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Pop Unrepentant Anglophiles will love the Kaiser Chiefs' third album, Off With Their Heads. It bustles with bouncy new-wave keyboards, catchy sing-along choruses with plenty of whoa-ohs and hey-heys, accents that proudly display the band's Leeds roots, and good-natured cheeky humor.


Off With Their Heads

(Universal Motown ***)

Unrepentant Anglophiles will love the Kaiser Chiefs' third album,

Off With Their Heads

. It bustles with bouncy new-wave keyboards, catchy sing-along choruses with plenty of whoa-ohs and hey-heys, accents that proudly display the band's Leeds roots, and good-natured cheeky humor.

It's a fun album, from the opener, "Spanish Metal," which sounds like a James Bond theme crossed with a

Magical Mystery Tour

outtake, through the marching, leaping melody "Good Days Bad Days" to "Addicted To Drugs," a cowbell-driven goof.

There are a few missteps: producer Mark Ronson brings in a gratuitous orchestra on "Like It Too Much" (though give him credit for arranging a Lily Allen cameo), and ballads like "Tomato In the Rain" are mere placeholders between the extroverted rockers.

The Kaiser Chiefs are descendents of XTC and Supergrass and peers of the Futureheads and Franz Ferdinand. You don't have to be an Anglophile to fall for their charms, but if you are, you likely will.

- Steve Klinge

A Hundred Million Stars

(Fiction, **1/2)

The Scottish band's previous CD,

Eyes Open

, was so spectacular that it may have set expectations unreasonably high for this follow-up.

A Hundred Million Stars

is certainly more grandiose and ambitious but nowhere near as enticing.

This collection is chillier than its predecessor, evincing a more formal, orchestral approach to pop. It would seem that Gary Lightbody and the boys have spent too much time listening to Coldplay.

The simpler songs, such as "Set Down Your Glass" and "The Planets Bend Between Us" sound better. But at no point is

A Hundred Million Stars

as emotionally gripping or as pretty as

Eyes Open


Call out the St. Bernards. Snow Patrol sounds lost.

- David Hiltbrand

Theater of the Mind

(DTP/Def Jam ***)

Last time we looked in on Ludacris (a.k.a. Chris Bridges, the name he uses in films such as




), hip-hop's slipperiest rhymer was in a sober mood. His 2006 album,

Release Therapy

, saw him focusing on topics such as God and hunger. Luda seemed pensive - as he does on the cover of this new record.

But lucky for us, he was acting.

Theater of the Mind

finds Luda returning to the raunch, the booze, and the boys in the hood.

Luda focuses too much on the boys. All but two tracks feature guest stars, including Jay-Z and T-Pain (the good), Chris Brown and Sean Garrett (the fair), and Spike Lee and Floyd Mayweather Jr. (the odd) in dynamic, trippy surroundings. While his pairing with a sneering Lil Wayne on "Last of a Dying Breed" is a battle royale between rap's most distinctive tones, Luda's teaming with comedian Chris Rock on "Everybody Hates Chris" is unnecessary. When Ludacris takes the mike alone - as on "Let's Stay Together" and "MVP," the Atlanta wordsmith is at his cocksure best.

- A.D. Amorosi


Damn Right Rebel Proud

(Curb ***)

On "The Grand Ole Opry (Ain't So Grand)," Hank Williams III spits in the face of the country music institution that fired his grandfather (for boozing and no-shows) and was slow to embrace his rowdy, country-rocking father.

Hank III obviously wants to be part of the tradition of hell-raising country rebels, in family and out, and on

Damn Right Rebel Proud

he still sounds a little too self-conscious about it. That said, the singer, whose thin frame and piercing nasal twang put him closer to Hank Sr. than Hank Jr., seems to be growing into the role - finding his own voice rather than striking a pose. His honky-tonk is bracingly rawboned, and if he doesn't reach the demon-wracked depths of his grandfather, little seems secondhand about the best of his songs, from the regretful "I Wish I Knew" to the workingman's lament "Six Pack of Beer" and the desolate "Stoned and Alone."

- Nick Cristiano


(Telehog ***)

He has been a member of Merle Haggard's Strangers, so you know Redd Volkaert has to be quite a musician. On


this master of the Telecaster again shows his virtuosity and range.

