Sound Advice 

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Various Artists

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson


Sounds like: A glimpse into Thompson's soul

Short take: Sometimes words get in the way

Alongside recitations by Johnny Depp, this features Thompson's theme song "Gonzo" by one-eyed New Orleans pianist James Booker. Now here was a kindred spirit. Booker often covered for Crescent City pianists like Fats Domino and Huey "Piano" Smith on their own sessions, when he wasn't in the parish prison or Charity Hospital detox unit. "Gonzo" is an unstoppable groove of swishy organ swirls and badass cross-sticked snare drum. It's no big jump to Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," Brewer & Shipley's "One Toke Over the Line" or Warren Zevon's "Lawyers, Guns and Money," all variations on a theme. Too bad there's no second disc sans spoken word, for those times when the walls and carpets are moving and the only sound you want to hear besides the rushing of your blood is the music of the spheres. Bill Bentley

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Warner Bros. Records

Sounds like: Soul classics gone Starbucks

Short take: Seal earns points for trying

Talk about walking into the lion's den: Seal picks a dozen soul standards and does his very best to make them his own. Which, naturally, is not possible when you're going up against Al Green, Ann Peebles, the Impressions, Deniece Williams, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, James Brown, the Dells, Eddie Floyd and Ben E. King. The album sometimes works on the sheer strength of the material, and when Seal connects on tracks like Green's "I'm Still in Love with You," you hear what this album could have been. The problem is that soul music comes out of hardship, and a culture that held hope that things could get better if everyone believed enough. It's a long way from Memphis to Malibu, but a man's got to do what a man's got to do. Soul has soul, but it's more for the Starbucks generation, and maybe a little too decaf at that. Bill Bentley

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Lou Reed

Berlin: Live at St. Ann's Warehouse DVD

Matador Records

Sounds like: Berlin reinvented for a new era

Short take: Take a walk on Reed's wild side

Like Weezer's sophomore album Pinkerton, critically lambasted upon release, Reed's third solo effort, Berlin, fell on deaf, confused ears in 1973. For Reed, the rock opera has always been an albatross, a creative failure he felt was misunderstood. Now, 35 years later, he gets a long-awaited Pinkerton-type rethink, thanks to concert CD/DVD Live at St. Ann's Warehouse, which features Berlin updated and played in its entirety. While Reed's timbre is now closer to a Johnny Cash baritone (which is an unexpected and added benefit), the material still resonates with the tender "The Kids," the gospel-tinged "Sad Song" and quintessential, Reed-guitar-driven "Caroline Says, Pt. 1." While many Reed fans will always have Transformer to cherish, Live At St. Ann's Warehouse proves that Berlin, with its underlying agony and despair, is something special unto itself. John Benson


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