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Now Hear This: D'Angelo, Joe Strummer, Joe Higgs and more

At the Stars, "October/November/December"

This indie pop EP is crying to be cut up into 30-second bits and set behind a commercial project. Creating a radio-ready pop record is no easy task, however, and it comes with some real risks. "October/November/December?VbCrLf shares the plight of the radio-friendly pop record, providing a moody background for commercial projects, but leaving much to well-worn similarities and begging the question: Will listener attention be held long enough to catch the band's name?

The EP opens with the track "Forget,?VbCrLf which sounds a lot like Modest Mouse-lite with a plunky guitar melody and shuffle beat that recall their hit "Float On,?VbCrLf though the vocals are closer to a new-wave tradition: reverb-heavy, with breathy singer-songwriter vibes. "Care?VbCrLf typifies the band's approach to the rock ballad, all airy guitar strums and at times an emotional, Bono-like vocal quality.

Many of the other songs on the EP follow in the tradition of the indie pop-rock ballad. The abundance of independent pop music produced nowadays is making it harder for bands like At the Stars to rise with their not-uncommon approach to songwriting. This is not to discourage a listen to the band's friendly indie pop - just to say the similarities to other A¬ber-successful pop rockers aren't going unnoticed. - Matt Stangel

To snag a copy of At the Stars' "October/November/December,?VbCrLf stop by Plan 9, or visit

D'Angelo, "The Best So Far?VbCrLf (Virgin Records)

This is a new D'Angelo album. Sure, it has a bunch of old songs on it, but "The Best So Far?VbCrLf is an authentic release from the troubled R&B singer and Midlothian resident who hasn't had new product in stores for almost a decade. During that time, bootleggers have done what Virgin/EMI attempts here, collecting B-sides ("Can't Hide Love?VbCrLf) and songs from soundtracks ("Girl You Need a Change of Mind,?VbCrLf "Heaven Must Be Like This?VbCrLf) and repackaging them.

All the hits ("Brown Sugar,?VbCrLf "Untitled [How Does It Feel]?VbCrLf) are here too, along with a DVD of his music videos. Much of D'Angelo's work sounds timeless, as he largely ignored the R&B trends of the '90s for music that echoed his main influences: Marvin Gaye, Prince and Curtis Mayfield. This soulful collection serves as a reminder of the promise of this preacher's son, which unfortunately was not kept. Releasing a greatest-hits compilation after a second album is a dubious move. While the title of the CD defies the notion that it serves as a cap to his career, until D'Angelo finishes his next record - more than eight years in the making - it is. - Craig Belcher

Various Artists, "Miles From India?VbCrLf (Times Square)

"Miles From India?VbCrLf is a solid concept project whose considerable charm comes in part from the novelty of its East-meets-West-meets-Miles Davis conceit. Producer Bob Beldon says he got the idea while assembling "The Complete On the Corner Sessions?VbCrLf box set; but even if there were sitars and tablas buried in that busy mix, the music was far more Stockhausen abstraction and James Brown funk than Ravi Shankar raga. Combining some great Indian players with a career-spanning sample of Miles sidemen (Chick Corea, Jimmy Cobb, Mike Stern, John McLaughlin), Beldon takes some classic Davis music in unconventional directions.

The Indian elements spice more than they transform, and the muscular musical architecture flexes to accommodate the exotic elements. There are long stretches of pure fusion playing, including a guitar-driven version of the late Miles standard "Jean Pierre.?VbCrLf The classic pieces are more heavily seasoned: "All Blues?VbCrLf with a sitar solo; "So What?VbCrLf floats over a complexity of percussion; "Blue in Green?VbCrLf is re-imagined as a serpentine Indian vocal. When trumpet is necessary, Wallace Roney provides an uncanny continuity with Miles' tone and texture.

In all, the CD strikes a near perfect balance for a musical tribute, evoking the artist's spirit without being stuck in his creative shadow. - Peter McElhinney

Joe Higgs, "Life of Contradiction?VbCrLf (Pressure Sounds)

Old-school Jamaican singer Joe Higgs had street cred. The man who taught teenagers Bob Marley and Peter Tosh how to sing harmonies should be given props on principle. But Higgs was also one of the first reggae artists to bring ghetto themes into the lyrics, meaning that he was a true godfather of what reggae would become. Deservedly, his most classic album is finally seeing a proper release.

Originally recorded in 1972, but not released until 1975 (because Island Records' Chris Blackwell felt it would be difficult to market), "Life of Contradiction?VbCrLf offers steadily soul-influenced roots reggae, mostly mild, mid-tempo numbers that ease the listener into a comfortable groove of organ swells and percussion, while Higgs hammers home deeply personal lyrics informed by his gritty upbringing on the streets of Trenchtown. Higgs's weary voice has a bluesy authority similar to the brooding Tosh - but by the end of this record, all you remember is a genuinely uplifting, hopeful message rooted in spirituality. As he sings on the Motown-influenced title track: "Everyday my heart is sore/Seeing that I'm so poor/But I shall not give up so easy/There's a reward for me ?Ý/Though I'm bordered down with shame/There's no one for me to blame/But I shall not give up so easy.?VbCrLf - Brent Baldwin

DVD: "Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten,?VbCrLf directed by Julien Temple (Legacy)

Longtime friend and chronicler of The Clash, director Julien Temple does a respectable job with this intimate, two-hour biographical portrait of the group's legendary singer, lyricist and rhythm guitarist, Joe Strummer. A true icon in the punk world, Strummer's legacy is not simply as a spokesman for a generation, but as a challenger who threw open the doors of punk to politics and cultural influences that spanned the globe. He made it cool for many young people to be curious about the world.

Partially narrated by Strummer, the film is edited with quick cuts of vintage footage (perhaps to imitate Strummer's violent guitar strumming style) mixed with personal campfire reminiscing from a huge cast of friends: Jim Jarmusch, Martin Scorsese, Flea, Johnny Depp, former bandmates and lesser-known drinking buddies -making the film feel like a memorial of sorts. It's difficult not to come away with a favorable impression of the guy, and not just because so many people felt he was a positive influence. What sticks out is the youthful passion that Strummer maintained throughout his entire life for his fans, and for music-making itself. Though cynical and moody and given to drink, he seems to have been an optimist and a believer in human potential at his core.

The second DVD features 100 minutes of extra interview footage, including a number of funny stories that had to be cut. If you're looking for musical footage, however, you'll be disappointed. This is a major talkie. - B.B.

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