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The $50 guide

Robert Hilburn's guide to keeping up with noteworthy pop releases on a budget of $50 per month.

August 31, 2003|Robert Hilburn

July

Junior Senior's "D-D-Don't Stop the Beat" (Crunchy Frog/ Atlantic)

As the title suggests, the music from the Danish duo of Jesper Mortensen (Junior) and Jeppe Laursen (Senior) is kinetic and fun-packed, a blend of punk, disco, pop and more that isn't afraid to show its roots. The zesty opening track, "Go Junior, Go Senior," could be passed off as the best B-52's single since "Love Shack," while the second number, "Rhythm Bandits," has the exuberance and charm of a great Beach Boys hit. Not everything reaches such heights, but it's a real spirit-lifter.

Kings of Leon's "Youth & Young Manhood" (RCA)

Caleb Followill has a raspy, gospel 'n' blues-edged vocal intensity that could help this explosive rock quartet spark a resurgence of Southern rock. The songs have a blurred perspective about good times and bad that make them feel as if they were written during a hangover or on the party trail. Whatever, this album exudes enough energy and Stones-like swagger to make you start lining up now for the Kings' Sept. 24 date at the Troubadour.

Peter Bruntnell's "Ends of the Earth" (Back Porch/Virgin)

Given that Back Porch is a label that prides itself on showcasing "roots, rock, Americana" sounds, it may be surprising that Bruntnell is British. But the music itself is in the folksy, country storyteller tradition of Gram Parsons, John Prine and Ryan Adams. These delicate, insightful looks at finding an emotional balance fit in nicely with the work of such other distinguished but commercially ignored artists as Ron Sexsmith and L.A.'s Mike Stinson.

August

Various artists' "Alan Lomax: Popular Songbook" (Rounder)

A marvelous example of the continuing vitality and vigor of American "roots" music, these 22 tracks are field recordings -- dating as far back as the early 1930s -- conducted by famed musicologist Lomax. They have been sampled or reworked in various ways by hundreds of artists, including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin and Moby. The collection, which includes works as famous as Leadbelly's "Midnight Special" to as obscure as Blue Boy's "Joe Lee's Rock," has been remastered using Sony's DSD technology.

Neil Young's "Greendale" (Reprise)

This 10-song "musical novel" is so boldly ambitious yet disarmingly low-key that it stands with Young's most engaging works. A hippie call to arms against social apathy in matters ranging from environmental rights to personal liberties, the story unfolds at such a slow pace that the album requires a bit of patience and faith on the listener's part the first time through, but its soulful melodies and earnest observations eventually draw you in.

Mary J. Blige's "Love & Life" (Geffen)

It sounded like industry hype when people began calling this New Yorker the Queen of Hip-Hop and Soul after her debut album a decade ago, but she has evolved into an artist of such commentary and craft that she deserves the title and all that it implies. After years of chronicling her pain and insecurities, she now gives us an upbeat collection that celebrates her own silver lining.

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