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Bettye LaVette

Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook

(Anti-)

Bettye LaVette is a marvelously transgressive soul singer whose interpretations cast new light on material you might think is too familiar. On her 2005 comeback album I've Got My Own Hell to Raise, she applied her grainy, strangulated voice to contemporary female singer-songwriters; two years later she brought startling muscularity to country music on The Scene of the Crime. On Interpretations, she spotlights classic British rockers, stripping the sentimentality from George Harrison's "Isn't It a Pity" to bare the devotion at its core, bringing grit and funk to Ringo Starr's dogged "It Don't Come Easy," and investing the Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" with confidentiality and command. LaVette possesses the best howl since Wilson Pickett's, but she also phrases with astonishing emotional perspicacity and daring, giving Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" a wisdom lacking in the original. LaVette is nothing if not world-weary. Like Aretha Franklin and the criminally under-recorded Mavis Staples, hers is the voice of experience. Her key achievement here — in a fabulously efficient and tasty production by LaVette, Rob Mathes, and Michael Stevens — is to let the bombast out of such hallowed icons as Led Zeppelin ("All My Love"), the Moody Blues ("Nights in White Satin"), and even Derek and the Dominoes ("Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad"). A singer of power and passion, LaVette reanimates a worthy canon in this equally worthy addition to her deep portfolio. — Carlo Wolff

Hank III

Rebel Within

(Curb)

Hank Williams' grandson deserves the latitude to blaze his own career trail. And he has — from punk and metal excursions to liberal interpretations of country tradition. But for all of Hank III's righteous and understandable defiance in the face of being told what and how to play, there's still something slightly off-putting about the leadoff track on his sixth album, Rebel Within: "Getting' Drunk and Fallin' Down" is a tribute to the liquor-swilling lifestyle that converted his grandfather's Cadillac into a coffin. And in the title track, Hank III weaves demon-fired death-metal background shrieks into the mix and defends his own lifestyle in "Drinkin' Ain't Hard to Do." Rebel Within is unapologetic throughout, most pointedly in the raw garage-psychobilly-rocker "Tore Up and Loud," where the album's true intention is revealed: a middle-finger salute and parting shot to his record company of the past 15 years. It doesn't quite make Hank III's drink-until-I-die anthems any more palatable, but it certainly casts them in a more contextually suitable light. — Brian Baker

Jamie Lidell

Compass

(Warp)

The title is no lie. It takes at least a minute to find a sense of direction on Jamie Lidell's fourth album. Funk, soul, hip-hop, dance, and electronica all mash together in songs that fizzle and pop like kooky science experiments. Lidell yelps and whoops like a maniac over jazzy horns ("The Ring"), offers shuffling percussive twists ("Your Sweet Boom"), and delivers a bass-heavy disco jam ("Enough's Enough"). Beck and Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor help out with the spacey production. The result is a disjointed yet festive collection of songs that sums up Lidell's past couple of years. Compass is layered with sounds. "Is that glass breaking? Or just a chime?" you'll ask yourself. "Is Lidell using vocal effects? Or is that another instrument I'm hearing?" Feist and Beck contribute ethereal harmonies to the album's standout track, "Big Drift," a haunting desert ballad. And the title track refreshingly peels back all those layers to showcase Lidell's passionate growl, the one glorious string that ties Compass' madness together. — Danielle Sills

Smashing Pumpkins

Teargarden by Kaleidyscope:

Vol. 1 Songs for a Sailor

(Martha's Music/Rocket Science Ventures)

The Smashing Pumpkins have always been Billy Corgan's pet project. It's no secret that he recorded most of the band's guitar and bass parts and manically produced every detail on its albums. He's the only original member left in the resurrected Pumpkins these days, a group in name only that's used to sell Corgan's grand concepts. And Teargarden by Kaleidyscope is perhaps his biggest concept ever. Scheduled to be the Pumpkins' eighth album, Teargarden will consist of 11 four-song EPs (yes, that's 44 tracks total) released online for free as Corgan creates them. After each downloadable EP is made available, boxed CD sets will be released with extras. Vol. 1 Songs for a Sailor is the first one available, and it embraces Corgan's love for dreamy pop-rock — sorta like the Pumpkins' 1995 double-disc opus Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. "A Stitch in Time" is a honeycombed hippie trip, laced with acoustic guitars, space keys, and a sitar; "Widow Wake My Mind" sounds like a syrupy John Lennon pop confection; and "Astral Planes" is a rich '60s acid rocker. All four songs sound like pure ear candy. But if that's not necessarily your flavor of Pumpkins rock, "A Song for a Son" — an operatic "Stairway to Heaven" homage — sums it up: "I am one of many, many more to come." — Keith Gribbins

Woods

At Echo Lake

(Woodsist)

Jeremy Earl and Christian DeRoeck's other band, Meneguar, has been kicking around the Brooklyn low-fi scene since 2004. Grabbing some likeminded pals and heading to the woods, this alter-ego group debuted with 2009's shambolic but superb Songs of Shame. Returning less than a year later, Woods slap a much tighter sheen on At Echo Lake. There's far less psych-rock on focused numbers like "Blood Dries Darker" and the loping "Suffering Season." There are still some freakouts, like on the tape-manipulated "From the Horn." But At Echo Lake hinges on Earl's voice, front and center in a love-it-or-hate-it, reed-thin timbre. Those who love it will be rewarded with one of the year's best indie-rock records. — Chris Drabick

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