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GriefBirds "Paper Radio"; ANTiSEEN "Boys From Brutalsville"; Cracker "Forever"

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GriefBirds "Paper Radio" (Planetary Records)

The GriefBirds use "Paper Radio" as a showcase for the group's unique take on the Americana sound. As the core of the outfit, co-founders Coby Batty and Paul Watson add to the lo-fi/folky feel of The GriefBirds an amazing sense of pop music songsmanship. Tracks such as "Enchanted," "Move Close" and the record's title cut all harken back to the '60s in both song structure and composition while still retaining a thoroughly modern temperament. With an accompanying band that reads like a who's who of the Richmond music scene, the duo touches on a number of notable reference points without ever stepping on the toes of any of its possible influences. The group is conceivably likened to an acoustic version of the Kinks or a honky-tonk rendering of Bob Dylan. The GriefBirds' sound is marked by retro-pop sensibilities that at no time (even on the raucous "Songs Inside") let the overall sedate feel of this collection of songs be overpowered by the crush of loud guitars. — Angelo DeFranzo

Cracker "Forever" (Virgin/Back Porch Records)

When lists of the best pop songwriters of the past 20 years are compiled, David Lowery's name rarely gets mentioned. Yet since forming the much-admired cult favorite Camper Van Beethoven in 1984, Lowery has amassed an impressive catalog of quality songs, while continually sharpening his songwriting skills throughout Camper's seven-year run and throughout the decade he has now spent fronting Cracker.

Lowery's latest work appears on the new Cracker CD, "Forever," and this collection represents the most satisfying collection of songs Lowery (with the able assistance of his Cracker collaborator Johnny Hickman) has committed to a CD yet.

The first new studio CD from Cracker since 1998's "Gentleman's Blues," "Forever" takes Cracker somewhat away from the stripped-down rock of early hits like "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)" and "Get Off This" and expands on the more textured sound of the band's excellent 1996 CD, "The Golden Age."

Like that earlier CD, "Forever" offers a strong taste of psychedelic-tinged roots-rock on tunes like the masterful "Sweet Magdelena of My Misfortune," as well as on the atmospheric "Brides Of Neptune." Even trippier is Hickman's "Superfan," a tune that recalls Camper Van Beethoven with its odd yet appealing mix of Middle Eastern tones and psychedelia.

But "Forever" also ups the stylistic ante with tunes like "Shine," "Shameless" and "Forever," which bring a strong measure of tasty organ-spiced soul into the group's edgy pop-rock sound.

Of course, Lowery and Hickman haven't forgotten to rock out, and "Forever" has some first-rate stompers in "Don't Bring Us Down," "One Fine Day" and "Guarded By Monkeys" (which is highlighted by some searing guitar work).

"Forever" sounds fairly simple and straightforward on first listen only to reveal layers of depth and interest with additional spins. The CD is catchy enough to grab immediate attention, yet clever enough to grow more substantial over time. That characteristic -* which amounts to deception of the best kind -* is something few songwriters accomplish, and it's this ability that should elevate Lowery to elite status among today's tunesmiths. — Alan Sculley

ANTiSEEN "Boys From Brutalsville" (TKO Records)

These hate-mongers just won't die. Eighteen years on and North Carolina's legendary (and prolific) redneck punkers ANTiSEEN are still pumping out the tunes and pissing everyone off. Yup, this ain't your daddy's Lynyrd Skynyrd. The brutality begins in earnest with the fiery "Guns Ablazin'" and hysterical "Run My World". It's strange, but vocalist Jeff Clayton's singing style reminds me of Paul Bearer of that very un-Southern old-school veteran hard-core group Sheer Terror. "Six Days On The Road" is a fun sing-a-long that makes me want to get a CDL and become a long-haul trucker. Damn the power of music. Slip in a cover of The Ramones song "Commando" (RIP Joey Ramone) and the bluesy track "Broke Down Blues" (which basically reads-off a list of all the places the band's tour van died), and you have the makings of a masterfully-written, tongue-in-cheek record. Some might say that the ANTiSEEN's lyrics to songs such as "Melting Pot" are xenophobic at best and racist at worst, but half of what makes "The Boys From Brutalsville" such a great record is that no words are minced and no punches are pulled. It's refreshing to see a group creating art on its own terms without fear of consequences. There's nothing like satire accompanied by a rockin' musical backdrop to motor things along. For those too politically correct to appreciate the ANTiSEEN's latest dark humor-laden effort (and the warped social commentary of songs such as "Talk Show Trash" and "I'm a Babyface Killer" that appear within) I have two words for you: lighten up. — A.D.

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