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Pop Radio-ready riff-rockers Stone Temple Pilots have busted up and reunited more often than Jude Law and Sienna Miller. The quartet emerged during the grunge era with their 1992 insta-smash Core and reached a peak in 1994 with Purple. They haven't recorded an album that focused, forceful, and contagiously melodic since then.


Stone Temple Pilots

(Atlantic ***)

nolead ends Radio-ready riff-rockers Stone Temple Pilots have busted up and reunited more often than Jude Law and Sienna Miller. The quartet emerged during the grunge era with their 1992 insta-smash Core and reached a peak in 1994 with Purple. They haven't recorded an album that focused, forceful, and contagiously melodic since then.

Until now.

Cryptic lyricist and crooner Scott Weiland is reportedly writing his autobiography. That must have jogged creative forces immune to his legendary long-term drug addiction. His Bowie-like cackle ruminates languidly over broken wedding vows on "Between the Lines" and "Cinnamon." He makes the best and bleakest of a cracked character study in "Bagman." The swamp-dog sensuality Weiland instills into the Southern Gothic "Hickory Dichotomy" makes it perfect for some vampire vehicle or another.

But the true showcase of STP, from the space-cowboy pop of "First Kiss on Mars" to the glam stutter-'n'-crunch of "Huckleberry Crumble" and the neo-speed twang of "Fast As I Can," is the diversity and craft of the Brothers DeLeo as songwriters, arrangers, and players. The tuneful ring and groove of Brit-pop's best inform all of Dean and Robert's melodies (written together or alone). But it's the kick of "Hazy Daze" that defines STP forevermore - a hook-filled stunner with Weiland in a dark and lonely place.

- A.D. Amorosi

nolead begins Bettye LaVette
nolead ends nolead begins Interpretations: The
British Rock Songbook
nolead ends nolead begins (Anti- ***1/2)

nolead ends The inspiration for Bettye LaVette's new album came from the soul singer extraordinaire's knockout take on The Who's "Love Reign O'er Me" at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors. It was a rendition that prompted Pete Townshend to tell her, "You made me weep."

That performance is included on Interpretations as a bonus track, following 12 newer ones to which LaVette almost invariably brings the same devastating power. With her gospel-infused grit, a well-disciplined sense of drama, and the ability to bring a lifetime of experience - including four decades of professional disappointments before her belated recognition - LaVette gives these mostly well-chosen songs by the Beatles, Stones, Traffic, Pink Floyd, and others a rich, new emotional depth as well as a shot of rhythm and blues. Perhaps nowhere are her skills more evident than on "It Don't Come Easy," as she transforms Ringo Starr's seeming pop trifle into a profound, blues-edged soul ballad.

- Nick Cristiano

nolead begins Sleigh Bells
nolead ends nolead begins Treats
nolead ends nolead begins (N.E.E.T./Interscope ***1/2)

nolead ends Nobody's got an attention span, or time to waste. So please, give us the hip-hop beats, the pop hooks, the power-chord guitars, the girl-group vocals, the whole emphatic this-goes-all-the-way-up-to-11 package right now. Make it quick and keep it short, before we lose interest.

Sleigh Bells is the indie duo of beat-maker guitarist Derek Miller and live-wire singer Alexis Krauss. They've sent the blogosphere buzzing since last fall, and their live show hits you with the force of a category-five hurricane. The good news is that they've been able to maintain most of that excitement on their gleefully distorted 11-song debut, while upping the tunefulness quotient a notch.

The air-raid guitars of "A/B Machines" and booming drums of "Riot Rhythm" will beat you to a most enjoyable pulp, but there's also enough hyper-catchy action on grabbers like "Kids" and the (relatively) down-tempo "Rill Rill" to bring you back for more.

