Folie a Deux

(Island Def Jam **1/2)

The first order of business at this meeting of the Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes: Fall Out Boy aren't as famous as they think. If Fall Out Boy's famous for anything, it's for being the band with the poster boys of the least rock-star-like rock stars in history. Bassist Pete Wentz abuses


drugs. The most rebellious famous-and-paranoid sentiment they can come up with in their millionaire stage is, "I don't care what you think."

Second order of business: Fall Out Boy aren't as funny as they think. "Detox just to retox" was set aside for chorus duty, and the funniest treatment they could come up with for the video of "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race" was black-people-laugh-at-us-white-geeks.

Patrick Stump is a talented singer beholden to a dull band, and

Folie a Deux

is his most palatable work yet, if only for growing out of letting Wentz scream all over a third of it. "(Coffee's for Closers)" and "She's My Winona" may be worth the expense, but as a whole, FOB albums offer same-y melodic chops and unwitting, wordy choruses not even catchy enough to be annoying.

- Dan Weiss


(Atlantic ***)

Since 2000, Musiq Soulchild has been the creamiest of Philadelphia's new-jack soul/hop crooners. His productions consistently feature gorgeous, caramel-coated R&B melodies with sexy but not salacious vocals and quiet grooves. And don't forget his penchant for titles in which the words all run together.

His single from the album, "Radio," is a day-late, dollar-short take on sexed-up Atlanta beat-box crunk, something you might hear from, say, Dem Franchize Boyz. Why? Maybe Musiq Soulchild wants the same kind of synth-heavy crossover hit that fellow local John Legend seems to be going for. Truth be told, it doesn't work for either of them.

Only the sassy "Moneyright" comes anywhere close to snapping electro-R&B. Everything else is dreamy, midtempo pop/soul. If you want to hear Musiq's inner (soul) child, head to cozy ballads like "Until" and "Sobeautiful" - the latter perhaps the most subtly contagious and romantic tune he's ever recorded.

- A.D. Amorosi


(ESP Disk ***1/2)

Don't be fooled by the release of


on the avant-garde jazz label ESP. Yes, there are elements of Sun Ra and Albert Ayler to be heard in Frank Difficult's keyboards or Michael Jeffries and Jason McGill's saxophone arsenal (to say nothing of the latter's shortwave radio playing!). But the band called Barnacled, hailing from Providence, R.I., is progressive rock to the max. Nouvelle-prog fans of bands such as Tortoise will love Barnacled's sweatless ethnic twinges and spacious atmospheres. Aficionados of Brit elders such as Henry Cow and Gong will dig Barnacled's messiness, its oddball meters and timbres, its improvisational largesse, and its tasteful melodies.

The music Barnacled makes is fun, free-form hilarity. Take tracks such as "Title," which references Balkan pop, or "Rattles," with its punk roots. Sisters Erica (bassoon) and Ann Schattle (horn in F) converse with the percussion section throughout, switching from edginess to elegant calm ("Polyurethane") or dippiness ("Three Rapid Fire Shell Divisions") on a dime. The real fun in listening to Barnacled is trying to guess when the next zig will zag.

- A.D.A


(Rap-a-Lot/Asylum ***1/2)

It's taken nearly 20 years, but Scarface is finally getting the kind of respect he deserves. And he did it the hard way: by building, over time, a discography of consistently great albums.


, the Houston rapper's ninth solo release, ranks among the best of them, which admittedly isn't saying much. Still, it's a crusher.

"Forgot About Me" bangs harder than anything since "They Down With Us," while "Can't Get Right" is the sort of insightful hip-hop few contemporaries, if any, are capable of. "I came up on Rakim and KRS-1 and N.W.A," Scarface says at the end of the title track. "You came up on me." That might be true. But the original won't be forgotten anytime soon.

- Michael Pollock


Startin' Fires

(Warner Bros. **1/2)

"I was green before green was a thing," Blake Shelton sings on the lead-off track of his latest album. "Green" is the kind of song that puts this amiable journeyman star in his best light - flashing good-old-boy charm on a song that comes with a dose of humor and a lot of honky-tonk flavor.

