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Now Hear This: Beck, The Infamous Stringdusters and Dave Douglas & Keystone.


Beck, "Modern Guilt" (Interscope)
For an artist who was labeled a one-hit wonder before he even had a hit, Beck has enjoyed a surprisingly long career as a performer and innovator, perhaps because he has no default style. Instead, he changes with the times, moving fluidly between extremes. His tenth album, a collaboration with producer Danger Mouse, sounds different from his compellingly disjointed catalog. Unfortunately, Danger Mouse does have a default sound -- a hip-hop take on '60s psych rock -- so "Modern Guilt" sounds predictably similar to his recent work in Gnarls Barkley and with The Black Keys. The approach works well enough on "Gamma Ray," which buzzes and struts to a throbbing bass rhythm, and on the title track, which sets a punchy beat against a restrained surf guitar. But first single "Chemtrails" and "Replica" only swirl nebulously, their psychedelia dissipating as soon as it leaves the speakers. Almost everything else sounds low-key and repetitious, sapping the last traces of weirdness that made Beck interesting in the first place. -- Stephen M. Deusner

The Infamous Stringdusters, self-titled (Sugar Hill)
The Infamous Stringdusters have the formula down for progressive bluegrass music. Featuring virtuoso musicianship and tight, thoughtfully arranged vocals, their new release follows the same path as 2007's "Fork in the Road." As before, this album demonstrates perfection in execution and sincerity in songwriting (nine of 13 penned by band members). While the subject matter feels as though it was checked off from a list of obligatory topics -- the folly of leaving home on "Won't Be Coming Back," scorned love on "You Can't Handle the Truth," heading home post-folly in "Bound for Tennessee" -- the standout tracks are the instrumentals.
The lack of lyrical originality shouldn't matter to either critics or listeners; the Infamous Stringdusters have already been chosen as the new wave of modern pop-grass -- and originality has never been a necessary aspect of bluegrass songwriting anyway. However, when compared with their cover of "Get It While You Can" -- a song by Danny Barnes, a songwriter who manages to keep his lyrical content familiar and also novel -- the rest of the album appears to come up short.
Still, producer Tim O'Brien helps provide a warm, rich sound for a band as tight as any you're likely to hear live or on record. -- Josh Bearman

Dave Douglas & Keystone, "Moonshine" (Greenleaf Music)
Dave Douglas may be the most brilliantly wide-ranging jazz leader on the scene; he's certainly one of the most prolific. With his own record company, Greenleaf Music, he's put out a steady stream of releases, some available only as online downloads, others as retail CDs.
"Moonshine" is one of the latter, a follow-up to 2005's "Keystone," which itself was a reconfiguration of the organic electronic experimentation of 2003's "Freak In." While continuing the original conceit of rescoring Fatty Arbuckle's silent comedies (the CD and band name comes from the pioneering Keystone film studio), compositions like the ghostly "Dog Star," funky "Moonshine" and hard-edged "Kitten" have a funky integrity that transcends mere movie cues. Featuring heavily distorted Fender Rhodes keyboards and D.J. Olive's turntables, the result is a highly focused 21st-century realization of what Miles Davis was trying for in his post-"Bitches Brew" bands.
In the spirit of Davis' Plugged Nickel recordings, the "Live at Jazz Standard" is a living document of the band as it takes the songbook out for extended sets over four nights. Like Douglas' early Quintet Jazz Standard sessions, it was recorded and put online within 24 hours. It's available at in single set ($7) downloads or as a complete set ($50). -- Peter McElhinney

DVD: Lamb of God, "Walk With Me in Hell"(Epic)
Brutal metal kings Lamb of God may just be the most famous band ever to come from Richmond, which is made clear within the first minute of this MTV-like documentary of their triumphant "Sacrament" world tour from two years ago. With two discs containing five hours of footage, disc one begins with a collage of international concerts: huge, arena-sized crowds that prove demonically growled metal is a global phenomenon. The band plays to 72,000 fans at one show alone in Europe.
"Sacrament" reached No. 8 on the Billboard charts, and Lamb was nominated for a Grammy during this whirlwind tour. The surprising commercial success seems to have helped them deal with interpersonal demons. There are no fistfights like in their last video, when drunken lead singer Randy Blythe forced guitarist Mark Morton into a bloody brawl. Instead, the members seem focused on a common goal: being the greatest live metal band in the world.
Somewhat predictably, director Doug Spangenberg sticks to light backstage moments and bored day-off shenanigans sandwiched between hard-hitting live footage. If you're looking for insights into the scene or the individual personalities, you're out of luck -- there's not much digging or directorial perspective. Instead, we get standard rock sightseeing and promotional chores: the band letting off steam shooting assault rifles in the desert, signing autographs after a memorable first gig in Japan, playing with bullwhips, bungee jumping, seeing the world as tourists.
This is a document of the thralls of rising stardom, but the only real drama comes from dealing with the "Spinal Tap"-like mishaps that plague all big-time rock bands. Compare this film with a more artistic, probing rock tour documentary, like Robert Frank's look at the Rolling Stones, "Cocksucker Blues" (1972), and you'll see the huge potential missed. It would've been nice to have more than just a cursory glance at the fans and hangers-on, for example. In my experience, rock stars are less interesting the more they talk. -- Brent Baldwin
In related Lamb of God news: Lead singer Randy Blythe will make his film debut in the horror movie "The Graves," starring Tony Todd ("Candyman"), tentatively slated for release this fall.


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