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Posted: Friday, June 9, 2006

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Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint “River in Reverse” Verve Forecast

Putting two bona fi de music icons together for a thematic collaboration can be a one plus one equals more than two situation — or an unmitigated disaster. Fortunately the former is the case for Elvis Costello and New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint’s pairing on “River in Reverse,” a post-Katrina tribute to the Big Easy that combines new versions of some of the American producer and songwriter’s material (most originally recorded by Lee Dorsey) and five new compositions by the duo — including “Ascension Day,” a jazzy voice-and-piano adaptation of Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina” with lyrics by Costello.

The rest of “River in Reverse” — recorded partly at Piety Street Studios near New Orleans’ decimated Ninth Ward — allows the two to vent their feelings about the city’s fate in the wake of last year’s natural disaster. Funky as they are, there’s a deeper poignancy to older Toussaint songs such as “Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further?” “On Your Way Down” and “Tears, Tears, and More Tears;” even a romantic elegy such as “All These Things” gains an extra layer of meaning in this context.

Some of the new songs, meanwhile, take dead aim at the situation; as Costello sings in the title track, “There must be something better than this/I don’t see how it can get much worse,” while “Broken Promise Land” comments on America in the new century by invoking images of Jericho. There are rays of light, however, as he and Toussaint imagine a group of musicians working amidst — and in defiance of — the ruins in “International Echo,” while the gritty six-fi ngered man is a spirited double entendre that still manages a shot or two at George W. Bush.

With Costello’s Imposters joined by the Crescent City Horns, “The River in Reverse” boasts a musical potency to match its lyrics, making for a winning project that’s indeed greater than the sum of its parts.


AFI “Decemberunderground” Interscope

The California modern rockers took their time following up their platinum 2003 major label debut, “Sing the Sorrow,” but the results merit the wait. “Decemberunderground,” the once-indie quartet’s seventh release overall, follows in the charged and angsty path of its predecessor, mixing mainstream-friendly anthems such as “Miss Murder,” “The Missing Frame,” “Love Like Winter” and “Summer Shudder” with more jagged, histrionic material such as “Endlessly, She Said,” “Kill Caustic,” “The Interview” and “37mm,” and even pays a bit of homage to the Cure on the textured but buoyant pop track “The Killing Lights.” How it fares saleswise remains to be seen, but nobody who likes AFI will be singing any sorrow over this set.

New and noteworthy

Artimus Pyledriver, “Artimus Pyledriver” (DRT) — The debut from the Atlanta rock band whose name makes Lynyrd Skynyrd’s old drummer blush.

The Bottle Rockets, “Zoysia” (Bloodshot) — The eighth album from the St. Louis ya’llternative rockers is pronounced “zoi’ zha.” Don’t you feel smarter now?

Cheap Trick, “Rockford” (Big3) — The rock veterans enlisted hitmaker Linda Perry to produce and co-write the album’s fi rst single, “Perfect Stranger.”

Cracker, “Greenland”

(Cooking Vinyl) — Known for their lyrical cheek, David Lowery and company take a more serious tone on their latest outing.

Donavon Frankenreiter, “Move By Yourself”

(Lost Highway) — The surfi ng singer-songwriter leaves the Jack Johnson nest for a funkier, full-band effort.

Head Automatica, “Popaganda” (Warner Bros.) — As the title indicates, the New York troupe goes for a catchier pop sheen on its sophomore outing.

Ice Cube, “Laugh Now, Cry Later” (Lench Mob) — Can the family film star (“Are We There Yet?”) still be gangsta? Find out on his fi rst release in six years.

Joan Jett, “Sinner”

(Blackheart) — Jett still loves rock ’n’ roll, with a surprising political edge, on her fi rst U.S. studio release in 12 years.

Gladys Knight, “Before Me” (Verve) — The former Motown diva takes her shot at the Great American Songbook with songs by Duke Ellington, the Gershwins and others of the ilk.

New Cars, “It’s Alive”

(Eleven Seven Music) — Just what we needed? A live set from the new model, with Todd Rundgren fronting, plus three new studio tracks.

Paul Oakenfold, “Lively Mind” (Maverick) — Pharrell Williams, Grandmaster Flash and actress Brittany Murphy are the guests on the electronic auteur’s latest song album.

Frank Sinatra Jr., “That Face” (Rhino) — Ol’ Blue Eyes II offers his fi rst studio album in a decade, featuring a duet with nuevo crooner Steve Tyrell.

Stars of Track and Field, “Centuries Before Love and War” (Sidecho) — The first full-length album from the buzzed-about Portland, Ore., avant-rock trio.

Various Artists, “Unsound Vol. 1” (Epitaph) — The Punk-O-Rama series gets a new name along with tracks by Matchbook Romance, Motion City Soundtrack, Bad Religion and more.

Various Artists, “Strummin’ with the Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen” (CMH) — A bluegrass take on VH, with original singer David Lee Roth singing a pair of tunes.

GARY GRAFF Of The Oakland Press

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