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Natalia y La Forquetina, Casa, Sony/BMG

Twenty-one-year-old Mexican punk-rock chica Natalia LaFourcade's self-titled debut album of 2003 had instant appeal with young Latin music fans in Mexico and the US, and led to four Latin Grammy nominations and three MTV Latin American Video Music Awards. Ahora, Natalia returns with her band La Forquetina, and the foursome has turned up the volume. Witty, melancholic, introspective and playful lyrics coupled with jazzed-up, funked-up, punked-out or simply simple song structures are overlaid with Natalia's vocals morphing from soft, Julieta Venegas-style musings ("Dirección Contraria") to part-Bjork/part-PJ Harvey wails ("Cuarto Encima"). Such range makes for an irresistible album. For something un poco raro, try "Tic Tac": imagine semi-creepy, wind-up, vaudeville-style dolls giving a peculiar tinky-tink Sunday morning performance on your night stand, as you watch with heavy eyelids. Or, if you're in the mood for a bossa nova tribute to a duck, give "Un Pato" a whirl.

Track to burn: "Dirección Contraria"

Rating: *** - Sarah Atkinson

Bob Mould, Body of Song, Yep Roc!

Some have hailed Body of Song as Mould's comeback, but this isn't Hüsker Dü, Sugar, or even Workbook. While Mould offers his trademark layers of thick, ringing, distortion-laden electric guitar (for the first time since 1998's Last Dog & Pony Show), Body is a mixed bag. The album's vocoder-processed vocals, electronic rhythms and textures--on club-oriented tracks like "I Am Vision, I Am Sound" and "(Shine Your) Light Love Hope"-- may challenge the patience of longtime fans. Nor does the album have enough rock to counterbalance those moments. Body of Song is dominated by ballads, which Mould's limited vocal range isn't particularly well-suited to. Rather than reprise past successes, Mould attempts to find a middle ground. It's intermittently successful, but nothing here is among his best work.

Track to burn: "Best Thing"

Rating: ** 1/2 - Chris Parker

Willie Nelson, Countryman, Lost Highway Records

To paraphrase Rick James, marijuana's a hell of a drug. With Countryman, you're gonna need the Willie-grade stuff. Shelved for almost a decade, this brainchild of producer Don Was should have been aborted long ago. Its best tracks--Willie and Toots Hibbert on Johnny Cash's "I'm a Worried Man" and the Redheaded Stranger's solo take on Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come"--could have been saved and used as bonus tracks for the next Willie album proper. Was' production minimizes the band's own natural reggae-like rhythm for an overdone, tourist-y take on the "island" sound. Why not just lock Willie and his band in a room with their Jamaican brothers, turn on the ventilator fan and let them have at it? Country and reggae can coexist (see Peter Rowan's recent forays, which sparkle with good ideas), but musical fusion, as with food, must satisfy the senses to be worth anything. Pass the dutchie, baby--and pass on Countryman.

Track to burn: "The Harder They Come"

Rating: ** 1/2 - Timothy C. Davis

Circo, En El Cielo de Tu Boca, Universal Music Latino

The latest from Puerto Rican electropic-rock quintet Circo is a soundtrack for folks who choose to swim against the current: sensual songs of love and lust mingle with calls for courage in the face of political and societal pressures. Singer Fofé Abreu, a master of phrasing and inflection, fearlessly explores every facet of his voice, from low crooning to pristine falsetto, intimate whispers to all-out screams. En El Cielo de Tu Boca shines throughout, from the bouncing pop-punk of the provocative opening track, "Un Accidente," to the dizzy, pulsing exclamation point of the classical-on-acid closer, "Materia Santa." Other highlights include "Me Saben a Miel," set apart by its cinematic use of strings; the beautiful, disarmingly sweet "Amelia" and the psychedelic "Arbol Cósmico." Circo manages to separate itself from the formulaic pop world while still maintaining a finely tuned pop sensibility that allows for sometimes-ethereal, sometimes-driving arrangements, luminous harmonies and danceable beats. With En El Cielo, Circo is beginning to transcend its own influences, much as My Bloody Valentine did on its now-classic Loveless album. There's a home for Cielo among the ranks of los grandes del rock en español.

Track to burn: "Un Accidente"

Rating: **** - Jessica Bloch

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