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Reviewing This Week's Best Releases

THE GOURDS

Haymaker!

(Yep Roc) Over the course of their 13-year career, the Gourds have come to reflect the stylistic gumbo of the Austin scene that spawned them. On any given night, the quintet shudders and slams through a set that offers up shades of Americana, Tex-Mex, roots, country, folk, rock and pop, blended together in sloppily intuitive measures. The single most important factor in the Gourds' success with their sonic quilting bee is the presence of three distinct songwriters in singer-guitarist Kevin "Shinyribs" Russell, singer-bassist Jimmy Smith and multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston. That diversity has never been more musically evident or lyrically engaging than on their latest album, Haymaker!

In boxing parlance, a haymaker is a knockout punch, and that's what the Gourds deliver here. Kicking off with the raucous John-Hiatt-fronts-Los-Lobos workout of "Country Love" and moving straight into the Doug-Sahm-swings-with-NRBQ jaunt of "Fossil Contender," the Gourds show they've fine-tuned the broad spectrum they presented on last year's Noble Creatures. "Hey Thurman" folds a little Randy-Newman-on-wry into the mix, "Luddite Juice" pubs and clubs like early Elvis Costello, and country doesn't come any countrier than "Valentine." Like their last few albums and their frenetic live shows, Haymaker! finds the Gourds assembling a set of songs that plays like a brilliantly balanced, paced and sequenced mixtape that just happens to be executed by the same amazingly versatile band. - Brian Baker

FIRES OF ROME

You Kingdom You

(The Hours) New York trio Fires of Rome kicks off its debut album with a huge, room-shaking organ that pulses like a mid-'70s prog-rock anthem that never found its footing. By the time singer Andrew Wyatt chimes in like a drunken tourist who got lost on his way back to the hotel, the song, "Dawn Lament," has picked up snapping guitar fills, rolling drums and a small string section. It's the start of a sweeping but occasionally directionless CD that skips around mostly pre-1980 genres with equal doses of cheek and recklessness. "It Makes Me Weak" even starts out as a 1970s AM-radio Yacht Rocker before settling into a TV on the Radio groove (yes, a modern-day concession) and then capping off like one of Genesis' Peter Gabriel-era epics. Throughout You Kingdom You, Fires of Rome tries on some Gang of Four-style faux-funk, T. Rex-like glam-stomp and classic-rock power-trio pomp, all the while cruising in a cherry-red Camaro and hitting on not-so-innocent young virgins. - Michael Gallucci

NEBULA

Peel Sessions

(Cargo/Sweet Nothing)

These dumb-ass stoner rockers don't exactly endear themselves when they start this compilation off by snarling "Radio 1 make the girls come" over a nondescript, sludge-filled guitar riff that sounds ripped right out of early Sabbath. Fortunately, things progress quickly on the comp's second track, "Instant Gravitation," where the band rocks hard and lets loose nimble-fingered solos. Featuring 11 songs recorded live between 2002 and 2004 for a John Peel Sessions program and a Radio 1 show, this is too rough-around-the-edges to be the best introduction to Nebula (although it does feature the classic lineup of singer-guitarist Eddie Glass, guitarist Ian Ross, bassist Matt Abshire and drummer Ruben Romano). Still, the groovy "Sonic Titan" includes a nice segment of dueling guitars, and "So It Goes" is appropriately menacing. - Jeff Niesel

LATE OF THE PIER

Fantasy Black Channel

(Astralwerks) Last year's Echoclistel Lambietroy EP introduced this English quartet as noise-loving, racket-making hooligans with 40 years of rock 'n' roll history in their arsenal. Late of the Pier's weapon of choice on their full-length debut is all forms of electronic bash and thrash, but there are plenty of other references here too. Opening instrumental "Hot Tent Blues" rides a fuzzy guitar riff straight outta any '70s glam-rocker's playbook. "Space and the Woods" struts like early-'80s new-wave robots. And the all-over-the-place "Focker" cops modern-day indie-rocker style. Fantasy Black Channel's stuttering synths, 4x4 disco drums, and buried and mostly inessential vocals are signs that these guys are targeting dance floors. The Roxy Music, Prince and Franz Ferdinand nods are signs that they know their place. - Gallucci

GLASVEGAS

Glasvegas

(Columbia) These four Scots look like rockabilly revivalists. They throw fuzzy riffs against Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. And they've been called the best new band in Britain. So there's a lotta baggage that comes with their self-titled debut. But singer James Allan is so perfectly earnest, and the band is so wrapped up in these tales of losers, lovers and cheating hearts that you really can't imagine them on a smaller scale. "Be My Baby" drums drive opener "Flowers and Football Tops" (about a dead boy), and buzzing guitars ring through "It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry," in which a bout of infidelity triggers a lifetime of guilt in the narrator. But Allan is most revealing on "Geraldine," where he's a sympathetic social worker talking folks through some hard times. It's Glasvegas at their most compassionate. But just when you think they're getting soft, the rousing "Go Square Go" ends with a room-shaking "here we fucking go" that'll have you pounding your fists in appreciation. - Gallucci

THE BLUE NOTE 7

Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Records

(Blue Note) The legendary jazz label Blue Note celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. Founded by Alfred Lion and Max Margulis, Blue Note (no relation to the jazz-club franchise of the same name) nurtured musicians like Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock, who all cut seminal albums for the label. To celebrate this landmark, a supergroup known as the Blue Note 7 - which includes Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Steve Wilson (alto sax), Ravi Coltrane (tenor sax), Peter Bernstein (piano), Bill Charlap (piano), Peter Washington (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums) - revisits some of those historical compositions.

The selection kicks off with the title track, appearing here in a modern arrangement - a great opportunity for the musicians to showcase their individual talents. Charlap performs a beautiful solo around the five-minute mark, and his carefully placed riffs are the tune's heart and soul. Another highlight, "Criss Cross," is a Monk composition from the 1962 album of the same name. It's a complex bebop piece, but in this group's hands, it's played with great ease. Washington's bass solo is the tune's centerpiece, but listen to the way the horns interact with Nash - it shows that this septet had great chemistry during the sessions. Also notable is Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge," an uptempo tune that gives the musicians plenty of breathing space, and a lot of improvisation ensues. This is the kind of album that'll probably make fans curious to hear the original recordings, perhaps sparking a rediscovery of those immortal jazz cats. - Ernest Barteldes

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