Startin' Fires

could use a few more songs like that. The album leans toward earnest ballads and mid-tempo numbers like the hit single "She Wouldn't Be Gone." Shelton delivers these solidly, although he's best on the songs that avoid the power-ballad approach and allow more of his personality to shine through, like the spare "100 Miles," the conversational "Never Lovin' You," and "Bare Skin Rug," the campfire-style, guitar-only duet with his girlfriend, Miranda Lambert.

- Nick Cristiano

The Suicide Kings

(Blue Plate ***)

The home page of the Suicide Kings' Web site features the tag line "Toons for the New Depression." How timely can you get? And these tunes happen to be right on the money, which is cheering in its own way, and marks this Nashville outfit as a band to watch.

Not that front man Brian Connole's songs are topical in any way. In fact, the subject matter is pretty timeless. What the Suicide Kings do is bring to it their own low-key but still lively variety of retro-tinged country, from the Cash-like boom-chicka rhythm of "Marie" to the bluegrass flavorings of "Hooker's Lament," the Everylike harmonies of "Everything's Right," and the barroom honky-tonk of "Whiskey Row."

- N.C.


Speak Low

(Decca ***)

Boz Scaggs has a long resume. First known as a guitarist in the Steve Miller Band, he's been a star in his own right since his album

Silk Degrees

became a smash in 1976. He's done pop, blues and soul. He's even run a San Francisco club called Slim's. In

Speak Low

, he's back to jazz standards, creating a handsome coda to his 2003 CD

But Beautiful

. Scaggs is hardly the first rocker to graduate to standards. And he'd be the first to admit he isn't a pure jazz singer. But his efforts still rank as one of the better ones among his pop-star peers.

Joining with pianist and arranger Gil Goldstein, Scaggs sticks to the melodies of tunes such as "Skylark" and seems unwilling to riff off them. There's a spareness and honesty to his renditions. He gets folksy. There's an echo of Willie Nelson on "Save Your Love For Me." Mostly his voice works on simple and elegant arrangements of such tunes as "Dindi" and "I'll Remember April." It's just Scaggs and a piano on the beginning of a slowed-down "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me," and that proves just fine, especially when the band joins in, with vibraphonist Mike Mainieri doing some fine comping.

- Karl Stark



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Tenor saxophonist Ben Schachter plays a big horn. By that I mean you can hear giants in his sound. And he's no Coltrane knockoff, either. This is bracing and original stuff with links to the old masters but no thefts. The setup is disarmingly thin, with drummer Matt Scarano and bassist Leon Boykins rounding out the trio. Both studied at Temple University's jazz program, where Schachter has been teaching since the early 1990s. Also joining Schachter for two pieces, including the meditative "She Wept," is Philly pianist Tom Lawton. The group makes some discordant forays, especially late in the recording, but it's mostly deep and mystical, and never loses a listener's interest. The leader's "Transparent (For Steve Lacy)" is a great tune that unfolds with slinky appeal.

- K.S.


Oppens Plays Carter

Ursula Oppens, piano

(Cedille ***)

Three Occasions for Orchestra, Violin Concerto and Concerto for Orchestra

Ole Bohn, violin; London Sinfonietta, Oliver Knussen conducting

(EMI ****)

Mosaic and Dialogues

New Music Concerts Ensemble, Robert Aitken conducting

(Naxos ****)

America's greatest composer, Elliott Carter, not only lived to see his 100th birthday, but also more recordings of his music in the past year than in the previous decade. These three provide distinctly different entry points to his dense but effervescent art.

Pianist Ursula Oppens' disc is dominated by Carter's

Piano Sonata


Night Fantasies,

heard in intelligent, brightly articulated performances that provide an X-ray of the music - though one that might leave you longing for more shading and subtlety.

If there's such a thing as a deluxe Carter experience, it's in the EMI orchestral set - a reissue featuring his

Violin Concerto

(one of his best works) and a lot of complex orchestral sonorities manipulated with mind-boggling rapidity, freedom and monumentality.

More spare, yielding chamber music is found on the new Naxos disc. The 2005


is Carter at his most inviting, in a program showing how even his minor works have a strong reason for existence. That disc comes with a bonus DVD documentary on the composer, not the best ever made, but at least providing face time with a composer who is as congenial as he is great.

- David Patrick Stearns