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Mary J. Blige
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Growing Pains

(Geffen ***)

You'd think the queen of R&B would steer clear of "the book of my life" rumination that is this album's lead track, "Work That." She's overcome it all - tumultuous relationships, addictions. No more dramas, remember? She married a good man; does iPod ads. In that regard,

Growing Pains

is gratingly self-aggrandizing, like Rhonda Byrne's New Age self-help book

The Secret

put to slick soul. Then again, who does a better job of rubbing up against life's - and love's - rawest nerves? "Like you, sometimes I get depressed," Blige intones on "Work in Progress." Helped by a variety of producers (Harris + Davis, Tricky Stewart, the Neptunes), Blige works close to the bone. She laughs off Ludacris and Usher on separate-but-equally-salacious pleas for l'amour. She haughtily prods a selfish romancer on "Nowhere Fast" to "stick around till I get a return on my investment." And through "Roses' " spartan thump, Blige twists and shouts down a man who tells her to suck it up. All she wants is respect. Like her former duet partner Bono, Blige is singing about pride - hers and yours, ladies - in the name of love.

- A.D. Amorosi

Rivers Cuomo

Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo

(Geffen **)

Weezer leader Rivers Cuomo has always marched to his own drum - putting his hit-making power-pop band on hiatus for long periods, and heading off to Harvard to earn his undergraduate degree rather than indulge in the excesses of stardom. So it's no surprise that the guy who made his bones cranking out catchy, slightly bent confections that explore his own loneliness has been squirreling away solo recordings since he was a teenager. The surprise is that there isn't more to the undernourished

Alone

, though it does have amusing moments, like a cover of Ice Cube's "The Bomb," and simple pleasures, such as "Longtime Sunshine," plus an early demo of "Buddy Holly" that perks things up. But Cuomo is no Bob Dylan when it comes to holding back secret masterpieces. And

Alone

mainly makes you wish Cuomo would come out into the sunshine and play with his band.

- Dan DeLuca

Various artists

Home Schooled:
The ABCs of Kid Soul

(Numero Group ***1/2)

Home Schooled

mines a strange vein: teenage (and some pre-teen) soul and funk bands who released long-forgotten singles between 1968 and 1975. The Jackson Five provided the template for Eight Minutes, 3 Simmons and most of the rest of these unknowns, whether they hailed from Detroit or Chicago, Florida or New Jersey (the closest to a recognizable name: Man Child Singers, featuring the children of future Grateful Dead-member Merl Saunders).

"What are we going to do, now that school is through?" ask Cindy & the Playmates. The answer, it seems: let's make a record.

These horn-happy confections, crooning ballads and failed dance crazes aren't lost classics. In fact, some are badly produced (3 Stars' squeaky "Jersey Slide Pt. 1"), weirdly arranged (Atons' rushed "Yellow Ribbon") or awkwardly sung (many). But the insouciant charm, funky playing and guileless enthusiasm, whether genuine or contrived, are irresistible.

- Steve Klinge

Country/Roots

Betty Harris

Intuition

(Evidence ****)

Another soul great returns. During the 1960s, Betty Harris scored big with her own version of the Solomon Burke hit "Cry to Me," and she worked successfully with Allen Toussaint, Lee Dorsey and others. (You can hear that work on the CD

The Lost Soul Queen

.) At the end of that decade, the Florida-born, gospel-rooted singer quit the business, but now she is back with what is - hard to believe - her first solo album.

Intuition

begins with "Is It Hot in Here?", and boy is it ever: Harris rides the rock-edged rhythms with as much grit and fire as Bettye LaVette. There's a lot of other tough, hard-hitting stuff here, but Harris is no one-trick pony. Cuts like the gently entreating title song and her sweet-soul duet with fellow R&B veteran Freddie Scott complete a portrait of a full-blooded, fully dimensional singer who is at the height of her powers.

- Nick Cristiano

Kane Welch Kaplin

Kane Welch Kaplin

(Dead Reckoning/Compass ***1/2)

Kieran Kane was one-half of the excellent '80s duo the O'Kanes, with Jamie O'Hara. These days he teams with fellow singer-songwriter Kevin Welch, multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin, and, for this set, his son Lucas on percussion, but the vibe is not all that different from his old group. And that's a wonderful thing.

This self-titled set refines the style of Kane Welch Kaplin's first two albums: Ultra-spare but richly rootsy arrangements touch on folk, country, gospel, swamp and boogie. Kane and Welch, whose collaborative efforts predate the current group, tend to write separately, and they split the lead singing. But their plainspoken songs mesh seamlessly, making for a whole that's invitingly warm and often hauntingly evocative.

- N.C.

Jazz

The Nels Cline Singers

Draw Breath

(Cryptogramophone ***)

Guitarist Nels Cline is one of those unknowable cats. Just when you think you understand him, he's moved on to new collaborators. From a start in Los Angeles' improvised music community, Cline has hung with jazz seekers Julius Hemphill and Charlie Haden, and toiled with progressive folks from Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra West Coast to Wilco.

His largely trio effort here with bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola is one wild affair - gorgeous at times, raucous noise at others.

