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Pop The cartoon figure on the cover of @#%&*! Smilers is wearing an upside-down grin, with his tongue out to boot. Not surprising, because Aimee Mann has never been one to make excessively happy music. Sometimes, her tendency toward the dark side can make


@#%&*! Smilers

(SuperEgo ***)

The cartoon figure on the cover of

@#%&*! Smilers

is wearing an upside-down grin, with his tongue out to boot. Not surprising, because Aimee Mann has never been one to make excessively happy music. Sometimes, her tendency toward the dark side can make Mann too much of a bitter pill to swallow. Here though, the adult-alternative crush object lets enough light in on a loosely linked set of songs about emotional desperadoes that are built on old analog keyboard sounds and strummed acoustic guitars. Stronger than its boxing-themed 2005 predecessor

The Forgotten Arm



doesn't sugarcoat a thing - "So you roll on, with the best you can/Getting loaded, watching CNN," she sings in "31 Today." But its sharp-eyed and hard-earned short stories in song arrive with inviting melodies decorated with subtle strings and deftly employed horns, balancing out the melancholy with the hint of a not entirely cynical smile.

- Dan DeLuca

Big Drop

(Mercury ***)

This Philly pop minstrel is old-school. He puts the song first, ahead of the arrangement and the attitude. The result is somehow dreamy and visceral, like a cross between Thunderclap Newman and Citizen Cope. Stanford, who grew up in Narberth and fronted the eclectic local band Townhall, brings an artful but organic touch to his debut. Songs like the touching piano ballad "My Own Worst Enemy," the delicate breakup song "Nikole," and the plaintive "Heartbeat" are unvarnished and fetchingly vulnerable. Once in a while a trombone drifts into the mix. You can't blame Stanford for that. It was the first instrument he learned to play. See? Old-school.

- David Hiltbrand

This Is Not the World

(Nul ***)

If the Futureheads' self-titled 2004 debut was a manic dance-punk racket, 2006's follow-up,

News and Tributes

, was a thundering post-punk colossus that earned comparisons to Fugazi and Mission of Burma instead of XTC and the Buzzcocks. Freed from its former record label, the band lands smack in the middle of those two sounds on its third outing.


is fierce and expansive but also agile and propulsive, kick-starting with the strong single "The Beginning of the Twist" and never letting up. Barry Hyde's confident, lilting shout still leads the trio's punchy delivery, even if his lyrics have gotten cheesier ("Because you've had too much to think tonight") and the songs more formulaic. Still, it's hard not to cheer for such sturdy, swooping anthems.

- Doug Wallen

Re-Arrange Us

(Barsuk **)

For a famously devoted hubby-and-wife music-making couple, mates Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel usually manage to stay away from any yuckiness associated with such pairing. Though they've softened the new-wave crackle and dynamic rhythmic attack of their previous recordings to include chipper strings and jumpy choruses, there's not much smoochie-faced longing to be found here. They've got the high-pitched vocal tics and accompanying harmonies, thumping drums, driving Farfisa-like organs and spicy girl-group peaks of their past on the sprightly "The Re-Arranger" and the spacey "Now."

But such evenness means Mates of State lack the drama and punch of tumultuous couplings like Tammy and George or Ike and Tina. And rather than ever finding even a twinkle of domestic frenzy, Kori and Jason opt for the pastoral ("My Only Offer") and saccharine ("Blue and Gold Print"). Of course, I love, love, love that Jason and Kori are so happy. Yet I can't help but want to muss it all up just to hear some harder results - rearrange them a bit to get to the dark side of wedded bliss.

- A.D. Amorosi


Doin' the Funky Thing

(Zoho Roots ***)

Doin' the Funky Thing

accurately describes Walter "Wolfman" Washington's new album, which is bookended by the loose-limbed "Shake Your Booty/Funky Thing." But the disc could also be named after another key track, "I'm Back," because the album marks the New Orleans institution's return to the Crescent City after Katrina forced him to flee.

"I'm Back" (with Dr. John on organ) is less about personal triumph than the enduring spirit of New Orleans and its music, without glossing over the hardships. That spirit permeates

Funky Thing,

as singer-guitarist Washington and his seasoned band, the Roadmasters, get down on an infectiously spirited set that also displays a good share of uptown stylishness.

- Nick Cristiano

Julianne Hough

(Mercury **1/2)

For the first time in three seasons, this pixieish 19-year-old from Provo, Utah, didn't win ABC's

Dancing With the Stars

. (No surprise there. She was saddled with Adam Carolla.)

But Hough isn't crying in her beer. (No surprise there. She's Mormon.)

Instead, she's launching a career as a country singer, opening on tour this summer for Brad Paisley. Judging by her debut CD, it should be quite a show.

Working with longtime Reba McIntire producer David Malloy, Hough employs a facile and full-bodied voice, with a convincing and at times sassy country intonation. She acquits herself confidently on the prophetically catchy "That Song in My Head," the cute novelty song "You, You, You," as well as the weepers like "Hide Your Matches."

