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Reviews of CDs by Sleepy LaBeef, The Posers, Dave Alvin and Sam Bush

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Sleepy LaBeef, "Tomorrow Never Comes," (MC) — The big man who once recorded for Sun and opened for Elvis covers it all here. From honky-tonk to country to bluegrass to pop and rockabilly, LaBeef rolls through this slap-back, boppin' set with typical heart and humor. The deep-voiced singer draws on more than four decades of experience and a wealth of material performing simply arranged takes of tunes by Chuck Berry, Tony Joe White, Hank Williams, Slim Harpo, Joe Turner and Jerry Wallace, among others. The tinkling piano introduction to "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" sets the right tone as sultry Maria Muldaur joins LaBeef on vocals for a call-and-response version of the classic. Muldaur also adds her lowdown sexual charm to "Raining in My Heart." Recorded for the most part in Nashville early this year, "Tomorrow" is a down-home collection that wins because it's so obviously a pure and simple, honest project. I'm not sure why someone threw "Wipeout" into this wonderful group of tunes, but I suppose I'll get over it.

— Ames Arnold

The Posers, "Anti-Christian Animosity" (Grilled Cheese Records/Cargo Music) — The musical style of The Posers reminds me of early Boston and New York hardcore with added undertones of the genre's current sound. The tunes on this latest effort are tightly played and well executed, but I find the songs to be completely unoriginal. Nothing The Posers do on the new album seems to set the group apart from any other political hardcore outfit making the rounds.

On "Anti-Christian Animosity" The Posers take a decidedly anti-Christian slant (if you couldn't tell by the title), but don't worry, they hate all other religions as well. They tout their blasphemous stand to the point of overkill with tracks such as "No Clue" and "Eye Opener." On top of that, they intersperse the space between songs with snippets of dogmatic dialogue. They even dedicate a whole track to a previously aired radio debate on the issue of religion in which one of the band's members participated.

The Posers should stay out of lengthy political debates and work on writing new songs that aren't as generic as the ones here. After all, with "Anti-Christian Animosity," The Posers are only speaking to the converted.

— Angelo DeFranzo

Dave Alvin, "Public Domain: Songs from the Wild Land," (Hightone Records) - One of the finest roots discs of the year has to be this one by Dave Alvin, late of the Blasters.

It's ironic that it consists entirely of compositions Alvin, an acclaimed songwriter, didn't write. As the title proclaims, these songs are in the public domain: tunes about a young country flexing its muscle, the Civil War and western expansion; about sharecroppers, railroaders, fisherman and cowboys — in styles encompassing blues, country, bluegrass, Celtic and honky-tonk.

Alvin and his band the Guilty Men breathe life into these historic songs, offering reverent yet liberal readings that inject each with modern energy and urgency. Alvin's economic guitar style and his band's crisp, spirited backing work is effective and exciting. And his rich baritone — lying somewhere between Richard Thompson and Johnny Cash — offers dramatic witness to songs that are about, in Alvin's words, "Love, jealousy, anger, longing, revenge, despair, survival and hope for the future."

You can't get more modern and relevant than that. — Eric Feber, The Virginian-Pilot

Sam Bush, "Ice Caps: Peaks of Telluride," (Sugar Hill) — This 16-tune CD comes from performances recorded live during the '90s at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, but it's a long way from your father's high lonesome traditional pickin' and singin'. The reason for this is simple: Mandolin maniac Sam Bush and his pals are at the helm. Things start out innocently enough with a fine but basic take of Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country." Bush shows he can sing as well as play mandolin, and it gets the project off to an excellent start. A hint of things to come pops up next with the acoustic rave-up version of Bill Monroe's "Big Mon." Surrounded by Bela Fleck, John Randall Stewart, John Cowan and Larry Atamanuik on banjo, guitar, bass and drums respectively, Bush flies through this piece with riveting hold-no-prisoners fiddle fire. From here on, tempo becomes a matter of when the players decide to take a breath on this well-paced collection. Jerry Douglas kicks in some ferocious lap steel, former Subdude John Magnie adds accordion and one by one the walls come tumblin' down. The final jam of "Stringray" puts it all to rest with a vengeance. "Ice Caps" brims with electrifying moments where technique and spirit come together to rock the house. File this one under "magic."

— A.A.

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