Charlie Hunter; Death Cab for Cutie; Victory at Sea; The New Deal 

Now Hear This

Who: Charlie Hunter

What: "Songs from the Analog Playground" (Blue Note)

Where: State Theater, Falls Church,

Nov. 3, 9 p.m. $20.

Why: For those who thought jazz is dead, think again. A new crop of thoroughbreds from the Blue Note Records stable is championing an urban-jazz movement with the help of turntables, hip-hop samples and vocalists. Guitar guru Charlie Hunter's seventh release (his sixth under Blue Note) marks the first time he has entered the studio with a band he has been with for over 200 shows, and you can tell. Accompanied by John Ellis (saxophone), Stephen Chopek (drums and various percussion toys) and Chris Lovejoy (congas and even more noisemaking toys), Hunter thrives with his unique eight-string combination guitar and bass, which he invented. Of course, adhering to the tradition of the jazz greats, there are several guests in the studio lending their unique sound to the mix, too.

Rapper Mos Def donates his vocals and songwriting skills, most notably on "Creole", to which Hunter wrote the music. The incredibly gifted Norah Jones also graces two tracks, a lounge-lizard cover of Roxy Music's "More Than This" and the Nick Drake tune "Day Is Done," the latter being one of the highlights of the album, with her stirring, silky voice hovering just above tame steel drums and a sultry saxophone. Galactic frontman Theryl "The Housman" De Clouet lends his signature bayou rasp on the Willie Dixon blues number "Spoonful" as well as Earth Wind & Fire's "Mighty Mighty," which also gives Hunter ample room to strut his bass chops.

Although the album is full of covers, the quartet truly shines during its original numbers such as "Rhythm Music Rides Again," where Hunter's picking and Ellis's stealthy sax riffs complement each other nicely, and "Run For It," arguably the most enjoyable morsel offered, where the four simply ooze synergy. While "Analog Playground" leaves the listener yearning for more original numbers, the quartet has found an undeniable rhythm. Here's to hoping they stick together. — Ford Gunter

Who: Death Cab for Cutie

What: "The Photo Album"

(Barsuk Records)

Where: UR Millhiser Gym, Nov. 2, 6 p.m. $8-$12.

Why: Great press has been heaped on this indie-rock band, and I've seen more than one critic go so far as to equate them with the Smiths. When I bought the hype and their "Forbidden Love" EP a year ago, I was really disappointed from the first time I heard Benjamin Gibbard's whimpering voice. The disappointment only grows the more I check in on this band, because it has everything going for it except its wimpy lead singer.

Listen to just the music on their new CD, "The Photo Album": In no way does it (or try to) come close to Johnny Marr's elegantly furious guitar work, but Death Cab can come up with some exceptionally creative arrangements. Now compare the lyrics and delivery provided by Gibbard: Not only does he inflict the word "mittens" on us in his quavering vocal style, but he adds insult to injury with the refrain "dance-hall hips, pretentious quips, a boxer's bob and weave." Morrissey wrote pseudopoetry, too, but at least his was witty.

Like all of Death Cab for Cutie's albums, the music on "The Photo Album" is especially good, but Gibbard's obnoxious presence gets in the way. — Wayne Melton

Who: Victory at Sea

What: "Carousel"

(Kimchee Records)

Where: Hole in the Wall, Oct. 30, 10 p.m.

Why: The first time I put this CD in, from the first song it reminded me a lot of June of 44. I wasn't surprised to read that Victory at Sea first started getting attention in the late '90s by touring with that group. Victory at Sea's new album is dated but strong, following that vaguely Chicago sound created by groups like Tortoise and Slint, and followed by legions of bands like June of 44, The For Carnation and many others. The sound is best described as grown-up indie rock, rock for those who've tired of being pushed around in front of the stage and are now satisfied with just standing there and smoking.

The angular, repeating guitar lines are here. So are the mathy drumming and the occasional artsy flourish of a trumpet. But with the good comes the bad, and if the Chicago sound can be faulted, it's because of lengthy songs that impress the performer but bore the hell out of the audience. Victory at Sea would have done that more often but singer Mona Elliott's droning voice usually saves the day. — Wayne Melton

Who: The Shiners

What: "Bonnie Blue"

(Planetary Records)

Where: CD release party, Poe's Pub,

Oct. 31, 10 p.m., $5

Why: The Shiners' first release has heart and soul to spare. From the title tune's hard-charging acoustic rhythms through the hoodoo-blessed visions of "Devil's X," the 10-cut release bursts with Southern pride as it mixes music and lyrical mayhem in equal doses. The result is not always easy listening, since the band forgoes the usual stuff for a group of stark and intense original songs about the price and rewards of personal freedom. Running the gamut from the dark and playful to the whiskey-soaked and prayerful, the lyrics speak of pain and a love for a people and its land with tactile urgency. One can almost smell the plowed fields and hear the winds in the lonesome pines. Pushed by a driving rhythm section, Wes Freed's vocals are a strong vehicle for these songs of despair and midnight madness while Erin Snyder's fiddle and Teresa Douglas' banjo put a mountain-music stamp on songs when needed. Agree with the band's approach to the rural South and its history or not, a listener will be affected by this set. "Bonnie Blue" rings with pure passion that's both good-natured and deadly serious.

Ames Arnold

Who: The New Deal

What: "The New Deal"

(Jive Electro)

Where: Alley Katz, Nov. 2, 10 p.m. $6-$8

Why: Toronto's The New Deal are getting pretty famous for making live club music, with features in Spin, CMJ Weekly and the Village Voice. The liner notes on this self-titled set (their third) claim that no sequencers or samplers were used to record it, which is pretty amazing in itself since they sound like they are being used everywhere.

Armed with just the essentials — bass, drums and keyboards, plus a few other toys — Jamie Shields, Darren Shearer and Dan Kurtz turn out an interesting dance-floor workout, from the vaguely new-wave influenced opener "Back to the Middle" to the slow and robotic ender "Then and Now." The New Deal is at its best when mining the early '80s, when the synthesizer could do no wrong, and tempering the frenetic dance music with some laid-back beats and warmer tones. But occasionally they do slip into late '90s territory and inflict the punishing drone of rave music on the listener. Overall, though, these three Canadians prove that not all club music has to be bland and tasteless. — Wayne Melton

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