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Bill Frisell, God Forbid

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East West

BILL FRISELL

Nonesuch

In recent years, guitarist Bill Frisell has tended to hide his playing amid larger ensemble projects in order to realize his uniquely prismatic take on Americana. Perhaps he sensed that devotees were getting a bit frustrated with his shrinking act, or maybe he just felt like cutting loose again, but East West — a two-disc live set recorded in clubs in New York and Oakland in a guitar/bass/drums format — puts the full Frisell on display for nearly two hours.

This is not to suggest that he's chosen to channel his inner Yngwie. Far from it. The guitarist still lets his pieces simmer to crescendos; he remains circumspect about playing anything that might be patently flashy. A perfect case in point is the album-opening "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." For most of the eight-minute track, he slowly ruminates on the melody, building loops, exploring chords and dropping in bluesy licks. Near tune's end, he launches into a slurry, hair-raising solo that evokes back-masked Hendrix. And just that quick, it's over. Build-up and pay-off.

East West puts Frisell's far-flung eclecticism on display with jazz standards ("My Man's Gone Now," a swinging "Days of Wine and Roses" ), abstract funk ("Pipe Down"), folk ("A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"), country (acoustic versions of "Crazy" and "Tennessee Flat Top Box"), blues, rock and what all else. The disc should've been called East, West and Everything in Between.

Frisell also flaunts his knack for taking songs otherwise thought of as cornball — "Goodnight Irene," "Shenandoah" (played to an exquisite climax), "People" — and transforming them into heartfelt explorations. He applies his inimitable warble-and-twang tone, digs deep into their essence and unearths their soul. During a New York show, after he picks out the plaintive opening notes of "People," a few hipsters in the Village Vanguard crowd begin to laugh. Frisell stops and asks, "You think I'm jokin', or what?" He then proceeds to play a touching version of the ballad, issuing a poignant answer. 1/2

— ERIC SNIDER

IV: Constitution of Treason

GOD FORBID

Century Media

The latest album by one of underground metal's most heavily hyped, breakout-ready acts is grand and thematic, one of those deals where there are movements (here they're called "Articles," to go with the whole Constitution vibe) instead of songs. Which is all well and good, but does it, y'know, rock? Well, sort of. While thick, brutal and technically impressive, the album offers little that's new or inspiring, musically speaking, and the plodding radio bid "Welcome to the Apocalypse (Preamble)" and cheesy spoken-word interludes are more tiresome than atmospheric. IV isn't a bad metal album, but one can't help wishing such a promising band had put less effort into its thematic packaging, and more into the songs themselves. (www.centurymedia.com) 1/2

— SCOTT HARRELL

Hell's Winter

CAGE

Definitive Jux

Cage has been linked to the hip-hop micro-genre horrorcore for years now, pumping out rhymes that were little more than shock for shock's sake. On his first recording for Definitive Jux, Cage aims higher, rapping forcefully about his abusive childhood, drug addiction and war. Having producers like El-P, Rjd2 and DJ Shadow contribute beats doesn't hurt either. Cage still shocks with his subject matter, but it's the shock of hearing a tough guy exposing his vulnerability.

— COOPER LANE BAKER

August Born

AUGUST BORN

Drag City

A one-off experiment, this disc is a collaboration between Comets on Fire's Ben Chasny and Japanese drummer Hiroyuki Usui. Both recorded their parts in their native countries and the sound is appropriately disjointed. Very mellow and almost atmospheric at times, the songs drift loosely. The effect can be gorgeous, but there is little in the way of actual melodies to hang onto.

— COOPER LANE BAKER

Muswell Hillbillies

THE KINKS

RCA

On the heels of gender-bender hit "Lola," the Kinks dropped Muswell Hillbillies, a cheeky treatise on 20th-century angst. Cut in a decidedly front-porch, lo-fi fashion, songs like "Here Come the People in Grey" and "Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues" lope along whimsically, encased in old-timey American blues, country and jazz, and a dash of English dancehall, accented with Dobro slide, Salvation Army horns and other rootsy filigree. A bona fide cult classic.

— ERIC SNIDER

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