Sound Advice 

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Boy, October, War (Deluxe Editions) Universal Music Group

Sounds like: A prepubescent U2

Short take: For fanatics only

Long before U2 became the biggest band in the world, the Irish quartet was just another fledgling act caught between punk and New Wave. As evidenced by the double-disc deluxe versions of the group's first three albums 1980's Boy, 1981's October and 1983's War these years found U2 being bountiful and experimental, but yet to reach the anthemic nature that would propel the band to Time magazine cover status later that decade. The band's earlier material features strong musicality and songwriting, with Bono's lyrical and studio presence finally coming to fruition on War. Sadly, diehard fans will already have much of the unreleased and B-side material found on each album's bonus disc. However, there are a few gems, including an acoustic studio version of "Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl," a killer live version of underrated October track "I Fall Down" and the punkish "Boy-Girl." John Benson

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Amos Lee
Last Days at the Lodge Blue Note

Sounds like: Folk straight from the soul

Short take: Norah Jones' opening act blossoms

Part soul man and part folk singer, Amos Lee has clearly spent years spinning albums from the great R&B years of the '60s and early '70s. But rather than getting stuck in those grooves, he starts there and then takes off on his own. Producer Don Was makes less seem like more, as guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, keyboardist Spooner Oldham, bassist Pino Palladino and drummer James Gadson circle the singer with the kind of studio sound that's defined some of the strongest vocal albums ever made. Last Days at the Lodge doesn't immediately jump out as an amazing achievement, but after a dozen listens, it feels like it's been here forever, a friend to lean on when times turn tough. In an age when the wheels spin so fast you can't see them, and communication is so quick it almost doesn't matter what we say, Lee's music reminds us that we are, at heart, still human. Bill Bentley

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Nine Inch Nails
The Slip Null Corporation

Sounds like: Non-anthemic Reznor

Short take: NIN, simple and good

Industrial visionary Trent Reznor is clearly resigned to re-creating the same quiet-loud dynamic, with razor- sounding din and grinding guitar archetype, set forth by his early Nine Inch Nails work. So over the years, fans have taken one of two approaches toward the alt-rock act: They either basically ignore new albums or carefully dissect them for anything that sounds remotely new or unique. On The Slip, Reznor's redundant pitfalls are evident ("1,000,000" and "Letting You"), but so are his orchestral-sounding compositional strengths when he creates gentle, yet disillusioned, soundscapes. In fact, the latter half of this disc features the piano-based "Lights in the Sky" and "Corona Radiata," which, when joined with the mid-tempo, synth-fueled "The Four of Us Are Dying," act as a mesmerizing trilogy that keeps The Slip from sliding into oblivion. John Benson


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