Neil "Neil"; Doc Watson "At Gerdes Folk City"; "Scratch" Original Motion Picture Soundtrack; Starsailor "Love Is Here" 

Now Hear This

Neil "Neil" (RNP)

Beyond the homoerotic images that lace the front and back covers of this local musician's debut is an album that will especially endear itself to fans of '80s-era English synth-pop. This multifaceted singer, songwriter, dancer, actor, strapping young buck, etc. whips through his first effort with endless amounts of do-it-yourself spunk.

Neil's piercing falsetto might come off as a bit amateurish at points, but throughout the record his voice remains refreshingly different. A lot of credit should also go to Neil's programming and keyboard cohort, John Holmes, for his inclusion of unique instrumental and choral rendering that make this batch of solidly performed songs just plain gratifying.

As a fan of synth-pop and new wave, I can most appreciate the creative sensibilities and dance-floor potential of the songs "Still Want You Back," "Armed for Love" and "What You Do to Me." Neil does, however, treat the listener to three diverse cover tracks as well. "Don't Tell Mama" (from the musical Cabaret), "Epp Opp Ork" (an infectiously catchy version of a song that appeared in an episode of "The Jetsons"), and "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" (in which a catty gay voice threatens to "even walk over you in a pair of blown-up flip-flops") are all gems. If you miss the days when groups like Depeche Mode, A-Ha, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Soft Cell, Erasure and Pet Shop Boys ruled every hip club's sound system, Neil's debut should suit you well. — Angelo DeFranzo

Doc Watson "At Gerdes Folk City" (Sugar Hill)

It's hard to believe this great recording and historical document eluded release for so long. Recorded in December 1962 and early 1963 at Gerdes Folk City in Greenwich Village, these 15 cuts capture a then relatively unknown Doc Watson performing his first New York shows. It reveals that even as a soft-spoken young picker and singer, Watson possessed the same warm soul and clean tone that continue to win listeners today.

Kicking the set off with "Little Sadie" and running through his arrangements of "St. Louis Blues," "Milk Cow Blues" and the "Wagoner's Lad," among others, Watson shows why he quickly became an American treasure. Full of natural charm, Watson's acoustic-guitar playing is intricate yet simple, and his singing washes over a listener like a familiar country stream. The accompanying booklet also includes much of interest about Greenwich Village and its hipsters back in the day when it was a creative Mecca. Any fan of folk music or anyone who wants to sample the early magic of an American acoustic guitar master should check this CD out. — Ames Arnold

"Scratch" Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (transparentmusic)

For those of you who think the art of turntablism means a rave kid doing next to nothing over a deck while he/she layers house beats, prepare to be spun around by the skills of the turntable technicians recognized in the upcoming film "Scratch" and its soundtrack. (The soundtrack is out, but the film is only in select theaters.)

The turntable has long been crying out for recognition as a valid instrument in the hands of virtuoso performers like DJ Q-Bert (doubters should check his epic "Wave Twisters" album). With any luck, this soundtrack and the film will get the instrument and its innovators some of the recognition they deserve.

From the days of the genre's fathers (like Afrika Bambaataa) to its current caretakers like DJ Rob Swift, these cuts give listeners a quick course on how the DJing element of hip-hop has grown up over the last 20-plus years. No thought is given to this timeline in the track order. But the album still gives listeners a sense of the turntable's evolution with the introductory tracks that feature film segments in which the legends share their thoughts, like MixMaster Mike on first learning where the "ziga ziga ziga" comes from in Herbie Hancock's "Rockit."

This is a phenomenal compilation of a nearly forgotten style of hip-hop. The only turnoff can be found in the film segments, which are interesting but have a shelf life of about one listen. After that you'll be burning the songs onto another disc to weed out the filler.

True, this disc is brief (Afrika Bambaataa's monster cut is agonizingly too short, and many, many artists are left out), but that just leaves you wanting more and panting for the film to hit Richmond. Until then, put the needle on the record and let the drumbeat go like this. — Wayne Melton

Starsailor "Love Is Here" (Capitol)

James Walsh, singer, guitarist and songwriter for the very new — and very hyped — quartet Starsailor, says the English group wanted its debut, "Love is Here," "to be somewhere [musically] between Jeff Buckley's 'Grace' and Neil Young's 'Harvest.'" The band, which gets its name from Tim Buckley's 1970 album, leans heavily toward Jeff Buckley territory on "Love Is Here" due to Walsh's Buckleyesque singing. The drums, guitars and keyboards are mellow and melodic, providing a perfect background for Walsh's lyrics, which drive the album. Walsh's words are emo in nature and rarely hold the same poetic earthiness that Young's lyrics contain; but there are hints of pure beauty throughout, especially on tracks like the emotionally draining "Alcoholic" and the buoyant "Poor Misguided Fool." "Love Is Here" is soothing. But beware: If you're not in the mood to be soothed you may find yourself yawning. — Jacob Parcell


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