Cool Spins

Sonic Youth: NYC Ghosts & Flowers (Geffen) Sonic Youth's latest recording starts with the sound of snores-but this CD is far from a bore. "Free City Rhymes"

Sonic Youth: NYC Ghosts & Flowers (Geffen)Sonic Youth's latest recording starts with the sound of snores-but this CD is far from a bore. "Free City Rhymes" sets the scene with an ambient, rhythmic drift of a song that conjures the mood of a city street shimmering with late-afternoon sun. Drummer Steve Shelley grounds the delicate chug as echoes of Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo's guitars bounce off into musical tangents, like reflections shooting off concrete and metal. There's plenty of crash and burn for noisemongers to enjoy as well. The Velvet-y "Renegade Princess" is vintage Sister, motoring along with hot rod guitars before vaporizing into free-form feedback and reverb. It's nice to know that the good ol' Youth haven't given up the ghost of demon rock, contrary to recent obituaries. other songs, such as "Nevermind (What Was It Anyway)" and "Small Flowers Crack Concrete," show off what Sonic Youth does best, among those bands that worshipped at the altar of noise. They could make feedback sound filigreed, dreamy and even pretty, with detuned guitars plucked to sound like falling flower petals. With help from Jim o'Rourke, SY go with that strength on NYC Ghosts & Flowers, straining against the conventional flesh of pop song structure, while maintaining a solid skeleton of rhythm.

Producers: Sonic Youth and Jim o'Rourke. Engineers: Wharton Tiers and o'Rourke. Mastering: Greg Calbi/Sterling Sound (NYC).

Peter Green with Nigel Watson and Splinter Group: Hot Foot Powder (Artisan Recordings)This CD is a companion to Green and Watson's W.C. Handy Award-winning 1998 release, The Robert Johnson Songbook. Together, the two discs include every song recorded by the legendary '30s bluesman, and they show that there's still a lot of life in these old tunes. British and American guitarists have been interpreting Johnson's songs since the mid-'60s blues explosion, yet Green, the original lead guitarist for Fleetwood Mac in the '60s, and fellow guitarist/singer Watson have managed to come up with some bold and original interpretations for a number of these chestnuts. Songs such as "From Four Until Late" and "Cross Road Blues" might belong to Eric Clapton in some rock fans' minds, but here they have been re-imagined in fresh settings that work beautifully. Playing electric and acoustic axes, Green and Watson tastefully front a strong rhythm section and are joined by an impressive list of guests, including Dr. John on piano and an army of great blues guitarists from different eras: Buddy Guy, otis Rush, Hubert Sumlin, Joe Louis Walker and even an 84-year-old former musical associate of Johnson's, Honey Boy Edwards. Far from being some flashy guitar wank CD, Hot Foot Powder always shows deep respect for Johnson's songs, which look to be an important cornerstone of the next century's musical foundation, too.

Producers: Roger Cotton, Peter Green, Nigel Watson. Engineers: Matt oliver, Roger Cotton. Mixed by Bill Hill. Additional engineering: Tim Donovan, Kat, Larry Sturm, Van Christie, Howard Johnson. Studios: Roundel Studio (England), Jacobs Studio (England; mixing), Battery Studios (NY), Zero 1 (England), Chicago Trax, Different Fur (San Francisco).

Blair Jackson

Dwight Yoakam: (Reprise)There's nothing fancy about the new album from Dwight Yoakam (as you can see), and nothing cutting-edge about it, either, despite the silly Web site title. This is an acoustic, singer/songwriter-with-a-guitar collection of favorites, recorded in the project studio of Yoakam's longtime producer, Pete Anderson. The idea for this album was developed while Yoakam was touring to promote his previous studio album, A Long Way Home, and his '90s hits compilation, Last Chance for a Thousand Years. The concerts included acoustic sets of some of these songs and received rave reviews and enthusiastic audience response. Like those performances, the album gets to the core of Yoakam's talent: his beautiful singing and great writing. If you usually associate Dwight Yoakam merely with big hats and tight slacks, listen to this album and reconnect with his wonderful work.

