Now Hear This 

Yeah Yeah Yeahs "Show Your Bones" (Interscope)

Goes well with ripped pantyhose, stray cats and selling out.

Who pulled the plug on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs? The Brooklyn-bred trio known for electrified, garage-y pop-punk has turned up plain ordinary on its latest release. The band's once blissful cacophony of feedback, distortion and spastic wails from fiery front woman Karen O. has been replaced by sleek and safe sounds. These 11 tracks are filled with polished guitars, structured arrangements, sing-song rhythms and an overall sense of lethargy ... and it's not just because the tempos have eased.

"Maps," from the edgy 2003 debut, "Fever to Tell," proved that the band could slow things down and even sing about love without coming off as radio-friendly fluff. "Gold Lion," the first single off the new album, showcases acoustic guitar strums and sassy vocals but quickly becomes repetitive and banal. "Turn Into" and "Dudley" are two contagious tracks that stand out and showcase Karen O.'s unique vocals and resonate with a hint of Chrissie Hynde. Overall, however, the album is a big no, no, no. ** — Hilary Langford

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid "The Exchange Session Vol. 1" (Domino)

Goes well with burning sage and the Impulse! records catalog.

It's the sort of pairing that looks interesting on paper but seldom comes off: Young musician steeped in electronics (Hebden, 25, who records as Four Tet) meets established veteran grounded in live performance (drummer Reid, 62, who spent time in Sun Ra's Arkestra and has backed many of the biggest names in jazz). After collaborating for a track on Reid's recent album, "Spirit Walk," they sat down for several sessions of pure improvisation, blending Hebden's machine noises with Reid's physical percussion. Hebden "plays" computer, manipulating samples of gongs, bells, thumb piano and horns in real time. His sonic palette is just right for this music, referencing mystical free jazz explorers like Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane, and his improvisations proceed in a clear and logical fashion. Reid, meanwhile, keeps the music moving forward with a steady rhythmic pulse that comments on Hebden's playing without moving into abstraction. "The Exchange Session" works because these very different musicians meet each other halfway, resulting in something that sounds like an oxymoron: accessible experimental jazz. *** — Mark Richardson

Speedy Tolliver "Now and Then" (Arlington Cultural Affairs)

Goes well with white lightning and a toothpick.

The 88-year-old fiddler Speedy Tolliver's "Now and Then" combines recent live and studio sessions with transfers of acetate records from the '40s to demonstrate the evergreen appeal of bygone music. Even attenuated by age and obscured by primitive recording, Tolliver's charms more than rival the polished virtuosity of most modern re-enactors.

The live cuts come from Tolliver's 2003 Virginia Roots Music Festival performance at the Carpenter Center. While the playing occasionally quavers, it never lacks spirit; the fiddler's onstage charisma is reflected by the crowd's enthusiastic response. The studio sessions give Tolliver the "museum piece" treatment, mounting him on a cushion of competent, low-key accompaniment. The strongest playing is on the old acetates, even if it sounds like it was recorded in a railroad boxcar on a rough stretch of track.

Tolliver's long hiatus from performing in the '50s and '60s may have kept him from fame, but it also insulated him from the commercial homogenization of country, pop and bluegrass. His repertoire is selected from the most burnished of old chestnuts, an open invitation to cornball cliché or postmodern irony unless seen as Tolliver sees them, simply as songs. ***

— Peter McElhinney

Tolliver will perform at In Your Ear Studio, at 19th and Broad streets, Friday May 5 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 and will be available at the door or online at www.jamsonthejames.com.The show will be broadcast live on WCVE (88.9 FM.)


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