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Now Hear This

The title, "By the Way," seems apropos. The laid-back riffs (one track even opens with violins) play more like a mellow afterthought than a raucous assault, but the band retains the playful lyrics and sound it perfected on its magnum opus, "Blood Sugar Sex Magik."

There are few jump-on-your-couch singles here; the faux-British-accented "Can't Stop" comes the closest, with flashes on the album's title track. Still, the songs — complemented by Flea's ever-present bass lines and Chad Smith's pounding drums — have staying power. "Midnight" recalls the soul-lifting presence of "Under the Bridge," while the boppy "On Mercury" is pure head-nodding fun.

Don't be alarmed by the group's continuing metamorphosis. What the kinder, gentler Peppers lack in fire, they more than make up with sting. — Carl Hott


Gerald Albright "Groovology" (Verve/GRP)

With "Groovology," smooth jazz saxophonist Gerald Albright says he's reached a new chapter in his life — one that feels like "the ultimate comfort zone."

Could be. For while there are no new musical ideas here, Albright certainly blows with vigor and a fresh slickness. The cat blows up a storm, whether on soprano, alto, tenor or baritone sax. He even tackles flute, keyboards, drum programming, bass guitar, background vocals, you name it.

"Old School Jam," the spirited yet controlled track that kicks off the CD, sets the tone for the set. It's percussion-driven, Albright's sax alternately mellow and high-pitched.

On the title track, Albright's horn sounds like it's been dipped in syrupy funk. He lays it on thick and heavy, content to play behind the gyrating rhythm one minute, playing catch-me-if-you-can the next.

One might pick a bone with the heavy synthesized sound of "Groovology," but the fact is Albright has got his funk back. And that's a good thing. — Marvin Leon Lake


Chuck Prophet "No Other Love" (New West)

Is Chuck Prophet the new millennium's Gram Parsons or a cross between Paul Westerberg and Dylan? Listening to the former Green On Red mainstay's latest and probably best recording, those comparisons aren't that far-fetched.

His follow-up to 2000's "The Hurting Business," abounds with confounding, disparate musical genres to create a swirling mass of grooving Americana. After opening with the lo-fi Joe Tex soul of "What Can You Tell Me," the disc goes on to include Farfisa-fueled garage rock, swamp-grease grooves, twanging surf-noir, Sir Douglas Tex-Mex pop, country touches and even slight nods to hip-hop.

Prophet possesses a rich, dramatic baritone that simply adds unbounded humanity and vulnerability to each song, especially the title track. The sound textures are spiced by modulated vocals, rustic acoustics, electronic beats, special effects and punky rhythms.

Although Prophet first came out of the alt-country scene, his genre-breaking output has abandoned the sawdust-strewn honky-tonk for an intergalactic roadhouse. — Eric Feber

Porter Hall Tennessee "Welcome to Porter Hall Tennessee" (Slewfoot)

More often than not, I come down hard in favor of bands that cut a good country tune. There's nothing like straight-ahead, no bull wordplay sung with soul and wrapped in some sweetly played, simply produced twang. And that's exactly why I was disappointed by this quintet's 11-cut effort. Sure, all the superficial elements are in place: songs about heartbreak and whiskey and loseritis abound. There's plenty of pedal steel and basic drums, and drawling harmonies. But aside from Molly Conley's occasional Lucinda Williams-style vocals, this group of tunes sounds forced. It comes across to these ears like some folks took to thinking one purty day that maybe they should start a country band. Problem is, writing a good country song for many of us is not as simple as grabbing pad and pen and knocking off a set of tunes with Harlan Howard vaguely in mind. The songs have to evoke a real feel and demand some listener involvement. I don't doubt the group's sincerity or intention and I know folks whom I respect that love these guys. But when I hear a group trying so hard to be a straight country band instead of a variation on the theme, I can't help but expect songs more skillful in their simplicity and more engaging in their sorrow. I'm missing that here.

— Ames Arnold

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