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Extended Play: Alice in Chains, Robert Earl Keen, Mark Mulcahy tribute

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Welcome to Extended Play, an often-as-possible feature on the Music Mix which allows us to review deserving albums for which cruel fate has denied the chance to dwell within our printed pages. Weep not, for they have found a home at last.

This week: new music from Alice in Chains and Robert Earl Keen, plus an all-star tribute to singer-songwriter Mark Mulcahy.

Alice in Chains

Black Gives Way to Blue

Rock (Virgin)

Alice in Chains released at least one undisputed masterpiece, 1992’s doom-and-dope-haunted Dirt. For better or worse, that disc was so bleakly definitive that everything they subsequently did felt anticlimactic. Now, seven years after singer/cofounder Layne Staley’s drug-related 2002 death, along comes a reconstituted Alice (featuring Staley soundalike William DuVall) with a comeback CD that sounds exactly like you’d expect the next AIC album would, with vertigo-inducing hard rock riffology, fevered acoustic ruminations, and gloomy proclamations, delivered with admirable force and brio. That said, the verdict’s still a no-brainer: ‘S good stuff, but nowhere near as potent as the tour de force that was Dirt. B– —Tom Sinclair

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Private Hell”

Robert Earl Keen

The Rose Hotel

Country (Lost Highway)

He’s a veteran singer-songwriter with a voice full of nasal imperfections, a sense of humor that’s wry and dry, and a stubborn streak that refuses to bend to current trends. Other prodigal Lone Star sons may have lost their roots in Nashville, but consider Keen — and this album of zydeco, icehouse rock, and brisk blues benders — required listening for anyone interested in what we talk about when we talk about Texas music. On tracks like the soul-enhanced “Throwin’ Rocks” or the coffeeshop-crank monologue of “Wireless in Heaven,” he manages to make even the great George Strait sound poppy as Maroon 5. B+ —Whitney Pastorek

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Throwin’ Rocks”

Various Artists

Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy

Indie Rock (Shout! Factory)

First as the leader of jangle-rock outfit Miracle Legion, then as a solo singer-songwriter, Mark Mulcahy has spent 25 years building a fairly small but extremely talented fan base. That much is clear from the lineup of this tribute album: Michael Stipe, Dinosaur Jr., Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, and more each put their own spins on Mulcahy’s quirkily sensitive tunes. This gathering of luminaries was conceived as a benefit for Mulcahy after his wife’s unexpected death. May it bring about the recognition he deserved years ago. A– —Simon Vozick-Levinson

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Ashamed of the Story I Told” (The National)

Photo credit: James Minchin

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