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BARB

BARB

Yep Roc

Buy if you like: Crowded House, Arcade Fire

First off, there's no Barb in BARB, although there is a song called "Looking Out Through Barb's Eyes." Frankly, it's hard to tell exactly what there is in BARB, besides five talented New Zealanders (Liam Finn, Connan Mockasin, Seamus Ebbs, Lawrence Arabia and Eliza-Jane Barnes), each with his or her own separate career, deciding to spend a month in a studio with "no plans and plenty of wine." Sometimes it works, as in the Polyphonic Spree/Arcade Fire whimsicality of "Leo," "Alcoholic Darling" and "Not a Bird." And the influences Finn picked up from his dad's band, Crowded House, come to the fore on "Counting Sheep," which — along with the sweet-sexy satin of Barnes' voice on "2004" — provides the album's most accessible moments. Other times the eclecticism comes close to leaping off the deep end. But experimentation is good; look what it did for the Beatles. — Lynne Margolis

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Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs

God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise

RCA

Buy if you like: Neil Young, David Gray

When his new album opens with the funky, soulful shuffle of "Repo Man," you may suspect that Ray LaMontagne has turned a page and is planning to rock a little. But while LaMontagne and his excellent band are loosening up some — there's also the rowdy closing track, "Devil in the Jukebox" — they mostly stick to their Laurel Canyon ways. Still, even when the going gets all sensitive singer-songwriterly on blue-eyed soul ballads like "Are We Really Through" and "This Love Is Over," it's clear LaMontagne has never sounded better vocally and that the album's homemade approach suits his band just fine. On the whole, God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise is a country-tinged record, bringing to mind middle-of-the-road Neil Young on tracks like "Beg Steal or Borrow" and "Like Rock & Roll and Radio." It's just too bad there aren't a few more songs like the ones that open and close it. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Goo Goo Dolls

Something for the Rest of Us

Warner Bros.

Buy if you like: Matchbox Twenty, Soul Asylum

Let's face it: The Goo Goo Dolls did their best work early on with albums like Jed and Hold Me Up, back when the group wanted to be like the Replacements. But by the mid-1990s, they pulled a Soul Asylum and began churning out middle-of-the-road pop rockers and radio-ready ballads. The shift paid off, turning the Goo Goo Dolls into stars, but it's made for a lot of predictable, sound-alike albums. A few tracks on Something for the Rest of Us do recall the less polished spunk of early Goo songs: "Sweetest Lie" is a brisk and hooky rocker, and "Say You're Free," while a bit restrained, has some of the old scruffiness. But mostly it's competent, well-oiled, mid-tempo rock ("Home" and "One Night") and sensitive balladry ("Notbroken"). You can't fault the songs — they're finely crafted and actually a bit stronger overall than usual — but continually playing it safe is making the band sound played out. — Alan Sculley

  • BARB, Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs, Goo Goo Dolls

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