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Go-Go's, "God Bless the Go-Go's"; Karl Denson, "Dance Lesson #2"; Tram, "Frequently Asked Questions"; Reverb Rockets, "Test Rocket"; Mem Shannon, "Memphis in the Morning." 

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Go-Go's, "God Bless The Go-Go's" (Go-Go's/Beyond Records) — Reunion albums are usually like movie sequels. They rarely live up to the original. And when you're dealing with a band that hasn't recorded together for nearly 20 years, there's more reason than usual to keep expectations at a modest level. But "God Bless The Go-Go's" bucks all the usual trends. It's better than anything the group recorded when they were first together. That's no small statement, considering all three Go-Go's albums were strong efforts.

On "God Bless The Go-Go's," the group finds a comfortable middle ground that balances the carefree fun of songs like "We Got The Beat," and the more mature and ambitious music of their last album, "Talk Show." The playful side of the group is represented by songs such as "La La Land," "Kissing Asphalt," "Unforgiven" (a track co-written with Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong) and "Stuck In My Car" — all first-rate rockers packed with catchy pop hooks and powered by ringing guitar lines.

When the group pursues more serious fare, the results are equally strong. "Here You Are" and "Apology" are nicely textured midtempo tunes. The band reaches a poignant high point with the autobiographical closing track, "Daisy Chain."

From the sound of "God Bless The Go-Go's," the Go-Go's waited until the time was right to start making new music. - Alan Sculley



Karl Denson, "Dance Lesson #2" (Blue Note) — Karl Denson wants you to dance to his music. That's why the former Greyboy Allstars frontman named his first solo album "Dance Lesson #2."

The disc is a collection of funky, soul-driven tracks highlighted by Denson's fiery extended saxophone solos. Like a true student of jazz, Denson is always experimenting with new collaborations. Instead of enlisting his touring Tiny Universe band, he pulled together a lineup of musical heavyweights including: Medeski, Martin & Wood bassist Chris Wood; turntable specialist DJ Logic; legendary organists Leon Spencer Jr. and Ron Levy; awe-inspiring guitarists Melvin Sparks and Charlie Hunter; ex-Greyboy Allstars drummer Zak Najor; and Los Cubanos Postizos percussionist E.J. Rodriguez.

The album is a jazz hybrid that flows from the straight-ahead beauty of "A.J. Bustah" to the up-tempo title track, which is invigorated by DJ Logic's scratching and the contrast between Denson's marching flute and wailing sax. "A Shorter Path #1" is a sweet tune that provides the theme for "A Shorter Path #2," a stretched-out smooth jazz exploration of "Path #1." Throughout the album, Denson's dance-inducing, driving groove infuses each inventive track. — Carrie Nieman



Tram, "Frequently Asked Questions" (Jetset Records) — When I first saw the red, white and blue roundel of a British warplane on the cover of this album, I expected to get an explosion of sound in the form of some English Power Pop. Disappointingly, this isn't the case. The music of the low-fi British duo Tram is straight-up melancholy acoustic: quiet, moody and downright depressing. The songs are well-written, but one would have to be in an incredibly mellow mood, depressed to the point of suicide or a fan of the group Chicago (which Tram's music shows hints of), to really get into this record.

Tram reminds me of someone trying to emulate Nick Drake after hearing one of his songs on a Volkswagen commercial. I'm sure there are a few people who will enjoy "Frequently Asked Questions" who don't fall into any of the demographics I've previously mentioned. Even so, the latest Tram effort is an arty snore-fest that I soon hope to forget. —Angelo DeFranzo
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