Various Artists "Vellians Presents: Hurricane Katrina Benefit Compilation" (Vellians) ***
With images of flood-wracked New Orleans still glowing on television screens, local producer Jermon Green assembled a cast of Richmond-area R&B and hip-hop artists to record a benefit CD at his Richmond studio. Perhaps because it was hastily cobbled together, a few of the performances come off as amateurish. Others, however, are all the more convincing for the urgency and passion in the performers' voices. This is particularly true of rappers Scribez ("I'm Runnin'") and Nadd Dread ("Stand Up"), who deliver caustic indictments of the governmental ineptitude and social inequity brought to light by the Katrina disaster. Accompanied only by electric bass, female vocalist L.DouBie succeeds with a different approach; her "I Love You" is a sincere and soulful outpouring of sympathy. The variety of artists represented virtually guarantees listeners will find this a mixed bag, but besides supporting a worthy cause, the CD is a good primer on Richmond's urban music scene. It's available at local merchants and proceeds go to the American Red Cross. Nathan Lott
Art Brut "Bang Bang Rock & Roll" (Banana Records) ****
"Popular culture no longer applies to me," sings Art Brut on the chorus of the infectious 2004 debut single, "Bad Weekend." With that simple yet telling sentiment, the band endeared itself to me as precious few have in this recent onslaught of late '70s agit-pop-inspired rock 'n' roll. On its first full-length, the band proves itself to be the rightful heir to the English post-punk sound of the Buzzcocks, The Fall and The Libertines. It is a virtual hit factory of wry observation and propulsive riffs. "Formed a Band," "My Little Brother" and "Emily Kane" the one, two, three melodic punches of the album's opening tracks are as good as anything else you'll hear this year or any year for that matter. Bold and charismatic, Art Brut has made the best British pop punk record since Wire's seminal "Pink Flag," and they've only just begun. Popular culture needs them more than they'll ever know. Chris Bopst
Amy Rigby "The Little Fugitive" (Signature Sounds) ****
Known for writing emotionally honest rock/pop/country songs with humor and grace, Amy Rigby ("Diary of a Mod Housewife") is one of the most consistent singer-songwriters based in New York. At 46, she's also an anomaly: a middle-aged woman writing rock songs from a working-class perspective. Her new album covers everything from the complications of remarrying ("The Trouble With Jeannie"), in which she laments her inability to hate her husband's friendly ex-wife, to a fun-spirited pop rocker about dream-dancing with Joey Ramone ("He said 'Girl shut your mouth/ They're playing 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone"'), to her problems with needy men. Simple, catchy hooks and clear melodies and vocals abound. At times she can sound like a predictable, aging folkie with a New York edge, but other tracks surprise with more venom than punk girls half her age. Band mates include former backup singers from The Shams and Rigby's 16-year-old daughter, Hazel. Brent Baldwin
This is music created by people in their mid-20s who grew out of the hard-core scene for people in their mid-20s. So naturally it's quieter, more collected and seemingly hellbent on bumming you out. Richmond's Homemade Knives create a sound that is sparse yet intricate. "Industrial Parks" is the perfect soundtrack for driving alone through bleak, desolate landscapes in the early morning. Guitarist Shane Jenkins and vocalist Wil Loyal, formerly of the indie rock outfit Marion Delgado, form the backbone of the group, weaving country-tempered vocals with lightly picked guitar lines. Fleshing out the lineup are an acoustic bass and cello. The standout track (and easily the catchiest) is "These Flies and Mice and Ants," where the vocals start strong, carrying the melody into a cello lead. These five songs leave a promising clue to what their full-length will sound like. Jeff Byars
For the second year, the Children's Miracle Network has put together a holiday compilation featuring local jazz musicians like John Winn, Tony and Maria Garcia and The Chez Roué Orchette. "A Time for Miracles, Volume Two" is available at Plan 9 Music and www.childrensmiraclenetwork.net and will raise money to improve pediatric health care in Central Virginia.
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