"The Datsuns" (V2/Hellsquad)
They don't make a lot of cars in New Zealand, but these Kiwis (though named for a Japanese brand) sure can rock like the Motor City. They're not so much in the vein of current Detroiters the White Stripes or in-vogue icon the MC5, but more like the Amboy Dukes and (dare we say) Grand Funk Railroad at its rockin'-est -- all amped up on a big dose of the Stooges.
Guitarist Christian Datsun (all four members use the same last name, Ramones-like) kicks off this debut album's opener, "Sittin' Pretty," with a riff Lenny Kravitz would kill for, at a pace he couldn't keep up with, and it's hell-bent for leather the rest of the way out.
Bassist and frontman Dolf De Datsun doesn't so much sing as freak out through 10 songs that boast, roast and toast. And to hammer it home, there's some nicely heavy-handed organ in the Grand Funk/Deep Purple mold. What makes this more than the sum of its retro parts is that like the Stripes, this quartet has transcended its influences. There's no attempt to make it sound like an old album, just to revive the spirit of one. And it does that with hot-rod style.
-- Steve Hochman
The song stylings of Lyle Lovett
"Smile: Songs From the Movies" (Curb/MCA)
The crazy-haired Texan has been one of pop's smartest and most engaging songwriters since brightening the country charts in the late '80s with "God Will," a wry gem that included this classic response to a two-timing girlfriend asking her man if he can find forgiveness in his heart: "God does/But I don't/God will/But I won't."
Though writing remains his main strength, Lovett is also a stylish vocal interpreter, which is fortunate because he hasn't shared many new songs with us since the end of his marriage to Julia Roberts in the mid-'90s.
As in 1998's "Step Inside the House" album, a tribute to some Texas songwriters, Lovett relies strictly on his singing in this compilation, drawn from songs he has recorded for films.
He sometimes seems too respectful of the material, but mostly his mood moves nicely from affectionate to lighthearted as he steps into Frank Sinatra territory on "Summer Wind" and Ray Charles turf on "What'd I Say." Other stops range from the sweetness of his duet with Randy Newman on "You've Got a Friend in Me" to the gospel drive of "I'm a Soldier in the Army of the Lord." Charming.
-- Robert Hilburn
"The Music" (Capitol)
This young English quartet's debut is alternately spacey and driving, wistful and sexy. The players blend heavy, Zeppelin-esque guitar rock and yelping vocals with U2 flourishes and pulsing electronica touches, making a classic sound relevant to modern times with such tracks as the anthem-like "Getaway." Memorable hooks aren't their strong suit, but the bluesy undercurrents, vibrating guitars and pounding drums make the Music dynamically hypnotic.
-- Natalie Nichols
"Street Dreams" (Desert Storm/Elektra)
On the follow-up to his debut album, 2001's platinum "Ghetto Fabolous," the Brooklyn rapper seems to be on cruise control. He recites with a nasal monotone while he unimaginatively spins fantasies of materialistic glory and sexual conquest. Some of his beats, courtesy of Mr. Fingaz and others, provide enough thump to break the monotony.
-- Soren Baker
These ambitious Midwesterners, who perform Thursday at the Silverlake Lounge, seem stuck between Radiohead and a hard place. Their dreamy guitar sprawl and electronic punctuation occasionally suffocate the boy-girl vocals of siblings Adam and Erin Fein, but when the components click, as on "Shields" and "Bands 1," you feel as if you've stumbled upon buskers who've mastered art-rock.
-- Kevin Bronson
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).