AMERICAN JUKEBOX FABLES
Ellis Paul is a folk troubadour with an increasingly believable pop edge. He has made a gem of an album with Boston producer Flynn, who captures Paul's acoustic-poet essence and garnishes it with a stirring array of soulful strings, driving rhythms, unexpected percussive accents, and the otherworldly voice of Rachael Davis. She embellishes opening track ''Blacktop Train," about crisscrossing the country ''on a quest for the trail of Jack Kerouac." There is plenty of time-worn wisdom in these tunes, from the gently rocking ''Alice's Champagne Palace" (about visiting a friendly bar in Homer, Alaska) to the polished ''Goodbye Hollywood," about missing a lover in Iowa. Paul remains a singer/songwriter of uncommon insight -- and this time turns his pen toward Pat Tillman, the former NFL player who volunteered to fight in Afghanistanand was killed. In the stately ''Kiss the Sun (A Song for Pat Tillman)," Paul sings that Tillman went to Afghanistan ''for justice, not for greed," though Paul can't help wondering whether Tillman was inadvertently fighting ''an oilman's war." As he intones in a voice cracking with emotion, ''Is that what Pat Tillman died for?" Each of Paul's songs is a marvel of economy -- and he's not afraid to swing a broad brush at the media (''Bad, Bad Blood" is about opportunistic TV cameramen who film police gunning down a robber) and at the narrow-mindedness of some people who have no sympathy for an out-of-wedlock child. It's a passionate album, vigorously sung by Paul, who seems ready to take the next step in his career. Paul headlines the Somerville Theatre tomorrow night.
Having launched a multimedia phantasmagoria along with their 2002 debut, ''#1," the Brooklyn-based art pop duo Fischerspooner would seem difficult to capture on a mere album. But on ''Odyssey," Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner get down to basics, focusing on their songwriting (with help from hit-meister Linda Perry and French producer Mirwais) and abandoning some of their ironic distance. The resulting pastiche lacks any moments as giddy and inspired as their breakout single, ''Emerge," but it sparkles with attitude, style, and vivid electronic flourishes. As for lyrics, Spooner got help from the cryptic power of spam e-mail for ''A Kick in the Teeth" and from late cultural critic Susan Sontag, who penned the protest-themed words for ''We Need a War." The duo's glossy electro-pop benefits from the darker rock leanings of lead single ''Just Let Go," which slices a strutting beat and agile keyboards with guitar, and ''Never Win," which has a riff as infectious as anything by Franz Ferdinand. Still, the multitude of influences can be too much of a good thing. The results sometimes lose focus, as on ''Happy," which almost buries an epic, rollicking beat under a wash of effects. But while their sound would benefit from a less-is-more approach, the ambitious duo has successfully pushed beyond being a one-hit novelty act.
THE BEST LITTLE SECRETS ARE KEPT
''If you want clean fun, go fly a kite," lead singer Jason Hill snarls on the throbbing ''Paper Doll," and listeners might consider that fair warning. This San Diego-based quartet works overtime to earn that ''Parental Advisory" sticker on the front of their first full-length CD. Then again, perhaps few will notice it since it's just to the left of a naked woman with the band's song list scrawled down her back. As bombastic and lecherous as a frat party, nothing about this album is subtle. But it's also the kind of upside-your-head blast of raunchy, sloppy rock that hasn't really been in vogue since former AC/DC frontman Bon Scott drank himself into an early grave 25 years ago. The easily offended will find plenty to rile them, such as ''Finding Out True Love Is Blind," which sounds like a cross between the B-52s and the New York Dolls. On the song, the band barks off a laundry list of desirable women, framed with the sweetly sung chorus, ''Wind you up and make you crawl to me, tie you up until you call to me." Still, it comes off more dopey than dangerous, and at the end of the day, these boys are more concerned with rocking hard than ticking anyone off. Clocking in at a tidy 38 minutes, this rollicking album may not be clean, but it's an awful lot of fun.
SEE YOU NEXT TUESDAY
It takes a smart band to make a stupid record. Fannypack, the quintet that produces tongue-in-cheek hip-hop perfectly suited for Brooklyn nail salons, made the ultimate stupid record of 2003 with ''Cameltoe," a paean to a particularly embarrassing fashion faux pas. It was exactly the kind of message the Beastie Boys would have been tempted to deliver had they not traded their parties and polyester for Tibet. Two years on, Fannypack has only gotten more stupid (in the smartest way). With ''See You Next Tuesday," a title most likely chosen for the titters it produced at a band meeting, the quintet further delves into its pink plastic world of Fisher-Price hip-hop. What makes ''Tuesday" such an enthralling record is its lack of sincerity or pretense. You can practically smell the Giorgio when the trio of Nuyorican princesses who front the band begin their eighth-grade dissing (though they're now dissing at a 10th-grade level). The musical credit and hipster quotient comes courtesy of Matt Goias, who cooks up amazing lines that drip pop culture, such as ''I'm a make you scream like Howard Dean," and the juicy ''Get Benjamins like Goldie Hawn." Fannypack engages in an incredibly savvy musical technique that offers multiple layers of bass and percussion and produces a sound that falls somewhere between 1980s dance pop and a carnival. There are also experiments with reggae and dancehall, but the disc's best moments are when Goias and fellow DJ Fancy pretend they're Nu Shooz, while the ladies fight for mike time as if they're bickering over a pair of mules at Payless on a Saturday afternoon.
IT'S ME AGAIN
Riding on the coattails of Missy Elliott, Tweet made a successful debut in 2002 with a set of sleepy slow jams that showed a promising, if limited, voice. She returns with a collection of similar grooves that doesn't extend her talent and makes you wonder whether she's ever going to take it to the next level. Most of the pleasures are on the surface. Tweet sings in a softly cooing, come-hither style that's alluring but not very gripping. The songs are virtually devoid of drama or tension. Thankfully, the multiple producers, including Elliott, keep the tracks lean and lithe -- a treat considering how often R&B is overproduced these days. Elliott helps give Tweet a little kick on ''Things I Don't Mean," an upbeat cut with some mustard, while Rell adds a bit of juice to ''Could It Be." ''My Man" is a sweet throwback of an organic groove, and the piano-driven ''Sports, Sex & Food" shows that the singer not only has her priorities in place but that there's more than a little defiance in her strut. Interestingly, one of the best cuts is buried at the end, ''We Don't Need No Water." It shows a side of Tweet -- volatile, almost smoking -- that's absent elsewhere. Too bad. There are a few too many forgettable cuts like the wispy ''Cab Ride" where Tweet's understated approach borders on the narcoleptic. Tweet still shows promise. Now it's time to prove she can fulfill it.