Sound Advice 

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Al Kooper

White Chocolate

AMRC / Available from iTunes and alkooper.com

Sounds like: Blue-eyed soul meets Brill Building pop

Short take: The most talented guy in the room still is

Having co-written "This Diamond Ring," founded the Blues Project and Blood, Sweat & Tears, discovered and produced Lynyrd Skynyrd, and recorded with Dylan, Hendrix and the Stones, it's easy to think of Al Kooper as the Zelig of the rock crowd. Except, that is, for the fact that Kooper was often the most talented guy in the room. So it's no surprise that his new 15-track CD hits all his sweet spots head-on. The opening "Love Time" sounds like an instant classic, with Kooper employing a seductive voice and bedroom moves to get down to business. Hopefully Al Green is listening. Other offerings are equally great, especially the closing "(I Don't Know When But) I Know That I'll Be There Soon," on which the man turns in a holy-roller performance straight out of the church of eternal soul. Bill Bentley

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The Music Lovers

Masculine, Feminine

Le Grand Magistery Records / Release: Jan. 20

Sounds like: The Beautiful South, but less beautiful

Short take: Serge Gainsbourg fans miss the mark

"Ten miles just south of rehab and I'm one drink shy of your heart," croons Music Lovers frontman Matthew Edwards on "Saturday," a promising track with pop/soul inflections poised somewhere between Culture Club and genuine Motown. On their third album, the English ex-pat and his San Francisco cohorts evoke various musical eras while maintaining their own identity. "Bobbie Gentry," the CD's other pop gem, suggests Chris Isaak channeling the chanteuse at her ethereal Southern Gothic best. But tracks like the viola-laden "Autumn Royal" (yes, all indie bands will be required to feature strings by year's end) signal a descent into the kind of twee-pop that Morrissey and the Beautiful South did much better. Like the Divine Comedy before them, the Music Lovers appear talented, literate and destined for a cult audience. Bill Forman

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The Gourds


Yep Roc Records

Sounds like: Mutant folk from the great Southwest

Short take: The Gourds continue to capture magic

It would be easy to call the Gourds roots musicians and compare them to a hundred other bands that plow the same field. But it would also be wrong. Sure, there are plenty of banjos, accordions, mandolins, resonator slides and fiddles, but the results come out all crooked. The Gourds invade the folk songbook, rip out all the pages, and glue them back together upside-down, which makes them eventually irresistible. Herky-jerky rhythms somehow feel right, and all five voices combine for a kind of street-corner singing society that has no rules except for full-on emotional dedication and instinctual guidance. These fellows will climb into your heart, even if you've never worn overalls or spent the night in jail. This is small-town music for big-city folks, and no matter where you now call home, the boys are rolling out the welcome mat. Bill Bentley


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