Seventh Tree

(Mute ***)

Alison Goldfrapp is a big-enough star in her native England that a common way for wags to slag Madonna is to call the Material Mum "Oldfrapp." The popularity of Goldfrapp - a collaboration between the eponymous singer and silent musical partner Will Gregory - is worth noting to appreciate the extent of the daring stylistic about-face of

Seventh Tree


When last heard from, on 2005's


, the duo were indulging themselves on a glammed-out, electronic dance trip, camping it up on over-the-top excesses such as "Ride a White Horse."

Seventh Tree

, in stark contrast, is a down-tempo, mostly acoustic, almost entirely pastoral affair, a Sunday morning chill-out in the countryside after a Saturday night of disco debauchery. It wouldn't work so well if Goldfrapp and Gregory weren't so skilled at weaving subtle pop hooks into Nick Drake-y, bucolic ruminations such as "Eat Yourself" and "A & E," and if Goldfrapp weren't such a compellingly sexy singer. Not what the fans expect, but all the more impressive for it.

- Dan DeLuca


14 Kt. God

(Kill Rock Stars ***)

Had the Oregon duo Panther formed 10 or 15 years ago, you'd have to get their music via mail-order forms or second-generation cassette dubs. Now you can find all of what you need on their MySpace page, or through their crudely designed (on purpose, it seems) Web site. But the former methods suit Panther's idiosyncrasies better - you want to seek this stuff out, get lost in what they've laid out for you. Each song on

14 Kt. God

, the band's second album, feels as if it comes with its own history and approach, the way a writer might look at the scattered reams of paper sitting next to his desk and decide to put out a book.

This isn't to suggest

14 Kt. God

is inaccessible - "Puerto Rican Jukebox" and "Violence, Diamonds" keep that from happening - but there is something obtuse about it, and about the band's influences. They start at Talking Heads and end up somewhere between the noodling of Phish and the gypsy rock of Yeasayer and Vampire Weekend. A little annoying, a lot of fun.

- Michael Pollock

The Gutter Twins


(Sub Pop ***)

Two elder statesmen of Nineties grunge, Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan and Afghan Whigs front man Greg Dulli, team as the Gutter Twins. The results? A dark and sinister album of deep-voiced, bluesy rock. Listeners hoping for a grunge revival can turn to hard rockers like "Idle Hands" for solace, but, overall,


is mostly concerned with spooky spiritualism and earthy sins set to ominous, heavy ballads and anthemic crescendoes.

Lanegan seems happy collaborating these days (although "happy" may be the wrong word for the misanthropic Lanegan), and he has done excellent work with Isobel Campbell and with Soulsavers, as well as with Dulli's Twilight Singers, the project with the most similarities to the Gutter Twins.


doesn't dazzle - Dulli and Lanegan's bass voices share a gravitas that nearly sinks some songs - but tracks like "Bete Noire" and "The Body" possess an unsettling and rumbling grandeur.

- Steve Klinge

Erykah Badu

New AmErykah Pt. One:
4th World War

(Motown/Universal ***1/2)

No matter how high her head wrap or how spacey her sound, Erykah Badu's voice gets first billing. Pull up to the bumper of her past - neat retro-soul, giant stepping jazz, creeping '70s-inspired funk - and it's Badu's voice that links them: an uneasy cackle that would make Nina Simone grin, a low-slung moan and and not-so-careless whisper that caresses and obsesses over her subjects, close at hand or universal.



, "Honey" offers blowsy Delta grime within Badu's sinewy voice, while producer 9th Wonder crams its undulating pulse with chopping beats. If "That Hump" is an un-sexy response to Black Eyed Peas' Fergie-licous ridiculousness, "Soldier" harks back to Badu's weird '70s with her siren's call heeding war's warnings. But it's "The Healer" that acts as


's bluest state, bringing a chanting Badu to this rap nation like nothing she's done before. "It's bigger than the government," cries Badu as if she means it. She may have been mad at Tyrone once upon a time. But now she's really mad.

- A.D. Amorosi


Alan Jackson

Good Time

(Arista Nashville ***)

It is indeed a

Good Time

when Alan Jackson gets back to doing what he does best. After 2006's

Like Red on a Rose,

his misguided collaboration with Alison Krauss as producer - the snoozer of a set seemed designed to make him safe for NPR - Jackson has reteamed with his dependable old partner, Keith Stegall, and returned to the kind of straight-shooting, heavy-on-the-honky-tonk music that has made him one of country's most deserving stars.

In his typically understated way, Jackson celebrates the country verities, whether he's paying tribute to his salt-of-the-

earth father in "Small Town Southern Man," having fun with trying to keep the marriage fires burning in "Nothing Left to Do," or wallowing in barroom misery in "If You Want to Make Me Happy." At 17 songs, the album could use some paring. But Jackson, who wrote all the songs himself, never fails to give you tunes that ring with truth and avoid cheap emotion.

