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RECORD RACK

Right place, time for Mudcrutch

April 29, 2008|Randy Lewis;John Payne;Oliver Wang

Mudcrutch

"Mudcrutch" (Reprise)

***

Mudcrutch -- consisting of pre-Heartbreakers members Tom Petty, Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell, along with Tom Leadon and Randall Marsh -- never managed to release an album despite a regional following in Florida in the early '70s.

Had the group as it sounds in these 14 songs (in stores today) appeared back then, it might well have gone little noticed amid the proliferation of bands that were mixing rock, country, bluegrass and folk traditions. Today, however, it's a breath of fresh air. It's rock the old-school way -- born of real-time collaboration and realized with heaps of joy and sweat.

Mudcrutch's songs are sung mostly by Petty, with Leadon and Tench taking over on occasion, and they span the heartland rock that's long been the Heartbreakers' stock in trade to the earthier likes of the bluegrass standard "Shady Grove" that opens the album."This Is a Good Street" is especially appealing, a swampy groove about valuing what's good in life. The Southern rock classic "Six Days on the Road" is a testament to Mudcrutch's formative period as a top-flight bar band, and "Scare Easy" lands squarely in Heartbreakers land, with its four-square rock backbeat, missing only the jangling electric guitars.

The 9 1/2 -minute "Crystal River" and the similarly exploratory "Bootleg Flyer" make Petty's desire to reconstitute Mudcrutch clear. The instrumental interplay, particularly among guitarists Campbell and Leadon, extends beyond the Heartbreakers' signature corner of pop into Allman Brothers Band, Crazy Horse, even Grateful Dead territory.

Mudcrutch, which concludes a sold-out, six-night stand at the Troubadour on Friday, probably wouldn't have overshadowed the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Allmans or even the Eagles three decades ago. But as a road worth traveling circa 2008, Petty and his pals have staked themselves out a pretty good street.

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-- Randy Lewis

Mysterious sounds echo forth

Portishead

"Third" (Mercury/Island)

*** 1/2

It's been 14 years since the release of Portishead's debut album, "Dummy," on which the Bristol, England, group crafted a moody mix of sampled beats, minor-key melodies and singer Beth Gibbons' forlorn vocals to produce a template that came to define the trip-hop genre.

Though the ominous textures that DJ-percussionist Geoff Barrow gave Portishead's initial work can be found in abundance on "Third," the group has foregone turntable samples in favor of a minimalist aesthetic comprising off-kilter guitar- and beat-loops. "Silence" and "Hunter" throw together daring unmusical elements, which gradually betray harmonic sensibility.

Relentlessly gloomy, the Portishead formula is given a few surprising spins on "Third," especially in "The Rip," in which the fuzzy production gives way to metronomic beats and lovely keyboard arpeggiations. "Nylon Smile" is populated by "ethnic" instruments (or imitations thereof), string plucks and hand-drum thwacks as Gibbons sings, "I don't know what I've done to deserve you" in an alienated sonic environment.

Though several doses of this languid, tension-filled music get a tad draining, taken altogether it is a suitable sound for our troubling times, and there's an invigorating mysteriousness. Its blaring electronic peals are a wake-up call.

--

-- John Payne

Roots remain highly conscious

The Roots

Rising Down (Def Jam)

***

Few rap artists are as self-aware as the Roots. On the group's finest albums, 1999's "Things Fall Apart" and 2002's "Phrenology," no dynamic, however small, is haphazardly applied. On "Rising Down," that attention to detail is heard in the musical uniformity running across its lean 44 minutes (excluding hidden material).

"Rising Down" is meant as the group's "most political album," but its dystopian sound resonates louder than frontman Black Thought's riffs on global warming or guest Truck North's meditations on rampage shooters on "Singing Man." It's a heavy aural palette of saturated black, browns and blues, slathered onto distorted bass lines, buzzing synthesizers and drummer ?uestlove's splintering stick work.

That sonic consistency is technically impressive but carries its own risks: Any sound that stripped-down can achieve the hard-hitting minimalism of "Rising Down" -- or falter into the droning monotony of "I Can't Help It." Against that backdrop, songs offering richer, brighter textures pop out, especially "I Will Not Apologize," with its Afro-beat brass brigade and spiraling bass lines, and "Rising Up," with its buoyant electric keys and rollicking go-go breakdowns.

Overall, "Rising Down" doesn't replicate the balanced charm of last year's "Game Theory," but in other ways, it's the more provocative effort.

--

-- Oliver Wang

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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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