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Pop With each of Tori Amos' solo albums, the piano-pounding vocalist with a lump in her throat and a scar on her heart grows more dramatic. Ever more theatrical (how do you top American Doll Posse's multitude of characters and wigs?), Amos' CDs include photo-narratives or vid-clips meant to amplify her lyrics. That's cool. But Amos seems to be relying more heavily on visual accompaniment than on her melodies.


Abnormally Attracted to Sin

(Universal Republic **1/2)

nolead ends With each of Tori Amos' solo albums, the piano-pounding vocalist with a lump in her throat and a scar on her heart grows more dramatic. Ever more theatrical (how do you top American Doll Posse's multitude of characters and wigs?), Amos' CDs include photo-narratives or vid-clips meant to amplify her lyrics. That's cool. But Amos seems to be relying more heavily on visual accompaniment than on her melodies.

Along with her usual God talk ("Strong Black Vine") and takes on life abroad ("Welcome to England"), Amos' Abnormally Attracted to Sin draws a thin line between female empowerment and what it might take to get there. "By the time you're 25, they will say, 'You've gone and blown it,' " goes the "Curtain Call" lyric. "By the time you're 35, I must confide, you will have blown them all." Luckily "Curtain Call" has a tune that's joyfully catchy, as do the pop-and-proud-of-it ballad "Maybe California" and the synth-hop "Give."

Unfortunately, for all her clever texts and experiments in country choruses (e.g. "Fire to Your Plain") not much else is crazily memorable - some jazzy passages here ("Mary Jane"), some lame cabaret there ("That Guy"). Luckily, you can't help but be abnormally attracted to her voice. Otherwise, Sin would be a sin.

- A.D. Amorosi

nolead begins Spinal Tap
nolead ends nolead begins Back From the Grave
nolead ends nolead begins (A2M **)

nolead ends With typically self-sabotaging flair, the mock rockers release their first album in 17 years. Just in time not to help promote their recently concluded reunion tour.

Introduced in the 1984 spoof film, This is Spinal Tap, the trio (played by Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer) haven't lost their clumsy touch for crafting heavy metal messes.

On Back from the Grave, they revive some of their signature tunes including "Sex Farm" (done Average White Band style). New offerings range from the ghoulish title track to the satanic "Warmer Than Hell."

There are some hot licks here, thanks to musical guests like Steve Vai and John Mayer. But it's all in the service of satire.

If you're not in on the Spinal Tap joke, stick with the package's DVD with the band in the studio musing on their work. That's funny. The music can't stand on its own.

- David Hiltbrand

nolead begins The Phenomenal Handclap Band
nolead ends nolead begins The Phenomenal Handclap Band
nolead ends nolead begins (Friendly Fire **1/2)

nolead ends Although they share NYC dance-club roots with LCD Soundsystem and !!!, the Phenomenal Handclap Band are less interested in writing manifestos and punk-funk workouts than in celebrating disco glamour and sexy soundtracking. DJs-turned-producers Daniel Collas and Sean Marquand and their six bandmates emphasize breadth on their debut, from the Scissor Sister-ly "All of the Above" to the psychedelic slow jams "Testimony" and "Baby" to the perky, irresistible "15 to 20," which takes cues from the Tom Tom Club. It's anchored by a steady disco pulse, breathy flutes, and spacey keyboards.

Collas and Marquand drafted friends to moonlight on their debut, including singers Aurelio Valle (Calla), Carol C (Si Se), and Lady Tigra and TV on the Radio guitarist Jaleel Bunton. It may be premature to call the Handclap Band phenomenal - the album is an uneven hodgepodge - but they're certainly groovy, imaginative fun.

- Steve Klinge


For a Second Time

(Cedar Creek ***)

nolead ends Daddy is the second band collaboration between roots-rockers Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack, two of Nashville's finest. The singer-guitarists previously teamed up to lead the Bis-quits, who put out a terrific self-titled album in 1993 on John Prine's Oh Boy label.

For a Second Time is the second Daddy album but the first studio set, following 2005's live At the Women's Club. This one has a similarly loose-limbed feel, with the quintet injecting lots of swamp and blues flavor. Amid it all, however, are some sharp, sober-minded songs - "Nobody From Nowhere," "I Went to Heaven in a Dream Last Night," "He Ain't Right," and the only nonoriginal, "The Ballad of Martin Luther King." Which is not to say that Daddy is all seriousness. "Early to Bed, Early to Rise" is a rocking, tongue-in-cheek commencement address, "Wash and Fold" is a jaunty, New Orleans-accented come-on, and "I Want to Be Clean" is a woozy little workout featured buddy and kindred spirit Todd Snider.

- Nick Cristiano


Frontier Days

(American Beat ***1/2)

nolead ends nolead begins Johnny Comes Marching Home
nolead ends nolead begins (American Beat ***)

nolead ends nolead begins Based on a True Story
nolead ends nolead begins (American Beat ****)

nolead ends Back in the 1980s, the Del-Lords made some of the toughest, most exhilarating rock-and-roll you could hear this side of Springsteen - only not enough people did hear it. Now's your chance. The quartet's first three albums have just been reissued, with the first two albums appearing on CD for the first time.

