Iggy Pop Beat 'em Up

This new full-length from the leathery punk pater finds him looking simultaneously forward and backward, to combine the seminal bluesy thrash of the Stooges with an extremely current and fairly metallic sound. In the hands of anyone but Iggy (or possibly Appetite For Destruction-era Gn'R), this material might come off as nothing more than a noisy, bludgeoning mess. But it works here, with Beat 'em Up doing just that, mangling the listener with thunderous rhythms, Pop's baritone bellow and huge, huge single-string guitar riffage. Huge. "L.O.S.T.," the title track, "Weasles" and "It's All Sh*t" seem the best, most cohesive amalgam of the album's cacophonous elements; nothing really tumbles into complete anarchy, though it's a lot fun sitting on the edge of your seat and waiting for it to happen. Fans looking for something along the lines of the Igster's mellower, "Candy"-type stuff or more spoken-word meandering will be jarred, and that's a good thing. Only the closing "VIP," with its conversational vocal and appropriate Wayne Kramer cameo, breaks from Beat 'em Up's glorious, greasy blast. (Virgin)
—Scott Harrell

Rival Schools United By Fate

New York hardcore legend and former Quicksand leader Walter Schreifels returns with some old-school friends and a very new-school sound. Bassist Cache Talman (CIV, Iceburn), drummer Sam Seigler (Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, Shelter, CIV, Glassjaw), and guitarist Ian Love join Schreifels in an innovative exploration of muscular indie-rock that breathes new life into a genre currently overrun with soundalikes. United By Fate applies Quicksand's hooks and anthemic vibe to a variety of moods, tempos and tones, producing a thick, alternately dissonant and driving sound that never comes up short in terms of melody or groove. The rollicking "Travel by Telephone," blazing "High Acetate," and dynamic, introspective "Undercovers On" stand out immediately. So do "Used for Glue" the Who-ish "My Echo" and "Favorite Star" (which could have been lifted from Slip), for that matter, as well as just about everything else here. The disc runs the emotional gamut from crashing to crushed, delivering with every track. Schreifels' inimitable, compelling near-the-pitch vocal style will always draw comparisons to his previous outfits, but Rival Schools is by far the guitarist/producer/songwriter's most expansive project, covering the rock spectrum without ever stretching itself thin. One of the year's best so far. (Island/Def Jam)
—Scott Harrell

Convoy Black Licorice

The name implies strength in numbers, but Convoy's livelihood hinges on the power of one. With his Mike Love-by-way-of-Jeff Tweedy vocals, Joe Cocker-esque onstage contortions and obsessive studio habits, Jason Hill is the band's undisputed pointman. Yet Black Licorice, the San Diego band's grabby, good-natured debut, hardly sounds like the work of an oppressive dictatorship. Rather, it's an uncanny distillation of a California experience uncorrupted by encroaching strip-mall sensibilities. Hill and the rest of Convoy may have frequented the same high school hallways as fellow Poway natives Blink-182, but their sound — the ever-evolving embodiment of Hill's sprawling record collection — couldn't be any more different: Picture the Beach Boys and Badfinger whooping it up at a high-desert pig roast circa '72, with impromptu live entertainment courtesy of the Stones. Five of the Licorice's 13 tracks are holdovers from Convoy's 1999 indie release, Pineapple Recording Sessions, made at a former highroller's ranch/estate in Jamul, Calif., where a weird mix of the rustic and the palatial bled into the music. Co-produced by Hill and David Bianco (Tom Petty, Teenage Fanclub), Black Licorice manages to stay true to that pure aesthetic. (Hybrid)
—Hobart Rowland

The Band Rock of Ages

After spending years on the road honing their skills behind Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan, and with four exceptional studio albums to their credit, The Band was more than ready to record a kick-ass live album of their own in 1971. Instead of following the current trend of stretching tunes unmercifully with superfluous solos and incessant noodling, they reinvigorated their songs with a deadly blend of precision musicianship and smoldering energy. They also augmented many of their classics with an ace horn section. The results are stupendous. From such diverse songs as a bouncy cover of Marvin Gaye's "Don't Do It," to the southern elegy "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," horn arrangements composed by New Orleans stalwart Allen Toussaint perfectly complement each song. The real treat of the expanded (double-disc) reissue, though, is the addition of Bob Dylan's surprise appearance. Previously unavailable, his performance is one of a handful he made while not touring between 1966 and 1974. Rock of Ages is ageless, one of the few great live albums in rock history and the bonus cuts make it one of the best reissues of the compact disc era. (Capitol)
—Wade Tatangelo

Fred Eaglesmith and the Flying Squirrels Ralph's Last Show (Live in Santa Cruz)

Since the mid 1990s, Fred Eaglesmith and his Flying Squirrels have been on fire, burning up venues from North Ontario to North Tampa like well-trained arsonist sent to trigger the Apocalypse. Since his debut in 1980, Eaglesmith's studio albums have consistently improved, but none comes close to capturing the intensity found on Ralph's Last Show. Mixing elements of folk, country and punk, the mayhem begins with a shot of adrenaline titled "Freight Train." On "Rodeo Boy" and "Carmelita," Eagelsmith clenches his teeth and coveys despair that rivals Springsteen's Nebraska. Don't fret, though, the Canadian singer/songwriter isn't going to send you scurrying for the Prozac. His tunes are full of subtle humor (the Jerry Springer-inspired "White Trash" is a laugh-out-loud riot). His sketches of rural life strike a cord without waxing sentimental. Ralph's Last Show is the perfect primer for Eaglesmith neophytes and a rich reward for enthusiasts. The only drawback is that the two-disc set runs less than 80 minutes and omits the hilarious tall tales Eaglesmith skillfully weaves between songs during his captivating shows. (Signature)
—Wade Tatangelo