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RECORD RACK

In the spirit of the solo riff

June 20, 2004|Agustin Gurza; Richard Cromelin; Randy Lewis

Wilco

"A Ghost Is Born" (Nonesuch)

*** 1/2

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.

Richard Cromelin

*

Passion's in fashion for Anthony

Marc Anthony

"Amar Sin Mentiras"

(Sony Discos)

***

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.

Agustin Gurza

*

Looking back, but not nostalgically

Dave Alvin

"Ashgrove" (Yep Roc)

*** 1/2

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.

Randy Lewis

*

It's a real mix of signals here

Ozomatli

"Street Signs" (Concord)

***

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