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Beth Rowley

Little Dreamer

Verve Forecast

Sounds like: Brit diva with a dose of reality

Short take: Move over, Duffy and Amy

Young British female singers keep appearing with intriguing regularity: Amy Winehouse, Duffy, Adele. Now Beth Rowley enters the fray, and if she isn't the most striking, in some ways she's still the most appealing, because Rowley sounds the most real. There is a warmth to her voice, and it never sounds like she's reaching beyond her strengths just to impress. Her album-opening gospel standard "Nobody's Fault But Mine" (like her Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Tammy Wynette covers) goes deep inside the song, keeping it close, and lets the shivers build slowly into a beautiful bottleneck guitar solo and an ending straight out of church. The sweet clearness of her vocals is as teasing as it is tempting, the mark of a great soul singer, and though her original songs are a bit derivative, she always puts her best voice forward. Little Dreamer was released in England last year, but considering it's one of the best albums of 2008, better late than never. Bill Bentley


Lee "Scratch" Perry

Scratch Came Scratch Saw Scratch Conquered

State of Emergency Ltd.

Sounds like: Interplanetary ganja music

Short take: Space is the place

"Hello, this is a skeleton from outer space having a party." That's how reggae wild man Lee "Scratch" Perry introduces himself on his new album. Considering he's worked with just about everyone who's been anyone on the island, there isn't a bigger legend in Jamaican music, even if that legend lives largest now in Perry's own mind. His new album, Scratch Came Scratch Saw Scratch Conquered, finds special guests Keith Richards and George Clinton adding their own touches to Perry's ganja-fueled nursery rhymes of considerable silliness. Let's be honest: Reggae's profound effect rises directly with the amount of marijuana consumed, and Scratch is best enjoyed in a state of herbalization. Redundancy can be a beautiful thing in that realm, as songs titled "Heavy Voodoo," "Yee Ha Ha Ha" and "Headz Gonna Roll" readily attest. This is an apt soundtrack for long rides on crowded city buses, extended stays in sensory deprivation tanks and everything in between. Bill Bentley


Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman

The Fabled City


Sounds like: Unplugged Morello unloads

Short take: Protest songs offer rage

As far as Rage Against the Machine fans are concerned, beware of guitar god Tom Morello and his solo project the Nightwatchman. Its newly released second effort, The Fabled City, couldn't be further from the crunchy riffs and heavy rock associated with his main gig. However, the politically conscious Morello does show off his diverse talents with a folk-inspired batch of Woody Guthrie-influenced protest songs. While the acoustic guitar chords may be simple, his message is pointed and deliberate. For instance, Morello addresses the debacle surrounding Hurricane Katrina with "Midnight in the City of Destruction" as he monotonously sings "I pray God himself will come and drown the president if the levees break again." There's also the Tom Waits-lite sound of "Night Falls" and the upbeat, beer-hall sing-along "The Lights are on in Spidertown." Overall, these are stories of the city that need to be told. John Benson

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