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Sixer, Dave Matthews Band, Widespread Panic, Various Artists "The Osbourne Family Album" , Guided by Voices, Ralph Stanley

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Sometimes introspective, but always lyrically and musically genuine, the record has more than its share of anthems ("Truckstop Jesus," "American Heartbreak," and my personal favorite "Get Well Card"), not to mention potential popular hits such as the accessible "Hero" (which easily outshines the majority of manufactured pop-punk songs that are so big with the kids these days). With the fingerprints of fellow Richmonders all over the release (most notably the engineering services of the Sound of Music's John Morand and with Cracker's David Lowery handling the production duties) the record also stands as a testament as to how much the Richmond music scene has progressed.

Sixer's brand of Southern-fried Street Punk exhibits an across-the-board appeal. Enthusiasts of genres such as '77 Punk & Oi!, plus fans of groups ranging from Rancid to Social Distortion will all find something to like about Sixer's most noteworthy release thus far. — Angelo DeFranzo



Dave Matthews Band "Busted Stuff" (RCA) ****

If you are the Dave Matthews Band, how do you follow the triple-platinum success of "Everyday" (2001)? Well, in this case, the quintet recorded a selection of material they had previously written for an album intended to be released in late 2000. To fans of the band who follow their live performances, only two of these songs — "You Never Know" and the album's first single, "Where Are You Going" — will appear as new material, because the band has been road-testing these works for the last couple years.

At first listen, the 11 tracks of "Busted Stuff" play like a well-pieced-together album with no clear song sticking out as an obvious hit single. Perhaps the best melodic, passionate vocal line Dave Matthews has ever composed is found in the chorus of "Raven," but with a jazzlike intro and the fact that it clocks in at 5:36, the impressive ditty would need editing for the radio play it deserves.

Best heard from start to finish, the album touches on the elements that have made the band successful. Where "Grey Street" is full of punch and violin, "Captain" grooves in a "Quiet Storm" mode of smooth R&B funk.

"Busted Stuff" provides a challenge to radio, but fans will love every note, especially the 8:31 minutes of "Bartender."

— Jeff Maisey



Widespread Panic "Live in the Classic City" (Sanctuary) ****

Fans of Widespread Panic who complied with requests to leave their recording equipment at home for the band's spring 2000 tour won't be disappointed with this three-disc, 3 1/2-hour marathon.

Compiled from a three-night stand in the band's hometown of Athens, Ga., "Live in the Classic City" is a snapshot of Widespread Panic at its best. Coming on the heels of the 2001 DVD "Live at Oak Mountain," "Classic City" achieves the band's intention: It's an immaculate, never-before-heard recording.

Panic's best-known and fan-approved material — "Chilly Water," "All Time Low" and "Bear's Gone Fishin'" — is liberally mixed with cover tunes including Vic Chesnutt's "Blight" and "Ride Me High" by J.J. Cale.

The band's instrumental work is phenomenal, led by John Hermann's spacey keyboards and Michael Houser's incandescent guitar. Guests include Col. Bruce Hampton and R.E.M.'s Bill Berry.

If there is a weak point, it's the instability of Panic's vocalists. They're sometimes brittle and fail to carry a tune, something that could also have been said of the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia. Then again, Deadheads never seemed to mind. — James J. Lidington



Various Artists "The Osbourne Family Album" (Sony) **

So you bought the T-shirt, coffee cup, pillow, poster and cell-phone cover emblazoned with the image of Ozzy Osbourne's family.

Now you can round out the collection with the family's official CD, "The Osbourne Family Album." Hey! Don't stop reading yet. The album isn't that bad. It isn't that great either, but it is a fun listen.

Between former neighbor Pat Boone's version of "Crazy Train" and the original version by the "King of Evil" himself, the CD has some decent as well as surprising tracks.

The decent include "Snowblind" by System of a Down and "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks. The unexpected include "Imagine" by John Lennon, the song Ozzy and Sharon fell in love to.

Daughter Kelly debuts her talent with a rendition of Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach." She doesn't sound bad, but even with heavy voice manipulation, she comes across like a little girl singing into her hairbrush in front of the mirror. Only difference: Her dad's a rock star.

Between each song, the album includes sound clips from the show. So if the music doesn't entertain you, snippets of Ozzy's frustration with Sharon for singing "Tiny Bubbles" may do the trick.

— Deborah Markham



Guided by Voices "Universal Truths and Cycles" (Matador) ***

Guided by Voices' early music was more like half-finished thoughts — something a cracked genius might record on a four-track in the basement.

By last year's "Isolation Drills," it had evolved into something closer to what a cracked genius might record in a top studio.

But on its new, high-mindedly-titled disc, the band returns not only to its indie label but also reconciles its lo-fi past with its mainstream forays.

And, front man Robert Pollard still sounds like a cracked musical genius.

Sure, he unspools a pounding, crowd-pleasing riff on "Back to the Lake," the album's best rocker.

But Pollard is a prolific, obsessive songwriter, and his thoughts and songs fly by with more lyrical and musical ideas than the disc's 19 songs and 46 minutes can seemingly contain. And, with lyrical opacity rivaling early R.E.M., the musings are more of a starting point.

Like creme brulee, love is too rich for Pollard's blood on "Love 1"; depression is a welcome option on "Zap"; and on "Factory of Raw Essentials" he aims at hypocrisy, saying "you can roll away the stone and find no remnants of goodness."

Such flitting about sounds deadly. But with GBV, you can't stop listening.

— David M. Putney



Ralph Stanley "Ralph Stanley" (Columbia) ****

Who would think that Ralph Stanley at 75 would suddenly be rock-star huge?

He can thank the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack and Down From the Mountain tour for that. Stanley, the king of lonesome bluegrass, deserves the accolades for a chilling rendering of the traditional "O Death," a high point on an album full of high points.

This self-named disc is certainly intended to cash in on his newfound fame — and who can fault him for that? Stanley is wise enough to employ T-Bone Burnett, musical mastermind of "O Brother," as executive producer.

But he's also savvy enough to stick to what he knows: pickin' it, old-school.

His voice, dry as parchment and mournful as a prairie wind, is in fine form, and he's deep in his home territory of roots and gospel. He lines up nine traditional bluegrass songs, one self-penned original and the Hank Williams spiritual "Calling You."

Is Stanley pushing himself? Not really. But it is right on the money for those who have recently taken a shine to bluegrass.

— D.M.P.



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