updated 09/03/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/03/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT


Lifeline |

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On his last release, 2006's Both Sides of the Gun, the usually unassuming Ben Harper pulled a Prince, turning rather ambitious with a double CD that showed off both his funky and folky facets. On this follow-up, which finds him backed by his band the Innocent Criminals, the singer-songwriter scales it back down with a tight, 11-track set that plays like an old '70s LP. Recorded in just seven days with minimal studio tweaking, Lifeline harks back to the more innocent analog age. The sound and the songs grab you with their immediacy and intimacy; you feel like Harper is right there strumming in your living room. Highlights include the soulful, lightly bluesy "In the Colors," with its oh-so-easygoing groove, and "Having Wings," which glides along with unaffected charm. Best, though, is the stripped-bare title track, a ballad that is a thing of acoustic beauty.

Terence Blanchard
A Tale of God's Will (a requiem for katrina) |

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Trumpeter and New Orleans native Terence Blanchard has scored other Spike Lee projects (Mo' Better Blues, Malcolm X), but none as personal as When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. On this disc of songs from and inspired by Lee's Katrina documentary, Blanchard's superb quintet draws musical impressions as affecting as the tragedy they recall. A trumpet screeches grief in "The Water"; tablas evoke an emptiness that gives way to soulful sax on "Mantra." For each somber moment, there's an upsurge of melodic joy. Like other Big Easy funeral marches, this one celebrates lives lost—and those still to be lived.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Wading Through," a sad theme wrapped in majesty

A Fine Frenzy
One Cell in the Sea |

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A Fine Frenzy—recently one of VH1's You Oughta Know artists—is really 22-year-old singer-pianist Alison Sudol. Forget the misleading moniker—taken from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream—because there is a soothing calm to her debut CD, on which she comes off like a cross between Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan (with a little Chris Martin thrown in for good measure). There is a lovely, lilting quality to tunes like the inviting opener "Come On, Come Out," which showcases the fragile beauty of Sudol's soprano. But all the atmospherics, precious as they can be, start to wear thin after a while.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Almost Lover," the achingly sweet first single

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