Bobby Bare: The Moon Was Blue (Dualtone)
The comeback album is a genre we'll see more of as '60s stars twinkle one last time before they wink out. That's good news if, like Bobby Bare, they trade their hot blood for the mellow introspection of old age. To hear the 70-year-old croon Fred Neil's 'Everybody's Talkin' ('Everybody's talkin' at me. I don't hear a word they're saying, only the echoes of my mind') is to understand the song for the first time.
In the 1960s, Bare was an independent-minded hit machine who anticipated the Outlaws (he 'discovered' Waylon Jennings, as well as Kris Kristofferson) and wrestled his music rights from the studios. His song 'Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goalposts of Life' and his collaborations with Shel Silverstein cemented his reputation as one of the smarter numbers in the Nashville phone book. And then came two decades of silence. His son, Bobby Bare Jr., a second-generation Nashville rebel, coaxed him out of retirement and produced this album.
The songs are old familiars -- 'Love Letters in the Sand,' 'Are You Sincere' -- and Bare's interpretations make even the love songs sound wistful. Bobby Jr. layers oddball arrangements of ghostly singers, whistles, and discordant piano riffs. But it's his father's pensive, hickory-smoked voice that carries the music. He always sounds like he's alone on stage. Which at his age, I guess, is the point. -- Joseph Hart
Gangbe Brass Band: Whendo (World Village)
The term 'brass band' conjures pomp and spats, but Gangbe feels more like a party than a pep rally. From the small West African nation of Benin, the band plays an Africanized brass music that's exuberant and playful. Bright horn lines cut out crisp melodies while warm-voiced singers shout call-and-response repartee. Deep African drums are an earthy alternative to snares. Threads of jazz, pop, and funk run through Gangbe's rich fabric of sound for a romping polycultural march. -- Keith Goetzman
Devendra Banhart: Cripple Crow (XL)
Known for his spare acoustic folk, Devendra Banhart apparently has discovered that the best folk music isn't about purity; it's about diversity. This is his first album with a full backing band and a modern studio, and the result is a dense thicket of gorgeous cello-backed melodies, psychedelic rock, and swinging Latin serenades. Holding it all together is Banhart's extraordinary voice, with its scruffy-furred vibrato, going straight to the heart of your inner flower child. -- Robert McGinley Myers
The Juan Maclean: Less Than Human
The album may be called Less Than Human, but its robot disco tunes are decidedly sensual. Let 'Shining Skinned Friend' show you the way through the lurid back alleys of a virtual city, but then hitch a ride to the electric bonfire outside of town where 'Give Me Every Little Thing' is rocking bodies and leading the crowd in a Village Peoplesque chant. The 14-minute closer, 'Dance with Me,' will shoot shimmery digitized fireworks over your head as you walk home. -- RMM
The Tragically Hip: Hipeponymous
Canada's Tragically Hip plays gorgeous, blues-based pop-rock with a literary bent. Front man Gordon Downie is idiosyncratically arty, like David Byrne circa Talking Heads, yet brims with a passionate integrity reminiscent of REM's Michael Stipe. The band fills stadiums throughout its native country (and pockets of the U.S. Upper Midwest) despite its disregard for commerce and disdain for marketing. It's all very Canadian, and ironically faithful to the ironic moniker. But for the hordes of uninitiated, there is now Hipeponymous, an all-purpose primer that culls from the group's 10 CDs: 35 songs (plus two new ones) chosen by their fans via Internet voting. There is also a DVD of a gig in Toronto; a collection of 23 music videos; a behind-the-scenes minidocumentary; and 'The Right Whale': music for the giant, mutating video images that shape-shifted behind the band on its last tour. -- Britt Robson
Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham: Moments from This
Theatre (Proper American Recordings)
Aretha's 'Do Right Woman, Do Right Man'? They wrote that. The Box Tops' 'Cry Like a Baby'? That too. The fact is, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham have implanted, like mad scientists, numerous melodies and lyrics deep in our brains. These 1998 U.K. concert recordings find the team delivering their best songs in no-frills form: just Penn's acoustic guitar, Oldham's Wurlitzer piano, and their subtle, brotherly vocals. And that's all they need to bring these gemlike songs alive. -- KG