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Joey Ramone: Don't Worry About Me (Sanctuary) No need to work at being objective about these last solo recordings by the dearly departed Ramones frontman.
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Joey Ramone:Don't Worry About Me(Sanctuary)

No need to work at being objective about these last solo recordings by the dearly departed Ramones frontman. The first track, a punk/pop cover of Louis Armstrong's “What a Wonderful World,” is worth the price of admission on its own. And it speaks to the tone of Joey's work on this album, and throughout his career with the band: This gawky, sweet, hard-rocking recluse was punk's true optimist. His lyrics are full of his special, sick humor and joy, and the music continues his love affair with simple, early rock ‘n’ roll (with deafening guitars, of course). Produced by Daniel Rey, who worked on many of The Ramones' later albums, this release sounds like nothing less than a great, lost Ramones album, so crank it up! They don't make 'em like this anymore.

Producer: Daniel Rey. Recording and mixing engineers: Jon Marshall, Daniel Rey and Joe Blaney (mixing on title track). Recording studios: The Magic Shop, Water Music, Baby Monster and Loho (all in New York City). Mixing studios: Green Street Studios and Jarvis Studio (title track). Mastering: Howie Weinberg/Masterdisk.
Barbara Schultz

Chris Isaak:Always Got Tonight(Reprise)

How does he do it? Chris Isaak pretty much laid out his romantic vision and his basic sonic approach on his first album, Silvertone, way back in 1985 — that beautiful, lonely voice — part-Elvis, part-Orbison, but still original; the twanging guitars and reverb-laden tracks that hearkened back to Sun rockabilly; the melancholy laments of love lost and dreamy visions of that perfect love we all seek. Everything he's done since has been some variation on those themes and approaches, and yet he always manages to make it sound fresh. And on his last three albums, he's really expanded his pallette to great effect. On Always Got Tonight, he shows once again that he is a master of capturing singular moments and feelings in relationships — from desperation, to quiet longing, to resignation, to that moment of realization that “just friends” has blossomed into “true love.” He's rarely self-pitying, usually understanding, always trying to make sense of the swirl of emotions running through him. Yes, you've heard it all before, but the textural variations from track to track, the parade of memorable hooks, and the pleasing, sincere vocal delivery add up to a wonderful valentine to love itself. This may be his best album yet.

Producer: John Shanks (one track produced by Isaak). Engineers: Lars Fox, Mark Desisto, Mark Needham, Mark Valentine. Mixers: Chris Lord-Alge, Jack Joseph Puig (two tracks). Studios: Studio 880, Henson Recording, Ananda Studios, Mark Needham Audio, Cornerstone, Image Studios, Ocean Way Studios, Mushroom Studios, The Warehouse Studios. Mastering: Doug Sax and Robert Hadley/The Mastering Lab.
Blair Jackson

Donna the Buffalo:Live From the American Ballroom(Wildlife Music)

Hailing from upstate New York, Donna the Buffalo is a sort of roots groove band, with a strong cajun influence. Five of the six bandmembers are multi-instrumentalists, comfortable on all manner of acoustic and electric stringed instruments and keyboards; it's quite an eclectic stew. The principal songwriters, Jeb Puryear and Tara Nevins, are both adept at penning catchy, driving tunes that build neatly and leave plenty of room for instrumental interplay; no wonder they've been embraced by the jam-band crowd. Their unison vocals remind me a bit of the late, underrated Timbuk 3, and the larger three- and four-part group vocal scheme occasionally resembles the bright, joyous blend of late Talking Heads. Though there are introspective moments and the occasional socially conscious and/or philosophical lyric, the party groove with a great sing-along chorus is never too far away with this band. The release consists of two CDs covering 15 original tunes, recorded live. Definitely a band to watch.

Producers: Donna the Buffalo. Recorded live by Alex Perialas. Mixed by Perialas and the band at Pyramid Sound Studios (Ithaca, N.Y.). Mastered by Perialas at Pyramid.
Blair Jackson

Monster's Ball: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, composed by Asche & Spencer(Lions Gate Records)

To this critic's eye, the best moments in Monster's Ball belong to lead actors Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton, whose intense performances almost make up for the cynically manipulative (and occasionally nonsensical) plot. But director Marc Forster's first major studio effort is beautifully shot — the opening credits sequence is almost worth the price of admission — and meticulously assembled. Further, it benefits from a starkly sympathetic soundtrack composed by Asche & Spencer, a company best known for scoring TV and radio commercials. Headed by Minneapolis native Thad Spencer, the 14-year old company has won numerous awards for its commercial scores with such clients as Nike, Nintendo, Porsche, Volvo, Sony, Ikea and Mercedes Benz. For Monster's Ball, the Asche & Spencer creative team created a dozen cues, mainly reflective pieces for synth and keyboards, augmented here and there with spacey electric guitar and tuned percussion. These atmospheric soundscapes, reminiscent of Daniel Lanois' work on the Sling Blade soundtrack, are supplemented with three previously released songs (by Jimmie Dale Gilmore, San Francisco's neo-traditional country band Red Meat and soul singer Jean Wells) plus a new track from The JayHawks. Mildly engaging and thoroughly professional, this understated and calming package is probably the best memento of an otherwise missable film.

Original music composed and produced by Asche & Spencer. Recorded, mixed and mastered at Asche & Spencer Studios (Venice, Calif., and Minneapolis) by Bob Demaa. Producer for Lions Gate Records: Joel C. High. Music coordinator for Lions Gate Records: Stephanie Lynn Urcheck.
Chris Michie

Prick:The Wreckard(Lucky Pierre Music)

Prick is one of my all-time favorites. But my reasons for loving this band extend way beyond any sort of normal admiration. I love to play Prick for people I don't like because I know it will upset them. Hell, it upsets me sometimes. Prick is actually the studio project of longtime Cleveland avant industrial-troublemaker Kevin McHahon, who was signed to Nothing Records just long enough to release his debut album Communiqué in '95, tour with David Bowie and NIN, and then disappear for the rest of the decade. But now Mr. McHahon is back with his new, independently released album The Wreckard, which can be purchased from his Website, www.prickmusic.com. Bizarre, angular and unsettling are some of the best words to describe The Wreckard. McHahon takes the kind of chances in the studio that the Brian Enos and Roger Waters of the world only hint at. The album, moves swiftly from the new wave bliss of “Into My Arms” through to the sprawling, electronic dissonance of “Godfather” and “Object.” McHahon's processed croons provide a stream-of-concisousness narration that alternates between the cautious bravado of David Byrne and the confused whispers of a dying child. Despite previous associations, Prick is definitely not another Gravity Kills/Stabbing Westward excuse for an industrial band. What McHahon brings to the table will still be talked about long after the hair dye fades.

Producers: Kevin McHahon, Warne Livesey. Engineers: McHahon, Garret Hammond, Livesey. Mastering: Frank Vale and Greg Zydyc.
Robert Hanson