CD reviews for Jan. 28

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Chris Whitley

"Weed"

Available at All That Jazz for $15.98

This musician was recommended by Donavon Frankenreiter during a phone interview last week, and, well, it sounds just like Frankenreiter with the exception of Whitley's eccentric playing style that makes you concerned for the guitar. (Frankenreiter actually recommended Whitley's album "Perfect Day.")

Just one man's voice accompanied by a guitar, the album is pure coffee shop/singer-songwriter. Stripped down. Barely produced.

"Weed" is a recording of 16 songs that Whitley wrote between 1986 and 1996 and decided to put together on one album in August 2003.

The emotion varies from track to track in a way that suggests they might tell the story of all the varied things he went through during the 10 years this album was recorded.

In the song "Know you," Whitley sounds so mad he might break a guitar string. He sneers his way toward the ending of "Phone call from Leavenworth" and seems to be watching the past disappear through the rearview mirror of his car as he whispers "I forget you every day."

Rated: If Ben Harper didn't have a band; if Donavon Frankenreiter lived in Germany instead of on the beach.

Yo La Tengo

"And then nothing turned itself inside-out"

Available at All That Jazz for $16.98

In March, Yo La Tengo will release a compilation CD titled "Prisoners of Love: A Smattering of Scintillating Senescent Songs, 1985 to 2003," which makes me worry. Just like an artist who hangs a retrospective, the best of or the box set usually makes us thirsty for more with the knowledge that there is only a dry creek bed in front of us.

So I listen to Yo La Tengo's 2000 release "And then nothing turned itself inside-out" with a bit of melancholy. Could it really be over?

I learned about Yo La Tengo from a trombone player who had a passion for Brazilian music and was famous for dropping out of a band right when it was picked up by a major record label because he wanted his music to keep its integrity. He would rather record in his living room with an eight-track.

And because of the person who introduced me to Yo La Tengo, I've always somehow associated the band with the kind of handmade, outside-of-the-machine music that I wish I could find more of. The band members experiment with their instruments, always pulling new sounds into their compositions. They say more with two chords played over and over than most bands say in an entire career.

Rated: When in Nashville, visit Prince's Hot Chicken Shack. Sounds like good advice.

Stereolab

"Margerine Eclipse"

Available at All That Jazz for $17.98

I've gotten in an argument with a few of my music-obsessed friends -- usually musician friends who are deeply entrenched in the maze of alternative music -- about what makes us like the music we like. Every time I've had this conversation, it turns heated.

As a writer, the entry point for me is always the lyrics. I like Bob Dylan because he's a really good writer, not because he's a great musician. (My friends argue that if lyrics are all that makes a good song, then I should just listen to books on tape.)

Musicians, on the other hand, tend to enter a song through the instrument they play. And once you're into a song, having entered through the door that's most comfortable for you, you are free to explore the rest of the song.

But what side door does a lyric lover take into an instrumental song, or into a song written in a language you don't understand -- like three of the 12 tracks on Stereolab's "Margerine Eclipse"?

Luckily, this album is textured enough to allow a lot of good finger and foot holds to get you going. Stereolab offers a mellow electronic lounge album that's more post club comedown music than the kind of height-of-the-party music I'm used to hearing from them, but I still liked it. Like the rest of the album, the track "Cosmic Country Noir" is nothing groundbreaking, but it's the perfect song to play while driving, letting the beats roll past under the tires of your car.

Rated: For 3 a.m., in your apartment alone, when the party's over.

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