A guitar lazily strums, and a clarinet blows mournful circles in anticipation of the coming squall. A personal prayer for healing turns into a bitter call for vengeance against the gods of war on ``It's the Day of Atonement, 2001," the centerpiece of Dayna Kurtz's often-magnificent fourth album, ``Another Black Feather," and a funeral breaks out at a singer-songwriter's convention. The coolly mournful klezmer sound, the squawking clarinet contrasted with the gentler trumpet tones, is deliciously out of place here, an outbreak of Eastern European tristesse for Kurtz's fusion of the personal and the political. Nothing on ``Another Black Feather," out Tuesday, is quite as magical as Kurtz's Yom Kippur invocation, but songs like ``Nola" and ``Banks of the Edisto" betray a knack for melody matched and complemented by her husky, nearly masculine voice. Kurtz is a confirmed New Yorker, but her songs are homesick for foreign climes: New Orleans (pre-Katrina) in ``Nola," which she imagines as a refuge for tired souls; a fond daydream of ``Venezuela" (which she describes as ``look(ing) like Brooklyn"; and the touching tribute to a banjo-picking friend on ``Banks of the Edisto." Surprisingly, for a performer whose previous album (``Beautiful Yesterday") was composed entirely of covers, Kurtz's own songs -- textured, deeply melodious, with a slide-guitar underpinning reminiscent of Lucinda Williams and Chris Whitley -- overshadow the covers here, of Johnny Cash's ``All Over Again" and Bill Withers's ``Hope She'll Be Happier." Kurtz's own songs, unassuming at first listen, burrow under your skin, tiny nodules of melody and stray lyrics refusing to let go before receiving a blessing of approval.
ESSENTIAL TRACK: ``It's the Day of Atonement, 2001." Dayna Kurtz plays at Johnny D's on Tuesday.
SAMPLE DAYNA KURTZ Check out audio clips at www.boston.com/clips.
Tilly and the Wall"
BOTTOMS OF BARRELS"Team Love"
Tilly and the Walls Bottoms of Barrels is another pop album about growing up, so were treated to the usual vacillation between glee and angst. The opening track, Rainbows in the Dark, has singer Kianna Alarid bragging that I finally feel it, the stitching of beautiful seams; later, on Lost Girls, she admits that no one will ever save you, if no one can ever find you. The catch here is that Tilly and the Wall, whose first disc, Wild Like Children, was a 2004 indie favorite, do glee better than almost anyone else. Bad Education, the centerpiece to Barrels, bursts at the seams with keyboards, strings, and accordion Tilly and the Wall had a tap dancer, Jamie Williams, in place of or as augmentation to standard percussion on Children, and Williams plays a big role on Barrels too. This is both a hindrance and a boon to the bands image. On one hand, the tap dancing makes it easy for critics to pigeonhole Tillys success as the result of gimmickry; on the other, it adds a happily idiosyncratic touch to an already likable sound. Tilly and the Wall play T.T. the Bears Place on Tuesday.
ESSENTIAL TRACK: Bad Education.
Various Artists, "featuring "David Lee Roth"
STRUMMIN WITH THE DEVIL: "THE SOUTHERN SIDE OF VAN HALEN"
David Lee Roth may have bombed as a morning talk-show host, but he makes a persuasive case as a bluegrass singer in this winning acoustic tribute to his Van Halen catalog. Hes one of many vocalists on the CD, but Roth leads the pack by revisiting (by way of Appalachia) two of his Van Halen hits, Jump and Jamies Cryin. He is accompanied by the John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band (Jorgenson is a three-time winner of the Academy of Country Music award for guitarist of the year) and sounds quite believable when surrounded by fiddle, dobro, and mandolin, rather than by Eddie Van Halens signature pop-metal mayhem. The rest of the disc is an added treat, featuring some of the top names in bluegrass. John Cowan, formerly of New Grass Revival, drives through Runnin With the Devil with a fevered intensity. Banjo legend Tony Trischka elevates Feel Your Love Tonight, Mountain Heart rips through Dance the Night Away, the Nashville Bluegrass Band lends style to Could This Be Magic?, and mandolinist David Grisman brings Hot for Teacher to a boil. Another triumph is Dennis Caplingers psychedelic banjo version of Eddie Van Halens classical instrumental Eruption. The performances transcend cheesiness, and this album should prove once and for all that bluegrass musicians can adapt to just about anything.
ESSENTIAL TRACK: Jump.
Paul Oakenfold "
A LIVELY MIND"
The first track on this new disc from the club music maestro is a head rush with an urgent female vocalist testifying to sexual hunger. Shes convincing, shes libidinal, and shes ..... actress Brittany Murphy. Surprisingly, Murphy makes a remarkably alluring and confident recording debut on Faster Kill Pussycat, a ridiculously addictive track with thick, pulsing bass lines and beats bouncing off the walls. Along with Nelly Furtados Promiscuous and Keliss Bossy, Pussycat is one of this summers sauciest singles. Oakenfold starts things in overdrive and hardly lets up on the pedal. Sex N Money is a floor pounder thats bound to blow eardrums. It features Pharrell Williams, who does just enough to goose the track along. Oakenfold is a club auteur, and though he uses guests vocalists to define his vision, they are never gratuitous cameos, so the focus is on the hyperkinetic beats and insinuations of sex and salvation through rhythm. Oakenfold layers the sumptuous sonics here and isnt interested in bludgeoning listeners. Vulnerable is just that a big, sweeping slice of melodrama. It adds an odd choice, Ashley Bottoroff of the Bad Apples, to the mix and makes for a nice change of pace. The Way I Feel is a trip to Club Emo, with its peek into a tortured psyche from vocalist Ryan Tedder. But Oakenfold really lets loose on Set It Off, which supplies somersaulting beats for a laconic Grandmaster Flash to soar over. Praise the Lord is an ironic bow to the altar of the almighty dollar. A few tracks find Oakenfold running thin on ideas, but more often Mind plays some wicked tricks on you.
ESSENTIAL TRACK: Faster Kill Pussycat.
Elvis Costello "& Allen Toussaint"
THE RIVER IN REVERSE"
Elvis Costellos latest is a project born of Hurricane Katrina specifically, of legendary New Orleans songwriter, producer, and musician Allen Toussaints dislocation to New York City, where he and Costello crossed paths at various Katrina benefits and renewed their musical friendship. In turn, that lighted the fuse in Costellos febrile mind of doing an album with Toussaint. The result is part collaboration and part tribute to Toussaint and, thereby, to New Orleans and its musical heritage. In some measure, its also an expression of distress at the current state of the city, although its not entirely clear at whom, exactly, the finger is being pointed. Costello has described the project as a meeting, and indeed it is: between Costello and his Imposters, and Touissant and his Crescent City Horns; between Costello the vocalist and the structure of classic Toussaint material (and classic renditions of that material); and between Costello and Toussaint working together as songwriters, arrangers, and musicians. The greater part of the record consists of renditions of less-familiar songs from Toussaints catalog, using classic performances of those songs as templates from Little Feat (On Your Way Down), Betty Harris (Nearer to You), Brinsley Schwarz (Wonder Woman), the Uniques (All These Things), and especially Lee Dorsey (Tears, Tears and More Tears, Freedom for the Stallion). Those revisitations are complemented by several new songs by the pair, the best of which marry Toussaints classic R&B vibe to the murky sting and wit of Costellos lyrics. Altogether a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, The River in Reverse celebrates the music of Toussaints New Orleans by adding to it, even as it laments the destruction and incompetence that have been visited upon the city itself.
ESSENTIAL TRACK: Whos Gonna Help Brother Get Further?