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Various Artists

Black Man's Cry: The Inspiration of Fela Kuti

Now-Again

Buy if you like: Fela Kuti, Miles Davis

Black Man's Cry offers the joy of discovery and the mental stimulation of musical crate digging. Amassed lovingly by Egon (aka Eothen Alapatt), the general manager of vaunted indie label Stones Throw, this collection of super-rare tracks in the style of Afro-beat, cumbia, highlife and more seeks to trace the origins of Nigerian legend Fela Kuti's sound and its immediate impact. From trumpeter Dan Satch & His Atomic 8 Dance Band's Fela precursor, 1969's "Woman Pin Down," to Fela's influence on Trinidad's Lever Brothers and their influence on the Sylvania East Side Symphony, this collection can begin to feel like a hopelessly tangled family tree. But the music is pure, precious gold; though rooted in political unrest, the sound never fails to leave the people smiling and shaking their hips. — Justin Strout

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Graham Parker

Imaginary Television

Bloodshot

Buy if you like: Elvis Costello, Ray Davies

There was a time when each new album by Graham Parker was greeted with the kind of attention reserved for standard-setting artists like Elvis Costello or the Talking Heads, with albums like Squeezing Out Sparks and Howlin' Wind still ranking among the best of that late '70s / early '80s era. Worthy though they are, Parker's albums no longer get that sort of buzz. These days, he doesn't rock like he used to, preferring a more textured, ballad-driven sound. But he's still got excellent hooks and incisive lyrics. "It's tantalizing to psycho-analyze / We're all downsizing what we do with our lives," he sings on "Broken Skin." Parker may no longer be touted as one of rock's next big things, but that's the trend-watchers' loss. He is one of the rare rock artists whose artistry has continued to grow through nearly four decades in music. — Alan Sculley

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Zeus

Say Us

Arts & Crafts

Buy if you like: Jason Collett, Big Star

Mike O'Brien and Carlin Nicholson, the duo that started Zeus, already have decent day jobs as the backing band for Jason Collett (also a member of the Canadian collective Broken Social Scene). But Say Us suggests the two songwriters are far more than sidemen. In fact, they may be more talented songwriters than Collett, no slouch himself. Here they touch on an impressive range of pop styles, from the sunny, piano-laced "How Does It Feel?" to the sharp mid-tempo rock of "Kindergarten," which recalls Big Star (RIP, Alex Chilton). The strongest track, "You Gotta' Teller," is an organ-drenched rocker, while "Fever of the Time" and the Wilco-esque "Greater Times on the Wayside" succeed in a more melancholy setting. It looks like the extended family of Broken Social Scene has given us yet another welcome offspring. — Alan Sculley

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