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Dharohar Project, Laura Marling, and Mumford & Sons,

Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling and Dharohar Project


Buy if you like: Cornershop, Anoushka Shankar

From the Beatles forward, Anglo-Indian collaborations have tended to be more well-intentioned than well-executed, but this EP manages to be both. Rapidly rising U.K. neo-folk cohorts Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons team up here with the Dharohar Project, a traditional folk music collective they met during their Indian tour. The four tracks convey an empathy and enthusiasm that transcends geography. "Meheni Rachi" is the most Anglicized of the bunch, with prominent banjo, acoustic guitar and mostly English vocals, while "Anmol Rishtey" sounds more like an Indian ghazal, at least until Ben Lovett's accordion takes on the harmonium part. The two paths converge brilliantly on the infectious "Devil's Spoke / Sneh Ko Marg." While such projects usually cater to dedicated fans, this one will also captivate the uninitiated. — Bill Forman


The Black Eyed Peas

The Beginning


Buy if you like: Lady Gaga, Kanye West

Having achieved Michael Jackson-level success with 2009's The E.N.D., the Black Eyed Peas are clearly not messing with the formula. The Beginning (what, no periods?) expertly weaves hooky electronics and skillfully programmed beats into fluffy hip-hop confections that will please pop-hungry denizens of club culture. Too bad most of the songs themselves (with the notable exception of the slamming "Someday" and rock-solid "Play It Loud") aren't as interesting as the sonic wizardry that surrounds them. Instead, we get an odd mash-up of Dirty Dancing schmaltz ("The Time"), the exceedingly drab "Love You Long Time" (which can't decide if it's a ballad or a dance track), and the annoyingly Auto-Tuned "Don't Stop the Party." Lyrically, they keep it shallow, which is disappointing from a group that once had something to say. The Black Eyed Peas really could use a new beginning, but this isn't it. — Alan Sculley


Various Artists

World Christmas Party


Buy if you like: Brave Combo, Alison Brown Quartet

Those of us who could live without ever hearing more uninspired renditions of Christmas standards will surely appreciate this alternative approach from Putumayo. The World Christmas Party collection delivers wonderful jazz instrumentals and multi-lingual remakes. Among the best: "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" by dearly departed Jamaican talent Jacob Miller ( "We bring you a irie Christmas!"), Poncho Sanchez's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and the Heritage Hall Jazz Band's "Barra de Navidad Blues." Keahiwai's vocals on "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" manage to revitalize the song, as does Jose Conde's Jamie Cullum-like delivery on "Winter Wonderland." And the Alison Brown Quartet with Joe Craven absolutely shines on "Carol and the Kings." All in all, this is a holiday offering that actually will make the season bright. — Lynne Margolis

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