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Discs

> Rock/blues

Bonnie Raitt

Souls Alike

[EMI/Capitol]

Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)

Bonnie Raitt cut her teeth opening for some of the most revered blues musicians in the idiom's history as a young slide-guitarist and folk singer as the '60s ended, and that experience has imbued itself on her art ever since. The blues is never far from Raitt, though her music is broader than strict traditional blues and has encompassed R&B, soul, country and rock over the years.

At heart, Raitt is a slide guitarist who also happens to sing like a soulful angel. "Souls Alike" is yet another entry in a catalog that has been remarkably consistent for more than 30 years. Raitt sings with an aching loneliness at one turn, sly confidence the next, and counters her sexy vocals with equally sexy slide playing, notable for its eloquence, its buttery tone, its ability to be virtuosic and understated simultaneously.

Backed by her wonderful touring band -- keyboardist Jon Cleary, bassist Hutch Hutchinson, drummer Ricky Fataar and guitarist George Marinelli -- Raitt tackles a new batch of standards-in-waiting, many of them penned by various members of her band. There's the downright funky and greasy -- "God Was In the Water," "Love on One Condition" -- the blues-informed pop paeans -- "I Will Not Be Broken" -- and one of Raitt's specialties, the wistful, stoic folk-blues ballad, as exemplified by the elegant, bittersweet "So Close."

Raitt is a class act, and "Souls Alike" -- produced by Raitt with Mitchell Froom -- does nothing to challenge this notion. It's warm and organic sounding, unhurried, not marred by self-import or showboating tendencies, and it's got a nice swing in its hips. Classic Bonnie Raitt, then.

-- Jeff Miers

> Classical

Leontyne Price

Verdi arias

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta, conductor

[Decca Universal]

Review: 3 1/2 stars

In 1980, when this album was originally recorded in Tel Aviv, Leontyne Price was opera. That regal bearing, that Afro, that voice -- she signified all the art form's grandeur. She owned, of course, the role of Aida, and her two arias from that opera included here vibrate with weight and emotion.

Vulnerability was never one of Ms. Price's strong points, but that's OK: The power of her voice, the depth of it, the strength and stamina of it are a thrill in itself -- even in the aria from "Ernani," whose score, to me, always seemed to have a kind of hurdy-gurdy triteness.

The way she wields that voice can also boggle the mind; she can slide up an octave without a thought, change timbre in an instant. "Piangea cantando," from "Otello" is especially moving.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

> Alternative

Sigur Ros

Takk

[Geffen]

Review: 4 stars

"Takk" marks a change for Iceland's Sigur Ros, a band of musicians who, since emerging five years ago, have gone a long way toward creating their own genre of music out of the raw materials honed by pioneering psychedelic/progressive acts like Pink Floyd and Can.

No, the band hasn't dropped its seven- to 10-minute songs, ethereal, meandering tendencies, or self-invented language in order to pursue some latent dreams of mainstream pop idolatry. But it has managed to add a new wrinkle to the cloak; "Takk" is a bit more upbeat and celebratory than its predecessors, a bit more structured in terms of tension and release, and bit less -- how does one say this? -- stoned-sounding.

Fans of later-period Mercury Rev and the more esoteric leanings of Sunny Day Real Estate's Jeremy Enigk will find the gauzy, through-the-glass-darkly epic unfolding of a piece like "Glosoli," which starts as a dream and ends a nightmare, crescendoing in a distorted cacophony of quarter-note accents, a la Coldplay. It's magnificent, and should speak to the inner Yes fan in all of us.

This album should be listened to as a whole; it harks back to a time when it was perfectly ordinary for music-heads to lie on the floor with the headphones on for hours at a time, staring out the window and letting the music transport them. So too does Sigur Ros' grandiloquent art demand this kind of setting, this kind of attention, this kind of willing suspension of disbelief. It sounds like music that originated on another planet. One I'd like to visit.

-- Jeff Miers

> Rock

Richard Hawley

Coles Corner

[Mute]

Review: 4 stars

Richard Hawley makes recordings of improbable beauty and refinement that share little in common with anything being crafted by other members of his musical generation. "Coles Corner" follows last year's "Low Edges" with more of Hawley's glorious heartbreak, mournful melody,elegant singing, and old-school country/folk/pop guitar stylings done up in modern-day garb.

Hawley might seem to some a strict traditionalist; his songs don't acknowledge anything that occurred, musically speaking, after roughly 1965; as a singer, he has more in common with Nat King Cole than any of the Brit-poppers he can call his peers. But for some reason, the records Hawley makes sound remarkably fresh, honest, contemporary, timeless.

"Coles Corner" commences with the haunting and haunted title tune, a song that wouldn't have been out of place on Frank Sinatra's "September of My Years," from its heartbreaking melody, perfectly intoned vocal performance, and air of wistful sadness. It then proceeds through a song cycle of flawless melodies, starkly poetic lyrics, killer guitar textures, sweet (not syrupy) string arrangements, and a reverb-soaked aural climate that insists on being labeled heavenly.

Hawley's an anomaly. This is truly special stuff.

-- Jeff Miers

> Pop

MoZella

"MoZella"

[Maverick Records]

Review: 1 star (Out of 4)

For many aspiring artists, it's all about getting yourself out there and getting your music heard. Instead of working from the bottom up, 23-year-old Detroit-native MoZella -- the name comes from a nickname from her father -- is starting high with her vocals featured on a current Mercedes Benz TV commercial.

She also has a record deal with Maverick Records (the label for big-name female artists such as Alanis Morissette and Madonna) and is working with Jude Cole on her debut album.

Unfortunately, MoZella's five-track self-titled EP begs to ask what Mercedes, Maverick and Cole see in her. The tunes fail to even be catchy and are easily disposable like so much of pop music is these days. And even though some may call it eclectic, the combination of her Midwest accent, raspy vocals and Ani DiFranco-like spoken word verses comes off more confusing than appealing. Unless a good marketing team takes on MoZella, I predict a flop when her full-length record is released.

-- Miyoko Ohtake

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