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EelsSouljacker Much has been made of Eels principal E's presumed obsession with mortality and/or negativity. And true enough, the 1998 sophomore full-length Electro-Shock Blues was a fairly mordant exploration of his reaction to the deaths of both his mother and sister. But canny, attentive ears recognize the man born Mark Oliver Everett's consistent drive for a balance, to offset the bleak with the bright.

Souljacker provides perhaps the most unobstructed view thus far of Eels' penchant for juxtaposition — the disc vacillates wildly between the beautiful and ugly sides of modern life, delivering some of E's most poignant and sonically gritty work to date. Since the debut Beautiful Freaks, the trio's sound has thickened steadily, and here, their trademarked fragile melody doesn't make an appearance until the gorgeous "Fresh Feeling," after the twin dirty buzzsaws of "Dog Faced Boy" and "That's Not Really Funny." From there, the band continues to switch-hit, trading thick grooves, overdriven guitars and a ruefully clever outlook for silver-lining shimmer every couple of tracks or so. The less dense material always wins out, however, with "Friendly Ghost," "World of Shit" and the aforementioned "Fresh Feeling" standing way out. The closing noise fest "What Is This Note?" intrigues and disturbs, and "Jungle Telegraph" provides the disc's only real clunker, but Eels are simply at their best dealing with the spare, haunting and vaguely hopeful.

Eels have always been the type of band that people either love or hate, and Souljacker will likely do little to bridge the gap. Fans (and most British critics, naturally) will fawn, detractors will nitpick, and E, Butch and whoever plays bass next will go back to playing around with tunes. Which is a good thing, because while this one's definitely not their best overall, it does make for a truly interesting listen, and contains some of their finest tracks. (Dreamworks)

—Scott Harrell(3 1/2 planets)

Tony BennettBennett Meets Bizkit Pop icon Tony Bennett has a long history of collaborative efforts, from working with piano legend Bill Evans to recording an album of blues duets. With Bennet Meets Bizkit, though, he's at his most intrepid. Long a darling of the MTV set, the 75-year-old singer struck up a friendship with Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst and scheduled a series of pressure-free sessions. The chemistry clicked, and it soon became clear that the music cried out to be released. The results are nothing short of astounding, a stylistic cross-pollination that, improbable though it may seem, raises the pop music bar, while simultaneously eradicating the generation gap between Limp Bizkit's rap-metal and Bennett's timeless interpretations of standards. The most savvy decision made by producer Trent Reznor was to not plunge either party into the other's world, but, rather, look for fresh ground where they could meet. This is sublimely illustrated from the jump, with Bennett and Bizkit joining for a fresh take on the '70s classic "Afternoon Delight." While guitars pound out the central riff, Bennett and Durst daringly reverse roles, with the elder guy rapping the choruses (his flow is reminiscent of Nas) and Durst sweetly crooning the memorable hook. The unlikely team takes chance after chance: turning the Flock of Seagulls gem "I Ran" into a saloon ballad; making over James Browns' "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" into a honky-tonk two-step; and transmogrifying Minnie Ripperton's "Loving You" into a grisly slab of speed-metal. With popular music currently in a state of abject malaise, it's the kind of gamble taken by Bennett Meets Bizkit that offers the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. (Sony)

—Eric Snider(3 1/2 planets)Rosie FloresSpeed of Sound A crack guitar picker and capable vocalist, Rosie Flores has been lighting up dancehalls from Texas to Europe for two decades. Flores' latest release, Speed of Sound, is a varied collection of originals and covers, Johnny Cash two-steppers and tender ballads such as the self-penned title song. The album also includes some unexpected, splendid jazz selections that Flores wraps her brassy pipes around with poise. The album is far from spectacular, save for the poignant title track, but solid through and through. (Eminent)

—Wade Tatangelo(3 1/2 planets)John MayerRoom for Squares Mayer's major label debut is a collection of accessible, folk-rock melodies, sensitive-male lyrics and Dave Mathews-esque singing. Yet it fails to work on a gut level and after one listen becomes as forgettable as a post-1970s Elton John single. Get Mayer and his good looks some heavy rotation on MTV, and he'll probably go platinum ... and in a couple years Room for Squares will share coveted space in the bargain bin along side smashes by Hootie and The Spin Doctors (Aware/Columbia).

—Wade Tatangelo(3 1/2 planets)Robert Bradley's Blackwater SurpriseNew Ground Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise is a Detroit-based quintet that fuses R&B, rock, funk and Deep South soul to create a formidable sonic force that's purely magnetic. Singer/songwriter Bradley is an Alabama-born blind man pushing 50, who, following the split from his wife in the late '70s, spent 18 years on a Greyhound traveling from city to city to perform with his guitar on street corners. When Bradley sings, his rich, raspy vocals reflect the deep emotion of an individual who has felt all the pain, and joy, this wild world has to offer. From the rollicking lost-love opener, "Train," to the blazing, loop-infused pop-rock of "Profile," and the lap steel-tinged "Willie Lee" — a lament about a younger brother who just "sits around and gets high with his friends all day" — New Ground cuts to the marrow with each razor-sharp track. (Vanguard)

—Wade Tatangelo (3 1/2 planets)

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