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Sound Advice

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Cheap Trick

The Latest

Cheap Trick Unlimited

Buy if you like: Beatles, solo John Lennon

Even though Cheap Trick is exploring more of the pop aspect of its quintessential power-pop aesthetic on its latest album, the results never stray into "The Flame"-style embarrassment. Instead, the band truly embraces its Beatles love with singer Robin Zander channeling a post-Fab Four John Lennon vibe for the playful "Miss Tomorrow" and the piano-led "Miracle." Other highlights include "These Days," arguably Cheap Trick's best (and most authentic) radio-friendly anthem ever, as well as the punk rock-lite (think Pearl Jam) "Sick Man of Europe." In fact, there's a good argument to be made that these 13 tracks comprise the Windy City quartet's most even album in decades. Even though it's been 20 years since they truly garnered mainstream attention, The Latest proves they're not living on their "Dream Police" laurels. Do yourself a favor and surrender to Cheap Trick's new magical mystery tour. — John Benson

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Otis Taylor

Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs

Telarc Records

Buy if you like: Chris Whitley, Gary Moore

Otis Taylor will throw a curve ball just to see where it goes. His last album was based around the banjo, and his latest effort finds the multi-talented Boulder musician mixing up sounds that'll have listeners shaking their heads at his winning temerity. Taylor digs down into his family history for songs like "Silver Dollar on My Head" and "Mama's Best Friend," his blues opening up like an old screen door onto a backyard valley of sunshine and rain. Jason Moran, Gary Moore, Ron Miles and others join in the studio to help create a collage of striking emotions, some so strong (check out "I'm Not Mysterious") that they can make the skin crawl and cats shriek. There isn't anything to really compare it to, which actually is a gift these days. For those who are looking to be pleasantly surprised and slightly shocked, step right up. — Bill Bentley

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Wilco

Wilco (The Album)

Nonesuch

Buy if you like: Beatles, Byrds

Though Wilco (The Album)'s melodies shimmer, on a lyrical level frontman Jeff Tweedy at times sounds as miserable as ever. Is he finally divorcing? Hanging on for dear life? In "One Wing," he sings, "One wing will never fly dear / Neither yours nor mine / I feel we can only wave goodbye." The song crescendos into a guitar caterwaul, like the aural equivalent of one of his notorious migraines. "Bull Black Nova" sounds like a flat-out anxiety attack. (He's supposedly conquered both forms of pain.) Musically, the tangents stretch far, then pull back with rubber-band tautness, just as lyrical tension is released in the sweet duet with Feist, "You and I," in which he sings, "However close we get sometimes, it's like we never met / But you and I, I think we can take it." Maybe he's describing inter-band relationships; whatever's on his mind, once again it's manifested in beauty. And that, ultimately, is all that matters. — Lynne Margolis

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