"No Fire!" by Naughty Little Monkey; "Wicked Grin" by John Hammond; "Let it Fall" by Sean Watkins; "The Everly Brothers' Best" by The Everly Brothers; "Outlived" by Flybanger 

Now Hear This

Naughty Little Monkey, "No Fire!" (NLM Records) — For a freewheeling night in Shockoe Bottom, there isn't a more perfect soundtrack than Naughty Little Monkey's new album "No Fire!"

On this debut, the band fires through 16 songs, most of which are about hooking-up with members of the opposite sex. For the first fourth of the record the band manages to insert at least one reference to drinking in each song. I can almost see tipsy Bottom-goers rocking out to these guys with a drink in one hand and an uncoordinated dance partner in the other. Later in the album, more serious topics such as homelessness are addressed.

The group's wind instruments give songs such as "What A Gyp!" and "Angry Man" a slight reggae feel (not unlike Fighting Gravity), while on other tracks like "Reprieve," those same instruments give the song a 1970s corporate-rock feel. The head-over-heels romantic fawning of "Ain't Right Inside" gets my vote as the album's best number due in part to the strong lead vocals.

While this album's fire might not be at backdraft level, Naughty Little Monkey is cooking-up something good for those who like to party until the bars close.

— Angelo DeFranzo

John Hammond, "Wicked Grin," (Point Blank/Virgin Records) — John Hammond and Tom Waits might not seem the most likely musical duo. Hammond, the son of famed producer John Hammond Sr., has built a near-40-year career as one of music's leading interpreters of traditional blues. Waits is — well — Tom Waits. Yet these two veterans have crossed paths before, with Waits contributing "No One Can Forgive Me But My Baby" to Hammond's "Got Love If You Want It" CD, while Hammond appeared on Waits' 1999 CD, "Mule Variations." Here, Waits the songwriter contributes 12 of the 13 tracks and serves as producer. The result is both tasty and subversive, while also accessible.

Though Waits is not known as a bluesman, the songs on "Wicked Grin" certainly fit that mold, even if they push Hammond to put more of a hip, streetwise accent on his singing and performing. With their rolling drums, tangy guitar and gruff vocals, these songs are grit personified. Waits, whose gruff whiskey-soaked voice makes Bob Dylan sound like Freddie Mercury, has often been a challenging listen. But with Hammond putting his heart and passion — not to mention his smoother vocals — into these performances, this CD makes hearing the genius of these two distinctive artists both easy on the ears and good for the soul.

— Alan Sculley

Sean Watkins, "Let It Fall," (Sugar Hill) — With his first solo CD, Nickel Creek's fine young guitarist steps out on his own with a group of acoustic tunes that should please any lover of great picking. Moving through a range of styles that include jazz, bluegrass and folk, Watkins shows that nothing scares him when it comes to running the guitar and mandolin fret boards, whether it's delicate finger picking or rapid-fire flat picking. Surrounding himself with an able musical cast of characters that includes band mates Sara Watkins (his sister) and Chris Thile on bass and mandolin respectively, Watkins plays with an effortless grace that radiates pure confidence. Moving from the warmth of "January Second" to the quickly paced "Ferdinand the Bull" to the aural peace of "Cloudbreak," Watkins' sound rings with sweetness and a passion that boasts technique and talent to spare. "Let It Fall" overflows with a fine array of musical textures and is highly recommended.

— Ames Arnold

The Everly Brothers, "The Everly Brothers' Best," (DCC) — There's not a lot more one can say about rock 'n' roll pioneers Don and Phil Everly that hasn't been said during the past 40-plus years. But this collection serves as a wonderful reminder of why the brothers' music lives on today. It's true that tunes such as "Bye Bye Love," "Cathy's Clown" and "All I Have to Do is Dream" may sound a little dated in their simplicity, but there's no doubt that the harmonic charms woven by Don and Phil are as captivating now as in 1960.

This recently released 18-cut CD reveals how influential the duo's vocal style was on rock kingpins such as the Beatles, and how they also cleared a path later followed by country rockers of the late '60s and '70s. The brothers admittedly got some help from songwriters Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, but it's also questionable how long some of these tunes would have lived without the Everly's unique stamp. Even today, there is no mistaking those gorgeously intertwined vocals for those of any other duo.

— A.A.

Flybanger, "Outlived," (Gotham Records) — Vancouver's Flybanger proves that Canadians can do aggro-metal just as well as any American band. This five-song CD sampler of the group's past efforts gives a taste of what's to come from their forthcoming American debut, "Headtrip to Nowhere." Composed of members that look like they're straight out of a Mad Max movie, Flybanger (formally known as Jar) mixes the primal rage of neo-metal with a heavy dose of modern alternative. This blend of styles differentiates them from other artists of the aggro ilk. While not inspiring, the music is intensely melodic considering the harsh, groove-laden sound Flybanger puts-forth. The secret track hidden at the end of the EP is my favorite cut on this particular sampler. "When Are You? (Gonna Die)" is also a strong composition, even if the lyrics might be a bit generic considering the group's musical forte: "Last night when I thought of you/You were bleeding and rotting/In a f—in' ditch." Now that's rich.

— A.D.


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