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Six Degrees
The Brazilian influence, in the context of American and British music, has often been about creating an impression: of endless sunny days and acoustic guitars strummed on Copacabana beach, of waifish chanteuses singing in beachfront cafes. Cibelle , Brazilian-born but living in London, combines this now-traditional bossa-nova sound with a more experimental, I'll-try-anything-twice approach to making music and an electronic-music sheen . Working with an impressive cast of musicians that includes fellow Brazilian Seu Jorge and French MC Spleen, Cibelle weaves an enchanting brand of chill-out music for dance and indie fans . Cibelle, who plays the Institute of Contemporary Art Sept. 21, has a taste for intellectual bossa nova, an impression only intensified by her cover of Caetano Veloso's ``London London," with freak-folk icon Devendra Banhart doing his best Caetano impression -- which is pretty good. The album's everything-and-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic includes off-key whistling on ``Esplendor," clattering spoons on ``Mad Man Song," and acoustic picking and synthesizer waves, drum patterns, and scat-singing all melded into a symphony for ``the people walking down the street" in ``City People." Brazil and boho beat-mining make for a curious combo, with some efforts in mixology going down more smoothly than others. Cibelle may sing like Astrud Gilberto , but her songs often sound more like emanations from the messed-up mind of fellow Brazilian Tom Ze , and the unusual combination of sounds from Sampa is surprisingly felicitous. ESSENTIAL TRACK: ``Arrete la, Menina."
SAMPLE CIBELLE Check out audio clips at

Cam'ron's last record was the epic, florid, and intoxicating ``Purple Haze," which seemed to place the MC in the hip-hop pantheon. So it comes as a shock that his follow-up is such a low-budget, uninspired affair. So many rap records these days are bloated and self-important, so the restraint is almost refreshing. But it doesn't feel like a strategic move so much as an artistic failure. This CD serves as a soundtrack to Cam'ron's just-released movie of the same name (it went straight to DVD), but it feels like a rush job. You'd think that after being shot, and his beef with Jay-Z, Cam would come with something slamming. His dis of Jigga, ``You Gotta Love It," is here but it's tepid (no wonder Jay mostly ignored it). Other tracks like ``War," the silly ``White Girls," or ``Girls, Cash, Cars" (now, there's a fresh subject) sound like the MC is spinning his wheels. Oddly, one of the most interesting cuts is ``I.B.S.," about, yep, Cam's troubles with irritable bowel syndrome. But the real problem is the chintzy production, especially coming off the sonic oomph of ``Haze." The beats are bargain basement and please, enough with the sped-up vocal samples. It seems like a strange time for Cam'ron to go into a holding pattern, but it looks like greatness will have to wait. ESSENTIAL TRACK: ``I.B.S."

Willie Nelson
Lost Highway
Willie Nelson, at 73, remains America's favorite pot-smoking, IRS-evading, ponytailed performer. Less famously, he continues to be country music's biggest risk-taker. Almost once a year, Nelson pumps out a record, rarely sticking to any formula. The results can be disastrous: Duets with Kid Rock, last year's reggae-nightmare, ``Countryman." But the good Willie outweighs the bad, and his tribute to Cindy Walker, the late, great dean of Texas songwriters, stands up as his best album since 1998's ``Teatro." Starting in the early 1940s, Walker wrote songs that became hits for, among others, Bob Wills, Roy Orbison, and Ray Charles. Her life was about as glitzy as a bucket of Cream of Wheat; she lived with her mother in a three-bedroom house in Mexia, Texas, and reportedly kept her songwriting awards under the bed. But when Walker sat down at her typewriter, she entered a universe of creaky barstools, dust storms, and ``sugar kisses . . . 'neath that ol' sugar moon." Nelson's most brilliant stroke is what he doesn't do: modernize Walker's tunes. Like the best tributes -- ``Nilsson sings Newman," Merle Haggard's to Wills -- his arrangements stay largely true to the originals. This is western swing, heavy on fiddles and steel guitar and Nelson's famously unorthodox voice. Though Lost Highway has been pushing comparisons to 1978's ``Stardust," they're wrong. ``Stardust" was a fascinating exercise in the unexpected, the redheaded stranger doing Tin Pan Alley. ``You Don't Know Me" is about timeless songs, and finding the perfect singer to interpret them. ESSENTIAL TRACK: ``Bubbles in My Beer."

Slaid Cleaves
With that voice, Slaid Cleaves could probably sing the phone book and make it sound good, but on his latest release he's singing from a different book than usual. He's set his own material aside to do an album of songs by other songwriters, and shaken things up a bit by recording in a different town (Nashville), with different musicians, and someone other than old friend Gurf Morlix in the producer's chair. The results are stunning. The songs are far from being standards or even well known; in fact, some of them are previously unrecorded. The songwriters -- among them longtime Cleaves road band guitarist Michael O'Connor, Texans Adam Carroll and Karen Poston, Boston local Melvern Taylor -- enjoy varying degrees of obscurity, too. But Cleaves wasn't going for ease of recognition; rather, these are favorite songs, written by friends and colleagues, that he's come across face to face, at home and on the road. And while none of them came from Cleaves's pen, they all sound like they could have; the songs are suffused with that remarkable combination of grace and a ``sense of resignation and sadness" (as Cleaves puts it in one of his song notes) that he so often evokes in his own work. Beyond that, though, Cleaves simply makes the songs his own. ESSENTIAL TRACK: ``Flowered Dresses."

Snow Patrol
EYES OPEN A&M For a band that labored long in the Scottish indie underground, Snow Patrol now grasps radio-ready pop rock with a startling command. It all started with the hit single ``Run," from 2004's ``Final Straw." The quintet's fourth album follows up with a polished set filled with gratifying melodies and a backline that switches from moody midtempo haze to powered-up rock with ease. All of this frames the post-Coldplay underdog sensitivity of singer Gary Lightbody (also the auteur behind the Scottish indie ``supergroup" the Reindeer Section), whose fragile lilting phrasing in ``You Could Be Happy" is a dead ringer for Chris Martin's melancholic swoon. The haunting ``Set the Fire to the Third Bar" features a gorgeous duet with Canadian folk-popster Martha Wainwright. Though opening track ``You're All I Have" bubbles along with a carefree Weezer-like vibe, Lightbody's voice stiffens with a delicious desperation. Welcome to this year's feel-good-about-feeling-bad hit of the summer. ESSENTIAL TRACK: ``You're All I Have." Snow Patrol performs at Avalon next Friday .

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