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Culture Notable CDs

Notable CDs

Notable CDs

Five overlooked but noteworthy recordings of 2005

STYLE Vintage, occasionally eccentric, power-pop.

WORLDVIEW That despite their having not recorded new music in over 30 years, the original Big Star members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens, accompanied by the ex-Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, still have an album of catchy tunes in them.

OVERALL QUALITY A commendable and typically loose return to the off-kilter hookiness that turned Mr. Chilton into an influential underground legend.


STYLE Thoughtful, witty, and catchy pop-rock.

WORLDVIEW That thoughtful, witty, and catchy pop-rock needn't be PG-rated, with Mr. Covert, now the star of the children's-music "Ralph's World" recordings, even re-doing a track to eliminate a vulgarity from the original version.

OVERALL QUALITY A consistently entertaining and representative compilation of the finest Chicago combo of the 1990s not to be signed by a major label.


STYLE Whimsical psychedelic folk.

WORLDVIEW That, in addition to over-earnest naïvete and surreal jingle-jangle, the 1960s coffee-house scene encompassed charmingly escapist ditties and ballads, the most magical of which might have sounded equally at home in the days of the troubadours.

OVERALL QUALITY The superfluous DVD aside, three discs suitable for enjoying whole or for carving up into a home-burned greatest hits.


STYLE Solo acoustic folk unencumbered by its young performer's imminent superstardom.

WORLDVIEW That whether reinterpreting the public-domain catalog or adding to it their own soon-to-be-copyrighted creations, gifted performers can count on the folk-music canon for inspiration.

OVERALL QUALITY Oft-bootlegged but never before legitimately available (exclusively at Starbucks for now), these revealing performances supply the missing link between Mr. Dylan's first and second albums.


STYLE Jaunty sardonicism, folk-based poignancy.

WORLDVIEW That no middle-aged life is so dysfunctional that it doesn't have time for mourning Mister Rogers' death or for regretting having abandoned one's kids back when one didn't think he'd want them to be part of his life.

OVERALL QUALITY Provides sufficient reasons to savor the irony of Mr. Wainwright's getting such good music out of his largely self-inflicted misery

In the Spotlight

The newly released Cat Stevens Gold (A&M) resuscitates one of pop music's greatest ironies: that the composer of "Peace Train" and other paeans to pastoral pacifism eventually embraced Islam, made ambiguous statements regarding the legitimacy of assassinating Salman Rushdie, and ended up on a select list of Muslims prohibited from entering the United States because of their possible links to terrorism.

From his 18-minute "Foreigner Suite" (which encourages Westward immigration because there's "freedom" here) to his blithest hits ("Another Saturday Night," "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out"), from his sentimental low points ("Morning Has Broken," "Oh Very Young") to his sentimental highs ("Old Schoolyard," "The First Cut Is the Deepest"), one listens in vain for foreshadowings of Cat Stevens' eventual transformation into Yusef Islam, finding it only vaguely in a nearly all-pervasive humorlessness (which has been known to preclude irony detection) and warnings against a "Wild World" that Mr. Stevens himself would eventually be accused of contributing to.