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Elvis Costello

Secret, Profane & Sugarcane

Hear Music

Buy if you like: T-Bone Burnett, Emmylou Harris

Elvis Costello returns to country and again teams up with producer T-Bone Burnett for a set including a couple Costello oldies, a cover of the old waltz "Changing Partners" and a handful of tunes originally written for an opera about Hans Christian Andersen (really). The result is a sadly soulful record that is oh-so-tastefully played by a lineup of bluegrass luminaries. Costello has really become an effective crooner, and he gets fine harmony support throughout from Jim Lauderdale and, on "The Crooked Line," Emmylou Harris. There are some excellent songs here, most notably "I Felt the Chill," which he co-wrote with Loretta Lynn. But apart from "Hidden Shame" (the one truly up-tempo tune) and the old-timey, New Orleans-inflected title cut (the only song that shows off Costello's sense of humor), this album turns out rather sedate. But a very well done sedate, nonetheless. — L. Kent Wolgamott


Spinal Tap

Back from the Dead

The Label Industry

Buy if you like: Pinkard & Bowden, Weird Al Yankovic, Tenacious D, Flight of the Conchords, Manowar

When Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean first donned lycra and wigs 25 years ago for the hair-metal send-up This is Spinal Tap, their pointed parody poked holes in an over-inflated genre while bringing a six-inch-high Stonehenge and amplifiers that go to 11 into the comic pantheon. Does that make it OK for the trio to basically re-release the soundtrack under a different name with two decades of rust on their voices and some new tracks thrown in? Absolutely not. Songs like "Big Bottom" and "Tonight I'm Going to Rock You Tonight" hold up, but the seven new additions (three of which are versions of the film's "Jazz Odyssey") are painfully dated. It's bad enough that hair metal bands get by on nostalgia tours, but when Spinal Tap attempts to do the same, it yields only a pale parody of itself. — Jason Notte


Sonic Youth

The Eternal


Buy if you like: Radiohead, The Strokes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

For more than a quarter of a century, you could count on Sonic Youth to expand the boundaries of experimental indie rock with off-kilter vocals, guitar feedback and trippy rhythms. This is not the case with its 16th studio recording, The Eternal, in which band visionaries Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore offer a surprising amount of highly accessible and contemporary-influenced material that eschews any sense of retread or larceny. Found among its 12 tracks are elements of The Black Keys' fuzzed-out guitars ("Anti-Orgasm"), The Strokes and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's jangly guitars ("Antenna") and even Radiohead's subtle melodies ("Massage the History"). As a bastion of fringe alternative rock, this New York City band may have done the impossible by creating its most sell-out-ish release without compromising its quintessential esoteric sound. — John Benson

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