Sound advice 

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Stew & the Negro Problem

Making It


Buy if you like: Robin & Linda Williams, Rent soundtrack

From the R&B overture to the quirky electro-pop of these stage-ready songs (as in the theatrical stage; the band's last album, Passing Strange, became a Tony-winning musical and a Spike Lee film), this beautiful and disturbing album diagrams the real-life breakup of singer Heidi Rodewald and the single-named Stew, together the Negro Problem. Their shimmering vocals, complex instrumentation and forthright lyrics compel the listener to pay attention, even lulling the ears into false comfort. In "Love Is a Cult," Rodewald sings, "Love is a great gig, but the pain is crap." "Suzy Wong" is elegiac and sad; in "Leave Believe," they call it like they see it. "Therapy Only Works if You Tell the Truth" rocks until it pops, and the wrap is "Treat Right," in which Rodewald sings, "This is the treat-right song." If only it were so easy. — Lynne Margolis

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Joe Louis Walker



Buy if you like: Buddy Guy, Johnny "Clyde" Copeland

Walker is a veteran bluesman with 20 albums that have earned him a place among the leaders of the post-B.B. King/Muddy Waters blues generation. But Hellfire sounds like a fresh start, an artistic rejuvenation. Walker's first release for leading blues label, Alligator, features some of the most potent songs of his career — no small statement. "Ride All Night," one of two songs Walker wrote with producer Tom Hambridge, is a Stonesy rocker fueled by a terrific descending riff, the kind of hook that could lead to a crossover hit. The title cut is a frisky funk number that heats up with a stinging guitar solo from Walker. And on the cautionary "What's It Worth," Walker lets loose with a slow-burning, intense ballad. Walker knows how to cover a full range of blues styles, and has essentially mastered them all. — Alan Sculley

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The Soul Rebels

Unlock Your Mind


Buy if you like: Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Galactic

This eight-member group has established itself as the leader of the newer brass bands out of New Orleans. After seven albums, the band is on a high-profile label with a perfect coming-out party. While the group respects the jazzy traditions of brass band music (no bass, guitar or keyboards here, just two drummers and six horn players), there's a decidedly modern edge to the Soul Rebels' sound. For instance, "504" has a strong element of soul, while "Turn It Up" and "My Time" blend rap vocals and funk into mix. The title track, with Cyril Neville guesting on vocals, brings a reggae rhythm into the sound. And there's the big and brassy cover of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This," which works surprisingly well in the brass band format. If this is the future of brass band music, it should be quite a party. — Alan Sculley


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