a sterile studio than a sweaty club. Still, Business has its moments, particularly the irresistible "Block Party," which borrows its groove from the Drifters' "On Broadway." Slip that into the mix 'round about midnight and watch the room explode.

- Sam Adams

nolead begins Linkin Park
nolead ends nolead begins Minutes to Midnight
nolead ends nolead begins (Warner Bros. ***)

nolead ends No sooner does nu-metal find its ragged soul and experimental punch in Linkin Park (Meteora was riveting; its Collision Course collaboration with Jay Z better still) than the L.A. band dispenses with its signature rap-rawk.

Dag - and me with a closet full of recently purchased baggy shorts.

With just enough humpty-hump to hold hip-hop heads in thrall, Park's Mike Shinoda (emboldened by his atmospheric Fort Minor project) and the ubiquitous Rick Rubin turn Linkin into moody punks with a visceral kick, some oddly classic-rock hooks, and soft, contagious melodies dolled up with esoteric noisemakers.

That Linkin's careening sound is stripped to the waist gives Shinoda's wordy rapping flow on "Bleed It Out" more oomph and his vocals ("In Between") room to ruminate. But never forget the unforeseen possibilities of singer Chester Bennington. While "Leave Out All the Rest" leans toward balladeering electronica and "The Little Things Give You Away" swoons through acoustic guitars, the scuffed yet silken Bennington gets more chances to rock out with his schlock out ("Given Up") than ever. And when Pennington and Shinoda go at the war song of "Hands Held High" with a taut rap and a croon, Linkin Park sound brutal and beautiful.

- A.D. Amorosi

nolead begins Travis
nolead ends nolead begins The Boy With No Name
nolead ends nolead begins (Epic ***)

nolead ends Scotland's Travis falls neatly between its predecessors Radiohead and its descendants Coldplay. While lacking the bold artistic adventurousness of the former and the bald commercialism of the latter, Fran Healy and company have created a consistently pleasing body of accessible, easily likable work that's high on emotional and melodic content. "Why Does It Always Rain on Me?", they asked, and you immediately wanted to share your umbrella.

The Boy With No Name, their fifth album, is less barbed than 2003's 12 Memories, and throughout, Healy slides easily and often to his upper range, to best effect on the gently rolling, string-kissed "Battleships" and the perfectly crafted "Closer." Fortunately, the surfeit of grand midtempo ballads - Travis make these sound easier than they are - is tempered by the thumping "Selfish Jean" and the uncharacteristically understated "Out in Space."

- Steve Klinge


From the Cradle to the Grave

nolead begins (Hyena ***1/2)

nolead ends nolead begins Dale Watson
nolead ends nolead begins The Little Darlin' Sessions
nolead ends nolead begins (Koch ***)

nolead ends A double dose of Dale Watson? Countrywise, it doesn't get much better than that.

From the Cradle to the Grave was recorded in a Tennessee cabin once owned by Johnny Cash, and Watson uses the opportunity to evoke the spirit of the Man in Black. As with his usual Haggardesque hard country, however, Watson does so in his own voice. The homage is occasionally overt, as with the boom-chicka rhythm of the revenge-vs.-forgiveness tale "Justice for All." But mostly the Cash influences surface in the almost biblical gravity Watson brings to terse original songs that grapple with love, morality and death.

The Little Darlin' Sessions also finds the inveterate Nashville outsider from Texas recording in Tennessee, but in this case he's in his familiar honky-tonk groove. The album collects 15 numbers from the heyday of the Little Darlin' label, including several by Johnny Paycheck. Watson has said he didn't like the results and didn't want these tracks released. We don't see why. This may not be as strikingly original as From the Cradle to the Grave, but, backed by original Little Darlin' session aces including Lloyd Green on pedal steel and Hargus "Pig" Robbins on piano, Watson delivers superb versions of weepers such as "Apartment #9" and "The Pint of No Return" and barroom stompers like "Lovin' Machine" and "If I'm Gonna Sink."

- Nick Cristiano


Dept. of Good and Evil

(Savoy ***)

nolead ends Pianist Rachel Z has bonded with archetypal jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter and toured with theatrical rocker Peter Gabriel. Her trio recording here sets seven goth and pop-rock tunes along with five standards or originals into jazz settings.

