"A Ghost Is Born" (Nonesuch)
A little more than two minutes into Wilco's new album, a clump of gnarled guitar chording from bandleader Jeff Tweedy crashes into the autumnal, piano-based reverie of "At Least That's What You Said." A few seconds later the song's trembling intimacy has been shattered into shards of impassioned six-string soloing.
That moment establishes the plug-it-in, turn-it-up, let-it-rip tone of "A Ghost Is Born" (in stores Tuesday), an album that marks one more unexpected curve in Mr. Tweedy's wild ride. Fans of the Chicago-based band are accustomed to the restless musician's changes of direction, and while this one sometimes seems to offer more in the way of therapeutic release for him than artistic satisfaction for the listener, it's a bracing refusal to sit still and repeat himself.
After the emphasis on studio atmospherics that marked 2002's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," Tweedy gives full rein to his guitar obsession, making Wilco sound like a live band and plotting extended solos that recall the expeditions of the '70s band Television (whose Richard Lloyd has given lessons to Tweedy). Even when the guitar subsides a bit later in the album, it's always a defining force, lurking latent in a whiff of feedback here, the shadow of a sonic shape there.
The songs are structured firmly in the classic tradition, evoking Dylan, the Band, Hendrix and Beatles. They're enriched by a bottomless well of melodic invention and find an emotional core in Tweedy's shy, plaintive vocals. His understated singing lends distance to his sketches of strained relationships and spiritual conflict, but don't worry -- a crunching guitar solo will be along in a second to bridge the gap.
Passion's in fashion for Anthony
"Amar Sin Mentiras"
The Marc Anthony makeover is complete. A quickie divorce, a surprise wedding to Jennifer Lopez and the release of a new album that marks a complete departure from his salsa repertoire, all within the same week.
Lost in the gossip and rumors, however, is that this glistening collection of romantic ballads marks the best work of Anthony's career. The album evokes a lost era when well-crafted but heartfelt Latin love songs set the standard and crooners such as Jose Jose, Julio Iglesias and Emmanuel were international stars.
Anthony's melodramatic style might have spoiled the once-gritty and grass-roots salsa scene. But his emotional, over-the-top approach is well suited for ballads that play on particularly Latin sensibilities. In this context, schmaltz is good. Anthony's passion-drenched vocals, the beautiful, aching melodies, the lush orchestrations with the London Symphony -- it's enough to sweep away even cynics.
Credit must go to producer-composer Estefano, who co-wrote nine of the 10 tunes, and his creative team, especially arranger Julio Reyes. The inspired songs benefit from hypnotic pacing, irresistible rhythms and touches of folkloric instrumentation. The lyrics -- of jealousy, love lost and renewal -- seem tailored to the singer's tumultuous life changes, for those who want to read between the lines.
Now the bad news: Anthony plans to release another album with salsa versions of the same songs. His big mistake is thinking these two great genres are interchangeable.
Looking back, but not nostalgically
"Ashgrove" (Yep Roc)
Few songwriters capture the way music can provide escape or solace to the lonely, the lost and the desperate as Alvin. The ninth solo album for this former member of the Blasters and X draws on his memories of sneaking into the famed L.A. folk and blues nightclub of the title song as the springboard for an examination of how dreams fall by the wayside and how the dreamers try to make sense of the loss.
His protagonists chase runaway loves ("Rio Grande," "Nine Volt Heart"), long-dead heroes ("Ashgrove") and their own vanished principles ("Out of Control"), generally finding more questions than answers.
The exception is when relief comes through the speaker of a crackling border radio station or from a band pounding away on stage, which Alvin describes in painstaking detail.
Alvin suggests the answer lies in the acceptance of what's real and in release of the fantasy, which in his case is his music, which courses here from the electrified blues inspired by his forebears to introspective folk strains.
"Everyday people tryin' to get ahead / Tryin' to find a reason just to get out of bed / 'Cause we all need somethin' just to get us through / Well I'm gonna play the blues tonight man / 'Cause that's what I do."
If the rest of the everyday people loved and excelled at their jobs as thoroughly as Alvin does, there'd be a lot less need to play those blues.
It's a real mix of signals here
"Street Signs" (Concord)
When Rodney King wondered during the 1992 L.A. riots whether we can all just get along, this eclectic, multicultural band didn't exist. Since its founding four years later, Ozomatli has tried to show that, at least musically, L.A.'s cultures can not only co-exist but can also come together to throw the mother of all parties.
In its first studio album in three years, the group has managed to tame the disparate influences that vie for expression in its unruly fusion. Somehow, this wild world mix works -- sometimes.
The band displays a passion and maturity that make this its most accomplished effort. "Street Signs" (in stores Tuesday) is an effusive set of 13 songs blending fiesta and revolution, advocating social change through Saturday-night block parties.
The problem with all this togetherness is that it smacks of dilettantism, with a U.N.-like guest list that includes Chicano guitarist David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Nuyorican pianist Eddie Palmieri, Moroccan sintir master Hassan Hakmoun, French-Jewish Gypsy violinists Les Yeux Noirs and the strings of a Prague orchestra. Whew! The stylistic explorations work on individual tracks, but by the end the journey feels dizzying and exhausting.
Ozomatli, like L.A. itself, can be fun for those who don't mind the relentless frenzy.
Lyrics are stuck in the shallow end
"Getting' in Over My Head" (Rhino)
More than 40 years into his career, this is just the head Beach Boy's third solo album -- not the kind of speed at which you'd think anybody would be accused of rushing. Yet there are songs here that could have used a bit more time.
The problem is the lyrics, never his core strength. The childlike directness by Wilson and several collaborators on his earlier solo efforts was often disarmingly effective; several songs here miss the linchpin truths that previously gave some dimension to the unvarnished honesty.
His soaring melodies, signature vocal harmonies and sure-handed production touches are often in place, and he gets high-powered help in duets with Eric Clapton, Elton John and Paul McCartney as well as a lovely posthumous vocal assist from his brother Carl on the otherwise routine nouveau R&B; oldie "Soul Searchin'."
But too many lyrics are more serviceable than insightful or inventive. The happy exceptions include a gorgeous, straight-out love song, "You Touched Me," and the intriguingly ambiguous "Fairy Tale." The musical pinnacle is the closing track, "The Waltz," a mid-'80s teaming with lyricist Van Dyke Parks that Wilson wisely resurrected for its achingly wistful yet wittily pointed reminiscence of youth.
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.