Although guitarist Eric Ambel has gone on to become one of Americana's most influential producers, the Del-Lords were mainly the vision of singer-guitarist Scott Kempner, a founding member of the proto-punk Dictators and a disciple of another Bronx great, Dion. His songs mixed fervent romanticism and unswerving faith in the liberating power of rock-and-roll with a swaggering, get-tough pragmatism informed by life in his native New York. The unpretentious, back-to-basics music also possessed another essential rock-and-roll ingredient: humor. (The group's name, after all, comes from a director of the Three Stooges shorts, Del Lord.)

For our money, the Del-Lords hit their peak with Based on a True Story. The music is at its most muscular, and Kempner's writing is both hard-hitting and eloquent, from the righteous wrath of "Crawl in Bed" and "River of Justice" to the open-hearted yearning of "Power of the River" and "Cheyenne."

All three discs come with bonus tracks.

- N.C.


Reel Life

(Concord ***1/2)

nolead ends The title track here is a simple melody that could be a smooth-jazz children's song. But tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins rips a hole through it, turning it so much into an improviser's ball that one wonders how much the material matters to him.

The sense of surprise is a constant on this brief 1982 session, newly reissued on Concord. Rollins mixes it up with two wildly different guitarists, Bobby Broom and Yoshiaki Masuo. He's backed by the rock-solid bottom provided by his longtime electric bassist Bob Cranshaw, and the super drummer Jack DeJohnette.

There's clearly a spin here to be commercial, as on the wildly happy "Sonny's Side Up." But Rollins still finds cool things to say. He shows some growling authority on the Billy Strayhorn ballad "My Little Brown Book," and his requisite calypso, long a constant in his recordings, here is called "Rosita's Best Friend," making for a slinky romp.

It's not the heaviest session for the saxophone colossus,, but Rollins can probably pull fiery lines from the comics.

- Karl Stark

nolead begins Nina Fletcher
nolead ends nolead begins Courage
nolead ends nolead begins (Colors of Sound ***)

nolead ends Singer Nina Fletcher leads a recording that spices jazz with soul. The title track sounds like something Leon Thomas ("The Creator Has a Master Plan") might sing. It's soulful and genteel, but also cause for some inspired improvisation from Warren Oree's Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble.

This is, at root, a player's record. Fletcher, of Marlton, is a likable performer who kicks through a set mostly of originals that are suave and go down easily. Four-year-old Jade Fletcher even opens one tune, making her auspicious professional debut.

After the vocals, it's off to the races for the ensemble - saxophonist Umar Raheem, guitarist Frank Butrey, and keyboardist George Burton. Raheem comes off like Pharoah Sanders at times, while drummer Greg "Juju" Jones and percussionist Doug "Pablow" Edwards create grooves on the slick side.

- K.S.


Piotr Anderszewski, piano

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

nolead ends Though live recordings of entire piano recitals are increasingly common, it's ever clearer that rather few pianists are consistently strong enough to justify such comprehensive documentation. Piotr Anderszewski comes close. If this two-disc set falters, it's in the program's quirky streak, with Schumann's less-than-consequential Faschingsschwank aus Wien. Though Janacek's In the Mists is always welcome and Anderszewski is a highly individualistic Bach player in Partita No. 2, he doesn't really get around to being great until Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 31 Op. 110.

He is full of details that make Beethoven's sometimes-fragmented piece work more soundly than usual as a musical entity. When interpreting the content, he doesn't reverently look up to the piece the way so many pianists do, but rather plays with the kind of quiet inner authority that one usually hears when composers are performing their own work. Whether or not you agree with every phrase reading, Anderszewski inhabits the piece as few do. But couldn't he do something about his silly face-covering hairdo? Last time he was in Philadelphia, fellow pianist Yuja Wang was sent backstage for a hair intervention that apparently failed.

- David Patrick Stearns

nolead begins Ravel
Daphnis et Chloe
(complete ballet)
nolead ends nolead begins Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus, James Levine conducting
nolead ends nolead begins (BSO Classics ****)

nolead ends nolead begins Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Bernard Haitink conducting
nolead ends nolead begins (CSO Resound ***1/2)

nolead ends Great orchestras are thinking alike by recording Ravel's largest and most sumptuously scored work in their latest self-published, surround-sound recording ventures. Both have great sound, fine choruses, and excellent sound quality - but deliver rather different experiences. With Poulenc's Gloria as filler, the Chicago disc is a better deal. Still, value depends on how much you like Ravel in a feet-firmly-planted performance whose highest priority is musical logic. In other respects, Bernard Haitink characterizes the music in the spirit of Maxfield Parrish - airy, picturesque and stylized.

James Levine is blazingly operatic, perhaps more than any other available recording, with emphatic, specific characterization of the smallest details that give the music an intensity bordering on terrifying. Pierre Boulez' DG recording is similar, though Levine maintains an urbanity that suggests the best of all worlds - and with superior recording quality. If the Boston recording isn't the number-one choice in this repertoire, it's close to it.

- D.P.S.