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ALBUM REVIEWS

Ready to dance, but he's dancing alone

Moby gets upbeat again, but the sounds are more of a survey than a cohesive whole.

April 08, 2008|Mikael Wood; Sarah Tomlinson; Holly Gleason

Moby

"Last Night"

(Mute)

* 1/2

It's no coincidence that the title of Moby's new album calls to mind "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life," the 1982 club classic by Indeep. After spending several albums exploring increasingly mellow sounds -- most recently on 2005's snoozy "Hotel" -- the techno maven is once again in the mood to dance: "This album is about going out (in NYC and elsewhere)," Moby writes in "Last Night's" liner notes. "It's me trying to take 25 years of going out in NYC and condensing it into a 65-minute record."

He succeeds in capturing a quarter-century's worth of body-music moves: "Last Night" flits from disco to house to rave to rap with the ease of someone who experienced each firsthand. But with only a handful of exceptions ("I Love to Move in Here," "Everyday It's 1989"), the CD fails to replicate the tantalizing psychosexual rush Moby describes; too often, "Last Night" feels like a cold academic exercise, as though Moby were compiling a collection of beats for future examination by an alien race curious about our after-hours ways.

It's unlikely "Last Night" will save anyone's life.

-- Mikael Wood

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Walking under her 'Umbrella'

Marie Digby

"Unfold"

(Hollywood Records)

* *

The latest in the music world's string of Internet "It" girls, Marie Digby's debut, "Unfold," closes with the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter's rendition of Rihanna's hit "Umbrella."

It's a slightly slicker version than the one that brought Digby notoriety on MySpace and YouTube, and it's probably the most compelling song on the album.

While her original material nicely showcases her girlish voice, it lacks the same sense of surprise, the fresh perspective and winning irreverence that marked her transformation of the R&B smash into a stripped-down guitar track.

Still, there are standout moments. The ode to female independence, "Girlfriend," has a slouching beat and a wiry guitar melody, while the ballad "Spell" finds Digby at her most vulnerable. Regular viewers of MTV's "The Hills" might recognize the sassy, piano-driven love song "Stupid for You," one of Digby's best efforts.

-- Sarah Tomlinson

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Laments from coal country

Kathy Mattea

"Coal"

(Captain Potato)

* * * 1/2

Dignity, not darkness, fuels Kathy Mattea's "Coal," the stark Marty Stuart-produced roots project inspired by the 2006 Sago Mine disaster. A coal miner's granddaughter from Cross Lane, W.Va., the two-time Country Music Assn. female vocalist award winner jettisons mainstream dazzle for this minimalist acoustic tribute to the culture in which she was raised.

Embracing songs from Jean Ritchie, Merle Travis, Hazel Dickens and modernists Billy Edd Wheeler and Darrell Scott, Mattea's alto shimmers with earthy grace. Dickens' "Black Lung" -- written for her brother -- is an a cappella wonder: rancor-soaked, honoring the man struck down. It skewers those who view Appalachian lives as disposable.

"Blue Diamond Mines" features aching harmonies from another coal-miner's daughter, Patty Loveless.

Austere yet emotional, "Coal" is about lives and land lost that cannot be reclaimed.

-- Holly Gleason

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Albums are rated on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair) and one star (poor). Albums reviewed have been released except as indicated.

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