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CD report

The Duhks
Sugar Hill
From frosty Winnipeg comes this very hot new contemporary acoustic group. The Duhks, who grew out of a band called Scruj McDuhk, offer an inventive bridge of folk music styles capped by Latin percussion and an overall virtuosity that could make them stars. Singer Jessica Havey, who sat in with Peter Rowan at this year's Rhythm & Roots Festival in Rhode Island, has an exciting physicality that could allow her to be a rock chanteuse if she so desired. She's spellbinding on the gospel of ''Death Came a Knockin'," along with the traditional ''The Waggoner's Lad" (which echoes Montreal's McGarrigle Sisters) and a startling, reggae-etched cover of Sting's ''Love Is the Seventh Wave." The Duhks also feature singer/banjo player Leonard Podolak, whose father, Mitch, was the founder of the Winnipeg Folk Festival. The young Podolak proudly sings Leonard Cohen's ''Everybody Knows." There's plenty of down-home folk to this ensemble, too, especially when fiddler Tania Elizabeth bows her way through Appalachian and Cape Breton styles. She adds heft to the instrumentals ''The Magnolia Set" and ''Gene's Machine," which also has fluid, Doc Watson-like flat picking from Jordan McConnell. The enterprise is put over the top by percussionist Scott Senior, who plays a hand-slapped Cuban drum that brings some salsa to the stew. No one is quite sure how to describe the Duhks' music, but it's a fresh update on some time-tested folk genres. Not all purists might be happy, but there's still enough here to keep them paying attention. The Duhks are at Johnny D's next Thursday.

The Exies
''Ugly," the first single from the Exies' second full-length album, is the theme song for a World Wrestling Entertainment pay-per-view event. But don't assume the LA-based alternative rock quartet has gone all muscle-bound and testosterone-addled since being critically celebrated for its 2003 debut, ''Inertia." The band has simply toned down the electronic flourishes and now resembles a more arena-rock-flavored version of hard rock acts such as the Burning Brides, funneling riff-heavy '70s guitar rock and fierce punk into its own hard-hitting sound. Opener ''Slow Drain" finds frontman Scott Stevens unleashing a growling grunge croon over a song with the taut power and melodic kick of the Foo Fighters. That's not surprising, as the band's new album was produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Velvet Revolver). While the album mostly bounds with energy, a few moments fall flat, such as ''Tired of You," an ode to love gone wrong. And even at its brightest moments, the band certainly owes a strong debt to the vocal tone and melodic sensibilities of Nirvana, but who doesn't these days? Still, the Exies infuse even their borrowed sounds with fresh intensity.

Mannie Fresh
Cash Money/Universal
When Mannie Fresh says he does things ''real big" on his debut solo disc, he's not kidding around. We're talking 30 tracks and nearly 80 minutes of music and skits during which a listener gets more than a peak into the crafty, twisted mind of the producer/MC. Of course, Fresh is best known as a member of the Big Tymers and the man behind the board who puts the meaty bounce in many of the Cash Money label's hits. Here, he adeptly takes his place on the mike, and though he has very little new to say, at least he natters on about nonsense with color and detail. Like his Cash Money cohorts, Fresh has dollar signs in his eyes as he searches for the hottest party, the most bountiful booty, and plushest ride. Fans of Southern-fried hip-hop will lap this up, but there's way too much filler and juvenilia here for it to be totally satisfying. Kudos to Fresh for eschewing the frequent guest turns that are watering down the singular vision of so many rap records these days, as there are a few brief cameos, most notably from David Banner. What you get is wall-to-wall Mannie with his frenetic flow, sonic indulgences, and surreal sense of humor but also plenty of repetition. Fresh can be cunning with words, but ''editor" must not be in his vocabulary.

This solo project from Mike Kinsella (American Football, Joan of Arc, the Owls) started out in his mother's house, where Kinsella transformed his old bedroom into a recording studio with money that Polyvinyl Records provided him. Kinsella, who usually records all of the instruments on his discs alone, teamed with cousin Nate Kinsella, who helped with production and instrumentation on this, his third album. The disc touches on the stinging sentiments of longing, love, and heartbreak, and it launches the singer into the same ranks as emo heavyweights such as Dashboard Confessional and the Promise Ring. Track one, ''Who Found Who's Hair in Who's Bed?" is, despite the lame title, a great, depressed little ditty in which Kinsella's breathy vocals and acoustic guitar-picking drive the downtrodden theme of bitterness and betrayal. The wistful ''Note to Self:" begins with an upbeat tempo and accompanying cymbals that later fade into a poppy, hand-clapping melody. Despite the cheeriness, ''Note to Self:" still holds the hopelessness that hovers over the entire eight-song album. On ''Bed Abuse" he sings, ''I spend tired days in this bed too small for two/ Misplacing time like I've got it to lose/ That's why I don't sleep at night . . . It's more me than you." Kinsella's heart-on-sleeve lyrics may be too much for those who don't like emo, but when he croons his biting poetry, he separates himself from other acts.

Chris Brokaw
Chris Brokaw is truly one of the Boston music scene's underappreciated treasures. His innovative musicianship with both Come and Codeine ensure that his mark in the city's alternative rock legacy is indelible, but he has grown out of those projects to contribute and tour internationally with the likes of the New Year and Evan Dando. ''I Was Born, But. . ." finds Brokaw successfully tackling another medium, the film score. His guitar work for this indie movie is never less than evocative. At times, such as on the sweeping and symphonic ''Dust" and the outright scary ''Chinatown," his playing suggests Radiohead recording its moody textures from an outpost in the American Southwest. The album begins with the soothing meditation ''Reeperbahn," and when juxtaposed with the cold relentlessness of ''Golfing" or the brawny Neil Young-like snippet ''Gristle," the tracks demonstrate Brokaw's dexterity remarkably. Although the composer's inspirations on this instrumental release may be eclectic, they do not hide the fact that he also can deliver an exquisite melody. If that was ever in doubt, the reflective ''Huntington Beach Sunrise," with electric guitars resembling soft, sonic church bells, and the throbbing ''GPS" would be dead giveaways.


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