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Pop Since his debut last year, R&B singer/songwriter Ne-Yo has made his presence felt on the charts and at awards ceremonies. With a No. 1 album behind him and a knack for penning mega-hits for his musical compadres, Ne-Yo should have been poised to bring the house down with his sophomore set. But no.


Because of You

(Def Jam **)

Since his debut last year, R&B singer/songwriter Ne-Yo has made his presence felt on the charts and at awards ceremonies. With a No. 1 album behind him and a knack for penning mega-hits for his musical compadres, Ne-Yo should have been poised to bring the house down with his sophomore set. But no.

With "Ain't Thinking About You" and "Sex With My Ex," the drum pattern sounds cheap and generic. The lyrics follow suit. On what could be two fresh collaborations, "Crazy" featuring Jay-Z and "Leaving Tonight" with Jennifer Hudson, Ne-Yo tells no new tales. He delivers his best material on the purposely Prince-like cut "Angel" and the title track. But after 12 tracks, you're left with a lack of hit beats and great songwriting.

- Ainé Ardron-Doley

nolead begins Patti Smith
nolead ends nolead begins Twelve
nolead ends nolead begins (Columbia **1/2)

nolead ends Why a poet whose visceral words can burn paper with fear, love and loathing would waste her time playing Nirvana tunes is anybody's guess. Then again, Dylan did cover albums. So start with this: Because the sage rage ever-present in Smith's ragged voice is here, these tunes from rock's standard canon bristle.

At 60, Patti's no punk kid. But the nervy gulps and ire-filled yelps that made Horses and Easter twin towers of emotional tumult are still part of Smith's open-throated vocal language - even when she is reservedly taking on a spare, sinister version of Hendrix's "Are You Experienced?" or the hillbilly tango of Kurt Cobain's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

With the help of banjoist/playwright Sam Shepard and fiddler Peter Stampfel, Smith creates an ancient landscape of dissatisfied Americana beyond Cobain's imagining. Elsewhere Smith, guitarist Lenny Kaye and friends strip the schmaltz from Dylan's "Changing of the Guard" and the pretense from Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," leaving just the husk of hurt, personal and universal. That Smith didn't go the extra mile and find more magical songs with deeper connections may be personally irksome. (Neil Young's "Helpless"? Help me!) But six out of Twelve ain't bad.

- A.D. Amorosi

nolead begins Golden Smog
nolead ends nolead begins Blood on the Slacks
nolead ends nolead begins (Lost Highway ***) nolead ends

This eight-song collection follows up Golden Smog's 2006 full-length album, Another Fine Day, and plays up the band's stylistic diversity. In this case, the quality of most of the individual numbers compensates for an overall lack of focus.

The acoustic-textured "Scotch on Ice" and "Tarpit" evoke Golden Smog's roots as an alt-country-leaning Midwestern supergroup. (The Jayhawks' Gary Louris and Soul Asylum's Dan Murphy remain principals.)

"Can't Even Tie Your Own Shoes" is ringing, harmony-laden guitar-pop, while "Look at You Now" adds horns to the jaunty pop mix. And while David Bowie's "Starman" is lush and soaring, "Insecure" is in-your-face acoustic punk.

- Nick Cristiano

nolead begins Various Artists
nolead ends nolead begins A Tribute To Joni Mitchell
nolead ends nolead begins (Nonesuch **1/2)

nolead ends Joni Mitchell is both the archetypal singer-songwriter and an artist's artist, so it is surprising that this collection is the first major tribute to her work.

Like Mitchell herself, this eclectic set can't decide if it wants pop accessibility or artistic challenge. In the former category, Sarah McLachlan, Annie Lennox and k.d. lang turn in predictably pretty readings of predictable songs. Others stretch and reinvent: Sufjan Stevens rewrites "Free Man in Paris" in his own image, i.e., awkwardly; Bjork and Caetano Veloso relish the rhythmic possibilities of "The Boho Dance" and "Dreamland," respectively. Best are Prince's sexy "A Case of You," Cassandra Wilson's seductive "For the Roses" and Brad Mehldau's exploratory "Don't Interrupt the Sorrow."

All in all, a mixed bag, and it's a shame that only one song - Emmylou Harris' "Magdalena Laundries" - comes from the most recent three decades of Mitchell's constantly evolving career.

- Steve Klinge


nolead begins Miranda Lambert
nolead ends nolead begins Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
nolead ends nolead begins (Columbia ***1/2)

nolead ends Miranda Lambert's sophomore album ups the ante in the post-Gretchen-Wilson-tough- country-chick sweepstakes. Never mind the title cut, in which the protagonist shows up and, pistol in hand, declares "those pretty girls are all the same, but they're damn well going to know my name." That's tame in comparison to the opening "Gunpowder & Lead," in which the former Nashville Star winner announces she's going to "go home and load my shotgun" and wait to avenge herself on an abusive boyfriend.

But what's most impressive about Crazy is that it's not all tobacco-chewin' bluster. The quiet, tender tunes like "Desperation" and "Love Letters" are equally strong, and John Mellencamp could learn a thing or two from "Famous in a Small Town." Lambert wrote them all, save for three excellently chosen covers of Gillian Welch, Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris. They don't make mainstream country records much better than this.

