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Now Hear This

Facts about wax from 50 Cent, Dixie Bee-Liners, King Khan and the BBQ Show, and Little Dragon. … Plus, a DVD review of the Zombies' “Odessey & Oracle Revisited.”

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50 Cent, “Before I Self-Destruct” (Aftermath)
After rising out of obscurity rapping about gun battles and hookups, 50 Cent's hunger waned as soon as he bought that Connecticut mansion. On “Before I Self-Destruct,” he aims for introspection but never lets it get in the way of asserting his 'hood credentials and party-ready raps. The emotional neediness of “Hold Me Down” and the threats of “Death to My Enemies” are way beyond his reach (the latter not helped by a recycled Wu-Tang beat), and the divorce saga “Do You Think about Me” is seriously self-delusional. The beats sound fussy and expensive, and the guests are predictably big names but ultimately boring. Still, 50 gets a lot of mileage out of his laid-back delivery, which sounds like a manifestation of his own self-regard: He's taking it slow to make sure you catch the clever wordplay on “The Day Went By” and “Baby by Me.” That makes “Self-Destruct” his best album in years — which isn't saying very much. HHHII — Stephen M. Deusner

The Dixie Bee-Liners, “Susanville” (Pinecastle Records)
The Dixie Bee-Liners made a splash in the bluegrass world with their homage to Virginia's Route 58, “Down on the Crooked Road.” Along with most of their last album, it was bluegrass-standard in theme: tradition, moonshine and the lure of rural life. Their newest effort is anything but standard. As explained by guitarist and mandolinist Buddy Woodward, the concept originated from a Hiroshi Kimura painting of a stark American roadway — “on the road, there are thousands of different stories.” Each song highlights a potential situation of a driver or rider on a lonely highway. “Heavy” and “Restless” explore two difficult relationships, while “Road Hog” and “Truck Stop Baby” are character studies of highway archetypes. The band is immaculate: flowing fiddle, chunky guitar and mandolin, lush bass and tasteful banjo all serve to back Brandi Hart's clear, breathy voice. Melodies and chord lines are novel and, while they stray from traditional bluegrass, the band's roots are unmistakable. An album of highway-related songs is bound to have its share of well-worn clichAcs, and there are moments here, but they are few and far between. Concept albums are fairly foreign to bluegrass, but that doesn't mean they can't work. HHHII — Josh Bearman

King Khan and the BBQ Show, “Invisible Girl” (In the Red)
Canadian duo King Khan (lead vocals and guitar) and Mark “BBQ” Sultan (drums, vocals and guitar) have been at the forefront of garage-rock revivalism for years. One reason is that they seem to be having so much fun. Weaving the doo-wop and punk ethos with gritty, '60s rhythm and blues, the pair is known for its raucous live shows and offstage legal antics. Their latest disc offers more of the same: a solid knack for catchy, melodic garage rockers with plenty of reverb, jangle-mash guitars, and Khan's boisterous, at times soulful crooning of lyrics. These fluctuate from silly and sweet to downright raunchy — hear the scatological “Tastebuds,” whose chorus imagines tastebuds on various nether regions. The only drawback is the guitar-drum dynamic starts to sound the same after a while, and some songs might benefit from fewer adherences to old pop structures. But if you miss sock hops and real jukeboxes, these guys hit the spot; just listen to the ballad, “Third Avenue,” or hear them rumble through the '80s Ramones-tinged “Lonely Boy” and it becomes obvious that their raw slab castles were built on a foundation of reverence and love. HHHII— Brent Baldwin

Little Dragon, “Machine Dreams” (Peacefrog)
If Apollonia 6 had been fronted by Bjork, then the music might have sounded something like Little Dragon, the quirky Swedish quartet behind “Machine Dreams.” On its second album, the group harvests the best sounds from the '80s and serves up familiar music unlike any you've heard. Listening to “Feather,” with its vintage keyboard riffs and drum-machine handclaps, is like hearing your favorite song from 1984. On “Swimming,” the band captures some of Prince's old style and puts it to good use with heavy synths and ruminative lyrics. Lead singer Yukimi Nagano's alluring, throwback vocals compliment this music so well you may find yourself wondering whatever happened to her. The group has solidified its electronic-retro sound since its 2007 debut, and this album is an addictive piece of work — once you get past the noisy first track, “A New.” Like seasoned time travelers, Little Dragon looks simultaneously backward and to the future with confidence and maturity. HHHII— Craig Belcher


LIVE DVD: The Zombies, “Odessey and Oracle (Revisited): The 40th Anniversary Concert” (MVD Visual)
The classic 1967 album (misspelled by the cover designer) was the only true album release by the Zombies, and is considered a masterpiece of baroque pop. Mostly recorded at Abbey Road Studios in 1967, it yielded the famous single, “Time of the Season,” but by the time that song reached No. 1 in America, the group was done. Last year, the original members — minus guitarist Paul Atkinson, who died in 2004 — united at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London and conducted a flawless performance of the harmony-filled album in its entirety.
After an introduction by Al Kooper, who initially pushed the album to boss Clive Davis, the band launches into a joyously uplifting version of “Care of Cell 44” with singer Colin Blunstone hitting every note while the band gets locked in with help from Darian Sahanaja (mellotron, keyboard and vocals), who helped recreate Brian Wilson's lost “Smile” album, as well as several backing vocalists and percussionists. The concert succeeds at turning back the years and giving a few improvisational chills along the way, but the most important thing: It doesn't feel like a vanity project or a cash-in — the musicians seem far too intensely engaged for that, as if this were a cathartic moment long coming. For an encore, the group nails two more of its laid-back classics, “Tell Her No” and “She's Not There.”HHHHI— Brent Baldwin

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