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POP MUSIC

Druid rock. Cool. So what's next?

July 29, 2007|Richard Cromelin; Greg Burk

Bat for Lashes

"Fur and Gold" (Caroline)

* * * 1/2

THE ancient woods of Albion, animated in decades past by such mystic yarn-spinners as Led Zeppelin, Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Incredible String Band, are teeming once again with wizards and golden light and mysterious horses, courtesy of Natasha Khan, a 28-year-old Englishwoman of Pakistani descent whose debut album (due for release in the U.S. on Tuesday) introduces a distinctive heir to the tradition of Kate Bush, Bjork, PJ Harvey and other visionary conduits to that world of primal forces.

Under the name Bat for Lashes, Khan (who performs at Spaceland on Tuesday) has quickly made a mark at home, where "Fur and Gold" has joined albums by the Arctic Monkeys, Amy Winehouse, the Klaxons and others as a nominee for the Mercury Music Prize.

The collection offers a fresh take on England's druid-rock legacy, blending electronics with the elemental skin and seeds of drums and shakers in a sound that's both atmospheric and richly textured.

And while Khan can smite a staff or don armor and mount a steed in a Joan of Arc-inspired scenario, she doesn't stay locked in that world. "What's a Girl to Do?" opens with a "Be My Baby" drum punch and unfolds like a piece of eerie, down-tempo Spector. "Sad Eyes," an intimate, emotional piano ballad, is another turn in a more conventional pop genre, and she gives Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" an intensely haunted reading.

Whichever world she traverses, Khan radiates authority and confidence.

All that's left is to shed the skin of those influences and show what she's really made of.

-- Richard Cromelin

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The Mingus crew, enrolled at Cornell

Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy

"Cornell 1964" (Blue Note)

* * *

AIMING to match the jackpot it scored in 2005 with "Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall," Blue Note falls a bit short. Though this two-CD set, recorded at Cornell University, captures the swordplay of a fierce Mingus crew, there are already recordings aplenty of the bassist's 1964 performances, whereas the 1957-58 Monk-Coltrane alliance had been sparsely documented. You'll find bloodier stabs at Mingus' hustling blues "So Long Eric" and his variegated urban epic "Meditations" (a.k.a. "Praying With Eric") on "Town Hall Concert," and a broader harmonic palette daubs the Ellington-influenced ballad "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk" on "Mingus at Monterey."

The loose rendition of "Fables of Faubus," strewn with spontaneous changes and playful interpolations, provides an entertaining primer on Mingus' unpredictable methodology, but the main new prize is a flute-melting update of Dolphy's 1963 take on Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz."

Mingus' grappling drive is unstoppable; the modern blues of windman Dolphy, an old friend from their L.A. days, cuts deep; and Jaki Byard's piano sprays encyclopedic inspiration.

-- Greg Burk

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