Producer: Pete Anderson. Recording engineer: Sally Browder. Recording studio: Dog Bone Studio (Los Angeles). Mixing engineer: Judy Clapp. Mixing studio: Track Record (North Hollywood). Mastering engineer: Stephen Marcussen.

Barbara Schultz

Air: The Virgin Suicides original Motion Picture Score (Record Makers/Astralwerks)one of director Sofia Coppola's savviest choices for her film The Virgin Suicides has to be the selection of Air as the creators of the score. What could have been a kitschy, trendy take on '70s girlhoods-gone-terribly-wrong turns into the stuff of utterly weird yet haunting mystery. Airmen Nicholas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel crib a little of the rock and AM radio that made up the soundtrack of the '70s. There's a little of moody Pink Floyd, a little of Queen, a little Kraftwerk. The end result is a disc that captures the moody rhythms of teenage daydreams, the throb of surging hormones and the eerie otherworldliness of the film's family of girls (at least from the viewpoint of boys). Viva le Air!

Producer: Air. Engineers: Air, Pascal Garnon and Stephane Briat. other technical information unavailable-bjs

Kimberly Chun

Paul van Dyk: out There and Back (Mute)While no ground-breaking artist or scene has managed to surface in popular music so far this year, the dance scene is buzzing that 2k may come to be known as the year trance broke into the mainstream-with DJ/producer Paul van Dyk certainly helping the cause. Van Dyk-fresh from a year in the undisputed ground-zero of the trance scene, Ibiza, Spain-comes off on out There and Back like a slickly engineered virus let loose on an unsuspecting world. His skills as a producer have become so well-honed and infectious that it's downright scary. Unlike last years electo-phenoms Underworld and their critically acclaimed Beaucoup Fish, van Dyk sidesteps art-over-craft pretension, keeping things dirty and just plain fun. His vision never strays from the sweltering dance floors of the world as he leads imagined hordes of chemically-enhanced revelers through a 78-minute excuse to party. Van Dyk pushes all the usual buttons and adds a few new tricks to the mix as well, ranging from percussion-free moments of layered sweep pads and vocal blips to sine-wave basslines and upper-register breaks. Some of the stand-out tracks are "Alive" and "Tell Me Why (The Riddle)" which features guest vocalist Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne. out There and Back is an easy listen from the first synth-wash to last filter sweep and considering the shelf-life of dance music, this might still sound good six months from now.

Producer/engineer: Paul van Dyk. Studio: Van Dyk's project studio. Mastering: Dan Burnet at Node Recording Services (London)

Robert Hanson

Lee Feldman: The Man in a Jupiter Hat (Bonafide)It's hard to know how to characterize singer/songwriter/pianist Lee Feldman. His writing is all over the map-from sharp, sometimes witty observational songs about both strange and mundane subjects, to obviously personal reflections. He can seem innocent, even childlike on one track, and world-weary on the next. There's something in his songwriting that reminds me of both Randy Newman and Bob Dorough, yet he sounds like neither. He's a little bit more cabaret/theatrical in his approach; it's easy to imagine the New York-based Feldman someday writing a musical revue for off-Broadway. Beyond the always sturdy voice-and-keys skeletons for his tunes are some lovely and imaginative arrangements in a number of different styles: Irish instruments here, a flugelhorn solo there, small string sections, horn lines out of some '30s nightclub; there's plenty of variety. Some might find Feldman too cute and clever for his own good occasionally, but his tenor voice serves both his wry and serious songs well, and I've found myself returning to this CD often lately.

Producer: Roger Peltzman. Engineer: Peter Beckerman. Mixers: Peltzman and Beckerman. Studios: Water Music (Hoboken, NJ), Spa Recording (NYC), Bear Tracks (Suffern, NY; mixing). Mastering: Greg Calbi, Steve Fallone/Sterling (NYC)

Blair Jackson