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Various Artists
Jim Dickinson's Delta Experimental Project, Vol.3
Birdman

Granted, recordings made in the field have an almost exclusive appeal for archival historians and music completists. But don't write off these recordings so easily and shake off your pre-conceptions, as some of the tracks off Delta Experimental Project Vol. 3 were recorded in-studio and at Memphis' Orpheum Theater -- as well the fields around Northern Mississippi and Southern Tennessee. And unlike some field recordings, these showcase the primal, raw and gritty nature of pure blues without sacrificing sound quality.

Dickinson is a Memphis musician/producer with a stellar resume, producing sessions for Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Big Star and the Replacements, and playing with the Stones and Ry Cooder. He also has an ear for field recording quality, letting the listener know there are no romantic notions here, just the harsh, sweat-soaked, downtrodden voices of the black experience in the South. The soulful renditions hide the sheer poverty in which the likes of Sleepy John Estes existed, conditions that produced some of the gut-wrenching blues presented here.

Tracks include Johnny Woods blowing harp and talking about "So Many Cold Mornings" -- accented by a coughing spell. The rousing gospel cut, "Jesus Is On the Mainline," by Tate County Singers with Otha Turner and the Afrossippi All-Stars, just permeates the air over the Mississippi Delta.

Mose Vinson checks in on blues piano, the predecessor of early rock & roll, with "Old Blue Jumped a Rabbit" and "Barrel House Blues/Cryin' Won't Make Me Come." The still life of the Delta is evoked in the warmest of senses by Walter "Furry" Lewis and his "Furry's Blues." Cooder rides shotgun guitar on Sleepy John Estes' "Floating Bridge," which is a nice bonus.

Much of this collection is probably too much for the casual blues listener, but the seeker will be rewarded with not just history, but the lives embroiled in the blues, where feet are often muddy and the heat bakes the tin shack clubs jumping on a Saturday night.

Track to burn: "Old Blue Jumped a Rabbit"
Grade: B+ -- Samir Shukla

No Doubt
The Singles 1992-2003
Interscope

Being a "singles band" is something of a lost art these days. Sure, there are people who write one or two hot singles (hello, Chingy) and thereafter fall into a VH1-sanctioned semi-obscurity. On the opposite end of the spectrum are bands like Radiohead, so-called art bands, who don't make albums as much as conceptual "statements" on whatever brand of angst is the current rage. There's little room in this equation for bands like No Doubt, and that's something of a shame. The late-90s equivalent of Deborah Harry and Blondie, Gwen Stefani and her band mates in No Doubt substitute ska and dancehall for the former's rap and New Wave, with the results sounding equally as fresh against the backdrop of the current popular music scene as Harry and Co. did in theirs. Like Harry, Stefani has always managed a nice balance between being an MTV-approved sex symbol and being an actual artiste, and like the best pop of that era -- Michael Jackson, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Talking Heads, the aforementioned Blondie -- the emotional medicine is so well concealed by a sugary coating that you often don't notice until later that you're feeling better. So they'll probably never put out a Thriller. No matter. Buy this album, take two (songs), and make sure you call her in the morning.

Track to burn:"Don't Speak"
Grade: B+--Timothy C. Davis

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Jade Tree

Like a sonic love letter from the early 90s, Denver Dalley's debut is a reminder that that era once had something to offer.

Dalley, the guitarist for the Connor Oberst (Bright Eyes) side-project, Desaparecidos, supplies the steroidal guitar riffs, paint-peeling bass lines, pummeling drum work and quiet/loud formula that Nirvana's Nevermind brought -- via the Pixies -- to the mass public's attention. But by adding enough bells and whistles (in the form of some pleasant electronica accents), and other familiar, non-awful band influences from the 90s, Dalley keeps the project from being derivative.

There's the "Head Like a Hole"-era NIN sounds of "A Number, Not a Name," some Dinosaur Jr.-like guitar pyrotechnics on "Mr. Nathan," and some Weezer-ish pop-rock in "Hours Seemed Like Days."

If the record has an Achilles' heel, it's that Dalley's lyrics lack the poetic punch of Kurt Cobain's journal entries or the über ironic in-joke references of Weezer's Rivers Cuomo. But at least they're delivered in a pleasant enough voice, and without the histrionics of Dalley's band mate, the overly precocious Oberst. Ah, Grunge, we hardly knew ye...

Track to burn:"Reminisce"
Grade: B--John Schacht

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