Sound advice 

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The Bad Plus

Never Stop

E1 Entertainment

Buy if you like: Medeski Martin & Wood, NPR interstitials

Like Christopher O'Riley, the pianist who turned Radiohead and Nick Drake into chamber music, jazz trio Bad Plus (bass, drums and the big-paw romanticism of Ethan Iverson's piano) made its name with oddball covers that illuminate the originals by investigating them with instrumental virtuosity. Never Stop is the group's first album since last year's For All I Care, which wrestled with Nirvana, Yes, Wilco and others. Care was distinguished by the inclusion of a vocalist, Never Stop by the absence of covers. But it's still marked by influences, from the Nina-Simone-meets-Moby rigor of the arresting title track to the Vince Guaraldi-ish "Super America." Elsewhere, the trio ventures into less tuneful, more improvisatory terrain, as on "The Radio Tower Has a Beating Heart," which makes raucous fun out of what could be the closing moment of a piano recital. — Marc Weidenbaum

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6: Commitment


Buy if you like: Simply Red, Erykah Badu

Seal has not been the most prolific artist when it comes to recording — original studio albums only come out every few years — but he definitely makes them count. 6: Commitment finds the talented singer in fine form, with a collection that for the most part hews close to the lush hybrid of soul and pop that brought him hits like "Kiss From a Rose" and "Love's Divine." Seal utilizes extensive orchestration — a trademark of past albums — on many of the songs here, but it never overshadows the strong vocal melodies of songs like the energetic "Weight of My Mistakes," the smooth ballad "You Get Me," or the Philly soul-inspired "Best of Me." There's not a lot here that fans won't have heard before, but that barely matters when tracks like "The Way I Lie," with its soaring chorus, proves he's still one of the best vocalists around. — Alan Sculley

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Fistful of Mercy

As I Call You Down

Hot Records

Buy if you like: Crosby, Stills & Nash,the Thorns

The minute you hear the harmonies, you almost wanna cry. On the opener, "In Vain or True," Dhani Harrison (son of George), Joseph Arthur and Ben Harper embrace the past: "Can you hear the voices singing to you?" they ask. "I still remember, why can't you?" Of course, a lot of us do remember, and wish we could hear Dhani's dad singing again with his old pals. Adding to the sweet torture is Harper's slide guitar, so reminiscent of George's. But this is no callow attempt to trade on heritage or nostalgia, just three pedigreed guys making an album from scratch in three days, charming us with the back-porch pickin' of "Father's Son" (OK, maybe that's a sly reminder), the title tune and the instrumental, "30 Bones," featuring ex-Jayhawk Jessy Greene's violin. Fistful is messy and odd in places, but it's a keeper. — Lynne Margolis


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