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"Dog in The Sand" by Frank Black and the Catholics; "The Blue Album," by Janine Wilson; "The Captain," by Kasey Chambers; "Danny C's Musical Review," by Daniel Clarke.

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Frank Black and the Catholics, "Dog In The Sand," (W.A.R.? Records) — Frank Black has always had the unique ability to create music that doesn't reveal its full power and appeal for several listens. This talent first became apparent when Black was fronting the Pixies. Black, who went solo in 1993, has planted more hidden charms than ever on this sixth solo release. On first listen, the CD sounds surprisingly tame for Black, who revels in midtempo material. The driving electric guitars are mostly nonexistent, replaced by washes of lead and slide guitar and piano fills. The songs seem to have more to do with folk and Beach Boys-esque pop than the kinetic punk for which Black is known.

After you adjust to this surprising shift in musical settings, the charms of Black's newest songs begin to take hold. The opening rocker, "Blast Off," seems oddly understated at first, but takes on more punch as further listens expose the sweet groove that kicks the song into overdrive. The full-bodied ballad, "I'll Be Blue," gains elegance as one grows accustomed to the song's rich, largely acoustic setting. And Black hasn't forgotten how to smack his fans in the face with a punchy rocker.

"Dog In the Sand" may not be Black's best solo effort. Still, this varied sonic palette is a welcome step — especially when many artists struggle to sound fresh after two or three albums. — Alan Sculley

Janine Wilson, "The Blue Album" (JW) — Local music fans may remember Wilson from her rocking live shows at Moondance. This first CD from the Washington, D.C.-based blues belter is a highly satisfying blend of tunes and textures. It was recorded in Austin, Texas, with guitar master Jesse Taylor, and Wilson kicks off the recording with a solid Lou Ann Barton-Angela Strehli bad-girl blaster, "It's Better to Give Than to Receive," before rolling into a sultry "That Last Night." Other highlights include a tormented and soulful horn-driven turn on the Isaac Hayes-David Porter tune "When My Love Comes Down" and the straight blues groove of Slim Harpo's renamed "Queen Bee." Floyd Domino's understated piano gently frames Wilson's softer side on Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue," before a well-timed acoustic break comes with "And I Cried." A simmering "I Smell Trouble" puts a smoldering exclamation point on the project.

A couple of the tunes don't take off like she intended, and occasionally Wilson's vocal urgency is too strident. But when Wilson digs her heels in and opens up her big voice, it's best to pay close attention.

Wilson brings her band — featuring Pete Kanaras of the Nighthawks — to Fireballz for a CD release party Saturday, April 14.

— Ames Arnold

Kasey Chambers, "The Captain," (Asylum) — Chambers' easy swinging, dusky catch-in-the-throat vocals and straight-ahead song writing at times reveal her youth. But unlike some artists, whose naive chops are destined to remain stalled in wannabe neverland, this 24-year-old Australian native hurdles her shortcomings to prove herself a naturally gifted talent with soul to spare.

Chambers' country-rock 'n' pop tunes — self-penned between the ages of 15 and 22 — occasionally deal with some shopworn topics such as road romance and lost loves. But she cuts through the clichés, and one hears a young writer learning about life instead of a record executive's winsome product-of-the-month. Even if she stumbles lyrically at times, a listener easily understands this girl has tapped a source within that's pure and as without pretense as the down-under back roads she grew up on.

Produced by her brother and backed by a rocking little band that includes her father on electric guitar and Buddy and Julie Miller as sidekicks, Chambers' first CD is full of grit and a youthful honesty that promises much to come.

— A.A.

Daniel Clarke, "Danny C's Musical Review," (Courthouse) — Much of the music included in this fine project is not my usual musical cup of brew, but it would be criminal to say this recording is anything short of astonishing. Recorded live in June 2000 during two shows at The Cultural Art Center of Glen Allen, the CD features an amazing group of 21 musicians led by monster keyboard player Daniel Clarke. Clarke, a Virginia Commonwealth University music student, and his cohorts display an enormous versatility as they cover jazz and funk tunes by artists ranging from Nat King Cole to Wayne Shorter to Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder, as well as folk/pop tunes by Paul Simon and John Sebastian. Moving from jazz ensemble settings to acoustic-based trio arrangements to frenzied group orchestration, Clark and his musical crew stir up a groove and an energy that both swells with dynamic tension and lies back with an easy-chair touch. Cut to cut, this thing jumps with surprises, and by the time the band concludes both the players and listeners are exhausted and exhilarated by the wild ride. This is a truly inspired recording from a powerful group of players and a gifted bandleader with a bright musical future.

— A. A.

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