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The Week

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Singles

Basement Jaxx ”Where’s Your Head At?” (Astralwerks) It’s a wonder that this ludicrously addictive garage/funk/rap track didn’t jump off the Basement Jaxx album when it was released last July and become the hit of summer 2001. No matter. With Gary Numan samples whirring like an ancient power plant, ultra-smooth lead vocals by Damien Peachy, and the catchiest call-out hook since ”Song 2,” ”Head?” has ubiquity in its future. Think of it as the summer song of winter 2002. A- — Josh Tyrangiel

Cher ”(This Is) A Song for the Lonely” (Warner Bros.) Dancing queens, rejoice: Cher’s back. Her new CD’s leadoff single (which she fist-pumpingly premiered on last month’s American Music Awards) uses the same ingredients that made 1998’s ”Believe” a smash—melancholy lyrics plus a high-energy boom-chucka beat—minus the pointless digital noodling. ”Song” might not dominate the charts like ”Believe” did, but the 56-year-old’s vocals are so confident you almost forgive her for lip-synching on the AMAs. B+ — Dave Karger

Pop/Rock/Rap

Chris Isaak Always Got Tonight (Reprise) As on his previous seven discs, Isaak doesn’t stray far from his rockabilly/brooding ballad/retro-rock formula. Still, he (with longtime band the Silvertones) performs with such charming, seasoned assurance, that Always feels like a warm visit from an old pal. And with party-starting standouts like ”American Boy” (his nifty Showtime series theme) and the loungey-surf guitar-funk of ”Notice the Ring,” Isaak deserves to be back on the charts. B+ — Beth Johnson

Richard Hawley Late Night Final (Setanta) Sometimes you can tell everything you need to know about an album from the song titles. ”The Nights Are Cold.” ”Lonely Night.” ”Can You Hear the Rain, Love?” Hawley’s CD is full of sad songs about dark skies and inclement weather, and sure enough, his music is beautifully suited to the wee small hours of the morning. It’s perfect feel-good feel-bad music. A- — RB

Jools Holland Jools Holland’s Big Band Rhythm & Blues (Rhino) While its main selling point may be George Harrison’s impassioned swan song, ”Horse to the Water,” this all-star extravaganza is mainly an elegantly arranged set of R&B and pop chestnuts, presided over by ex-Squeeze keyboardist Holland. The nominal star displays fleet-fingered instrumental expertise, while leaving the singing to guests ranging from Eric Clapton to Joe Strummer to Jamiroquai, who lend a chummy, effortless vibe to the proceedings. B+ — Scott Schinder

Fu Manchu California Crossing (Mammoth) Fu Manchu aren’t bad, exactly. At times, their guitar acrobatics and pop-rock hooks merge to create moments that are, well, almost worth listening to. But without the wit, innovation, or nuance to redeem these mundane meditations on cars, sun, and chicks, the band doesn’t do much to counter the outdated notion that Californians are airheads. C — Evan Serpick

Cornelius Point (Matador) Beautiful music for clever 21st- century lads and lassies. The impish knob-twiddler also known as Keigo Oyamada has emerged from his Tokyo studio with a worthy follow-up to 1998’s Fantasma: 11 irresistible sound collages that feature driving beats, amiable guitar acoustics, and a quadraphonic sense of aural play that encourages rampant headphone abuse. Songs like ”Point of View Point” yank your ears in four different directions at once; better yet, tracks like ”Bird Watching at Inner Forest” exude a sly humanistic warmth. A — Ty Burr

Henri Salvador Room With a View (Blue Note) Best known as an affably cheesy French TV show host from the ’60s, Salvador has also released numerous lounge and novelty recordings (who could forget ”Da! Da! Niet! Niet!”?). Now, thanks to the fetishism of global DJs, the 84-year-old crooner — like Austrian counterpart Louie Austen — is again au courant. This surprisingly unkitschy set of jazzy bossa novas, already a smash in France, finds his bilingual bedroom whisper intact and effective. Nifty for necking. B — Will Hermes

Josh Clayton-Felt Spirit Touches Ground (DreamWorks) Recorded in the mid-’90s, this long-awaited third album from the ex-School of Fish frontman was twice derailed, first by record-company politics and then by Clayton-Felt’s death by cancer in early 2000. But the wait wasn’t half as frustrating as finally hearing the album, which is so laden with talent and promise it’s almost painful to listen to. Like similarly minded L.A. smart-pop artists Aimee Mann and Jason Falkner, Clayton-Felt writes modest songs that take time to reveal their true depth. It’s a real loss that the singer won’t get the same chance himself. B+ — RB

Soundtracks

Various Artists Scratch (Transparent Music) This companion CD to a documentary about the history of turntablism abundantly fills its needle-drop quota with cuts from Technics grandmasters like Rob Swift, DJ Premier, and the X-Ecutioners. But the scratch- to-hook ratio is way out of whack, and the album becomes a grueling endurance test. Unless, of course, your idea of phun is a tedious, nearly nine-minute remake of Herbie Hancock’s 1983 proto-techno hit, ”Rockit.” B- — Marc Weingarten

Country

Travis Tritt The Rockin’ Side; The Lovin’ Side (Rhino) When Tritt debuted in 1990, he was dismissed as a Hank Williams Jr. clone, a rowdy honky-tonker steeped in deep-dish Southern fare. But the Georgia native with the club-cured, scotch-and-stogies baritone soon carved out his own identity based on his evocative ballads and harder-rockin’ testosterone-fueled barn burners. These two 16-track discs are sold individually, but the ballad-heavy Lovin’ Side would have benefitted from a little of Tritt’s sweatier stuff. Make your own mix at home. Rockin’: A- Lovin’: B — Alanna Nash

Jazz

David Benoit Fuzzy Logic (GRP) One of smooth jazz’s early architects turns up the heat ever so slightly. Benoit’s flourished approach on piano takes the lead over a lean, soft-edged funk sound from a rhythm section. For textural variation, trumpeter Rick Braun and pop flutist Tim Weisberg toss licks into the groove stew of ”War of the S.U.V.’s,” and woodwinds grace the balladic ”Reflections.” Overall, the music doesn’t demand too much of the listener—the smooth jazz ethic in action. C+ — Josef Woodard

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