Our reviewers give you the low-down on new and notable recordings

The Dickies
All This and Puppet Stew FAT WRECK CHORDS
After a long Dickies drought, there's finally a new CD. Huzzah! The Dickies--with their trademark tinny keyboards, faster-than-the-speed-of-sound guitars, and the high-pitched vibrato of Leonard Graves Phillips, attracted a fanatical following when they started playing LA clubs sometime in the '70s. So you know they're hella old. With your more senior punk rock bands, there's always the concern that as the band members approach their golden years, they will cease to shred as they shredded in years past. Punk rockers across the land, fear not. Nobody is better than the Dickies when it comes to writing dumb songs--Disneyland, midgets, and gorillas have been lovingly memorialized--and they have not forsaken us with their latest recording. "Wack the Dalai Lama," with its one-second intro of chanting monks and backup vocals singing "wack, wack," is like their familiar blockhead songs of yesteryear. With so much dumbness lying around, it's easy to forget that the Dickies can be melodic when they feel like it--which is most of the time. "See My Way," "Watching the Skies," and "Free Willy" effortlessly cram fiery guitars and kickass drumming into a two-minute song and transform it into something you can hum for years and years. Trust me on this one. --Michelle Turner

Jane Ira Bloom
Sometimes the Magic ARABESQUE

Marilyn Crispell
Amaryllis BLUE NOTE
One thing that makes jazz criticism desirable is the fact that even the greatest figures are capable of mediocre records, while a lot of really fine music is created by more mortal players who, after long apprenticeships, develop distinctive ways to make individual contributions. Jane Ira Bloom has for years been one of the few true soprano saxophonists in the business (as opposed to tenor players who double on the smaller horn). With Sometimes the Magic she has come into her own, leading an excellent quartet of piano, bass, and drums and soloing with poise and originality--but it's the bright, quirky writing that really makes an impression. Marilyn Crispell has been recognized an important pianist since her work with Anthony Braxton's definitive quartet of the mid-'80s. In recent years she has refined an understated eloquence that owes something to Paul Bley's best work. If Erik Satie had studied the blues, he might have sounded like Crispell on Amaryllis. Each note and every voicing seems as perfect as a snowflake on this haunting disc. --Duck Baker

Mary Chapin Carpenter
time* sex* love* COLUMBIA
When folk and country artists turn toward the mainstream, the result is usually flavor-of-the-day music with "radio friendly" lyrics. Not so with Mary Chapin Carpenter. Her first album of new material in five years turns to the mainstream she helped define a decade ago, and adds spirited pop influences from an even earlier mainstream. Never has she worn her rock and pop influences so proudly on her sleeve--like Sgt. Pepper's stripes and Pet Sounds'... well, sounds. Her new songs regain the balance that made her breakthrough album Come on Come On both a popular and critical success. She stretches lyrics of internal dialogues across dreamtime tunes ("Swept Away") and spare meditations ("King of Love," "Someone Else's Prayer"). She steps up-tempo for the ebullient "Whenever You're Ready" and the '60s sunshine harmonies of "Maybe World." This album fulfills Carpenter's goal of writing songs devoted to her emotions, rather than the charts. Perhaps the quality of time*sex*love* can spark the sort of radio renaissance she helped lead in the early '90s. --Eli Messinger

In the Fishtank 7 KONKURRENT
Konkurrent's In the Fishtank series gives selected artists two days, 24 tracks, and half an hour of blank tape to spend as they wish. While pairing the rigid, glacial delivery of Low with the ramshackle swagger of the Dirty Three seemed bound to cause tension, these six songs focus largely on what the outfits have in common. Consequently, it's not quite clear where Mick Turner's (the Dirty Three) wayward guitar crackle ends and Alan Sparhawk's (Low) desolate chords begin. But thankfully, the Duluth, MN trio's fragile lullabies remain intact, and the Dirty Three's Warren Ellis channels the sound of sorrow through his violin in typically glorious fashion. The newfound twang and warming climate of "When I Called upon Your Seed" is a highlight, offering evidence that those Neil Young covers may be doing Low some good (note the inspired, rock-free reading of "Down by the River"). In the end, the Dirty Three sound like the invited guests here, bringing their own batch of rain to Low's slow parade. --Nathan Bush


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