It Won't Be Soon Before Long

(A&M/Octone ***)

nolead ends You might not dig that their last record was omnipresent. Or that they chose a dumb REO-ish title for this one. But you'd better get used to it: Maroon 5 is freaky charming.

The band writes wizened-but-fresh hook-laden soul pop that'd make Hall kick Oates, plays its production-heavy moments with an energy only a unified group could pull off and gives its singer enough room to falsetto in a fashion Justin would envy.

In that order. Diagram. Zip. Lock. Done.

Sometimes M-5's level of efficiency gives its flickering funk the cold sweats ("Makes Me Wonder") and its rock-outs the cold shoulder ("Can't Stop"). This stuff's a science. But calculated or not, you can't miss that even in its bigness, Long has a pumping heart that is audible above its precision-tooled music-making. The weird break during "Kiwi," the soulful emotionalism of "If I Never See Your Face Again," crooner Adam Levine's suaveness on the spiky ("Little of Your Time") and the smooth ("Back at Your Door") - it's all crisp without being hermetically sealed. Maroon 5 may bug y'all with their perfection. But try not to stay too mad. You'll be hearing this everywhere you go.

– A.D. Amorosi

nolead begins Various Artists
nolead ends nolead begins Music From the Julian Temple Film Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten
nolead ends nolead begins (Legacy ***)

nolead ends The Future Is Unwritten isn't a soundtrack album so much as a mix tape that adds up to a shambling musical biography of the late leader of punk firebrands the Clash. (It accompanies the rock doc of the same name that screened at Sundance but does not yet have a U.S. release date and arrives at the same time as Redemption Song, Chris Salewicz's 629-page Strummer bio.) Future splices together Clash demos and outtakes and solo Strummer tracks with excerpts from a BBC radio gig Strummer held down from 1999-2002. It features choice gems from Woody Guthrie, Elvis Presley ("Crawfish," from the King Creole soundtrack), Nina Simone, Bob Dylan and Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin. There's enough odd or unreleased stuff here to make Future a must-have for Clash completists, but it also paints a surprisingly satisfying, slightly askew portrait of one of rock's all-time greats.

– Dan DeLuca

nolead begins Elliott Smith
nolead ends nolead begins New Moon
nolead ends nolead begins (Kill Rock Stars ***1/2)

nolead ends New Moon collects tracks Elliott Smith recorded between 1994 and 1997, during the time of his second, self-titled album and his third, XO. Most of these 24 songs are previously unreleased recordings that for various reasons, having little to do with quality, did not make the albums. A few, such as an early take of the Oscar-nominated "Miss Misery," are alternate versions. It's a treasure trove.

Smith, whose stabbing death in 2003 is still unresolved, was one of the finest songwriters of his generation. He constructed quietly catchy melodies that owed debts to late-period Beatles, and even though he dwelled on tortured emotions – odes to bitterness, paeans to addiction – he did so with a naked honesty that made for good, if disquieting, art.

New Moon is a shadow history that offers more heartbreaking works of Smith's often-staggering genius.

– Steve Klinge

nolead begins Meg Baird
nolead ends nolead begins Dear Companion
nolead ends nolead begins (Drag City ***)

nolead ends Last year, Philly's preeminent psych-folk collective, Espers, released II, which showcased the band's dense and intense original songs, abetted with squalling electric guitars and effects. On her solo debut, recorded around the same time, Espers' singer Meg Baird instead opts for something hauntingly stark, with the vocals supported only by her acoustic guitar or dulcimer, plus the occasional overdub. Consisting mainly of traditional and cover songs, Dear Companion is an excellent showcase for her pure vocals and precise instrument work. Baird offers excellent interpretations of the likes of "The Cruelty of Barbary Allen," a traditional tale of love, death and regret, and the wry pop of "The Waltze of the Tennis Players," a song from obscure Canadian folkies Fraser and DeBolt.

– Michael Pelusi


Pure BS

(Warner Bros. ***)

Sure, they're his initials, but you have to like a singer who calls his album Pure BS. He obviously doesn't take himself too seriously.

Blake Shelton has always been a likable guy. If he has never approached greatness as an artist, he has at least been dependable, turning out mostly solid and engaging mainstream country fare. This set sounds like his strongest, from the good-old-boy honky-tonkers "The More I Drink" and "The Last Country Song" (with cameos by George Jones and John Anderson) to sensitive-but-never-wimpy ballads like "She Don't Love Me" and "What I Wouldn't Give." The song that probably best captures the pure BS charm, however, is Chris Knight's ruefully self-deprecating "It Ain't Easy Being Me."

- Nick Cristiano

nolead begins David Serby
nolead ends nolead begins Another Sleepless Night
nolead ends nolead begins (Harbor Grove ***1/2) nolead ends

It's no surprise that David Serby is from Southern California. His fresh brand of progressive traditionalism incorporates some of the twangified electric thrust of Bakersfield - pedal-steel great Jay Dee Maness of Buck Owens' Buckaroos plays on the album - and a touch of Dwight Yoakam's sleek stylishness.

Serby has had a life that could be a country song - or several: put up for adoption at 6 months, a bad early marriage, turning to music only after he hit 30, and finding out his biological father was a honky-tonk musician (and friend of Maness'). It's inspiration for songs that pack quite a punch, wallowing beautifully in heartache and sadness when not dripping with menace ("You're Not Going Anywhere," "We Don't Live Here Anymore"). It all adds up to a sterling new chapter in the history of California country.

