POP

Hymns of the 49th Parallel

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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"I drew a map of Canada/Oh Canada," sings k.d. lang on her gorgeous version of Joni Mitchell's 1971 gem "A Case of You." Those words take on even greater significance when the Alberta native tenderly wraps her velvet voice around them on this heartfelt collection of songs composed by such Canadian singer-songwriters as Mitchell, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Jane Siberry. Thematically, this Canadian song-book offers a refreshing alternative to the countless albums of American standards by everyone from Rod Stewart to 15-year-old Renee Olstead. And lang, who has previously devoted discs to country classics (1988's Shadowland and 1989's Absolute Torch and Twang), songs about smoking (1997's Drag) and Louis Armstrong standards (2002's A Wonderful World, with Tony Bennett), brings a loving reverence to these Hymns of the 49th Parallel. (The title refers to the border between the United States and the Great White North.) With orchestration as lush as her rich alto, the chanteuse pays homage to Young on the sumptuous opener "After the Gold Rush" and her sweetly aching cover of "Helpless," while honoring Mitchell again with "Jericho." Long compared to Patsy Cline, lang remembers her country roots with the fiddle-laced trot of Bruce Cockburn's "One Day I Walk." She also performs one number that she cowrote, the lilting love song "Simple." Listening to lang deliver these tunes is like a master class in pop singing. Her phrasing is impeccable, fluid and nuanced. Check out the way she slides down the notes on Ron Sexsmith's "Fallen," creating a sense of surrender. One wonders what lang would have done if she had tackled the work of some other Canadian artists, such as Sarah McLachlan or even Alanis Morissette. But here's hoping she'll do just that if and when she makes Hymns of the 49th Parallel, Vol. 2.

DOWNLOAD THIS "A Case of You"

POP

Seventy Two & Sunny

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Like his former boss Kid Rock, Uncle Kracker now wants you to know that he is a little bit country as well as a little bit rock and roll. "Patsy Cline still echoes through my younger years.../ George Jones sang me to sleep whether he knows it or not," he sings on the bluesy hoedown "A Place at My Table." On his third solo outing, Uncle Kracker completes his musical makeover from Kid Rock's deejay and hype man to a credible country-rocker living up to his Everyredneck persona. Indeed, there is nary a hint of hip-hop or hard rock on this disc. Instead, Kracker softens up his approach with warm early-'70s sounds and classic Nashville-style songcraft on tunes like "Don't Know How (Not to Love You)" and "Some Things You Can't Take Back." Kracker's modest voice works well with the modest sentiments. When he sings "Sometimes I wake up with a fever, then I just have another beer" on "Further Down the Road," you believe him. And when Kracker teams up with Kenny Chesney for the twangy duet "Last Night Again," he proves that he's just as comfortable wearing a cowboy hat as a trucker's baseball cap.

DOWNLOAD THIS "Don't Know How (Not to Love You)"

COUNTRY-ROCK

Mis-Teeq

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Part Destiny's Child, part TLC, with a dash of the Spice Girls thrown in for good measure, Britain's Mis-Teeq makes tasty R&B-pop confections on its self-titled U.S. debut, which features songs culled from the trio's first two U.K. releases. From the girl-power pop of "Can't Get It Back" to the jittery two-step of "All I Want," it's easy to hear why these sassy lasses (Alesha Dixon, Su-Elise Nash and Sabrina Washington) have had a string of seven consecutive Top 10 hits in the U.K. The CD kicks off with the killer first single "Scandalous," which, with its sirens, strings and sexual tension, is outrageous fun. Elsewhere, Mis-Teeq dips into reggae (on tracks such as the bump-and-grinder "That's Just Not Me") and rap (with resident emcee Dixon channeling TLC's late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes). Ultimately there is no real mystery to this girl group. They have obvious hooks to match their obvious looks. But make no mis-take: You won't be able to resist them.

DOWNLOAD THIS "Scandalous"

R&B
Patient Man

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Cotter is a 33-year-old Auburn, Ala., native who had been knocking on Nashville's doors for years as a demo singer. Then in May he won the second-season competition of Nashville Star, the USA Network's country music take on American Idol, and was rewarded with a deal with Epic Records. But Cotter's routine debut makes it easy to understand why he had been languishing on Music City's sidelines since 1993. Cotter has a steady, not unpleasant voice that can carry a tune, but doesn't do much with it. At least he didn't insist on doing all his own writing. He had a hand in composing five of the album's 10 cuts, but wisely relied on songwriting support from producers Rick Giles and Steve Bogard on tracks such as the first single "I Meant To," a thoughtful tune about good intentions falling victim to practical considerations that Cotter performed on Nashville Star. Still, this less than stellar effort shows that he's got a long way to go before he truly deserves star treatment.

COUNTRY
DOWNLOAD THIS "I Meant To"

Tis the season for hitting the road, and after another gig in another town, most acts prefer listening to other people's music. Here's what's playing on some tour buses.

BARENAKED LADIES A Ghost Is Born, Wilco

THE CURE Turn On the Bright Lights, Interpol

LIZ PHAIR Uh Huh Her, PJ Harvey

USHER A Beautiful World, Thicke

THE ROOTS Metamorphosis, Hilary Duff

TIM McGRAW Golden Road, Keith Urban, and A Rush of Blood to the Head, Coldplay

JILL SCOTT Parade, Prince and the Revolution

  • Contributors:
  • Chuck Arnold,
  • Ralph Novak.