Now Hear This 

Morrissey "Ringleader of the Tormentors" (Sanctuary)

Goes well with a Mead Trapper Keeper filled with tormented verse.

Disillusioned fans who tired of the inconsistency of the former Smiths frontman, but returned to the fold with 2004's "You Are the Quarry," will want to hang out for this one. The key recent development in Morrissey's work is that the melodic crack has returned to his songwriting; he appears to be thinking in terms of catchy singles again, as evidenced by the easy, hummable hook of "You Have Killed Me."

Not that he's left the drama behind. "The Father Who Must Be Killed" and "Dear God Please Help Me" both appeal to the lonely, alienated teenager who lurks inside us all in the way only this man can. But the general mood is positive and upbeat with the arch sense of humor intact, making this the perfect Morrissey record for the spring thaw. The production is complementary, with legendary producer Tony Visconti adding a glittery glam-rock sheen to such guitar-driven tracks as "In the Future When All's Well" and "I Just Want to See the Boy Happy." The much-discussed comeback continues, which is great news for fans of thoughtful pop. **** — Mark Richardson

Bryan Harvey "Remember Me Well: 1956 -2006" (Fat Elvis)

Goes well with memories of a much-missed Richmond family.

I remember seeing The Dads play my elementary school gym in the '80s and wondering why they weren't big stars — the catchy songs seemed tailor-made for radio. After listening to this posthumous collection culled from the career of the late local singer/songwriter Bryan Harvey, I'm still wondering why none of his bands ever broke big. It must've been timing.

With pop sensibilities informed equally by the Beatles and the blues, Harvey was a terrifically talented songwriter, adept at shaping melodies and writing smart narrative lyrics (often described as Southern gothic for their lurking sense of violence and faith).

Beginning with the instantly catchy pop gem "Don't Fool Around With Young Girls Hearts" (1978) by his first all-original band, The Boys From Skateland, these well-crafted songs display different sides of Harvey's unique talent. Included are two unreleased demos from The Dads (jangly college rock meets new wave); a minigreatest hits from his acclaimed rock duo, House of Freaks, featuring highly expressive drummer Johnny Hott; a pair of intimate solo recordings; Poi Boi's charming version of "Moon River"; a perfectly respectable cover of the Sly Stone soul classic "Hot Fun in the Summertime" by his last band, NRG Krysys; and the closer, perhaps Harvey's most cherished legacy in song, the prophetic "Remember Me Well."

Considering the cruel fate that befell this man and his family, it is comforting that he left behind so many musical testaments to a life well-lived — passionate songs that still carry his personal spirit and provide lasting memories for loved ones and fans. **** — Brent Baldwin

CD available at Plan 9. All profits go to the Bryan and Kathryn Harvey Family Memorial Endowment.

Hugh Masekela "Presents the Chisa Years 1965-1976" (BBE Records)

Goes well with Afro-beat, horns and forward thinking.

Long before there was actually a genre of music called world music, trumpeter and flügelhornist Hugh Masekela (best known for his top-selling 1968 jazzy instrumental, "Grazing in the Grass") was blending cultures with sound. He integrated South African, Nigerian and American R&B with a musical logic that is a testament to his and Chisa co-conspirator Stewart Levine's forward thinking.

Even though the music on this disc is decades old, I am struck by how contemporary it sounds. From the gospel-tinged grooves of the Zulus to the Aretha Franklin soul of South African singer Letta Mbulu, the music burns with a timeless vivacity. It's a polyrhythmic explosion from beginning to end with nary a track that isn't thoroughly enthralling. If you are moved by legendary artists such as Fela Kuti and Orlando Julius & His Modern Aces, or newcomers to the Afro-funk throne such as Antibalas or The Budos Band, pick up this essential release to hear how it all started. ***** — Chris Bopst

Hugh Masekela performs Friday, April 28, at Zanzibar in Washington, D.C.

Ben Harper "Both Sides of the Gun" (Virgin)

Goes well with surfers, Birkenstocks and jam band festivals.

Aptly named, this dual disc finds Ben Harper oscillating between delicate troubadour and brazen bluesman, revolutionary and romantic. Both empowered and under fire by the slings and arrows of love and society, disc one embraces a handful of trembling ballads that showcase Harper's softer side. Strung together by acoustic fingering and warm arrangements, Harper's poetic words mirror the human experience in a fashion more Renaissance man than rock star.

Disc two throbs with Sly and the Family Stone meets "Shaft"-style funk, a toe-tappin' collection of rootsy Southern-fried rock with a dash of jazzy sass on the smoldering "The Way You Found Me." The tamboura-led "Better Way," a politically infused anthem, also adds to the mélange and shifts the slide-guitar guru away from the Zepplinesque riffs heard on his older material and into world music territory. Unpredictable and fresh, Harper's perfectly balanced double shot of soul is right on target. **** — Hilary Langford

The Black Angels "Passover" (Light in the Attic)

Goes well with a tall shot of gunpowder-infused Old Crow.

You can guess what this new group from Austin is about just by looking at the CD cover. First there is the band name, suggesting an unapologetically gothic bent, and then there are song titles like "The Sniper at the Gates of Heaven" and "Young Men Dead," which set in motion further grim associations. The twisted and darkly psychedelic blues found in the grooves deliver on the promise of the packaging. Leader Alex Maas has the perfect vocal instrument for this shadowy world, landing midway between Echo & the Bunnymen's Ian McCullough and Grace Slick in head-feeding "White Rabbit" mode. Maas cloaks his wail in dark layers of reverb as he sings about war, pain, corruption and other things better experienced on a record album than in real life. On this debut full-length, The Black Angels conjure an effective drone-rock assault that happens to be entertaining if you're of a certain mindset. The band takes itself seriously, of course, but there's no reason why we have to enjoy "Passover" as a well-executed fantasy exploration of rock's festering underbelly. *** — Mark Richardson


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