- Nick Cristiano

The Wrights

The Wrights

(ACR ***1/2)

Adam Wright is the nephew of Alan Jackson, but there's no doubt talent, not nepotism, is the main reason the Wrights are recording for ACR (that's Alan's Country Records). The tradition-

minded Wright and his wife, Shannon, are on their way to taking their place in the grand tradition of male-

female country duos.

The Wrights

builds on the immense promise of their 2005 debut,

Down This Road.

The infinitely rich connection you hear in their vocal harmonies extends to their superb songwriting. They alternate lead vocals impressively, though it's Shannon's voice that will stop you in your tracks, especially on the devastating ballad "Planting Flowers." If there's a quibble, it's that, at eight songs, this set is too short.

- N.C.


Bobby Watson

From the Heart

(Palmetto ***)

Leader and alto saxophonist Bobby Watson is an important heir to the hard-blowing bands of the late drummer Art Blakey. Watson, who served as the Jazz Messengers' musical director for four years and now directs jazz studies at the University of Missouri/Kansas City Conservatory of Music, is still taking swings at the hard bop thing.

Here he joins with a group of younger cats, much as Blakey did, and rides on their energy. A Watson band always sounds distinctive in the horns, and the charts here carry the upward energy of R&B along with Watson's unique jazzy exuberance. And solos remain the main event.

Occasionally, the chaos gets to be too much. Watson might have done better to prune the run-on importunings of his bandmates. But that's not the hard bop way, and there's still a hot time to be had on these originals. Watson at full stretch remains an awesome experience.

- Karl Stark

Three horns from Blakey's Jazz Messengers - Watson on alto, Dave Schnitter on tenor saxophone, and Valery Ponomarev on trumpet - will reunite with two other ex-Messengers on March 14 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Great Stair Hall. Information: 763-8100; 5:45-6:45 and 7:15-8:15 pm. Admission: $12 (free for members, students $8).

David Finck

Future Day

(Soundbrush Records ***1/2)

Talk about a CD to curl up to.

Philly native David Finck is a favored bassist of maestro Andre Previn and singer Tony Bennett. His long resumé runs from Latin and Brazilian (Paquito D'Rivera, Ivan Lins) to pop (Elton John, Gladys Knight, Rod Stewart) and jazz (Herbie Hancock, Dizzy Gillespie and Rosemary Clooney.) Finck even backed Aretha Franklin, singing Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" on David Letterman.

The gig here is some of the smoothest, most relaxing jazz around. The set with vibraphonist Joe Locke, pianist Tom Ranier and drummer Joe LaBarbera moves like a Delta 88 Oldsmobile, albeit more economically. The session mixes in standards like a sylvan "For All We Know" with carefully chosen originals, such as the liquid "Ballad for a Future Day."

"Nature Boy" gets played over five beats to a measure, instead of the standard four, while maintaining its tuneful allure.

Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard are tapped for soloing heft. Finck, who has taken up arranging, producing, and songwriting in recent years, has created a sophisticated mix, never jarring or discordant, but full of quality moments. This CD creates instant ambience, like a great bar without smoke.

- K.S.


Symphony No. 5,
Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok

Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Christoph Eschenbach; Yvonne Naef, mezzo-soprano; Juliette Kang, violin; Hai-Ye Ni, cello; Christoph Eschenbach, piano

(Ondine ***)

High hopes would reasonably surround the latest Philadelphia Orchestra release with Christoph Eschenbach. It was a performance of Shostakovich's

Symphony No. 5

in Carnegie Hall that gave the best reasons to think that this arranged marriage might find a degree of love. But whatever magic members of the orchestra and audience heard that night in New York did not travel to Verizon Hall a few years later - the performances from which this Ondine release was mixed.

There's nothing particularly wrong with the interpretation wrought by the musicians and recording producer Martha de Francisco. But in a world layered with decades of Shostakovich


recordings, it would be tough to say that there's anything special about this one. The first movement has some lovely moments, especially near the end when the texture thins to just a few sweet instruments. The second movement "Allegretto" fairly plods. The third is endearingly fragile, which heightens its air of desperation. And the last movement has a tough time working up to an appropriate level of triumph. We're used to some eccentricities and distortions from Eschenbach. But a blindfold test might challenge some listeners who wouldn't normally associate dullness with his approach to music-making.


Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok

, paired here with the symphony, were written in 1967 and dedicated to soprano Galina Vishnevskaya. Each one is for a different combination of voice, piano, cello and violin. Hai-Ye Ni, the orchestra's principal cellist, comes across as particularly soulful in "Ophelia's Song," and while Yvonne Naef sometimes eclipses her instrumental partners, the mezzo's rich and, in places, slightly husky sound is a fine match for these somber songs. Eschenbach once again reveals himself as a pianist of exquisite tone and innate keyboard musicality.

- Peter Dobrin