Now Hear This 

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Radiohead, "In Rainbows" (self-released)
Radiohead will probably not make another masterpiece like "OK, Computer." With that out of the way, it's fair to say that the latest effort comes pretty close. From the innovative, pay-what-you want download (i.e., free) to the perfect blend of electro beats and delicate strums, Radiohead has released its most accessible album to date.

Fueled by contagious breakbeats, "15 Steps" kicks off the disc full-throttle and quickly moves into the driving rhythms and distortion of "Bodysnatchers," a track that could have easily been snagged off the band's debut, "Pablo Honey." Thom Yorke's achingly beautiful vocals echo from afar on "House of Cards" and linger like lost spirits amid muted string plucks. With a mere 10 tracks that are both vulnerable and tenacious, Radiohead manages to capture the best of what they do: reinvent that genius and give it away for free. The guys certainly deserve a buck or two for this one. -- Hilary Langford

Angie Stone, "The Art of Love and War" (Stax)
Angie Stone is old soul. She's reached the phase of her career when she's not expected to make important records. She's played the part of the has-been, appearing on reality shows ("Celebrity Fit Club") and touring stage plays. But instead of prepping an album of remakes like many aging divas, Stone gives us "The Art of Love and War."

The first single, "Baby," is anchored by a classic soul sample — a predictable move, but one she always manages to pull off. More notable, the song features soul vet Betty Wright, whose return to urban radio is a wonderful thing. Stone sings from a perspective of experience and confidence, with themes of self-esteem such as "Happy Being Me," her duet with Pauletta Washington, Denzel's wife. The romantic tune "Sit Down" has an air of maturity and sophistication, a welcome shift from the desperate, lustful anthems that pollute today's radio playlists.

Following the message of her hit "Brotha," she ventures into social commentary again on "My People," with balladeer James Ingram, another voice faded from the radio landscape. The song "These Are the Reasons," is the most Stax-like, with live instrumentation and inspired backing vocals raising the intensity. There's nothing new here, but for those who enjoy it, it's a comfortable, soothing listen. — Craig Belcher

The Claudia Quintet, "For" (Cuneiform)
The ambidextrous title — this is the group's fourth album and each song is "for" someone — encapsulates the multileveled conceptualism of the contents. This is modern music that lives in the borderlands between jazz, art rock and chamber music — a state-of-the-art blend of the quirky instrumentation of Tin Hat, the circular melodies of The Penguin Café Orchestra and the explosive rhythm section of the Bad Plus.

The heart of the band is the polyrhythmic drumming of founder/leader John Hollenbeck, who ensures that there is always some sort of complex texture to hold interest. The album contains mostly originals, with the exception of a "mash-up" incorporating a homeopathic dose of The Carpenters' sugary "Rainy Days and Mondays."

The arrangements are full of interestingly interwoven interactions for the first-rate band, featuring Drew Gress, vibraphonist Matt Moran, clarinetist/saxophonist Chris Speed and accordionist Ted Reichman. The only time it veers toward cliché is amid the spoken word and intermittent oddity of "For You," but Hollenbeck's detailed intervention single-handedly stitches together the threadbare avant-garde cleverness. The production is pristine, polished and perhaps a bit subdued. — Peter McElhinney

Kim Kashkashian and Robert Levin, "Asturiana — Songs From Spain and Argentina" (ECM)
Masterful playing is one thing; masterful storytelling is another. But on their newest CD, Kim Kashkashian and Robert Levin combine the two. While Levin's piano introduces us to the melancholy song for which the CD is named, the viola of Kashkashian slips in like a seed budding from the piano, growing to tell us that she is "seeking consolation by a green pine tree."

Except we don't need the words to know what the song is telling us. They are engrained in the emotion of each note. The subsequent pieces follow suit, wordless but defined. This music, originally sung from oral tradition and poetry of Spanish and Argentinean origin, translates to wordlessness naturally by Kashkashian. Because as Kashkashian notes, "song with or without words is the most potent of all cures." She should know — she grew up listening to her father sing Armenian folk songs. Levin and Kashkashian have been playing together since the 1970s, and the two artists now play like one, transforming poetry from an art form that reads to an art form that speaks. — Chantal Panozzo

Various Artists, "Summer Records Anthology: 1974-1988" (Light in the Attic Records)
Canada's answer to dub pioneer Lee Perry's Black Ark studio, Jerry Brown's Malton, Ontario-based Summer Sound Studios quietly released some of the best underground dub reggae of the '70s. This impressive CD sheds light on that underappreciated scene, presenting crucial catalog tracks and unreleased masters from the likes of smooth falsetto crooner Johnny Osbourne (his slinky roots classic "Right, Right Time" is a real gem here), Noel Ellis, Ranking and Willi Williams, with steady live backing typically provided by the Earth, Roots & Water house band.

These tracks brim with chest-rattling boom-shot bass, hypnotic percussion and soulful vocals that underscore the genre's spiritual roots. Delivering working-class sermons of Bible-rooted, Rastafarian prophecy, the artists meld the sensual and the spiritual with hazy dub production, always delivering dance-worthy tracks. The album ends with a pair of '80s tunes bringing a thinner sound via digital production (Casio beats) but still sizzling, particularly Unique Madoo's pulsating dance-floor banger, "Call Me Nobody Else," which illustrates the evolution from instrumental-built tracks to toast-heavy dancehall.

A bonus DVD features 20-odd minutes of archival footage that includes scenes from the singers' lives, biking and pounding out dents on yachts in their day jobs, all while singing away the Babylon blues. — Brent Baldwin

Local Bin

Blue Line Highway, "Life in a Minor Key" (self-produced)
Blue Line Highway has been a staple of the Richmond scene since 2001, frequenting our many street festivals and clubs. The band combines two close female voices, lyricist Melissa McKenna and Julia Dooley, a driving rhythm section consisting of Ray Alfano on bass and Kevin Pittman providing percussion, and the virtuosic lead electric guitar of John Leedes — arguably Richmond's hardest-working musician.

Together, they craft a diverse mix of country, jazz, and bluegrass that is both lush and dramatic. The songs here are heavy on exposition, such as "River Canyon," wherein the choices of a woman's life are presented in lyrics mysterious enough to allow for listener interpretation. The album seems high in spiritual content; much thought is given to the lyrical tales that in some cases teeter on the edge of melodrama. But overall, these songs demonstrate Blue Line Highway's road-tested ability to straddle with ease the line between concise musicianship and songwriting prowess. — Josh Bearman

Blue Line Highway performs at Innsbrook Pavilion Oct. 28 at 1 p.m. and at Positive Vibe Café Oct. 31 at 7:30 p.m.

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