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Chef Menteur

The Answer's in Forgetting (Backporch Revolution)

The local ambient electronic act Chef Menteur seem to delight in subtle references to Thomas Pynchon (the title of the last release, We Await Silent Tristero's Empire, and a track on this one — 'Goodbye Callisto" — both appear to be nods to the cryptic cult novelist's book The Crying of Lot 49). The band has something in common with the writer: As obtuse as the work seems to be, it's also sneakily beautiful, almost mesmerizing in a quiet way. Chef Menteur is aces at subtle sonic infection. A coherent whole, the album creeps in with a shimmering acoustic guitar, building a dense wash of sound that practically masks digital as analog; the thrum of the mellotron and ebb and flow of synthesizers are as lovely and organic as a country sunrise. The robots don't creep in till the third track, the interestingly titled '1491," when beeps and tweets slip into the bucolic hum. By time the album crests and the full bag of electronic tricks upends itself, you're captived. " Alison Fensterstock Country Fried

Saint of New Orleans Self Released

New Orleans doesn't, at first thought, produce a whole lot of country music. This second CD from homegrown Country Fried, however, manages to be wholly New Orleans and pure twang all the way through. On Saint of New Orleans, the band abbreviated its early roots/jam aesthetic to something that hearkens back to the earlier days of the sound, with shorter songs, intricate harmonies and full, complex strings that are way more Louisiana Hayride than Bonnaroo. Like all good country music, drinking, loss and pain all make prominent appearances on the album, but it can't have been all bad. This version of Country Fried features a large cast of guests and friends, including the Plowboys' Tom Stern (who recorded the album), Dave Easley on dobro, Gina Forsythe on violin, Vida Wakeman (of Jeff & Vida) and even a background vocal spot by band manager Robert Rothman, who penned the boozy, ruminative title track. " Fensterstock Grayson Capps

Songbones (Hyena)

In the gifting season, the limited edition is our friend, adding a frisson of specialness to a purchase as run-of-the-mill as a CD. With only 5,000 copies made of Songbones, it's an impressive-sounding gift for a Grayson Capps fan for that reason alone. The album itself, a spare and casual one-take recording of a jam session with fiddler Tom Marron, also is something of a gift from the artist himself. Recorded in 2002, three years before his solo debut If You Knew My Mind, it's a look at what was to come from the songwriter, who at the time was honky-tonking with country-rock outfits Stavin Chain and the Stumpknockers (who still back him live). Here, the informality of simple guitar, harmonica and fiddle on raw versions of tracks like 'Washboard Lisa" and 'Slidell" (plus previously-unreleased tunes) that would later appear in more polished form, create an intimate experience that suits his warm, conversational style just fine. " Fensterstock Mónica Salmaso

Noites de Gala, Samba na Rua (Biscoito Fino)

It's a good time to be a Brazilian diva. Luciana Souza has the ear of the New York arts crowd. Maria Rita uses her pedigree as Elis Regina's daughter to produce fine albums (Bebel Gilberto, the spawn of Joao, hasn't fared as well). Marisa Monte is massively popular in Brazil and puts out consistently good discs. Best of all, however, may be Monica Salmaso. Her fifth album, Noites de Gala, Samba na Rua, is a collection of songs of Chico Buarque, written alone or in tandem with Jobim, Guinga or Edu Lobo. Buarque is a Brazilian God, revered for his literate lyrics; nevertheless you needn't understand Portuguese to fall in love with this album. Salmaso's voice isn't just pretty; there's something spooky about her timbre, with as much saudade per note as any Brazilian alive. And she chooses her sidemen and arrangements with exquisite care. A gorgeous, gorgeous album. " Tom McDermott

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