Instrumentals such as "Raisin' the Dickens" and "Send It Back" show Volkaert's fluid approach to hillbilly jazz, while "Call the Pound" and "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line" show this twang-banger can rock as well as swing. If his singing is not up there with his guitar-playing, the unassuming Volkaert still gets the most out of his froggy baritone, enhancing the emotional truth of such perfectly realized originals as the anti-cheating "I Know How I'd Feel" and the cutting "Just Because I Don't Care" ("doesn't mean I don't understand").

- N.C.


Lobster Leaps In

(Cuneiform ***)

The Microscopic Septet is back. The group disbanded in 1992 after more than a decade of solid work, and last year released all its LPs from the 1980s. Its new CD is a lot like the old records, only more so.

Led by soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston and pianist Joel Forrester, the septet finds the normal in the idiosyncratic. Or maybe it's vice versa.

The work is swinging, infectious, and full of wit.

A lot of jazz is very weighty these days and CREATIVE, but the septet takes turns tweaking the music's self-importance. "Disconcerto for Donnie," which features some modest band crooning, is said to document a disastrous Caribbean vacation by alto saxophonist Don Davis, while "The Big Squeeze" could be a wacky film noir soundtrack.

The amount of caffeinated interplay can be overwhelming. But it won't put you to sleep.

- Karl Stark

Above the Clouds

(Munich Records ***)

Pianist Amina Figarova is a native of Azerbaijan, the former Soviet republic set between Russia and Iran along the Caspian Sea. She trained at the Baku Conservatory there and at the Berklee College of Music in Boston before settling in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, with her husband, flutist Bart Platteau.

Her publicist describes these cuts as refreshing the post-bop idiom of the Blue Note label, among others, and that's partly true. "Sharp Corners," a swift blues, has some post-bop feel, as does "Blue Wonder."

But the set is broader than that. Figarova's "Above the Clouds" was inspired by composer Maria Schneider's

Sky Blue

, and it's pretty expansive.

"Nico's Dream" poses an elegant opportunity for trumpeter Nico Schepers, while "River of Mountains," Henry Hudson's original name for the Hudson, creates a mystical beauty.

Some of this music sounds placeless, which is understandable given Figarova's wide influences. Figarova is a strong technical player who finds some winsome things to say.

- K.S.


Theo Bleckmann, vocals; Evan Ziporyn, bass clarinet; Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose conducting

(Naxos ***)

(New Amsterdam ***1/2)

Were the great 19th-century songwriters (Schubert and Schumann) alive and working today, would they compose for operatic voices? Maybe not. Might they echo current rhythms, forms and urban sounds? Rather likely. Such is the best way to hear these two invigorating, innovative but immediately approachable discs by current composers.

The title cut on David Lang's


disc is a concerto that sounds like an urban funeral train surrounded by car accidents. Lou Reed's unflinching lyrics about a drug overdose in the Velvet Underground song "Heroin" are reset in a deeply insinuating, slowed-down melody sung with detached, uninflected purity by Theo Bleckmann, with only a Bach-like cello accompaniment. Other works have this eerie spareness, but more often Lang is full of stark musical juxtapositions and pop-music punchiness. All are absorbingly well performed.

Corey Dargel's disc is a less-complex collection of 13 songs commissioned by individuals as gifts for partners, siblings and friends. The lyrics are a versified digest of interviews conducted with concerned parties, the results having an unguarded quirkiness and a sense of accidental poetry. The moods are mostly sunny, and when the lyrics go off on an inspired tangent, so does the music. Dargel sings everything, and his delivery is, like Bleckmann's, more about reportage than expression. Dargel also plays all the instruments, mostly electronic and percussive, always varied and tasteful and always about showcasing the words.

- David Patrick Stearns

Renee Fleming, soprano; Munich Philharmonic, Christian Thielemann conducting

(Decca ***1/2)

No singer currently before the public is so closely associated with Strauss'

Four Last Songs

. Still, the piece has always been a moving target for Renee Fleming. Sometimes she'll nail it at the dress rehearsal but lose the thread in performance. In this new recording, her voice is more effortful than in her RCA outing with Christoph Eschenbach, but also darker - all the better to reveal the music's melancholy undertone. She also inflects the text with far greater specificity, which some might find fussy.

The real reason to buy this is the arias from the opera

Ariadne auf Naxos

. Even though she hasn't sung it onstage, the music takes possession of her in some of her most impassioned and resourceful performances yet recorded. The disc is filled out with orchestrated songs, and some of Strauss' best.

- D.P.S.