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cds: Now Hear This

He admires heroic rescue workers on "Into the Fire" or wakes up angry and sad to an "Empty Sky" where the towers once stood, but who hasn't? "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" is lyrically thin, as is "Countin' on a Miracle."

But just like his potent E Street Band — reunited and in top form here — Springsteen can still pack a punch. "You're Missing" and "Nothing Man," with their reduced scale, seem more heartfelt. And the closer, the hymnlike "My City of Ruins" about his shell of a hometown, Asbury Park, N.J., is no less poignant when stripped of its post-Sept. 11 trappings. Indeed, we destroy our own cities.

Maybe like the hero of "Sullivan's Travels," Springsteen thinks people would rather feel good. "The Rising" blasting with the wind in your hair will certainly do that. But that's all. — David M. Putney

Various Artists "24 Hour Party People" (Essential/ffrr) *****

"Dance, dance, dance to the radio," commanded Ian Curtis on "Transmission," Joy Division's brilliant, anguished debut single from 1979. And for the next decade, Manchester, England, obeyed, although the dancing happened at the famous Hacienda, the nightclub sponsored by the influential label Factory Records. The film "24 Hour Party People," which opens today in some cities, mythologizes the rise and fall of the "Madchester" scene, and its soundtrack is a near-perfect time capsule of classic singles that have lost none of their ability to thrill.

The set includes a few blasts of the punk rock that inspired the scene (from the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Buzzcocks), but its heart and soul belong to Joy Division's stirring post-punk ("Atmosphere"), New Order's innovative club music ("Blue Monday") and the Happy Mondays' party anthems ("Hallelujah").

Although fellow Mancunian stalwarts the Smiths and Stone Roses aren't represented, lesser-knowns Durutti Column and 808 State are, as are two solid new New Order collaborations (with Moby and with the Chemical Brothers). Timeless stuff. — Steve Klinge

Eva Cassidy "Imagine" (Blix Street) *****

This latest Cassidy posthumous release showcases a young singer who could take almost any style of song and make it her own. Included here are tunes normally associated with jazz, country-rock, pop, folk and rock, and Cassidy's supple vocals stamp them all with a singular heart and soul. Tracked between 1987 and 1994, some of the tunes come from club dates, others were recorded in studios with sparse instrumental accompaniment. But whatever the context, the vocals shine. The set kicks off with a powerful version of Paul Anka's "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" that could show Linda Ronstadt a thing or two, and as the program unfolds, Cassidy wraps her soprano around a sizzling "Fever" and a soaring version of Sandy Denny's "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" Cassidy accompanies herself on guitar for an impassioned version of John Lennon's "Imagine" and a live take of Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain." In each of these and the remaining songs such as "Tennessee Waltz" and "You've Changed," Cassidy cuts to the bone with her unique interpretations. She even manages to win this listener over with her tender version of his least favorite song in the world, "Danny Boy." It's sad that, during her life, record company hot shots thought this eclectic repertoire would not translate to sales and that she only achieved recognition outside of her Washington, D.C., hometown years after her death at 33 from cancer. But through projects such as "Imagine," her estimable talent survives and now entertains listeners at home and abroad. Who remembers the big-time record execs?

— Ames Arnold

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