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Now Hear This

Reviews of recent releases by Lily Allen, Dan Auerbach, Lamb of God, Near Earth Objects and more.

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Lily Allen, “It's Not Me, It's You” (Capitol)
Lily Allen hasn't had a real hit over here in the United States but in the United Kingdom, she's big enough to warrant the kind of persistent tabloid coverage we reserve for Britney and Jessica. Unlike them, and certainly unlike Amy Winehouse, Allen has managed to turn tabloid culture back in on itself with this smart follow-up to her 2006 debut, “Alright, Still.” This isn't one of those horrendous albums about fame: On these outwardly perky, inwardly despairing songs, Allen sings about prescription drug addiction (“Everyone's At It”), gender double standards (“22”), and rampant consumerism (“The Fear”), always mindful to implicate herself with every accusation. The overeager production runs through jazz, country, and even Sesame Street-like cartoon, but Allen's mix of sarcasm and vulnerability is the special effect. She may not have the pipes of Adele or even Duffy, but that only gives credence to her complaints by making her sound like just another gal perusing the tabloids.  HHHII — Stephen M. Deusner

Dan Auerbach, “Keep It Hid” (Nonesuch)
You kind of hate to see these two-piece bands split, even if it's just for a solo project. Jack White did it with the White Stripes, leaving Meg to her own devices whilst he played with the Raconteurs. And now singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach deviates from his Black Keys duties, and we wonder where drummer Patrick Carney is. Won't someone think of the drummers? But it's all totally worth it. Auerbach's debut digs way down in his bag of blues tricks without sacrificing the big fuzzy guitar sound that made the Keys heirs to rough-and-ready garage rock. His bluesman's wail is buffeted by some delicate keyboard work and much less prominent drumming than poor old Patrick's, though that heavy guitar still runs the show. Auerbach shows his range in the debut, too: a mournful blues lament on “Trouble Weighs a Ton,” an honest-to-God ballad in “When the Night Comes,” and the spooky blues ditty “Mean Monsoon.” But “Heartbroken, In Disrepair” is the warbly blues-rock epic of the album, planting Auerbach's flag in the soil of Americana. HHHHH — Brandon Reynolds

Dan Auerbach plays Washington's 9:30 Club on Saturday, Feb. 28.

DVD: Various artists, “Bonnaroo Live! 2008” (Superfly)
Still not familiar with the Bonnaroo summer music festival of Manchester, Tenn.? This sampler DVD will give you a quick, sanitized version — minus the naked hippies, puking frat boys and assorted others sweating drugs, wallowing in their own filth and spread across 700 acres of glow-sticks and overpriced souvenirs. 

One of the premiere festivals in the country, the 'Roo still has the patchouli-scented stigma of a jam band happening, but organizers have worked hard to break down divisions by including notable groups of many genres, not to mention cutting-edge comedians, none of whom are included here, sadly. They even brought elderly jazz legend Ornette Coleman in 2007, although he collapsed from the heat during his set.

Shot in 2008, this 96-minute DVD features vibrant performances from the likes of retro soul and funk kings Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings; colorful gypsy-punk mob Gogol Bordello; new-school metal heroes Mastodon; and the raucous alt-country pop of the Avett Brothers. You're also stuck with some duds, including the dippy, tropical soft rock of Jack Johnson and the latest pop-n-fresh wankery from bassist Les Claypool, still painful for early Primus fans. There are snippet band interviews but no real exposure within the huge, white-bread crowd that travels from all over the country every year. A D.A. Pennebaker documentary this is not. It feels like a hastily assembled sampler and should be priced as such. HHHII — Brent Baldwin

Lamb of God, “Wrath” (Sony)
The purveyors of Richmond's heaviest metal unleash pure evil genius on their latest release, armed with a fistful of visceral tracks surely intended to rattle your bones and batter your eardrums to a bloody pulp. “The Passing” ushers us into the fold of fury with melodic filigrees that eventually surrender to brutish, double-drum kicks and set the stage for the thrash that follows with the blister of  “In Your Words.” A few songs lose steam about midway through by resorting to midtempos, but it's hardly a fault. Think of it as a moment to rest your banging head. Randy Blythe's guttural vocals tackle searing riffs and blasted beats with ferocity on “Contractor” and “Dead Seeds,” marking the band's darkest sound to date. The assault continues for an unrelenting hour and is an enraged testament to the fact that these guys know how to bring the noise.  HHHHI— Hilary Langford

Lamb of God performs at the National on Thursday, May 14.

Near Earth Objects (self-released)
Funk is the new swing. While a number of bands have tramped in the acid jazz wake of Medeski, Martin and Wood's sleek, bottom-heavy, danceable improvisation, the new EP from local band Near Earth Objects manages to find its own, parallel path. Part of the reason is flexibility: The opening, “Pajobie,” shifts gears frequently, from a Weather Report-like vamp through an off-balance melody, a glimpse of something else, the lead again, a melodic bass solo — nothing stays in focus long enough to wear out its welcome yet somehow it all hangs together. “Bartender's Lament” has a similar quick-cut structure, full of unison shifts and a keyboard section recalling '70s wah-wah soul guitar. “When It Pours” slows things down, draping the bluesy melody across a big beat.  “Next Time I'll Try” features a gospel crawl with a Hammond B-3 organ's haunted-church vibe. It all comes to a hard stop with “Modern Love,” essentially a long, cleverly constructed crescendo. There are only five songs here, available on iTunes, but the trio throws in enough invention to carry multiple listenings. The MMW strategy of expanding to include a guest soloist or two isn't a bad idea for a full-length CD.  HHHII — Peter McElhinney

Near Earth Objects is opening for the Big Payback at Cary Street CafAc on Saturday, Feb. 28. 353-7445.



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