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Culture Notable CDs


Dale Watson (Handout)



In true old-school-country fashion, the neo-honky-tonker Dale Watson (he calls his music “Ameripolitan,” but that’s splitting hairs) has released two albums in four months—Under the Influence (Red River), which came out in September, and Dale & Ray (Mailboat) with Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson, which came out in January. Both reinforce his reputation as roots music’s most confident and anti-nostalgic purveyor of anachronistic thrills.

Not that Watson doesn’t look back. Under the Influence finds him investing his resonant baritone voice and his band’s ace chops in the deep cuts of Conway Twitty, Lefty Frizzell, Bob Wills, Mel Tillis, Ronnie Milsap, Roy Head, Little Richard, Doug Sahm, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, and Merle Haggard, the latter two of whom also get heartfelt homages on Dale & Ray. But, as Lot’s wife could attest, there’s looking back and there’s looking back. When Watson and Benson sing “Let’s forget about tomorrow today,” they’re clearly living in the moment.

A wonderful world

Susan Boyle

Because Boyle seems somewhat otherworldly herself, her electronically recreated duet with Nat King Cole on “When I Fall in Love” feels less like a gimmick and more like a reminder that what she longs for most deeply lies beyond this vale of tears. Ditto for the two angel songs. The ringers—“Always on My Mind,” “Somewhere Out There”—merely remind us of her voice’s radiant purity. Where her spirituality most comes into play is in her cover of “Like a Prayer,” a Madonna classic long in need of redemption.


Machines of our disgrace

Circle of Dust

In terms of its formal properties, industrial metal is a conservative genre, its pummeling guitars and pistonlike beats precision programmed to hammer home unambiguous themes. In terms of its thematic properties, this first Circle of Dust album in 18 years comes out unambiguously against manifold forms of dehumanization caused by man’s playing God. Audio snippets, mainly from sci-fi films such as Assignment: Outer Space and The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, provide running commentary and, more importantly, gallows humor. Industrial metal without comic relief gets wearing fast.


Album (Super deluxe edition)

Public Image Ltd

The demos and alternate mixes that pad Discs 3 and 4 of this 30th-anniversary edition of John Lydon’s third-best album are no more enlightening than those of any other overstuffed reissue. But the original album still sounds ahead—or is that outside?—its time thanks to the all-star studio cast that Bill Laswell assembled to render Lydon’s energetic anger three-dimensional. Regarding Disc 2’s previously unreleased live contents, the music takes a back seat to Lydon’s rivetingly scabrous denunciations of a front row filled with spitters.


Sly & Robbie revisit Bob Marley

Sly & Robbie

Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, reggae’s greatest riddim section, don’t kick in until 2:12 of the opening cut, leaving the saxophonist Dean Fraser freer to make like an easy-listening wannabe than most Bob Marley fans would prefer. One song later, however, Dunbar and Shakespeare come to the fore, stripping “Soul Shake Down Party” to its bounce-to-the-ounce essence. Their fundament established, they do their best to summon Marley’s ghost, wherever it may be. On “No Mama No Cry,” they even sample The Twilight Zone.