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The Girl Sound; Black Box Recorder; Truby Trio; Kooken & Hoomen

Various
The Girl Sound -- 25 All Time Greatest Hits From Red Bird Records
(Varese Sarabande)

Songwriting legends Leiber and Stoller founded Red Bird in 1964 and immediately drafted Brill Building hotshots Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich to write, produce, and forage for new acts. Having coauthored several of Phil Spector's biggest hits (e.g., The Ronettes' "Be My Baby"), Barry and Greenwich now found themselves competing head-to-head with the Tycoon of Teen. For the next two years, Red Bird's girl groups stormed the charts, and created the label's legacy.

Red Bird's singles covered a mid-'60s potpourri of cool style, heart-wrenching romance, operatic emotion, and proto-bubblegum jabberwocky. The New Orleans-bred Dixie Cups and Queens-based Shangri-Las each notched #1s ("Chapel of Love" and "Leader of the Pack," respectively), while the label produced dozens of lower-charting masterpieces and brilliant works that failed to hit. Several of the misses, including Evie Sands' pre-Hollies "I Can't Let Go" and Bessie Banks' pre-Moody Blues "Go Now," were noticed -- to successful results -- by astute British ears.

Varese's 27 selections (including two bonus cuts), many in first-ever true-stereo, show off the TLC lavished on every production. The clarity and spaciousness of the mixes are bound to disconcert those accustomed to the dashboard speaker of a '62 Comet. The original craft has aged gracefully, turning these teenage confections into time capsules that retain every bit of their youthful beauty. --Eli Messinger

Black Box Recorder
The Worst Of
(Jetset)

Black Box Recorder is the UK trio of Luke Haines (ex-Auteurs), John Moore (ex-Jesus & Mary Chain), and Sarah Nixey, and Worst Of is their odds 'n' sods collection: singles, remixes, and the like. At first casual listen, BBR come off as a throwback to '80s synth-poppers like OMD and the Human League, but in reality have more in common with the Kinks (vivid, critical portraits of English life; nifty hooks) and the new-wave uberminimalists Young Marble Giants (stripped-down, catchy-as-hell melodies, ultra-cool female vocals). Nixey's voice is cool as dry ice and sweet as garlic, recalling the Mekons' Sally Timms and French pop chanteuse Françoise Hardy. She sings with enough detached attitude to drown out all of Haight Street, yet she doesn't casually trot out facile irony and disdain. Haines and Moore play all the instruments, and fashion more sleek pop atmosphere than the last half-dozen Bryan Ferry albums put together, along with nicely judicious use of Chris Isaak/Angelo Badalamenti-style twang-guitar. (Imagine if Portishead had more of a Gene Pitney and Burt Bacharach influence, or if Action Plus came from England.) This collection finds BBR indulging in some charmingly odd cover choices: a way-too-straight take on the sappy Terry Jacks/Rod McKuen '70s hit "Seasons in the Sun"; a truly unnerving, almost apocalyptic version of the Althea & Donna reggae classic "Uptown Top Ranking"; and David Bowie's "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" as it might have been done by Elvis Presley at the Sands. --Mark Keresman

Various/Truby Trio
DJ-Kicks
(!K7 Records)

Who knew German producers could be so damn funky? The latest offering from !K7 Records' celebrated DJ-Kicks series is shimmering with nu-jazz atmospherics and dense, percussion-oriented arrangements. The Kicks CDs are essentially DJ mixes (past producers have included Nightmares on Wax and Kruder & Dorfmeister). This compilation was compiled by Germany's Trüby Trio, and the 15-track album takes the listener on an aural journey connecting feet-friendly rhythms with heady jazz fusion, Brazilian, funk, R&B, Latin, and '60s cocktail music. The record is an excellent primer for peeps new to the burgeoning nu-jazz sound.

Kicking off with a medley by Conjure and the Trüby Trio ("High Jazz," featuring the impressive Joseph Malik on vocals), the album meanders in a dozen different directions while still holding fast to a warm, sunny vibe. Block 16's "Find an Oasis" combines R&B-flavored jazz with strings and piano. Slow Supreme's "Granada" and Sequel's "Upsolid" showcase the Trüby Trio's love of downbeat grooves and curvy soul. The second half of the album settles into a mellow mood, accentuated by Tim Hutton's Latin-flavored "Colours" and the soothing, keyboard-heavy "Ginger & Fred" by Voom:Voom (comprised of Prommer, Appel, and Richard Kruder). Modaji's "One and the Same" features R&B-leaning jazz juiced up with a thwappy bass and elegant strings. In short, Trüby Trio's contribution to the DJ-Kicks series is a seamless set of jazzy dance music for the highbrow crowd. It's electronic music with a deep sense of soul. --Tim Pratt

Kooken & Hoomen
Escuela
(self-produced)

Kooken & Hoomen, a quartet based out of San Francisco, has developed its sound over the last two years by gigging around the Bay Area extensively. Debut CD Escuela faithfully translates the duo's live sound into the living room, and will undoubtedly satisfy a growing fan base. K&H melds elements of jazz, rock, and electronica and polishes them to a shimmery sheen of light and soft melody, reminiscent of early '70s jazz fusion, when synthesizers were just becoming part of the mix and rock music was having a heavy impact on jazz culture. The somewhat retroish feel is balanced out by a few nods to contemporary electronic music via sparse samples and drum 'n' bass rhythms. Guitar and vibes also play a prominent role, coupled with warm, spacey, analog synthesizers. Most of the eight tracks skitter off into improvisation, which allows the sophisticated percussion work to expand and contract, giving the whole thing an organic, jammy quality. Recorded and produced independently, the album is a high-quality triumph. If you like jam bands but are looking for something more contemporary, Kooken & Hoomen is it. --Coco Clark

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