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Marc Cohn

Listening Booth: 1970

Saguaro Road Records

Buy if you like: Cat Stevens, Al Green

Turning a song by Bread into something so soulful it sounds just this side of Al Green is no easy feat. But Marc Cohn does it on this intriguing concept album of songs that were originally hits in 1970. As on his biggest hit "Walking in Memphis," his deeply resonant voice carries much of the load, from the opening cover of Cat Stevens' "Wild World," to the Creedence closer, "Long as I Can See the Light." Electric guitars are left at home and tempos are slowed down to a near-languid strut on songs by hitmakers like John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. Blue-eyed soul may be in short supply these days (deservedly or not), but Cohn's covers of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" and Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown" make a case for its return. The question now is whether the follow-up will be 1969 or 1971, because he's definitely onto something here. — Bill Bentley

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Mystery Jets

Seratonin

Rough Trade

Buy if you like: XTC, the Smiths

Mystery Jets used to talk a lot about their admiration for progressive rock architects like Pink Floyd and King Crimson. But the British band doesn't mention them much anymore, and this new album hardly evokes images of either band, aside from a few dreamy textures in the music. This time, you'll hear something that's more Beatles and Beach Boys as filtered through Big Star and the Smiths. You can hear it in the snappy beat and signature guitar riff of "Flash a Hungry Smile," or the gauzy charms of "The Girl Is Gone." Even when they turn up the synthesizer on songs like "Show Me the Light" and "Dreaming of Another World," we still get breezy melodies, sweet vocal harmonies and zero self-indulgent guitar solos. Even if the falsetto vocals get a bit twee from time to time, the overall catchiness means there's no mystery to the band's ongoing appeal. — Alan Sculley

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John Mellencamp

No Better Than This

Rounder

Buy if you like: Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson

Something amazing happened when John Mellencamp gave up rock stardom. He became a real troubadour, a serious chronicler of the human condition. He also understood his muse more thoroughly, and had the means to explore that understanding — this time with a 1955 Ampeg mono recorder, which he and producer T Bone Burnett took to three iconic locations to record songs he wrote in the vein of his major influences. But Mellencamp doesn't ape his forebears, even though he recorded in Savannah's First African Baptist Church, Memphis' Sun Studios and San Antonio's Gunter Hotel (in the same room where Robert Johnson recorded, no less). The album sounds earthy and elemental, with songs like "Coming Down the Road" and "Each Day of Sorrow" offering gutbucket rhythms and Cash-Perkins flavors. This is a labor of love with plenty of charm and a raw authenticity that's evident in every note. — Lynne Margolis

  • Marc Cohn, Mystery Jets, John Mellencamp

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