Shelby Lynne, "Just a Little Lovin'" (Lost Highway)
When Shelby Lynne released her breakthrough album, "I Am Shelby Lynne" in 2000, her wounded, brassy vocals and un-Nashville wall-of-sound production garnered many comparisons to Dusty Springfield. Nearly a decade later, Lynne is just now getting around to the inevitable: recording a full album of Dusty covers. If it weren't so good and if Lynne didn't understate her performance so gracefully, this album might seem opportunistic, but fortunately, producer Phil Ramone emphasizes the differences between the two singers instead of the similarities. Against his tastefully barebones backdrop, Lynne reinterprets "I Only Want to Be With You" and "Breakfast in Bed" as nightclub sets that are more R&B than country. Where Dusty's voice was a soft, voluptuous curve -- she made vulnerability seem luxurious Lynne's has a few sharp edges in it, which she molds into an erotic quaver on "The Look of Love" and a backwoods sass on the standout "Willie and Laura Mae Jones." Lynne never eclipses her inspiration, but occasionally proves herself equal. Stephen Deusner
Jack Johnson, "Sleep Through the Static" (Brushfire Records)
The former pro-surfer goes green on his latest release by recording the entire disc with solar-powered analog machines. For the first time, an electric guitar takes center stage, but the sound is more of the same easygoing, sun-kissed grooving that we've heard before from Johnson. Brushed drums keep time while dreamy words spin about in choruses that ponder the purpose of life and natural beauties of the surf. "Hope" saunters with reggae-infused rhythms while "doo-doo-doo" refrains encourage campfire singalongs. The track could easily have landed on Johnson's last release, the soundtrack to the "Curious George" film. "Angel" and "Same Girl" are two standouts that showcase stripped-down arrangements and charming lyrics. You won't sleep through this one, but you probably won't notice that you're listening to any new Jack Johnson songs either. Next go-round, let's hope he plugs in and takes some creative chances. Hilary Langford
Hot Chip, "Made in the Dark" (Astralwerks)
For a dance-oriented band, Hot Chip isn't especially danceable. The group's spastic synth beats, which emphasize the high end over the low, would seem to inspire only the most jerky contortions in the human body. For lesser bands, this confusion of mission might prove fatal, but on two previous albums and now this one, Hot Chip compensates in two major ways. First, the band members are playful in the studio, indulging seemingly every harebrained idea that occurs to them. This license for digression generates a percolating pop momentum on "Hold On" and "Ready for the Floor," despite interrupting the otherwise catchy single "Shake a Fist" with a distracting headphone game. Second, Hot Chip wraps all these sounds around real songs. "Made in the Dark" intersperses slower ballads like the title track and "In the Privacy of Our Love" among the upbeat numbers, deftly scaling back the music and instilling the songs with an unself-conscious poignancy that nicely offsets the studio shenanigans. S.D.
The Two Man Gentlemen Band, "Heavy Petting" (Serious Business Records)
Big ups to local DJ Chris Bopst for turning me on to this highly entertaining vaudevillian swing band featuring lots of smoking kazoo work, old country/ragtime and snappy hot jazz. Ecstatic live performers from New York, the duo of Andy Bean (plectrum banjo, vocals, lead kazoo, piano) and Fuller Condon (double bass, vocals, tenor kazoo, guitar) learned by playing Central Park that it's generally wiser to keep the momentum of their Tin Pan Alley-inspired music at a furious modern pitch.
On their third album, these happy-go-lucky fellers tackle everything from starry-eyed love songs to tunes about Prohibition and badminton ("smack the bird!"). The album starts with a joyous ode to a former chubby president, "William Howard Taft," that instantly proves these are street hucksters you'd love to have play your party: smart musicianship, semi-dorky (almost nasal) vocals and humorous lyrics filled with clever double entendres often of a good-natured sexual variety combine for a glorious retro sound made new. It's hard to resist such rowdy, free-natured playing, especially when it involves cool songs with math references ("my love is like the square root of two"), tunes about dipping sauce ("can't eat your meat without it") and "Unicycle Blues," the story of a lovers' quarrel involving a tandem bicycle and a hacksaw ("left me with the unicycle blues I fall down after one rotation.") Knee-slappin' fun. Brent Baldwin
Bettye LaVette & Drive-By Truckers, "The Scene of the Crime"
Bettye LaVette has a great soul voice it scrapes, seduces and swoons across the backbeat-driven blues of this instantly classic recording. Depending on how you do the math, this is either the second or third recording of her slow-motion comeback. The last, "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise" a spare and unconventional set of covers showed the idiosyncratic hand of producer Joe Henry (a distaff counterpart to his work on Solomon Burke's "Don't Give Up on Me"). "Scene of the Crime" has a richer and more conventional setting highlighting the Truckers' affinity for the Muscle Shoals soul/country-blues sound. But it's LaVette's voice that carries the weight, whether in funky workouts like "Last Time" or in slow ballads like "Somebody Pick Up My Pieces." In all, this is the great place to catch up with a neglected talent. And LaVette provides "Before the Money Came (The Ballad of Bettye LaVette)" for anyone who wants to know what happened in previous episodes.
CD/DVDInquisition, "Uproar: Live and Loud in Richmond, VA" (No Idea Records)
If you want proof that cherished, early '90s punk Richmond band Inquisition has great fans, just check out this raucous concert DVD/CD of two reunion shows at Alley Katz, recorded May 18-19, 2007. The band takes the stage before a sweltering storm of die-hards, many of them pumping fists or crowd-surfing, and proceeds to tear through relentlessly high-energy sets of politically charged, melodic punk as the crowd shouts along in perfect unison. The performance is aptly filmed and edited using multiple angles in the blocky, pitlike room, and everyone involved appears to be having a swell time, none so much as dreadlocked vocalist Thomas Barnett (of Strike Anywhere), who barks and screams his vocal cords ragged. One of the highlights is a tune dedicated to old-school Richmond punk bassist Greta Brinkman (Moby, Debbie Harry, L7), an inspiring journeywoman musician who originally let the band practice in her basement during its early days, accepting "irregular payment." That's indicative of the warm, fuzzy feeling emanating from this celebratory project, the return of a loyal band symbolic of the tightknit local punk scene that once was. Extras include a fairly standard behind-the-scenes documentary, new and old photo galleries and a video for the song "Uproar." Brent Baldwin
There will be a pre-release party for the DVD with the band at Plan 9 Music in Carytown Saturday, Feb. 23, at 3 p.m. and a screening of the DVD documentary "Open Letter: A Revolution in the Making" at the Byrd Theatre at 5:30 p.m. 353-9996.