Yes, this tiny dancer can sing (and that is something of a surprise).

- David Hiltbrand


Miles From India: A Celebration of the Music of Miles Davis

(Times Square ***)

Miles Davis was famous for making forays into flamenco or fusion. Here producer Bob Belden transplants the Davis songbook to India, partnering a bevy of former Davis sidemen with Indian musicians.

The results spread over two CDs are by turns peculiar and striking. The vibe often dates from the master's late fusion period. Trumpeter Wallace Roney offers lots of vintage, spacey lines on "Spanish Key," while "All Blues" is salted with sitar before it gets redone in wacky swing.

The mind rebels at some juxtapositions and revels in others. "In a Silent Way" could have been written for the lute-like sarod, which gets used here. But often the Indian cats get the opening section of tunes while the jazz players come in later almost separately, and the interchange is limited like an American suburb.

The music is layered; the Indian musicians were recorded in Mumbai and the former Davis sidemen appeared at various studios by ones and twos to contribute. The recording model made the global project possible, but also limited the back and forth. Still, it's rare to catch the 18 eminent Davis alums who appear, including guitarists John McLaughlin and Mike Stern, keyboardist Chick Corea, drummer Jimmy Cobb and saxophonist Gary Bartz.

- Karl Stark

Long Ago Today

(Artists Recording Collective ***)

The Philly-born pianist Sumi Tonooka produces a beautifully restrained trio recording with bassist Rufus Reid and the late drummer Bob Braye.

The set marks her first recording as a leader in a decade, and projects a shimmering quality. Tonooka never plays an ugly note, though there's no grab for the fiery center, either.

Her compositions are like the fourth player in the room; they veer into unusual patterns and give everyone something challenging. Tonooka tames them, though, making them sound flowing and of one piece.

Her "Dreaming of Tibet," based on a dream she had about walking on the roof of the world, is the most likable tune here. It ambles sweetly. Other times, her sophisticated style serves to hide and obscure emotions more than reveal them.

Tonooka, 51, who has been writing film soundtracks in recent years, has been quietly eminent for a long time. Her work with bassist Reid spans a quarter century. And the title here serves as a tribute to Braye as well as the leader's African American father, Clarence Lawrence Morris, and her Japanese American mother, Emiko Tonooka, who both passed away in the last six years.

- K.S.


Jennifer Koh, violin; Reiko Uchida piano.

(Cedille ****)

Though this disc contains works by such major names as John Adams (

Road Movies

) and Carl Ruggles (


, assembled from the composer's sketches), its distinctively exotic tint is decisively established by Jennifer Higdon's

String Poetic

and Lou Harrison's

Grand Duo

. Both are major works in the violin/piano repertoire, and share an exoticism that echoes music of the Pacific Rim.

You expect that from the West Coast-based Harrison (whose

Grand Duo

is from his top drawer and so buoyant that it was once choreographed by Mark Morris) but not necessarily from Philadelphia-based Higdon. Her piece contains one of her searching slow movements full of modal scales that don't point to any predictable destination. Dampened piano strings create particularly entrancing effects. Though Koh can be a relentless powerhouse virtuoso, these performances feel intimate and nuanced.

- David Patrick Stearns

Janice Watson, Diana Montague, Christopher Maltman, Toby Spence, Lesley Garrett and Sir Thomas Allen; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Sir Charles Mackerras conducting.

(Chandos, three discs, ***1/2)

Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Mackerras conducting.

(Linn, two discs, ***1/2)

The common denominator is conductor Mackerras, who is now Britain's elder-statesman conductor and, over the last few years, has found great vigor in his own version of historically informed performance practice. So his Mozart is lean, low-vibrato stuff that unlocks a vigorous, attractive lilt, particularly in

Cosi fan tutte

, to which his excellent, hand-picked cast responds with performances that thoroughly inhabit their roles. Recitatives crackle, while arias and ensembles project a purpose in every phrase.

Two reservations, however: It's performed in an excellent English version by Marmaduke Browne that preserves a lot of Lorenzo da Ponte's rhyme schemes, but it's still a translation, and one whose Gilbert & Sullivan-ish manner inspires urbane performances perhaps not to everybody's taste. Also, singing is inconsistent. Though Thomas Allen (Don Alfonso) seems to grow vocally younger of late, pop diva Lesley Garrett sounds worn around the edges and lacks the coloratura technique for the role of Despina.

The Mozart symphony set is absolutely first class, right down to its surround-sound engineering and boutique-ish packaging. Like Roger Norrington, Mackerras takes the slow introduction to

Symphony No. 39

in double time, giving it a more spirited contour. Though conventional orchestras make more sound, nothing stops Mackerras from making grand statements - when appropriate. You could want him to take even more chances. But for those who respect his gentlemanly streak, the set is easily accessed, both in hard discs and downloads, via



- D.P.S.