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Last Punk Standing … And Other Hits! 

Wild Billy Childish & CTMF

The ... and Other Hits! part of the title is a joke, of course. None of these 14 songs will ever rule the stream-o-sphere. They’re too raw, too unself-conscious, too alive. The sonics begin and end in mid-to-late-’60s proto-punk. The lyrics sound most whimsical when they’re not. And although you may not care who’ll be the last punk standing yourself, Childish is sure that “when no one’s left / to give you a whiff / of the stolen riff / of Mark E. Smith,” you will.

Brighter Days

Robert Randolph & the Family Band

Randolph continues to make his own the influences that his House of God Church upbringing made sure he came to late. There’s Allman Brothers in “Baptise Me.” There’s Sly & the Family Stone in “Don’t Fight It” (with the “it” being “Holy Ghost power”). There’s Stevie Wonder in “Second Hand Man.” There’s even Delbert McClinton in “I’m Living Off the Love You Give.” But, most significant of all, there’s Randolph’s fierce, riff-mongering pedal steel guitar, binding together every potential loose end like a signature writ large (and loud).

I’m Not Chic

Noodles

If these 10 adorable garage-rock songs don’t finally earn the all-female Japanese trio responsible for them a sizable English-speaking following, nothing will. So what that in Yoko’s approximately phonetic English pronunciation “I don’t want to bother you” sounds like “I don’t want Brazil”? It’s still cute. And if you plug the Japanese lyrics of “Buggy Loop” into Google Translate, you’ll get “In a room with cactuses, / I have the same dream as you, / like noonday moon,” which isn’t bad for accidental haiku if accidental it is.

Victorious

Skillet

Titles such as “Rise Up,” “Never Going Back,” and “Victorious” don’t quite say it all, but they come close. These are songs to bolster the weary, particularly those feeling worn down by the daily grind of spiritual warfare. And in typical Skillet fashion, the majority of the sentiments get hammered home by industrial-strength metal. There are, however, changes of pace (relatively speaking), one of which, “Terrify the Dark,” peaks with a line that the weary would do well to ponder: “My doubt will answer to Your scars.” 


 

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Elvis Presley in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1969.

Elvis in 1969

An 11-disc look at the King’s last great year

You’ve realized for some time now that most exorbitantly priced 50th-anniversary box sets embody more of a good thing than anyone but a zealot needs—and that few artists’ catalogs have been exploited to this end more than Elvis Presley’s. 

So, as much as you love “the King,” you’re passing on FTD/Legacy’s new five-disc American Sound 1969. You’re passing not because hearing Presley and the Memphis Boys take multiple runs at the likes of “Kentucky Rain,” “You’ll Think of Me,” and “True Love Travels on a Gravel Road” is tedious (it isn’t), but because you’ve already spent a small fortune on the albums on which all but five of those 90 multiple runs first appeared.  

You couldn’t legitimately claim to love the King if you hadn’t.

Sony/Legacy’s new Live 1969, however, the 11 discs of which document a solid week of Presley taking care of business at Kirk Kerkorian’s International Hotel in Las Vegas, is a different story. ’Sixty-nine, after all, was Presley’s last great year, a peak from which he’d spend the next eight years falling—slowly at first, meteorically toward the end. 

The very thought of an 11-disc Live 1977 box in 2027 gives you the shudders.

But the reputation of these two-a-night ’69 shows, some of which you’ve heard as parts of slenderer packages over the years, has retained its glow, and now you can bask in it for 12 hours straight if you’re so inclined. 

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New or recent CDs

Love Will Find a Way

Philip Bailey

The soft-focus production stands in stark contrast to the clean, crisp edges of Bailey’s hit-making days with Earth, Wind & Fire and Phil Collins. The falsetto, however, remains recognizable if not quite the same, as do the Curtis Mayfield covers (anachronisms no matter what Bailey thinks) and Marvin Gaye’s “Just to Keep You Satisfied.” Recognizable but better than the original is the Return to Forever cover. Recognizable but weirder is Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.” Coming from a Gospel-Grammy winner, it may be profounder too.

Seeds of Change (Expanded Edition)

Kerry Livgren

If Epic/Legacy had waited one more year, they could’ve touted this expanded, MP3-only edition of the best album by anyone associated with Kansas (Kansas included) as a 40th-anniversary treat. But better early than never. What’s doing the expanding? Horns-boosting and occasionally measure-adding remixes of all seven songs. What’s the reward of listening closely enough to notice such negligible differences? Getting to hear Ronnie James Dio, Steve Walsh, LeRoux’s Jeff Pollard, and Ambrosia’s David Pack give thrilling voice to Livgren’s newfound Christian faith twice.

Late Night Feelings

Mark Ronson

The failure of the Miley Cyrus collaboration “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” to approach the popularity of Ronson’s 2015 Bruno Mars collaboration “Uptown Funk” isn’t exactly inexplicable. Four years is a long time for the attention-deficit generation to stick with a DJ who isn’t Avicii, and Cyrus is nothing if not divisive. Still, it’s not only Cyrus’ finest 3½ minutes but also the best song that Stevie Nicks never recorded. Consider it the cake of an album a-swirl with delectable pop-soul icing.

Hotel Last Resort

Violent Femmes 

“The obvious, the silly, and the true,” wrote Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four, “had got to be defended,” and Gordon Gano’s just the man for the job. Cases in point: the obvious “I’m Nothing” (a ramshackle reminder that square pegs despise round holes), the silly “Sleepin’ at the Meetin’” (aka “Way That I Creep,” disinterred from Gano’s Under the Sun), and the true “Adam Was a Man” (a folk-punk exposition of Genesis 2 and 3). As for the minor-key “God Bless America,” it combines all three.

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