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Samson Trinh "Very Strange Night" (Giggity)

Goes well with Richmond jazz and "The OC."

Starting with its opening, a retro needle-drop sound effect, there is nothing remotely tentative about Samson Trinh's idiosyncratic and ambitious debut. The material ranges confidently across genres, lounging in lush, romantic jazz with guest vocalist Terri Murphy, dipping into Hammond B3 organ soul with Adrian Duke, stealing through outskirts of Lyle Lovett territory with Jackie Frost, and tumbling through blazing instrumental workouts with titles like "I Can't Believe I'm Addicted to 'The OC.'"

With 48 of the area's best musicians taking part, it's a bit like the Richmond Jazz Circus. All get their spin in the spotlight, but Trinh remains the ringmaster. The 22-year-old former Upper East Side Jazz Lounge entrepreneur wrote every song but one, and arranged and conducted everything except for a string section led by his model and mentor, Doug Richards, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor and big-band leader. Richards' influence is reflected in Trinh's complex but uncluttered architectures; each instrumental voice shines through with clear, Technicolor individuality.

The CD works on a variety of levels: as varied entertainment, as a surprising mature statement from a young artist, and as a vivid snapshot of the Richmond jazz scene circa 2006. **** — Peter McElhinney

Trinh's senior recital, which doubles as a CD release party, will be at the VCU Singleton Performing Arts Center on Sunday, March 26, at 8 pm.

Van Morrison "Pay the Devil" (Lost Highway)

Goes well with Jameson, honky-tonks and weddings.

The years have taken a toll on Van Morrison's vocal strength and his unique ability to crystallize emotions in song, but let's face it: He's still Van the Man. The latest from the legendary Irishman is one of his best in ages: a hearty collection of classic country from the likes of Hank Williams, Webb Pierce and Rodney Crowell, alongside three worthwhile originals.

Backed by spare accompaniment from crackerjack session musicians (including a steel guitarist and violin player) who create beautiful clothes for the tunes with eloquent restraint, Morrison delivers each song with the easy familiarity of a honky-tonk veteran. It's not that surprising, considering this American South material is only tumbleweeds away from the classic R&B he mastered early in his career.

On instantly recognizable songs like "Your Cheatin' Heart," Morrison proves that all timeless tunes require is emotional honesty and conviction (of course, having one of the most recognizable voices in popular music doesn't hurt). Ranging from world-weary and painful to playful and joyous, this is an album that sounds right at home in its skin. **** — Brent Baldwin

Public Enemy "New Whirl Odor" (Slam Jamz)

Goes well with politics, mash-ups and large clock necklaces.

It's hard to grow old in rap music, and nobody understands this more than Public Enemy, universally acknowledged as one of the genre's pioneers. After several marginal releases, the political rap group has finally found a way to age with its clenched-fist dignity intact. "New Whirl Odor" trades in the "bring the noise" collage of yesteryear with a more funkified method for fighting the power in the new millennium.

Chuck D is still ranting in rhyme against corporate and political injustice, while Flavor Flav, Professor Griff and Terminator X punctuate the lyrical sermons for the group's most realized work since "Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Black." Though its most innovative work may be behind the group, "New Whirl Odor" still packs a mighty punch. *** — Chris Bopst

Various Artists "Radio Sumatra: The Indonesian FM Experience" (Sublime Frequencies)

Goes well with cumin, schizophrenia and pedicabs.

This "FM only" radio collage collects the diverse popular sounds of Sumatra — from Minang pop and Batak ballad to Islamic folk and Western-influenced psych-rock. Each song runs into another, seemingly scanning the radio dial, with station IDs, brief news reports, prayers and karaoke call-in shows thrown into the mix.

CD producer Alan Bishop captured the recordings live from multiple stations in Medan, Padang and Bukittinggi with no processing or overdubs, and he clearly wants to show the magnitude of possibilities (as opposed to our own stale airwaves). Listening to the different production styles of the songs is enough to captivate musical enthusiasts, but many of the tracks are memorable simply for their passionate sense of melody and "global soup" musical heritage that draws from numerous cultures.

It all makes for a colorful kaleidoscope of sound that will transport you to busy, foreign streets where the exotic smells of cumin and petrol mix in the air with popular Indonesian radio. This is a world-music CD with a fresh — if disorienting — presentation. *** — B.B.

Various Artists "Classic Railroad Songs" (Smithsonian Folkways)

Goes well with train museums, oral histories and steam.

Compiled by Jeff Pace from the Smithsonian's vast archives, "Classic Railroad Songs" assembles songs inspired by the ribbons of iron that brought America into the 20th century. Starting and ending with actual recordings of trains from the 1950s, the 29 tracks contained within celebrate the locomotive with ballads, work songs, blues and country from the '40s to the '70s.

Legends such as Leadbelly, Doc Watson, Brownie McGhee and Elizabeth Cotten tell their tales with a human touch that no history book could hope to accurately convey. In fact, bluesman Furry Lewis, who is represented on the disc with his tale of Kassie Jones, turned to music as a means to make a living after losing his leg in a railroad accident in 1917. A fascinating musical journey into the heart and soul of America, this CD is a must listen for those who want their history told up close and personal. **** — C.B.


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