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Patti Smith twelve(Columbia) Ever since she fearlessly deconstructed on the opening track of her 1975 debut album, Patti Smith has brought her utterly
Patti Smith

twelve
(Columbia)

Ever since she fearlessly deconstructed “Gloria” on the opening track of her 1975 debut album, Patti Smith has brought her utterly unique sensibility to a small number of very well-chosen cover tunes. If you liked those, you're going to love twelve, which is my favorite album of 2007 so far. Smith, her excellent three-piece band (still led by guitarist Lenny Kaye, who has never sounded better) and guests ranging from Flea to Tom Verlaine, to Jack Petruzzelli, to her own children master and at times completely re-invent a dozen songs that span 1967 to 1991. It's no surprise that she's chosen songs by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Doors, Bob Dylan and the Stones. But the choices are often so unexpected, and in every case just about perfect: George Harrison's “Within You, Without You” loses its Indian trappings and becomes a sort of psychedelic waltz; she boldly chooses Dylan's latter-day gem “Changing of the Guards”; she uncovers the contemporary power of “Gimme Shelter.” Imaginative touches abound, from the sprinkling of Lewis Carroll at the beginning and end of her powerhouse “White Rabbit” to the intermingling of verse from Hendrix's “1983” amidst the sonic squall of “Are You Experienced?”, and a surprisingly effective arrangement of Nirvana's “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that sounds like Smith's own “Kimberly” played by a vintage string band. Paul Simon's “Boy in the Bubble” jumps off the CD with appropriate urgency, while Neil Young's “Helpless” remains beautifully opaque. Smith has never sung better. A wondrous achievement!

Producers: Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, Tony Shanahan and Jay Dee Daugherty. Recorded and mixed by Emery Dobyns. Studios: Electric Lady and Loho (both in New York City); one track at Effigy (Ferndale, Mich.). Mastering: Greg Calbi/Sterling Sound (New York City).
Blair Jackson

The Stooges

The Weirdnes
(Virgin)

You know the reunion albums wherein “mature” rock acts wax poetic about growing up, learning about love, raising beautiful children and embracing the sober life? This isn't one of those. After 30 years, Iggy and band prove that they can still pound out some big punk noise, churning through songs about the evils of chicks, drugs and rotten yuppies with the ferocity of guys half their age. Tracks like “Free and Freaky” and “The End of Christianity” only reinforce the sad truth that there will never be an “Iggy Pop” night on American Idol. And while there's certainly a place for the slick, richly layered production that often defines reunion albums, for the most part, these tracks were put down live, and thanks to the legendary no-frills skills of analog authority Steve Albini, preserve a raw, dirty vibe. It's kind of like a kick in the face — you know, in a good way.

Producer/engineer: Steve Albini. Studio: Electrical Audio Studios, Chicago.
Sarah Jones

Rainman

Bigga Than Life
(Chime Entertainment)

I'm not the biggest hip hop or rap fan. I grew up in the suburbs listening to Metallica, I don't understand the appeal of thumping-and-bumping car audio systems, I usually don't understand the lyrics — the list goes on. But then I popped in Rainman's first real LP, I couldn't stop playing it. I still don't really understand all of the lyrics, but that doesn't bother me — I love the way it flows from one track to another without skipping a beat, in spite of the fact that this album features numerous producers. The rhythms pulse. The bass grinds each note out with a sharp clarity. Rainman's deep voice interweaves throughout, providing the street cred of gangsta rap. And most surprising to me is that these are the same attributes I look for in a great metal album.

Producers: DAP, Co-Stars for NVP Productions Inc., DJ Speedy, David Banner, Marco G., Spencer Nezey. Mixer: Ethan Willoughby at Interscope (Santa Monica, Calif.). Studios: Paid 4 Life Studios (Jackson, Miss.), Gin House (Hollywood).
Sarah Benzuly

LISTEN: Must Play
Rainman

Amy LaVere

Anchors & Anvils
(Archer)

The tip-off that Memphis-based Amy LaVere's new CD is going to be pretty interesting comes in the chorus of the first song: “Killing him didn't make her love go away.” Yep, here's a sweet-voiced gal with a slightly twisted world view, playing music rooted in old-school honky-tonk (upright bass, which she plays herself, steel, fiddle, crackin' drums, etc.) singing about revenge and redemption, but also regular stuff — dirty dishes, piles of laundry and broken hearts. Drummer/band leader Paul Taylor wrote two of the best tunes, “Pointless Drinking” and “People Get Mad,” and Kristi Witt two other strong ones. There's a bit of gypsy tango, some funky-tonk and breezy-jazz inflections, but mostly this is barroom country played with heart and soul. Definitely an artist to watch.

Producer: Jim Dickinson. Engineer: Kevin Houston. Studio: Zebra Ranch (Dickinson's place). Mastering: Brad Blackwood.
Blair Jackson

LISTEN: Must Play
Killing Him.mp3

Skillet

Comatose
(Lava Records)

It's strange to me when a second-stage act pops off another unbelievable rock record and still doesn't get the radio time the band rightfully deserves. Skillet is one such band who continually push their musical muscle with soaring guitar work interspersed with their take on '80s hair-metal ballads — and then right back into wielding the axe. Skillet's latest effort finds the group once again hitting a home-run: head-banging hooks, thundering drum lines, melodic bass work — all enveloped by John Cooper's incredibly powerful vocal cords. The introduction of sweet string orchestration at the beginning of some songs provides a soothing element for about five seconds.

Producers: Brian Howes, John L. Cooper, Zachary Kelm (executive). Engineer: Jay Van Poederooyen. Mixers: David Bottrill, Chris Lord-Alge. Studios: Resonate Studios (Burbank, Calif.), Metalworks Studios (Mississauga, Ontario), Chicago Recording Company. Mastering: Andy Vandette/Masterdisk (New York City).
Sarah Benzuly

LISTEN: Must Play
Skillet

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