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Heather Eatman, "Real"; The Word "The Word"; Cake, "Comfort Eagle" 

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Heather Eatman, "Real" (Eminent) - The kewpie-doll voice and cool, city chick image turns this listener off but there's just enough here to make me think that Eatman might have something to offer some day. Throughout this self-penned, 12-cut (plus-bonus-track) effort, Eatman coos her way through modest rock tunes about uncertainty and love. Most of them are OK but the overall self-consciously hip performance and production isn't going to stand any test of time. There is, however, the occasional line or vocal turn that catches the ear and makes me think that Eatman could mature into a pretty good writer and singer given the right guidance. Most of her tunes tread familiar lyrical waters and need some fleshing out. Her cover of Willie Dixon's classic "Spoonful" is appalling. But the blunt and effective "Mixed-Up Girl" is a good eyebrow raiser about the brutal devastation of a young girl by a sexual predator and "Too Wild" — co-written by Bruce Brody — is a fully-realized song. The instrumental accompaniment throughout stays solidly rooted in the project's overall too-cool-for-school vibe and this CD isn't one of my keepers. But, if Eatman takes her own advice from the title track and becomes soulfully "real like young Frankie Lymon," she could realize the potential that lurks in this recording. — Ames Arnold

The Word "The Word" (Ropeadope Records) - Maybe it's just me, but I don't ever remember church music being this much fun. That's right, this is an instrumental gospel album, front to back. The music — which is inspired by a century-old bluesy style of gospel hymns called "sacred steel" — stems from the Pentecostal Church. The church is precisely where the 23 year old pedal steel guitar prodigy Robert Randolph was discovered by the other members of the band: keyboardist John Medeski of the electric jazz group Medeski, Martin, & Wood, and guitarist Luther Dickinson, drummer Cody Dickinson, and bassist Chris Chew of the improvisational blues group the North Mississippi Allstars.

On their debut release The Word reminds us how uplifting religious music can be by deftly combining traditional blues, gospel, funk and country steel guitar boogie. From the familiar gospel riffs of "At the Cross" and the standard delta blues of "Call Him by His Name," to the raw improvisation of "A Mind Jam," the musicians showcase an array of musical wizardry, while carefully avoiding showcasing each other. The super-funky and raucous "Waiting on My Wings," one of only two original compositions on the eleven track album, is thickly textured with Randolph and Medeski trading scorching solos over Luther's funky backdrop, while brother Cody plays the electric washboard. The magic of this album is difficult to pin down, but you know it makes you feel good. So who knows where the nearest House of God is? — Ford Gunter

Cake, "Comfort Eagle" (Sony/Columbia) - Chances are, if you don't like Sacramento's quirky alt-pop/rock group Cake by now, you probably never will. However, if they haven't closed the deal for you yet, their fourth album is pretty darn catchy (check out "Short Skirt/Long Jacket," quite reminiscent of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane") while remaining constant to the form that brought them success with songs like "The Distance." Cake maintains the formula laid forth in their first three albums; strong guitar riffs, solid beats with an occasional trumpet breakdown and amusing titles and lyrics (how could you not be intrigued by a song called "Meanwhile, Rick James…"), presented with vocalist's John McCrea's no-nonsense delivery. Cake can still rock as well which is evidenced on their instrumental ode to 70's arena rock "Arco Arena." For the most part this album is much like their previous ones, but it comes across a little more polished and produced. Whether you're a big Cake fan or you're going by what you've heard on the radio, pick up this album and you may find yourself saying "We'll that's a good song too." — Chris Hudgins
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