CD reviews for Dec. 24

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Johnny Cash

"American IV: The Man Comes Around"

It seems that Johnny Cash had a message to send right before he died: "Listen carefully, or you might miss something."

You may have heard most of the songs Cash covered on "American IV," but he makes you listen more closely this time.

As you listen to his slow, quivering rendition of "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails, I promise you'll stop and say, "He's right. That is a good song."

He even made me appreciate the song "Desperado," which I've had stuck in my head for years, and I've come to loath. His aging voice adds meaning to every line.

His song choices are contemplations about love and life, but most of all, his tone is a religious one. His voice shakes during Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," and the song takes on a different meaning as he sings, "Feeling unknown/And you're all alone/Flesh and bone/By the telephone/Lift up the receiver/I'll make you a believer ... Reach out and touch faith."

There were no genre lines that Cash wouldn't cross in this album. He was looking for good songs to retell the story of American music. He asks his listeners to open their minds.

Recorded in Cash's home, it seems almost as if he held on just long enough to finish the fourth in his American Recordings series. "The Man Comes Around" was released in March 2003. Cash died in September of that same year.

Rated: Thanks for the music lesson, Johnny. I enjoyed it.

Available at All That Jazz for $16.98

Mission of Burma

"ONoffON"

I learned about Mission of Burma from reading "Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991" by Michael Azerrad.

The book's table of contents was a playlist of great bands including Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü and, a band I'd never heard of before, Mission of Burma.

After reading that book, I burned CDs or borrowed tapes (yes, tapes) of the bands mentioned in that book. Most played ethic-preaching, post-punk music, and Mission of Burma was no exception. Mission of Burma stood out in the mix because it was from Boston, one of the few bands featured in the book that was not from Washington, D.C. ("Fugazi" and "Minor Threat") or Southern California ("Minutemen").

Mission of Burma reunited in 2002, and "ONoffON" is the band's first new album in 22 years.

It sounds a lot like it used to, but with a little less feedback and fewer screams. There is still the atonal, barebones guitar, and it still sounds like the group is playing in a garage.

Two things to make you like Mission of Burma: They recently opened for the Pixies, and their latest album is available in 180 gram vinyl.

Rated: For those looking for something driven and electric or for those aging punks in the mood to reminisce.

Available at All That Jazz for $15.98

Ben Harper and

the Blind Boys of Alabama

"There will be a light"

Joe Kboudi, owner of All That Jazz, has a talent. Describe the person you are shopping for -- give him a brief musical bio of the person, including some snippets of their psychological makeup -- and he'll find the perfect album to match their taste.

He's rarely wrong. But this time I wasn't sure. "There will be a light" was a Joe Kboudi pick.

I put it in the CD player with a degree of suspicion. Ben Harper is a Steamboat favorite. Ben Harper is an American favorite. He's a radio favorite. He's a chart favorite. People like the man. And my theory has been and always will be: Where the masses stand, there lies mediocrity.

But after a listen, I couldn't fault the masses for liking this guy. "There will be light" has a church revival undercurrent that pulls through the entire album. Rated: I would never buy it for myself, but I understand why you would.

Available at All That Jazz for $17.98

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