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The Infamous Stringdusters "Fork in the Road" (Sugar Hill)

The review should start like this: "These guys can pick and sing very well. Those out there who are fans of the current model of Nashville bluegrass personified by groups like Mountain Heart — clean, virtuosic, safe — should rush out and buy this album." That being said, the liner notes claim this band is not yet another Nashville creation, citing lyrical content, bravery in songwriting and instrumental ingenuity. The last is true. Each of these young players can rip through many notes in rapid succession.

"40 East" and "Moon Man," both original instrumentals, stand out as vanguard tracks. Asfor the choice of song and lyrical content, however, not so much. There is something disingenuous in a 20-something Gen-Yer singing nostalgic songs about country dances, trains or "Old Virginia" (the last two appearing in multiple songs) with predictable rhyme schemes and airy, whiny vocals. If these guys are going to make the claim that they are on the cutting edge of the modern bluegrass movement, they'd better take the same interest in songwriting as they clearly have in instrumental excellence. ***

— Joshua Bearman



The Notorious B.I.G. "Greatest Hits" (Bad Boy Records)

Bad Boy Records returns yet again to milk its only true cash cow. But this time, it's with a more appropriate excuse than 2005's posthumous "Duets: The Final Chapter." Ten years after Christopher Wallace's unsolved murder, his unmistakably heavy voice in this collection reminds us why he goes down as one of the best MCs of all time.

Wallace (aka the Notorious B.I.G. and Biggie Smalls) still tickles the back of the brain with his lyrical flow on classics like "Warning," and the infectious swagger of "One More Chance" can still inspire men too obese to see their feet to feel like Tony Soprano and approach hot women in clubs. "Juicy" is still a lasting anthem for pulling oneself up by the Timberland bootstraps.

While the overall selection feels like a burned CD of favorites that somebody you know has rocked for years, there are posthumous studio collaborations with some of his discarded rap stalwarts like Busta Rhymes, Nate Dogg, Eminem, Nelly and Ja Rule. These take some getting used to. Luckily, the tried-and-true tracks prevail. Brooklyn's illest shines, despite the questionable opportunism of Bad Boy Records to stay relevant. ****— William Ashanti Hobbs



Local Bin: Fight the Big Bull

It's inevitable that the debut EP from Fight the Big Bull doesn't quite capture the bite of the beast in its natural habitat -- its biweekly gigs at Cous Cous. But it's a fine document of the little big band's tight ensemble work and appealing humor. Led by the Patchwork Collective's Matt White and featuring a grab bag of the area's post-grad players -- including Bio Ritmo's Bob Miller and the two-fisted trombone section of Reggie Pace and Bryan Hooten, with Brian Jones and J.C. Kuhl adding additional horsepower on the CD -- the Bull's arrangements are crafted to provide plenty of space for impassioned solos. A mild regret is that the CD doesn't have any of the group's clever pop covers, an omission it compensated for at the release party by playing Weezer's "Blue Album" in its entirety. The focus on structure distinguishes the musicians from their freewheeling predecessor The Devil's Workshop Big Band, even if there is something about the way the CD's opening coalesces out of the creative mists. This EP, played at the appropriate volume, should herd you out of the house to Fight the Big Bull in person. *** — Peter McElhinney



DVD: Tim Buckley "My Fleeting House" (MVD Visual)

1960s folk troubadour Tim Buckley never had much success on the charts — partly because he was too innovative a vocalist, never content to be pigeonholed to any one genre, especially that of a pop star. During his brief career (1966 to 1975), before his death at 28 from a drug overdose, Buckley remained true to his sensual muse — drawing creatively from jazz, soul, funk and blues, while occasionally delivering spellbinding, sadly beautiful poems in song that still earn him fans today.

This DVD is a true find for any Buckley fan, as it collects nearly all of his unreleased, vintage television appearances (11 full songs). They're uniformly great performances characterized by passionate intensity and Buckley's gorgeous, androgynous voice that had far greater range than that of most of his contemporaries. From "The Monkees" and Dutch TV to "The Steve Allen Show," you can watch the music selections alone or with introductory commentary from Larry Beckett (co-writer of many of his songs), guitarist Lee Underwood and author David Browne. There are some old TV interviews with Buckley filled with hippie platitudes, but these are far less illuminating than the intimate songs themselves, which deserve a second listen. **** — Brent Baldwin

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