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CD Reviews 

Guns N' Roses

Chinese Democracy

(Geffen)

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Whew, the new Guns N' Roses album is not bad. Even Slash is mumbling vague compliments about Chinese Democracy, which is ambitious, interesting and unique, if not always good. As many feared, the now mythical album is one-third nu metal, meaning it's full of unabashedly inorganic, monochromatic, Korn-influenced guitar riffs. It seems like thousands of truly twisted guitar solos decorate the riffs, attacking from all angles as Chinese Democracy's songs twist, break down and morph. A woman sings over what could be a Garbage outtake that suddenly becomes a heavy blues ballad. Symphonic trip-hop with funky nylon-string guitar leads Rose's layered voices into a cappella metal doo-wop. Even the album's bad parts boast something interesting. Studio work drowns the gentle guitar of "Sorry" in gross digital gravy, and helps "FBI" sound like Sarah McLachlan. In the time it took to make the album, the studio trick where the song "Prostitute" dramatically shrinks into a tin can before expanding back to its regular size became cliché. The new G-n-R sometimes reeks of reactionary '90s producers, who believed that even heavy metal needs little dance beats in it. Rose's voice heroically saves much of the material. A few terrible ballads should compel Rose's piano to seek a restraining order, but for the most part, his dynamic, layered, downright killer singing/shrieking is not only metal real and true, but proves he's a singer's singer — especially with Pro Tools on his side. Although the album is ambitious and better than expected, few would have listened twice without the name Guns N' Roses on it. Axl mostly just one-upped Korn, augmenting heavy guitars with computer trickery that sometimes makes Chinese Democracy feel as dated as Axl's neat red goatee. — Michael Patrick Welch

Various artists

Como Now

(Daptone)

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Brooklyn-based label Daptone Records has fashioned a brand out of making the present sound like the past with artists including flagship act Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Como Now, a live recording of a gospel performance at Mt. Mariah Church, in deep-in-the-Delta Panola County, Miss., was recorded on a hot summer day in 2006, though the a cappella voices reverberating in the wooden room sound like it could have been 1926. While Daptone's neo-soul comes from R&B scholarship and mimicry, Como Now is the sound of history; it really is Como, now. Como, and Panola County then — specifically in the '40s and '50s — was the site of folklorist Alan Lomax's early field recordings of artists like Mississippi Fred McDowell and fife-and-drum bandleader Otha Turner. Lomax also recorded a gospel singer named Miles Pratcher in Como in 1959. Three of Pratcher's granddaughters sing on Como Now. The traditional gospel songs (and a few lovely originals by singer Irene Stevenson) on the album sound like a breeze straight from the past, but in fact, they are the sound of living history. — Alison Fensterstock

Lost Bayou Ramblers

Vermilionaire

(Bayou Perdu Records)

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The Lost Bayou Ramblers held the release party for Vermilionaire in Lafayette four days after Hurricane Gustav hit south Louisiana — the second time in three years significant damage and flooding occurred in Vermilion, the coastal parish that lends its name to the release. It's no coincidence the Ramblers take a heavy-handed approach to defending Acadiana's environmental and cultural legacies from further loss. The title track is defined in the liner notes as: "(ver mil' ye nar') n. inhabitant of Southern Louisiana who benefits from the region's rich culture and environment." The term is a tribute to a Cajun bayou man who boasts that with all the wildlife roaming around the region, he'll "never die of hunger." A selection of waltzes, two-steps and bluesy numbers round out the album, driven by the thwacking of Chris Courville's bare-bones stand-up drum set. De facto bandleader Louis Michot has never been in better form, whether wailing a Cajun waltz with so much emotion that his voice cracks or playing a meditative instrumental homage to deceased fiddler Varise Connor. Austin-based producer, Chris "Frenchie" Smith, who has mixed albums by the Dandy Warhols among others, gives Vermilionaire a cohesive, tight sound sometimes lacking on Cajun releases. The album is a tribute to the energy and originality that helps the band pack dancehalls from Lafayette to Frenchmen Street. — Philip Cartelli

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