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Now Hear This

Reviews of new releases by Black Keys, Charles Lloyd, and local band Ilad.

CD's are rated 1 through 5 stars.

Black Keys "Chulahoma"

(Fat Possum) Goes well with front porches and Junior Kimbrough.

To the uninitiated, the idea of two painfully thin white boys from Akron, Ohio, recording a dreaded tribute EP of tunes by the late Mississippi blues legend Junior Kimbrough seems like an odd pairing. Thankfully, it's not.

The Black Keys, the two-man blues explosion from the land best known for spawning Devo, have created here one of the rarest of things: a tribute recording actually worth owning.

Over the EP's six tracks, the Black Keys capture the sparse mystery and subtle nuances of Kimbrough's music without ever succumbing to pale imitation. Guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach plays with a seasoned hand, deftly incorporating the soulful ringing notes of the master's with his own distinctive tonal edge. The haunting beauty of "Nobody but You" and the sprawling, ramshackle take on "My Mind Is Ramblin'" are wicked appraisals of front-porch Southern blues. Both guys play with a sweaty honesty and simplicity that perfectly capture the essence of Kimbrough's enduring appeal.

I would strongly suggest checking out the original versions of these tunes by the man himself. Only then will you realize how great this tribute actually is. **** — Chris Bopst

Charles Lloyd "Sangam"

(ECM) Goes well with the exploratory journey of John Coltrane.

The fall and rise of Charles Lloyd continues. Saxophonist Lloyd's blossoming '60s appeal wilted with flower power. While his sideman Keith Jarrett thrived, Lloyd disappeared into Big Sur seclusion. Enticed out of retirement by the late, diminutive pianist Michel Petrucciani in 1982, and signing with ECM in '89, he's released a series of recordings of consistent beauty and increasing growth.

The stripped-down saxophone and percussion trio of "Sangam" makes it a successor to 2004's excellent "Which Way Is East," an intimate set of duets recorded in Lloyd's living room with drummer Billy Higgins. Tabla master Zakir Hussain carries some of the melodic load, dropping quotes from Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" and "The William Tell Overture" into a solo. Drummer Eric Harland is a revelation.

Lloyd's playing threads through the rhythmic fabric with lyrical, Eastern-tinged modality. In his early career, the saxophonist was frequently disparaged as a lightweight version of John Coltrane. Coltrane's spiritually exploratory approach may be Lloyd's starting place, but it's hard to think of anyone else who has taken the quest as far. **** — Peter McElhinney

Ilad "The Spoon" (Syjip Records)

Art, temper tantrums and the avant-garde.

Increasingly Richmond's rock bands fall into two camps: those that play clubs and those that play art galleries. Ilad belongs in the latter group. It's a cabal of experimentalists prone to vacillate between extended repetition and chaotic improvisation. The first track on this full-length debut, "Kentucky," inches forward with shimmering electric guitar and spartan drumming before both are submerged in a wash of electronics. The second, "Where's This Place Called Home," collapses halfway into a rhythmic free-jazz fit — with the addition of shrill, garbled vocals that sound a little like a child pitching a temper tantrum next door.

In general, the album inclines toward atmospheric rock, with lyrics buried in the mix. Ilad's cymbal work and flourishes of electric piano nod to avant-garde luminaries Fontanelle, while the band's commingled guitar, keyboard and vibraphone recall instrumental rockers The Mercury Program. Some of these eight songs would benefit from more intricate guitar and keyboard interplay, but at best ("Taste the Time," "Still") Ilad layers sound to create warm compositions without losing momentum. **

— Nathan Lott

CD's are rated from one to five stars.

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