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Brad Paisley

Time Well Wasted

Arista Nashville

There's enough sonic shoutouts and prominent guest turns on Brad Paisley's uneven but engaging latest to float a slew of Diddy releases: George "Possum" Jones, Alan Jackson, Dolly Parton, onetime Elvis ax man James Burton. Bonus track "Cornography" brings the disco-twang "beats." Paisley also trips into Jam Nation on "Time Warp." Stylistic schizophrenia aside, the string ace's disc is worthy, the West Virginian being something of a dark horse caught in CMT's glare between pop pandering and intriguing reconstruction of country's legacies. To wit: "Alcohol," with its sly lyric about "helping white people dance" and artsy (for Nashvegas) clip featuring surrealist Dali's melting clocks, seems like a throwaway novelty but is actually a tricksy, witty update of country's lineage of drankin' songs (oblique social critique of racial stereotypes and Heartland insularity included). If he keeps sneaking such songs in the mainstream, Paisley will certainly remain a hat troubadour to watch.

Track to burn: "Alcohol"

Rating: *** - Kandia Crazy Horse

MESHELL NDEGEOCELLO

Dance of the Infidel

Shanachie

Often enigmatic, Meshell Ndegeocello's music has also been stridently political, though she distances herself from the idea that she's even fit to offer such commentary. This is perhaps appropriate for an artist who has viewed herself more as healer than agitator; more mystic than intellectual. It should be no surprise then that on Ndegeocello's latest recording, Dance of the Infidel, she withdraws to the background, allowing the genius of first rate improvisators like Kenny Garrett, Oliver Lake, Don Byron, Wallace Roney, and Jack Dejohnette to work the supple musical landscape that she facilitates. Highlights include "Al Falaq 113" (a product of her recent conversion to Islam) and the title track. The real gems though are the vocal performances of Cassandra Wilson and Lalah Hathaway, particularly the latter's rendition of the standard "When Did You Leave Heaven." "Heaven" shows Donny's baby escaping her legendary father's shadow to come into her own.

Track to burn: "Al Falaq 113"

Rating: **** - Mark Anthony Neal

BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB

Howl

RCA

Eschewing the swirling distortion and hiss that have characterized their back catalog, BRMC now tout a more acoustically-driven sound. Inspired by Allen Ginsberg's epic poem of the same name, Howl is a songbook of American musical and lyrical tradition: Southern gospel, New York City folk and jazz, and spare midwestern sturm und drang. There's still the odd punker workout -- see "Howl," built on a sustained note of church organ before the hellhounds arrive via Marshall amplification -- but the bulk of the record suggests late 60s Dylan more than it does the latest besuited and besotted Spin cover boys. Dylan -- another fan of the slim-cut style -- had to plug in before he could innovate. BRMC decided -- as did their previous label, Virgin -- to pull the plug instead. Virgin's loss is our (and RCA's) gain -- expect this Howl to scream its way onto any year-end shortlists.

Track to burn: "Ain't No Easy Way"

Rating: **** - Timothy C. Davis

Various artists

KCRW Sounds Eclectic

Nacional Records

It just doesn't get more eclectic than this, even coming from LA's much-respected public radio stalwart, "Morning Becomes Eclectic." Host Nic Harcourt showcases all kinds of quality artists -- from folkies such as Ani DiFranco to "It" rock bands like Franz Ferdinand -- performing live, unvarnished, in an intimate radio-studio setting. This set, featuring artwork by Fluxus heir Beck, focuses on Latino acts, from the funky, experimental Mexican folk of Cafe Tacuba ("La Muerte Chiquita") and Julieta Venegas ("Lo Que Pidas") to the playful post-rock funk of Frampton-via-Beasties lovers Plastilina Mosh ("Baretta 89"), Los Amigos Invisibles ("Gorditas de Mario") and Kinky ("Sol"). With few missteps, the CD deftly maneuvers through contemporary musica en español. Skip tracks by British Colombio-phile Sidestepper or Thievery Corporation but you can't go too wrong with Latin rock royalty like Colombia's Los Aterciopelados ("Baracunatana"), France/Spain's Manu Chao ("Clandestino") and LA's own Los Lobos ("Carabina .30-.30") gathered together here.

Track to burn: Aterciopelados' "Baracunatana"

Rating: *** - Mark Kemp

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