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RECORD RACK

They could be folk-rock brothers

August 05, 2007|Richard Cromelin; Mikael Wood; Soren Baker; Steve Appleford

Peter Case

"Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John" (Yep Roc)

* * * 1/2

Luther Russell

"Repair" (Ungawa/Adrenaline Music Group)

* * *

If Peter Case were writing a tune about the paths that he and fellow Los Angeles singer Luther Russell have traveled, this Woody Guthrie devotee might portray them as railroad tracks that converge and then split apart, only to circle back together in unlikely confluence.

If Russell were to do the same, it would more likely be an impressionistic, metaphorical contemplation of time and fate.

No matter how you frame it, longtime followers of Los Angeles rock will find a cosmic connection in the fact that these two have albums out the same day (Tuesday) and are playing separate shows the same night (Saturday) to mark the occasion.

Case and Russell represent successive generations in the city's music scene, with Case's band the Plimsouls bringing a British Invasion dash and urgency to the new wave of the early '80s, and Russell's Freewheelers emerging in the early '90s with a sound that ranged from heartland anthems to soul-inflected folk-rock. (In the first instance of common history, both released albums on Geffen Records, though nearly a decade apart.)

Since his solo debut in 1986, Case has become a revered figure in the contemporary folk world, and his 10th solo album takes him back to the basics. The collection, whose title references the great bluesman Sleepy John Estes, is a stripped-down, mainly acoustic affair, with producer Ian Brennan taking the kind of immediate, let-it-roll approach he did on Ramblin' Jack Elliott's recent "I Stand Alone."

It's very much in the spirit of Guthrie, with Case lashing out vehemently at injustice -- the "Million Dollar Bail" that sprung Phil Spector (who isn't named but is clearly the subject of the song), corporate treachery, the plight of the homeless. He also describes the allure and demands of the vagabond life, with a focus and a ragged-voiced authenticity that makes you feel every bump in the road.

Russell adopted a similar solo troubadour stance on his last album, in 2001, and on "Repair" he plays a few traditional figures that intersect with Case's music. But on this fourth solo outing he primarily follows folk into its pop permutations, with Beatles-shaded arrangements supporting his warm, sympathetic voice.

With Ethan Johns in the same producer-musician role he had on singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne's two acclaimed albums, "Repair" delivers its hook-filled material with a live directness that enhances Russell's spirit of hard-won optimism.

Case will play at the Folk Music Center in Claremont on Saturday, while Russell headlines at the Echo. Next time, they should plan a double bill and bring it full circle.

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Quick Spins

The Jonas Brothers

"The Jonas Brothers" (Hollywood)

This freshly scrubbed pop-punk act hit it big this year with Radio Disney listeners hungry for a Green Day minus curse words and lefty politics. On their largely self-penned second album, the Jonases toughen up the guitars but keep the girl-craziness clean: Think Franz Ferdinand for fifth-graders.

-- Mikael Wood

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UGK

"UGK (Underground Kingz)" (Jive)

Pimp C and Bun B's 15-year career has been punctuated by stellar, if infrequent, recordings. The Texas duo's fifth studio album is slightly bloated at 29 songs but shows why UGK enjoys cult status. Their beats ooze with alternative doses of soul and brute force, and the crafty lyrics are likely to entertain, inspire and offend.

--

Korn

"Untitled" (Virgin)

Being down to three original members hasn't cost Korn its knack for haunted hard-rock melody. Jonathan Davis is still raging, searching, disgusted and warning "happiness is boring, need pain instead." On "Kiss," he even sounds wistful, tuneful, sad. Korn only slips on "Bitch, We Got a Problem," drifting toward banal nu-metal formula, a big mistake for any band that still has new ideas to peddle.

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Billie Holiday

"Remixed & Reimagined" (Columbia/Legacy)

The cucumber-cool queen of jazz-vocal subtlety is not an obvious choice for the big-beat dance-remix treatment she gets here. But thanks to the sly work of groove-meisters including DJ Logic and Tony Humphries, "Remixed & Reimagined" makes a pretty convincing case for Holiday's resurrection as a disco diva.

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.

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