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Reviews of a local CD to benefit the homeless; Sonic Youth's latest release; and Kepa Junkera's world music

Now Hear This

Various, "Countdown: A Benefit to End Homelessness" — This 17-cut CD is a double bonus that offers a wide range of music from some of Richmond's most popular bands and is an opportunity for us to do a bit to combat one of society's ongoing problems. Recently compiled by Homeward: Richmond's Regional Response to Homelessness, the project is designed to raise funds for service providers to the homeless and to raise awareness about this problem in our area.

Fourteen regional bands contributed to the recording, and the songs run the stylistic gamut from the straight-ahead catchy rock of Twaine to the folk-pop of Burnt Taters to the unique and irresistible Middle Eastern circus music of One Ring Zero. Travis Allison Band kicks in some acoustic rock with the aptly named "Sweet Mellow Time" and Carbon Leaf's lead-off cut is a tasty bit of its Celtic-influenced sound. Lee Harris may be an unfamiliar name, but the Lou Reed-meets-Tim Buckley tune "Dog in a Cage" is a project highlight. Ben Catania's Indian-influenced instrumental "Autumnal" sets a moody and well-placed thoughtful tone halfway through the set and effectively leads to Kate Lawton's gentle and eerily charming "Daydreaming." Other bands contributing efforts are The Bobby Fleet Band, Grayland Vine, Atom Eve Eclipse, Puddleduck, Leon Milmore and Closure. The CD is available at Plan 9, Peaches, Borders Books, Tower Records and through the Web at "Countdown" is not only a worthy musical compilation, it's a chance to lend a helping hand to the homeless.

— Ames Arnold

Sonic Youth "SYR4: Goodbye 20th Century" (SYR) — This quartet made its bones in Manhattan's early '80s punk/No Wave/noise/hardcore scene, but has since mutated and evolved to where it's covering avant-garde composers. And with no irony, winks or smirking. It's a straight-up homage to some of the heavy hitters who helped make the last century what it was.

This double album finds the band performing compositions by John Cage, Steve Reich, Christian Wolff and others. In some cases, the composers perform with the band, testament to the weight it carries in the serious art world.

But it's not head-case music meant solely for dissection on a conceptual level. Over the course of two hours, the music winds from subtle to soaring, from string-section soft to punk-rock abrasive. And it touches upon about 1,000 shades in between.

Take "+-," a piece scored solely with plus signs, minus signs and straight lines. The resulting song combines the sound of several simultaneous interpretations of those vague signals. Like the other songs on the album, it's a paean to a now-bygone era and a lesson in how to be free without being foolish.

— Chris Grier, The Virginian-Pilot

Kepa Junkera, "Bilbao OO:OOh" (Alula) — If you enjoy music that is usually exciting, sometimes lovely and always fascinating, bask in Basque. "Bilbao: OO: OOh" is a continental bestseller. Its artists, among them bluegrass picker Bela Fleck and the Chieftains' Paddy Moloney, represent several continents, but the star of this all-star double CD is songwriter/trikitixa-ist Kepa Junkera.

A diatonic accordion, the trikitixa is just one of the instruments representing a rhythmic United Nations here. From around the world come the timple, valiha, txalaparta and others you may not recognize.

Some of the musicians even play clay pots and accordion cases, mixing them with keyboards, fiddle, pipes, guitars, sax and drums.

Most of the songs are up-tempo and have something of a soft-jazz, touch-of-country, bit-of-pop feel. The bouncy "Arin Quebec" is a suite in three movements; "Fali-Faly" is magnificently joyful; "Piti & Iturrigorri" is a stomper.

Thoroughly delightful and delightfully off the beaten path, "Bilbao: OO:OOh" is outstanding.

— Frank Roberts, The Virginian-Pilot

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