- Dan DeLuca

nolead begins Tift Merritt
nolead ends nolead begins See You on the Moon
nolead ends nolead begins (Fantasy/Concord ***)

nolead ends Tift Merritt opens her fourth album with an ode to cassette compilations, and the song seems destined to be a self-reflexive prophecy. "I'm just making you mix tapes with homemade covers / Analog to show we're lovers," Merritt sings with a sweet, conspiratorial intimacy sure to be heard on many future homemade mix tapes (although most likely digital ones). Merritt's mercurial career has moved from alt-country twang to Southern soul to more sedate singer-songwriter fare. For See You on the Moon, the North Carolina native drafts producer Tucker Martine, who has worked with the Decemberists and Sufjan Stevens, and ends up with a diverse album - not unlike a good mix tape - that mixes jangly guitars, understated, often drummer-less rhythms, and mournful strings. My Morning Jacket's Jim James drops in for the aching "Feel of the World," but Merritt needs little help. She's at her best on the quietest tracks, and her near-solo take on Kenny Loggins' "Danny's Song" is another mix tape-worthy highlight.

- Steve Klinge


Word to the Wise

(Proper American ***)

nolead ends As a master of the Telecaster, Bill Kirchen has played with a lot of folks over a long career. Several of them return the favor on the roots-rocker's new album.

Commander Cody pounds the 88s on "I Don't Work That Cheap," a rollicking tale of Diddleyesque braggadocio; Dan Hicks swings with Kirchen - and scats - through their cowritten title track; Elvis Costello conjures vintage E.C. on the rocker "Man in the Bottom of the Well," and Maria Muldaur injects a shot of sultry R&B into "Ain't Got Time for the Blues."

Amid all the fine up-tempo stuff, two ballads also stand out. Nick Lowe and Paul Carrack help give a country-soul bent to "Shelly's Winter Love," one of the finest interpretations of a Merle Haggard song you're ever likely to hear, and Asleep at the Wheel alumna Chris O'Connell duets with Kirchen in a sublime take on Roger Miller's "Husbands and Wives." - N.C.

nolead begins The Mad Ripple
nolead ends nolead begins Her Tattoos Could Sail Ships
nolead ends nolead begins (Eclectone ***1/2)

nolead ends The Mad Ripple is singer-guitarist-songwriter Jim Walsh. He's also the Minneapolis journalist who wrote the excellent oral history of the Replacements, All Over but the Shouting. The songs on Her Tattoos Could Sail Ships sprang from a recurring Minneapolis event called the Mad Ripple Friday Night Hootenanny.

The "hootenanny" part tells you there's a strong roots element here, and there is, especially in the banjo- and fiddle-fueled "For Banjo Lisa Wherever You Are" and "Death Bed Bride." But it's just an element. Walsh, backed by a cast of local musicians, blends folk and country with rock and pop in the same way he writes - with an engaging personal vision that's smart and sharp-witted but also openhearted and unpretentious.

"People who need people are the luckiest people I know," he sings without a trace of irony on "Lyric Street." On the other hand, "Inside of You" is a sexy come-on delivered in Lou Reed deadpan, and the nakedly pleading "Look What I Made" exudes a ragged charm that hints at the influence of the legendary Minneapolis rocker who led those aforementioned Replacements - Paul Westerberg.

- N.C.



(ECM ***1/2)

nolead ends First impression: these two show absolute understanding for what a standard is. Pianist Keith Jarrett and bassist Charlie Haden invite you into the ultimate standards concert. They play these tunes with such respect that the solos might have been what the composers would have written if they had kept going.

Such tunes as "For All We Know" and "Body And Soul" are unrolled with great fealty and then get developed in a wholly consonant way. Many of these tunes go off into gentle codas where time and space and the piano and bass just commingle in a sunset kind of way.

Jarrett, who this month turned 65, is of course a master of the long solo recording. He has been exploring standards for years, both in a trio and by himself.

Haden, 72, who started in free jazz, did a resonant duet outing with Pat Metheny and has been mining the standards turf in his Quartet West.

Occasionally Jarrett will hum along in his inimitable E.T. way, as always. And perhaps they could have taken more chances. But the collective artistry here runs deep.