There aren't even singers per se. The set, which adds in the percussion and glockenspiel of Glenn Kotche, careens from the wildest rock to frenetic jazz to moments of meditative calm. Some of it is artistic self-indulgence of an extreme kind that's likely to engage only free music converts who are on massive amounts of caffeine.

But then there's the simple "Caved-In Heart Blues," which suggests a mystical side, and "The Angel of Angels," which is flat-out beautiful.

- Karl Stark

Denis DiBlasio

Denis DiBlasio/Brian Betz Project

(Dreambox Media ***)

Baritone saxophonist and flutist Denis DiBlasio came off the road as musical director for trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, and now directs the Maynard Ferguson Institute of Jazz Studies at Rowan University, in Glassboro.

On this double CD, DiBlasio is passing the torch to the two former students, guitarist Brian Betz and tenor saxophonist Gerry DeLoach.

The first CD, a duet recording with Betz, features a cross-section of standards and originals. DiBlasio is a terrific player, capable of capturing energy bolts and exuding great lightness of being. "Yes In Deedy" pays tribute to WRTI's longtime jazz DJ Harrison Ridley Jr., while a couple of Ellington standards, "Mood Indigo" and "Sophisticated Lady," underscore DiBlasio's big band links and show Betz in a pleasant light.

The set is little long for a duet recording, but then it's time for DiBlasio's quartet with DeLoach, drummer Jim Miller, and bassist Steve Varner. Recorded live at Chris's Jazz Cafe in Center City in May, the quartet is a barn burner, full of energetic soloing and harmonic derring-do. Maynard would be proud.

- K.S.

On Thursday, the Denis DiBlasio Quartet will appear at the Collingswood Community Center, 30 Collings Ave., Collingswood, for a CD release party. Sets start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $10, $5 for students. BYOB. Information: 856-858-8914.

Soundtracks

Various Artists

Young Frankenstein:
The New Mel Brooks Musical

(Decca Broadway ***)

The Broadway production of this adaptation of Mel Brooks' 1974 flick got cool reviews when it opened last month. What do you want for $450 tickets? Blood? That said, the soundtrack, from the same sterling team that brought you

The Producers

(Brooks and Thomas Meehan did the book, with Mel doing music and lyrics), is considerably cheaper. It stars Roger Bart as Dr. Frankenstein (no, Fronken-steen),

Wicked

's Christopher Fitzgerald as Igor (no, Eye-gore),

Will & Grace

's Megan Mullally as Elizabeth, and one of SCTV's mainstays, Andrea Martin, as Frau Blücher. Together they offer the sort of rousingly cornball kitsch and rudely ribald schtick you'd expect from brassy songs like "Transylvania Mania" and "Roll in the Hay." Though Brooks may play it broadly as a comic lyricist, his sense of parody is acute (that's what made his Depression-era horror-film spoof hilarious) and his melodies are schmaltzy but dynamic. So when Bart & Co. take on "The Brain" or Martin does the Dietrich-like "He Vas My Boyfriend" there are more than laughs afoot. There's charm and musical cunning.

- A.D.A.

Classical

Brahms
Double Concerto
and Clarinet Quintet

Renaud Capuçon, violin; Gautier Capuçon, cello; Paul Meyer, clarinet; Gustav Mahler Jungendorchester, Myung-Whun Chung conducting.

(Virgin ***)

The Capuçon brothers are perhaps best known to U.S. listeners as Martha Argerich's chamber music companions in her many "Live from Lugano" recordings. And that background is at least largely responsible for this recording being such a success.

Brahms'

Double Concerto

often resembles a piano trio that's been orchestrated, so it requires that chamber-style ensemble work while also making the kind of heroic statements necessary in the composer's better-known (and truth be told, better) concertos. Conductor Chung is an excellent collaborator, though no recording has yet equalled the Herbert von Karajan-conducted outing on Deutsche Grammophon, in which he scales down the orchestra in ways that help the piece find its elusive voice.

The main appeal here is the

Clarinet Quintet

. The French and Swiss-trained clarinetist Paul Meyer is a major figure in Europe. He's less suave than Philadelphia's Ricardo Morales but in his own way encompasses the quintet's sublime slow movement with incredibly intimate support from - guess who? - the Capuçon Quartet.

- David Patrick Stearns

Michael Harrison

Revelation

(Cantaloupe ***1/2)

This disc requires a considerable leap of faith. The cover looks like a rudimentary computer screen saver from the mid-'90s, giving the title and composer, and the disc booklet gives little information on the actual piece, aside from movement titles like "Tone Cloud IV." The idea, no doubt, is to let you discover the contents with an open mind. What unfolds is a 72-minute solo piano work clearly inspired by La Monte Young-style minimalism (his six-hour

The Well-Tuned Piano

, to be specific) with its trance-like repetition and use of pure rather than tempered intervals, no matter how badly (or interestingly) they clash at times. Where Michael Harrison finds a compositional voice apart from La Monte Young - and his own studies of music from India - is in his sense of fantasy and lyricism. He's no slave to his own logic, and goes to particularly ecstatic heights, almost in the spirit of Chopin, suggesting that he's a romantic in minimalist clothing.

- D.P.S.