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Opening Act 

When the CD pile gets out of control, the only way to make headway through it is to write first impressions while listening to the discs. This isn't always the fairest way to think about a CD, but life isn't always fair.

Full Scale -- Full Scale (Columbia): Are people still making nü-metal records? Seriously? More guitars and basses chudding along militarily with Ezekiel Ox -- seriously! -- as lead shouter. The first song's chorus is pretty good, but after that, it's back to chord progressions determined by geometry, not melody.

Curtis Mayfield -- Mayfield: Remixed (Rhino): I hoped for better. Remixes that really operate on a song and rebuild a whole new, trippy thing are often pretty cool. Here, dance-friendly songs have been made, um, dance-friendly by the likes of Little Louis Vega, Eric Kupper, Grandmaster Flash and King Britt. There's little to dislike here, and Ashley Beedle's re-edit of "Do Do Wap is Strong in Here" gets credit for an entertainingly perverse opening -- just the opening chord, percussion and a ghostly synthesizer for two and half minutes. Flash does a serious number on the Impressions' "We're a Winner," complete with charmingly old-school beats. The most radical take is Mixmaster Mike's "Pusherman," which takes Mayfield's vocals and drops them into a whole new, scratch-heavy setting.

Del Cielo -- Us vs. Them (Lovitt): Starts well. "Too Scared" by this all-female three-piece has a nice, wiry, indie punk sound, moving unpredictably out of a constrained verse into a crunchy chorus. The next song starts equally well, but the self-consciously dramatic catch in singer Andrea Lisi's voice starts to grate already. Initial enthusiasm fading by the third song, which sounds like the first two. At least a record like this exists for good reasons. It's easy to imagine Del Cielo being an exciting band live, and there are people who like their drama emphasized more than I do. If there was a song I could remember after having just taken the CD off, I'd keep it around and think about it more.

Various Artists -- Lackawanna Blues (Vanguard): This soundtrack to the original HBO movie boasts new tracks by Mos Def and Macy Gray, but that's only semi-true. There are new tracks sung by the two, but with the film set in 1957, the songs are old R&B tunes with era-appropriate arrangements. As such, how you feel about this album has more to do with the covered songs than the contemporary artists. I'd like to hear what Mos Def would do with "Caledonia" given his druthers, or how Ricky Fante would update "That's All I Need." Fortunately, Gray is such a unique talent, nothing she does sounds stuck in the past. For that reason, her duet with Robert Bradley on "Down on Me" is the album's highlight. As a CD, it's pleasant and well-meant.

The Game -- The Documentary (G Unit/Interscope): I skipped to the single, "How We Do," because my patience for gangsta rap is short. The stories are all too self-serving and self-mythologizing, rationalizing away casual cruelty and violence that, frankly, is hard to care about because from album to album and artist to artist, the stories of gangbanging all sound the same. The single? It's another good, slightly blunted Dr. Dre groove. You've heard it and others like it on the album, but that doesn't mean it's not cool.

Des_Ark -- Loose Lips Sink Ships (Bifocal Media): More indie pop, like Del Cielo showing some Sleater-Kinney influence -- it's great to hear that that band has made an impact -- and the songs sound really important to the singer. Hearing this, though, makes me appreciate S-K's gift for pulling hooks out of unusual song structures. Again, probably urgent and likeable live.

Various Artists -- Music From the WB Television Series One Tree Hill (Maverick/Warner Bros.): I don't believe this show or the lives reflected in these songs any more than I buy the details of the Game's Compton stories. Still, in defense of both records, if pop music does anything, it dramatizes being young, whether it's beautiful white twentysomethings or their African-American counterparts. Their passions are so grand and so misunderstood, and their trials are so challenging that they seem almost overwhelming. That same dynamic is present in hits by Chuck Berry, the Ronettes, T. Rex, the Bee Gees and countless others. I don't believe any of the drama here is as powerful as the songs make it sound, but I believe listeners hear these songs -- as well as those on The Documentary -- and hear feelings they can or want to identify with, and feel a little more significant than they did before.

Missy Higgins -- All For Believing (Warner Bros.): Hmm, it is unfortunate to have this pop up next on the pile. The Australian Higgins shares a dramatic, singer-songwritery sensibility with the One Tree Hill artists, and the lack of energy they share is getting tiresome. If I hadn't peeked and noticed that Better Than Ezra's Kevin Griffin co-wrote "Scar," I think I'd have guessed from the melodic structure, the slightly earnest sense of fun, and his guitar strumming pattern. Not surprisingly, it's also the most immediate and memorable song on the CD -- and in this pile of music.


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