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Tommy Keene

In the Late Bright

Second Motion Records

Sounds like: Power pop, wthout the garage affectations

Short take: Keene still has places to go

Tommy Keene's new album recalls a time when college radio still impacted popular taste and folks like Matthew Sweet, the Connells and R.E.M. set out to avenge the death of Big Star. Keene's breakthrough Places That Are Gone EP topped year-end critics' polls, and major labels came calling. But that was a quarter-century ago. Today, after stints with Geffen and Matador, Keene's back with a smaller label and a higher profile thanks to his recent "Keene Brothers" collaboration with Guided By Voices' Robert Pollard. In the Late Bright doesn't disappoint: Keene's mellifluous songwriting and electric guitar arpeggios are in fine form, the latter prominent on the droney instrumental "Elevated." But power pop gems like "A Secret Life of Stories" and "Please Don't Come Around" are the main attractions from an artist whose music still stands the test of time. Bill Forman


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Ben Kweller

Changing Horses

ATO Records

Sounds like: Kweller stuck in country syrup

Short take: Too much twang, not enough sizzle

After a stab at a classic rock motif in 2006, the singer-songwriter regresses into a somewhat confusing sound, mixing his Bob Dylan influence with a traditional country vibe. By that, we're talking simple (or dumbed-down) syrupy songs that belie the imaginative talents displayed on his impressive Beck-meets-Elliott Smith 2000 debut, Freak Out, It's Ben Kweller. Specifically damning is the two-minute "Things I Like to Do," which finds Kweller unabashedly declaring in a paint-by-numbers fashion, "I like to walk into public places strumming this guitar ... but most of all I like liking you." The Lone Star native appears lost, and the mid-tempo "On Her Own" inspired, horrifically, by Jackson Browne and Tom Petty signals the smoking gun of disaster. Changing Horses just doesn't work. Let's hope Kweller puts this horse out to pasture on his next album. John Benson


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Jon Hassell

Last Night the Moon Came Dropping its Clothes in the Street

ECM Records

Sounds like: Music for unfettered minds

Short take: Sonic portrait of a brave new world

It may have been his early work with Brian Eno that put his name on the marquee, but Jon Hassell is his own man, with compositions that sound like no one else's. Though from Memphis, he's really a world citizen, unafraid to explore new territory with his trumpet and fellow adventurous musicians. Middle Eastern flavors blend into Western motifs, as live sampling overlaps guitar, violin, drums and keyboards. Amid it all, Hassell's trumpet floats and lands, sometimes with presence that is just beyond intimate. It's intriguing how so much feels made for a place beyond humanity, almost like a post WALL-E world. Maybe Hassell knows something we don't, a distinct possibility. Or it could be he's playing music to soothe us into the new age round the corner. Bill Bentley

  • Tommy Keene, Ben Kweller, Jon Hassell

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