- N.C.



(Heads Up ****)

nolead ends This is the last recording tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker made before his death from bone-marrow cancer on Jan. 13, 2006.

The Cheltenham native, whose career ranged from backing Paul Simon and James Taylor to performing with his brother, trumpeter Randy Brecker, and others at the highest levels in jazz, is working out of his fusion toolbox here. Across the bandstand sits guitarist Pat Metheny. Pianists Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau take turns over the same rhythm section of bassist John Patitucci and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

The session is full of emotional overtones. The assemblage is beyond strong, even though there's no Randy.

Brecker plays through a difficult time in his illness and even uses it to magnify his impact. Time is short, the opportunities few. Somehow it got put down.

"When Can I Kiss You Again?" – a question Brecker's teenage son, Sam, asked during treatment when human touch was forbidden – gives Metheny and Brecker a poignant reverie to explore. "Tumbleweed," an emphatic cooker, explodes at the end with Brecker's blowing two notes over and over in a cadence for the ages.

The title track, the last piece he recorded, ends the set in a gentle haze. It's a poignant checkout.

– Karl Stark

nolead begins Roberto Fonseca
nolead ends nolead begins Zamazu
nolead ends nolead begins (Enja ***1/2)

nolead ends Pianist Roberto Fonseca is best known for taking over the bench in 2001 from Ruben Gonzalez in the Cuban masters group, the Buena Vista Social Club. Now 31, Fonseca appears poised to lead the next generation of Cuban jazz players. He channels old-school passion into a more recognizable context with many modern influences.

Elements of Chick Corea fly by on the high-tempo and mesmerizing "Congo Árabe," which sounds surprisingly Middle Eastern. The desert vibe takes turns with a more Cuban sound on the amazing "Suspiro," which gyrates between those disparate sounds. Fonseca chooses "Ishmael" by South Africa's Abdullah Ibrahim to get beautifully elegiac and percussive. And the bass line of the title track - the title comes from his niece's playful word when she pretended to speak a foreign language – shows off a soulful slinkiness that Americans should find funky and familiar.

Fonseca makes his influences sound more like partners than bosses, and his unmistakable Cuban sound makes him worth hearing.

– K.S.


Georg Nigl, Urban Malmberg and others. Opera de Lyon, Jonathan Stockhammer conducting.

(Naive DVD **1/2)

nolead ends One of France's most acclaimed but uncompromising composers, Pascal Dusapin, takes on the Faust legend here with a peculiar brand of comedy unprecedented in the legend's eternal history. Set on the face of a clock, this high-concept Peter Mussbach production costumes Faust and Mephisto as twins (black suits, white faces), though the devil is far more honorable than the slipping, sliding, self-absorbed Faust.

Much of the opera is philosophical discussion sung in atonal parlando over long-held orchestral chords. You're never sure how serious the opera is until characters turn up in bunny-rabbit costumes. Yes, this is oblique, absurd, tongue-so-subtly-planted-in-cheek Jean-Luc Godard humor. But that only sweetens this pot. Those who see the piece live at the Spoleto USA Festival in late May should rest assured the opera concludes with an eerie quiet (it's the end of the world) that lets you rest your weary ears.

- David Patrick Stearns

nolead begins Brahms
Piano Quartets
nolead ends nolead begins Raphael Trio with Marc-Andre Hamelin (piano).
nolead ends nolead begins (Hyperion ***)

nolead ends nolead begins Piano Quartets
nolead ends nolead begins Isabelle Faust, Bruno Giuranna, viola, Alain Meunier, cello, Derek Han, piano.
nolead ends nolead begins (Brilliant ***1/2)

nolead ends nolead begins String Quartets and Piano Quintet Op. 34
nolead ends nolead begins Emerson Quartet and Leon Fleisher, piano.
nolead ends nolead begins (DG ****)

nolead ends nolead begins Piano Quintet Op. 34
nolead ends nolead begins Griller Quartet, Myra Hess, piano
nolead ends nolead begins (APR ****)

nolead ends Adversity, it seems, is great for Brahms chamber music, since the best performances in this recent outpouring come from fraught places. The Emerson Quartet's big sound and vigorous temperament is perfectly suited to the composer's three string quartets, but the prize is pianist Fleisher, who joins them for the Piano Quintet Op. 34. Despite decades of health problems, he triumphs over his 1963 Juilliard Quartet recording, not just with his fingers but with his profound understanding of how much this music can mean.

The APR release has the first-time publication of the Piano Quintet in the Hess/Griller collaboration caught live (and in good sound) in the pianist's legendary series of wartime concerts at London's National Gallery. You don't have to know that the Brits were dodging Nazi bombs to feel an intense, interpretive fearlessness here, though within the framework of that culture's customary gentility. Hess' notable 1950 Schumann Carnival fills out the disc.

The two sets of the Brahms Piano Quartets are cultivated, elegant and thoughtful. But unless you're a serious fan of pianist Hamelin, the budget-priced set on Brilliant is rather more searching. And with any luck, Hamelin's bonus cuts (Three Intermezzi, Op. 117) will be repackaged on a solo disc.

- D.P.S.

New Recordings

In Stores Tuesday

Ozzy Osbourne, Black Rain; Joan Osborne, Breakfast in Bed;

Erasure, Light at the End of the World;

Candye Kane, Guitar'd and Feathered