"A Crow Left of the Murder" (Immortal/Epic)
Though Incubus can detonate sonic depth charges with the best of them, the Calabasas band has been content to be the chess club at Alt-Rock High -- cerebral and dreamy, earnest but timid, always inclined to restrain its power and go for the reverie.
For "A Crow Left of the Murder" (due in stores Tuesday), Incubus enlisted a new producer, Brendan O'Brien, and it sounds as if he arrived at the studio with a cattle prod.
"Crow" is a striking redefinition, an album that roars and twitches with the raw, aggressive, fury of urgent rock activism. The new vehemence is apparent in the first song, "Megalomaniac," where Brandon Boyd's voice shifts from clenched steel to Johnny Rotten rant as he indicts the title character -- "You're no Jesus, you're no Elvis ... you're no answer."
It might be the best mix of plaintive, powerful voice and creative crunch since the arrival of Audioslave. Boyd's voice can slice through a storm like Thom Yorke's, and when the music is charged with energy and immediacy, the results are bracing.
They still have a tendency to become labored and abstract, but those moments are secondary now. Incubus sounds all charged up and snapped to attention. Welcome to the world.
-- Richard Cromelin
Flamenco mastery without showiness
Paco de Lucia
"Cositas Nuevas" (Blue Thumb/Verve)
This fabled flamenco guitarist has been surprising listeners -- and infuriating purists -- for four decades with his lightning technique and innovations. He's the master of the unexpected, introducing new instruments and jazz stylings to this tradition-bound Gypsy genre.
This is the first studio album from De Lucia, 56, in five years. On the surface, it sounds like a return to flamenco fundamentals, with hand-clapping, percussion and guest vocalists, such as Gypsy star Diego El Cigala. But within that classic framework, De Lucia infuses his playing with a quiet genius and an open heart.
De Lucia eschews showy, rapid-fire technique for its own sake. He employs guitar, lute, bouzouki and mandolin to express a variety of feelings -- festiveness in "Patio Custodio," fatherly devotion in "Antonia" and the desperate desire of the dramatic "Que Venga el Alba" (Let the Dawn Come).
This is an album of exquisite subtleties, filled with crystalline arpeggios, rhythmic flourishes and harmonic surprises. Rare and evocative chords are often modestly embedded in the entrancing flow of his accompaniment.
At the peak of his powers, De Lucia offers an unpretentious product showcasing the refined restraint that comes only with mature mastery. De Lucia will perform at UCLA's Royce Hall March 8 and 9.
-- Agustin Gurza
Single is an artistic homer
Every rapper who attempts to rap faster than the speed of thought owes a debt of gratitude to Twista. The Chicago hip-hop visionary developed the tongue-twisting, rapid-fire style that has been employed by everyone from Jay-Z to Ludacris. His second collection, 1997's astounding "Adrenaline Rush," is considered a classic by many in-the-know rap fans.
Subsequent appearances with P. Diddy and Ludacris notwithstanding, the one thing lacking in Twista's career has been his own hit single. Problem solved: The current smash "Slow Jamz" showcases his stunning delivery and flow patterns and places him on the cut with aspiring rapper and production maven Kanye West (Alicia Keys, Jay-Z) and actor Jamie Foxx, who sings the charmingly nostalgic chorus. It's a crowning moment for Twista.
The remainder of his strong third album presents Twista's dazzling rapping skills and highlights his development from underground legend to potential mainstream star. He teams with fellow Chicagoan R. Kelly on the slick, sizzlingly smooth "So Sexy" and delivers eulogies to late musicians and victims of Sept. 11, among others, on "Hope." By walking the fine line between street genius and mainstream appeal, Twista will likely enjoy the stardom and acclaim that have eluded him.
-- Soren Baker
A litter of literate country melodies
"One Moment More" (Vanguard)
This Nashville-based artist may hail from Long Island, but she's already received a major endorsement of her country and bluegrass credentials from Dolly Parton, who has called Smith's rendition of "Jolene" her favorite.
Smith isn't a roots-music traditionalist like Rhonda Vincent or even Alison Krauss (a purist whose tastes embrace pop, rock and R&B; as well as mountain music), but a literate folk-country singer-songwriter who taps the same emotions and themes that are the cornerstones of music usually sung with a drawl and dropped Gs.
She can be mysterious ("Train Song"), resilient ("Falling"), guileless ("Down in Flames") or staggeringly optimistic ("Angel Doves"). The last is a benedictory ballad as moving as any pop effort this side of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and it's one of several songs in which Smith sees faith as the only response to the wounds life inflicts. Her voice exudes the gentility and grace of Krauss, while musically she can evoke an electronics-drenched moodiness of latter-day Emmylou Harris, which can indeed leave a listener yearning for one moment more.
-- Randy Lewis
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.