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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Experimental

Glenn Kotche, "Mobile" (Nonesuch). Listening to Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche's "Mobile," it's easy to trace the genesis of the magic that band has been conjuring since Kotche joined its ranks. Marrying Jeff Tweedy's emotionally complex, folk- and country-based tunes to the avant-garde, experimental ethic espoused by Kotche -- clearly the most exciting rock-based drummer of his generation -- helped transform Wilco from an A-list alt-country band into an ensemble capable of creating the brilliant, genre-less music heard on its "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and "A Ghost Is Born" albums. With "Mobile," Kotche runs wild through his own seemingly limitless imagination, fusing elements of the evolving linear compositions of Steve Reich to Indonesian and African rhythmic forms, and even tossing in a bit of the shattered lens through which he imagines rock in the context of Wilco. The result is an extremely challenging, thematically linked musical cycle that can be broken down and analyzed intellectually, or simply enjoyed viscerally, with equal force. A strange and beautiful magic. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4) (Jeff Miers)

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>Country

James Hand, "The Truth Will Set You Free" (Rounder). James Hand waited until country music was just about dead to finally release his debut effort, at the ripe, weathered age of 54. Is it too much to claim for "The Truth Will Set You Free" that it might resuscitate country's rapidly stiffening carcass all on its own? I think not. Hear this record, and wonder aloud, "Where has this guy been all this time?" Immediately, you hear the high lonesome quaver and quiver of Hank Williams in these songs. But you'll also hear a rich trip through the era of country music when it was a virtuosic form, when you had to know how to play to play it right, when you had to have logged endless hours in gin joints and honky tonks in order to earn your country stripes. Hand's music is seasoned, well-worn and dusty. His lyrics sound like recountings of the truth, rather than the empty posturing favored by modern pop-country types. Hand's incredible band -- particularly legendary guitarists Lloyd Maines and Red Volkaert -- lays down the gospel here, and reminds us of a time when country was gritty, real, a direct conduit to the emotions, rather than a polished form of corporate pop. "The Truth Will Set You Free" is one of the most striking debut albums to see release in years. Review: 4 stars (J.M.)

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>Rock

Kid Rock, "Live Trucker" (Atlantic). White kid from Detroit falls in love with hip-hop. Tries to break into the rap world. Fails. Rediscovers the king of Detroit bonehead rock, Ted Nugent, becomes an honorary redneck through his love of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hank Williams Jr. Marries newfound love of classic meathead music to deep-seated desire to be a hip-hop king. The kids line up by the truckload. Kid Rock is best experienced in concert, so it's no surprise that "Live Trucker," from its Bob Seger homage album cover, to its refried ZZ Top, Nugent and Skynyrd riffs, to its ever-present Run-DMC fixation, is the man's finest hour. The Kid bought into the whole southern rock trip, right down to the ill-conceived patriotic rhetoric and the "Aw, shucks, hand me another Budweiser" lingo. But the whole trip is pretty darned infectious, as transparent as it is. Review: 2 1/2 stars (J.M.)

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>Alternative

Ambulance LTD., "New English EP" (TVT). New classicism, from a Brooklyn-based foursome whose combined age is pretty close to the one Keith Richards has achieved all on his own. This is exciting stuff, because it seems to have come from nowhere, in the midst of a pop-punk and emo-screamo obsessed culture of new, young bands. The intelligent pop this band stirs up arrives like a breath of fresh, melodic air in a stifling atmosphere of cookie-cutter mediocrity. Ambulance LTD. knows its Lennon quite well, and brings that man's gift for airy, ethereal melody to bear on its own sunny, meticulously crafted sound. Name me another band capable of offering us a fully actualized take on Pink Floyd's psychedelic-folk masterpiece "Fearless." I'm at a loss to imagine another outfit from the Ambulance LTD. age bracket that could cut the mustard on that gig. This EP -- not a dud amidst its 30 minutes -- is a stop-gap to satisfy fans while the group wraps up the recording of its new full-length, due in early summer. Review: 3 stars (J.M.)

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