Now Hear This 

Flora Purim, Omar and the Howlers, Paul Oakenfold, Warren Zevon, Doves, Poison

Purim may fly when singing in English, but here she soars when interpreting Nascimento's works in her (and his) native Portuguese. She possesses a smooth yet earthy voice that easily inhabits Nascimento's blend of social awareness, carnival, Bahian beat and samba-sway mixed with African rhythms and Portuguese folk.

The only question about this project is, "Flora, what took you so long?" But better late (and great) than never. — Eric Feber

Omar and the Howlers "Big Delta" (Blind Pig) ***

This Texas singer-guitarist has been bouncing around for eons, cranking out his straightforward barroom blues. "Big Delta" offers a dose of the expected, doing little to change Omar's roadhouse fortunes. Full of down-in-the-gutter tone, the 12 tracks are direct in a guitar-bass-drums way, and fans of no-frills blues will not be disappointed by this veteran's swampy style. "Wall of Pride" cooks with a Bo Diddley beat and "Pushin' Fire" simmers with the restraint of a lazy 'gator with his eye on the prize. The '70s Mountain chestnut "Mississippi Queen" makes a dubious if well-performed appearance before the set comes to a close with "Conversation Mambo," which provides a timely tempo change. There's nothing wrong with this sturdy collection of tunes, but this has been done a few times before. The performance and production give a listener a funky and lowdown earful, but "Big Delta" never quite catches the imagination. — Ames Arnold

Paul Oakenfold "Bunkka" (Maverick) **

Britain's Paul Oakenfold stands astride the land of the superstar DJs like Zeus with turntables — crisscrossing the globe, using lightning bolts on wax to motivate the mortals who worship him.

On "Bunkka," the mighty comes crashing to earth. Oakenfold's production work (he did the Happy Mondays' best album) and original music have never garnered the same attention as his mixes, and you can hear why.

Lead single "Ready Steady Go" is slick but anonymous — the kind of generic big-beat techno heard on soundtracks to spy movies and snowboarding video games. His stabs at pop don't work, either; several sweet but lightweight songs suggest Enya doing trance.

Part of the problem is that it's music by committee. Guests run the gamut from stars to where-are-they-nows: Nelly Furtado, Icelandic chanteuse Emiliana Torrini, Tricky, Perry Farrell, Grant Lee Phillips. Even Hunter S. Thompson pops up, to mumble about Nixon. What decade are we in, exactly?

"Get Em Up" is the disc's high point, even though Ice Cube sounds like he's coasting. Oakenfold does hip-hop much better than pop — more thump and less airy confection would have given his crossover attempts some needed heft.

— Dave Renard

Warren Zevon "My Ride's Here" (Artemis) *****

Warren Zevon's music relies on a careful balance. It's often laugh-out-loud funny, but it's also smart and sharp enough to spin again long after the joke wears off.

Once again, on "My Ride's Here" he walks this satirical line, but he enlists a lineup of co-writers from the literary world who seem eager to take a swing at the world with him.

Newspaper columnist and "Tuesdays With Morrie" author Mitch Albom is co-writer of "Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)," a farcical ode to a brutal hockey enforcer with its emphatic chorus delivered by David Letterman.

"Basket Case," penned with novelist Carl Hiaasen, lacks that author's usual sharp wit, but Hunter S. Thompson sticks to gonzo form, warning that "dangerous creeps are everywhere" on "You're a Whole Different Person When You're Scared."

They all seem to capture the Zevon spirit, even if they come at it from different angles. But the downside is that some of the incisive focus last seen on 2000's "Life'll Kill Ya" gets lost.

But when Zevon brushes off all comers from Jesus to John Wayne on the title track by pointing out repeatedly, "My ride's here," you'll remember just how pointed Zevon — even at his jokiest — can be.

— David M. Putney

Doves "The Last Broadcast" (Capitol) ***

The Doves' touring mates last year were the Strokes, and that band's basement-punk grit drew all the attention.

The Doves, well, they were just another guitar band from Britain — dubbed "The Next Radiohead."

These days, that backhanded compliment seems to be the cost of relying on dreamy atmospherics to drive an album.

But in many ways the Doves stand apart from Coldplay, Star-sailor, Travis and the rest of the Radiohead backwash. Chief among those is the band's kitchen-sink approach.

The trio began its career as the techno group Sub Sub, and they apply much of that pick-and-mix ethic to rock. Strings, synths and choirs are tossed in, but the wretched excess is restrained, working toward an overall empty soundscape.

It ranges from the delicate, such as "There Goes the Fear," to the anthemic "N.Y." And hey, isn't that a decidedly punk riff on "Pounding"?

It never really hits the spacey, tone-poem quality of latter-day Radiohead, but most of the time manages a fresh take on the mopey strummer subgenre.

At least until the next "Next Radiohead" comes along. — D. M. P.

Poison "Hollyweird" (Cyanide) ***

Grunge killed hair metal, and in doing so, set in motion an age where rap/metal would fill the void, the "nu-metal" musicians would dress in the unspectacular street digs of baggy clothes and sideways-turned baseball caps, and melody would succumb to noisy screaming and foulmouthed nursery rhyming.

That was 10 years ago.

Today, the hair bands are quietly coming out of banishment, if only for a one-more-time flyover to witness the sad state of rock music.

Poison's new "Hollyweird" marks a glamorous return to the scene of the crime with a 13-track disc of melodic metal that sounds exactly like the vibe of the group's momentary heyday. Singer Bret Michaels and guitarist C.C. DeVille still front the band with teased-up big hairdos and remain the prime examples of what rock stars really are supposed to look like. The only question is whether they'll be viewed like animals at the zoo or as a living exhibit at the Smithsonian from the Age of Dinosaur Hair Metal.

But, hey, they do a killer version of The Who's "Squeeze Box," and ya gotta love that. — Jeff Maisey


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