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Byline: Jonathan Takiff
May proves one of the busiest months of the year for new album releases, with important new arrivals by Robert Plant, Dave Matthews, Robert Earl Keen, Keith Jarrett, Vivian Green, "Monty Python's Spamalot," the long-awaited Cameo-Parkway box set and a veritable support cast of thousands.
ANOTHER SIDE OF RYAN: The prolific Ryan Adams shows off another _ and very good _ side, fronting Ryan Adams and the Cardinals on the double disc "Cold Roses" (Lost Highway). The Cardinals are a gentle, ambling alt-country rock band with bittersweet tunes and understated arrangements featuring wispy harmony vocals (by singers/players Cindy Cashdollar, Catherine Popper and Brad Pemberton) and lotsa strummy, pedal-steel guitars. Fans of Gram Parsons, Buffalo Springfield, acoustic Grateful Dead and vintage Crosby Stills & Nash will love the modalities, the sinewy acoustic guitar strums and the don't-give-up-on-love messages. Try the breathtaking "Meadowlake Street," mantra-like "Mockingbird," perky shuffle "Let It Ride" and Grateful Dead-emulating "Cold Roses." Grade: A-minus
MOTOWN THEN AND LATER: Smokey Robinson's "Definitive Collection" gathers both solo hits and gems recorded with the Miracles, plus two new tunes, "My World" and "Fallen."
As for the oft-postponed Stevie Wonder album ("A Time 2 Love") promised for release today ... forgetaboutit. Motown is now predicting June, while Amazon.com recently had the release date posted facetiously as "January 1, 2010." But one track has slipped out, the aptly named "So What the Fuss," a gritty little protesting plea featuring guest appearances by Prince and En Vogue.
CONCEPTS: Aimee Mann sculpts "The Forgotten Arm" (SuperEgo), a sketchy story in song about a girl who falls for a troubled boxer in the '70s. Joe Henry produced the record with a sonic aura typical of the period, though the tunes are unmistakably Mann's, and a mite repetitive. B
The stage musical "Monty Python's Spamalot" (Decca Broadway) captures the rogue spirit of the British comedy troupe. While music was "lovingly ripped off" from their film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," the funniest songs (lyrics by Eric Idle, music by John DuPrez) are new and apt parodies of Broadway cliches _ "The Song That Goes Like This," "You Won't Succeed on Broadway" and "Twice in Every Show." B
On "Pretty In Black" (Columbia), Danish darlings the Raveonettes continue their apt homages to vintage pop sounds, this time zeroing in mostly on haunted, whispering, early '60s girl 'n' boy groups (like Mickey and Sylvia, the Ronettes and Shangri-Las) whose teen melodramas were fleshed out with lotsa tremolo guitar, castanets and other wall of sound accoutrements. "Seductress of Bums" and the A-bomb-fearing "Uncertain Times" are darker than '60s acts could get away with, though the duo also toss in an apt cover of "My Boyfriend's Back" and welcome icon Ronnie Spector to sing on "Ode To L.A." B-plus
ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: The twice-delayed "Joe Perry" (Columbia) marks the first solo outing by the Aerosmith dude since 1989. At least we know why this one's taken extra time _ so the label could turn it into a new-age, two-sided (CD/DVD) DualDisc with Umixit tracks on the video side. Place the disc into your computer's DVD drive and you can alter the mix of "Push Comes to Shove" and "Mercy." OK originals predominate, but Joe tosses in covers of the Doors' "Crystal Ship" and Woody Guthrie's "Vigilante Man." B
Nine Inch Nails sharpens "With Teeth" (Interscope), the band's first studio recording since 1999's "The Fragile." Dave Grohl (Nirvana/Foo Fighters) pounds the skins on several tracks.
Mike Doughty, longtime front man for Soul Coughing, rocks, broods and jokes on "Haughty Melodic" (ATO), featuring a guest appearance by label chief Dave Matthews on the catchy anthem "Tremendous Brunettes." B-plus
Jaci Velasquez, a biggie in contemporary Christian music, thickens and dramatizes her sound with the made-in-Britain, pop-rocking testimonies "Beauty Has Grace" (Word/Curb/WB). B
Jim Boggia builds craftily on the classic production sounds of '60s and '70s singer-songwriting recordings on "Safe In Sound" (bluhammock music). Adding to the pop patina are like-minded souls Jill Sobule, Aimee Mann, Emitt Rhodes and Wayne Kramer. Try "Let Me Believe" (Evan's Lament)," "Final Word" and my pick to click, "Once." B-plus
Pop/punk newbie Fall Out Boy gives great attitude, stellar vocals and hooks ad-infinitum on "Take This to Your Grave" (Island). B
Amsterdam duo zZz (drummer/singer Bjorn Ottenheim, keyboardist Daan Schinkel) make more with less on the electro-sonic, dirty rockin' "Sound of zZz" (Howler). Think the Doors to power of X. B
Rich Ward veers off from his established groups (Stuck Mojo and Fozzy) to front a new, "blue-eyed rock" band, the Duke, on "My Kung-Fu Is Good" (Spitfire). Too polished for its own good. C-plus
Jangle pop rockers the Go-Betweens get it together again on "Oceans Apart" (Yep Roc).
SOLO SPLENDORS: Jazz keyboardist Keith Jarrett turns 60 and celebrates with "Radiance" (ECM), a double-disc set of improvisations from two Japanese concerts. Edgy, free-form rambles are balanced with thoughtful, more constructed ballad themes. A-minus
Master acoustic guitarist Pierre Bensusan is on his own, distinctive "Altiplanos" (Favored Nations), weaving wispy baroque, cool jazz and Gaelic/Gypsy/olde English folk forms into a lovely lyrical tapestry. B-plus
COLLECTIONS: Some of the sweetest music under the sun comes from West Africa's Mali. And a lovely assortment of this balmy, folkloric music is yours to enjoy as "Putumayo Presents Mali." …