- Karl Stark

nolead begins Denis DiBlasio/Jim McFalls
nolead ends nolead begins Caravan: The Chordless Project
nolead ends nolead begins (Dreambox Media ***1/2)

nolead ends The leaders take two risks that shouldn't be tried at home: They go piano-less, without a chord-giving instrument, and they play some tunes so moldy that they risk derision.

Baritone saxophonist and flutist Denis DiBlasio pull off stunts like this all the time and make them work. The former music director for Maynard Ferguson, DiBlasio, who heads Rowan University's jazz department, is as tonally adroit as he is amusing, and both skills are in play on this live set.

His foil, trombonist Jim McFalls, a 17-year veteran of the U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors, is no slouch either in the ham department, turning the calypso-like "Joe's Vacation" into a brassy, barnyard slugfest.

Bassist Steve Varner and drummer Jim Miller round out this motoring quartet. They find unheard sonorities in "Jingle Bells" and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."

The kicker of "Rapid Transit" comes when DiBlasio and McFalls, in the midst of a wide-ranging duet solo, meet up on the melody of "Jesus Christ Superstar." Now that's groovin' high.

- K.S.


Thomanerchor Leipzig, Tolzer Knabenchor and Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchester, Riccardo Chailly conducting

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

nolead ends nolead begins St. John Passion
nolead ends nolead begins La Chapelle Rhenane, Benoit Haller direction
nolead ends nolead begins (Zig Zag Territories, two discs, ****)

nolead ends nolead begins Mass in B minor
nolead ends nolead begins Dunedin Consort, John Butt conducting
nolead ends nolead begins (Linn, two discs, ***1/2)

nolead ends Major new recordings of Bach's three greatest choral masterworks have arrived in close proximity. The Chailly-conducted Leipzig set would seem to be a big-chorus throwback. But these nonspecialist forces draw on their own Bach tradition to give a relatively small-scale, scrupulously intimate performance that gives a sense of genuinely religious persons ceremonially passing along sacred mysteries. When the music calls for extra drama, the forces are there to deliver that magnitude of sound. Soloists are all excellent, though the best-known among them, Thomas Quasthoff, isn't in his best voice.

The leaner, tougher St. John Passion receives one of its best-ever recordings from what sounds like the smallest-possible vocal group, but one so deeply attuned to the music's dramatic and contemplative qualities that there are no losses with decreased sonic magnitude and many gains thanks to depth of commitment to the music content. Particularly fine, in that regard, is tenor Julian Prégardien as the Evangelist.

Maybe because the Dunedin Consort has made some of the best Bach and Handel recordings of recent years, the new Mass in B minor recording feels like a slight letdown. The music is sung with one voice to a part, though without a clear sense of when they're supposed to behave like instrumentalists or vocalists with a text-based message to impart. Some of John Butt's speedy tempos leave them breathless. More often, though, the singers make up for the inevitable lack of big-Bach majesty with some radiant vocal timbres and airtight blends. And when the heavens open up, musically speaking, it's thanks to great instrumental playing.

- David Patrick Stearns

nolead begins Martha Argerich and Friends
nolead ends nolead begins Live from the Lugano Festival 2009
nolead ends nolead begins (EMI, three discs, ***1/2)

nolead ends By now, the formula is familiar in these annual three-disc sets of chamber music from Argerich Central: Transcriptions of well-known music (such as Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream overture for two pianists), pieces rescued from unjust obscurity (Bloch's Piano Quintet No. 1), idle curiosities (Glinka's Sextet in E-flat), and great performances of masterpieces. In that latter category, Argerich gives one of her best-ever performances, a probing rendering of Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain. Also, Bartok's thorny Violin Sonata No. 2, receives a particularly magnetic performance from Renaud Capucon. Among the guest artists, the big discovery is pianist Khatia Buniatishvili, who plays everything with stylish Mozartean elegance. - D.P.S.