- Dan DeLuca

nolead begins Elizabeth Cook nolead ends

nolead begins Balls
nolead ends nolead begins (31 Tigers ***1/2)

nolead ends "I keep on walking my country mile. . . . Some would like to cramp my style," Elizabeth Cook sings in her industrial-strength twang on "Times Are Tough in Rock 'n Roll," the opener to her new, Rodney Crowell-produced album. At this point, it's obvious the Florida native is not going to change her hard-country ways, even if they haven't made her the star she deserves to be.

On "Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman," Cook holds up Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn as role models, and again she lives up to the indomitable spirit of those two country greats. Cook writes nearly all her own material, a bracing mix of spunky up-tempo numbers and affecting ballads. "I'm not a has-been, I'm still a gonna-be . . . keep looking out for me," she warns near the end of the set. In truth, she's already something special.

- N.C.


nolead begins Joshua Redman
nolead ends nolead begins Back East
nolead ends nolead begins (Nonesuch ***1/2)

nolead ends Tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman is thinking of his roots. The recording is dedicated to his Jewish mother, Renee Shedroff, and his African American father, saxophonist Dewey Redman, who died last year just after this session was completed. Redman senior also appears on two tunes, including his own "GJ," which caps the session with magisterial feeling, and John Coltrane's "India," where father and son go mano-a-mano on tenor.

Joshua Redman cites another influence - Sonny Rollins - by drawing two tunes from Rollins' 1957 recording "Way Out West." And there's a smattering of Eastern influences throughout, adding another layer of meaning to the title.

Much of this session is clear and uncluttered, embodying a kind of jazzy feng shui, the Chinese art of placement that maximizes harmony. Joshua works with three different rhythm sections and invites in two other saxophonists, Joe Lovano and Chris Cheek, to make music that surges with color and feeling.

There's no extraneous chaos, whether Redman is winging through "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Ali Jackson or mixing it up with Lovano, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Brian Blade on Wayne Shorter's "Indian Song."

- Karl Stark

nolead begins The Cannonball
Adderley Quintet
nolead ends nolead begins In San Francisco,
featuring Nat Adderley
nolead ends nolead begins (Riverside/Concord ***1/2) nolead ends

Lord have mercy! Alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley could combine a high gospel state with jazz feeling, and the vibe on this 1959 set in San Francisco with his brother on cornet is on the explosive side. Philly native Bobby Timmons, an extraordinary composer in a soul-jazz vein, is a collaborator here, along with bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes.

Adderley, who earlier that year had made the legendary Kind of Blue album with Miles Davis, is an incendiary cat whose soul jumps out of his horn. Brother Nat is more reserved but still deadly, picking out a quietly flamboyant way through Cannonball's "Spontaneous Combustion." That turns out to be an apt tune for this set, which was produced by Riverside Records cofounder Orrin Keepnews and includes three previously unreleased tracks.

- K.S.


nolead begins Bach
Goldberg Variations
nolead ends nolead begins Julian Rachlin, violin; Mischa Maisky, cello; Nobuko Imai, viola.
nolead ends nolead begins (Deutsche Grammophon ***1/2)

nolead ends The string-trio medium is no place for individualists. Yet three big-personality soloists come together here to record Bach's Goldberg Variations in the Dmitri Sitkovetsky string trio transcription, which has been around for years. Previously, I felt that it smoothed the edges in all the wrong ways, nearly turning Bach into elevator music - at least when heard in blended homogeneous performances.

All three performers are in untamed form here, and that seems just fine for Bach, whose contrapuntal strands have rarely seemed so fearlessly independent. Nearly every variation becomes an act of compositional brinkmanship, with three instruments almost irritably trying to run away from one another and very nearly succeeding, which is thoroughly exciting. This doesn't replace the original version for keyboard, but it's much more than a footnote.

- David Patrick Stearns

nolead begins Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
The Radio Recordings, 1970-1980
nolead ends nolead begins Eugene Ormandy, Kirill Kondrashin, Bernard Haitink, Karel Ancerl, Carlo Maria Giulini, and others.
nolead ends nolead begins (RCO Live ****)

nolead ends Radio Netherlands has been fruitfully issuing boxed sets of great performances by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, mostly focused on particular conductors and eras in its history - all fascinating, expensive and hard to find. This 14-disc bonanza is no less expensive, but more easily obtained (Harmonia Mundi is distributing) and wider in its appeal, with great, previously unissued treasures with the Concertgebouw's rarefied acoustic heard in pristine stereo sound.

Many bases are touched: Rarely heard modern repertoire includes William Walton's Improvisations on an Impromptu of Benjamin Britten and Witold Lutoslawski's Parole tissées. Major performers appear in repertoire that commercial recording executives would never consider. Who'd have thought that Karel Ancerl was a great Haydn conductor? Or that soprano Elly Ameling could sing Berg's atonal Der Wein with the lyricism of Schubert?

Special occasions include Itzhak Perlman in his Dutch debut. Among the lamentably under-recorded artists are violinist Herman Krebbers and cellist Tibor de Machula, playing Brahms' Double Concerto - with easily forgivable labor. Even moments that seem redundant, like Claudio Arrau having yet another go at Schumann's Piano Concerto, have a spontaneity and conviction not present in his studio recordings.

The price is around $120. Think of it as a discounted airfare.

- D.P.S.

New Recordings

In Stores Tuesday

Bjork, Volta; Elliott Smith, New Moon;

Travis, The Boy With No Name;

Bobby Valentino, Special Occasion