Local Licks 

This week, we review Los Cenzontles, Foreign Legion, Chiara Angelicola, and the Splinters.

Los Cenzontles, Songs of Wood & Steel. San Pablo's acclaimed Mexican-American roots band Los Cenzontles worked with David Hidalgo of Los Lobos on its second record, and the result is a rich blend of folk music and searing blues guitar. Occasional detours into improvisational jam-band fare exhibit the group's ability to deliver the expected and the unexpected with equal grace. (Los Cenzontles Mexican Art Center)

Foreign Legion, The Secret Knock EP. In nine years this Oakland/San Jose hip-hop outfit has made a name on the Bay Area scene, been signed and shelved by a major label, and returned as an independent entity under its own imprint. Thankfully, dual emcees Prozack Turner and Marc Stretch still have a sense of humor, as well as enough raps and beats to warrant this reintroduction. (Hungerstrike Records)

Chiara Angelicola, Masquerade. Physically, Angelicola is petite and unassuming, but her vocal cords are another story. Her vibrant, soulful wail at times recalls the romance of Billie Holiday or the sideways grin of Macy Gray, while challenging young contemporaries like Adele and Duffy. Stellar guitar and organ accompaniment help make this a standout local album. (FHC Records)

The Splinters, Splinters EP. Picture this: a hand-labeled CD-R inside a white paper sleeve decorated with one-of-a-kind splotches of red and black paint. The four Splinters created every copy of their debut EP out of devotion to the low-budget, DIY ethic that permeates their music, which resembles Beat Happening and early REM in its pop-inflected take on the ramshackle underground. (self-released)

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