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Justin Timberlake, Mudhoney and Steve Forbert 

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click to enlarge The 20/20 Experience CD

Justin Timberlake

The 20/20 Experience

RCA Records

File next to: Jay-Z & Kanye West, Harry Connick Jr.

It's not just the '40s big-band accoutrements that made Justin Timberlake's return to music appealing. It was also the long compositions, with angular and unexpected time signatures, he showcased on late-night TV appearances. That particular Justin was like Zappa filtering Benny Goodman, or a soundtrack to Gravity's Rainbow. Yet Timberlake's first album in seven years took immediate slings and arrows from the cognoscenti, many for good reason. Yes, the lyrics are superficial, though one would not turn to Timberlake for clues on solving world hunger. Yes, Jay-Z's contribution to this album was particularly lackluster. But there's still a lot here to like. Producer Timbaland brings unique sounds that mash Beefheart and Fela, and Timberlake's sense of humor is evident on "Spaceship Coupe" and "Strawberry Bubblegum." The 20/20 Experience is a guilty pleasure, maybe, but a pleasure nonetheless. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Vanishing Point CD

Mudhoney

Vanishing Point

Sub Pop Records

File next to: The Stooges, MC5

Mudhoney was one of the grungiest, grimiest bands of the grunge era — never overly concerned with making their material viable for pop radio — so it's somewhat surprising that they have been one of its longest-surviving bands, putting out records with regularity for nearly 25 years. Then again, that could be the very secret of their longevity, because their latest album, Vanishing Point, has the vitality and swagger of bands half their age. Punchy, muscular drums and fuzzed-out noise-blues guitar solos lash out with utter abandon, all led by singer Mark Arm's strangulated wail and snide, humorous lyrics. Highlights include the pounding piano-and-handclap-led singalong "I Like It Small," the punk blast-off "Chardonnay," and the cosmically sinister "In This Rubber Tomb." Vanishing Point is dirty, exuberant garage punk, and you'd have to be no fun at all to not appreciate it. — Collin Estes

click to enlarge Alive on Arrival / Jackrabbit Slim CD

Steve Forbert

Alive on Arrival / Jackrabbit Slim

Blue Corn Records

File next to: Jackson Browne, James Taylor

When Steve Forbert made his 1978 debut with Alive on Arrival, singer-songwriters were falling out of fashion. The following year, Forbert had his only Top 40 hit with "Romeo's Tune," the opening cut from his second album Jackrabbit Slim. The reissue of these two well-crafted albums is full of overlooked gems, brought home by the Mississippi native's high sweet voice. Alive on Arrival is a kind of song cycle, addressing Forbert's life and move to New York in a wry, poetic fashion that rightfully earned Bob Dylan comparisons. Jackrabbit Slim is a more produced affair that contains some of Forbert's best songs ever, including "I'm In Love With You," "January 23-30, 1978" and the aforementioned "Romeo's Tune." A live version also shows up among the 12 making this new package required listening for Forbert fans. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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