Z, nee Nicolazzo, creates a clean blend with colleagues - drummer-producer Bobbie Rae, who spent some formative time at Temple, and bassist Maeve Royce, a former Rowan University student. Well-known tunes, such as Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" and Death Cab for Cutie's "Soul Meets Body" give her trio strong melodic connections to listeners. Over that foundation, the trio lays down an ice-cold vibe that draws from orthodox and even smooth jazz to make a potent and unusual amalgam.

Sting's "King of Pain" starts with rippling piano lines that create a skein of rich overtones for trumpeter Erik Naslund to explore. Then the tune jolts gloriously into the original melody and a far-reaching solo section.

Z looks beyond the usual jazz songbook for inspiration and finds it.

- Karl Stark

New Recordings

In Stores Tuesday

Rufus Wainwright, Release the Stars;

Gretchen Wilson, One of the Boys; Wilco, Sky Blue Sky;

Dolores O'Riordan, Are You Listening

nolead begins Michael Bublé
nolead ends nolead begins Call Me Irresponsible
nolead ends nolead begins (143 Records/Reprise ***)

nolead ends Singer Michael Bublé, the Frank Sinatra acolyte and Vancouver native, is also mixing and matching, spicing up his big-band repertoire with cuts from Gamble and Huff's "Me and Mrs. Jones" to Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man."

Bublé, 31, even joins with Boyz II Men for a purring take of "Comin' Home, Baby," the tune that set free the late flutist Herbie Mann.

The material may change, but the new charts don't alter Bublé's essential Frankness. The son of a fisherman, he sounds as if he were born in a tuxedo.

Producer David Foster (Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Madonna) discovered Bublé in 2000 at the wedding of then-Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's daughter.

The vibe on Call Me is bubblegum light at times. But like a practical mayoral candidate, Bublé works his base with a righteous take of the Sinatra staple "That's Life."

- K.S.


New Philharmonia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting.

(BBC Legends ***1/2)

nolead ends nolead begins Rudolf Serkin
Brahms' Violin Sonata No. 1 (Op. 79) and Trio for Piano, Violin and Horn (Op. 40) and Bach's Sonata No. 5 (BWV 1018).
nolead ends nolead begins Rudolf Serkin, piano; Adolf Busch, violin; Aubrey Brain, horn.
nolead ends nolead begins (APR ***)

nolead ends nolead begins Mieczyslaw Horszowski
J.S. Bach's Partita in C minor, Mozart's Piano Sonata (K. 570), Debussy's "Children's Corner" and Chopin selections.
nolead ends nolead begins Mieczyslaw Horszowski, piano.
nolead ends nolead begins (BBC Legends ****)

nolead ends What do these three musicians have in common? They're all longtime, long-missed Philadelphians who we wish were still alive and recording. In a way, they are. All three discs are mostly unpublished performances. The Horszowski performances date from the mid-1980s when he was in his early 90s. Of his late-period live-recital recordings, this is among the best. Concentration and accuracy are good. His use of color - which made his more-famous colleagues flock to his concerts - is much in evidence.

Parts of this Stokowski disc have been out in inferior sound. Some of the repertoire, like the Vaughan Williams Fantasia, was better conducted by Stoky elsewhere. But the Brahms Symphony No. 4, heard in one of his last public concerts (he was 92), is a major marvel, each musical idea emerging with such personality as to have its own tempo without taxing the piece's overall cohesion. The London audience is even moved to applaud after the first movement.

The revelation in these newly discovered Busch/Serkin recordings is hearing the pianist in his relative youth. But enthusiasm should be tempered here. The sound ranges from barely passable (the Bach sonata, recorded in a 1939 Library of Congress concert) to excellent (the Brahms trio, recorded in 1933 at Abbey Road). The main prize is the Brahms violin sonata, recorded live for the BBC in 1936, with bristling energy and inspired breadth of line not often heard in other Busch/Serkin recordings. The trio recording predates the famous, long-published one by this lineup, but catches Serkin prior to swearing off Bechstein pianos (the company turned Nazi) and Brain before he accidentally ran over his French horn with his car. Differences, especially pianist ones, are palpable.

- David Patrick Stearns