But this is hardly a pure Americana effort. There's still lotsa crunchy electric guitar, heavily processed vocals, punchy percussion, even some hip-hop turntablism and Irish bagpipes. (Check out the especially whack "Valley Farm Song.")
Marah co-founder Dave Bielanko and longtime band member/collaborator Christine Smith put the project together with only token help from Bielanko's brother and usual collaborator, Serge. For full appreciation, listen on earphones (but who doesn't these days?) and closely follow the sheet of lyrics nuanced in meaning and even in the meandering handwriting.
MORE ROCKS IN YER HEAD: And speaking of Springsteen connections, "The Boss" really gave a boost to fellow Jersey boys Gaslight Anthem on his new "London Calling: Live in Hyde Park" DVD, inviting their lead singer, Brian Fallon, up on stage to duet.
The reasons become immediately evident on Gaslight's new "American Slang" (Side One Dummy, B+), deeply steeped in the elliptical imagery and vintage club-rock stomp of Springsteen's early work. Only thing missing? Clarence-like saxophone blasts.
Great to have Aussie talent Neil Finn reconvening the Crowded House gang for another set of grown-up, crafty and ruminative rock, "Intriguer" (Fantasy, A-). The haves-vs.-have-nots themed "Either Side of the World" and romantic "Twice If You're Lucky" really bit me, but all's good.
MUSIC ON VIDEO DISC: Rock bio-pics are rarely drawn as authentically as "The Runaways" (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment DVD and Blu-ray Disc, B), the gritty saga of a pioneering all-girl punk band who literally grew up on the job. Sure helps that group leader Joan Jett was a producer.
While I wasn't much moved by newly unearthed bonus tracks on the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street" reissue, I'd have been all over the project had the fresh-made, tell-some documentary "Stones in Exile" (Eagle Rock Entertainment DVD, B) been packed in. It's a pretty frank look at factors (drugs, sex and the tax man) that drove the Stones into retreat in mind, body and that album's creation.
GUILTY PLEASURES: OK, so maybe Sting is resting on his laurels with "Symphonicities" (Decca, B). But if you loved the originals, you'll be digging the lush and lively big-band treatments of tunes like "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," "Roxanne" and "I Hung My Head" contained therein.
Spawned in the ABBA tradition (only Australian), Kylie Minogue has the bubblicious pop tunes, the beats and the flirtiness to get almost everyone out on the dance floor with her comeback set, "Aphrodite" (EMI, B). Britain took the set to No. 1 last week. bumping Eminem. Over here, she's um, No. 19.
As flaunted on her live recording "The Laziest Gal in Town" (DRG, B+), Jane Krakowski's giddy nightclub act doesn't veer far from her wacky turn on "30 Rock." Only now she's digging in the vaults for classic sex-kitten tunes like "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" and Eubie Blake's homage to "My Handy Man." The dame also slips in an homage to "Wacky Dust" that could never get past the NBC censors, and a daffy ditty she's probably been singing all her life - "Rubber Duckie."
Deep they ain't. Still, the country pop trio Trailer Choir sure has a frothy, funny "Tailgate" (Show Dog/Universal, B-) party goin' on. Words to live by: "Can't drink all day, if you don't start early." And don't forget, gents, there's more to love with a lady who's "Rockin' the Beer Gut."
JAZZ NOTES: Herbie Hancock has always been the most market-savvy of jazz keyboardists. Proving the point anew, his easy-listening "The Imagine Project" (Hancock Records, B), which pairs him with an endless parade of world-class talents and classic feel-good tunes. Think John Legend and Pink helping on Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up"; the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," psychedelicized anew by Dave Matthews; and "The Times They Are A-Changin' " with the Chieftains. Also helping Herbie: India.Arie, Seal, James Morrison, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, K'Naan, Los Lobos, James Morrison and Chaka Khan.
Johnny Griffin "Live at Ronnie Scott's" (Inandout Records, A-) captures the mainstream sax man's final concert recordings in May 2008, sure to leave fans both happy and sad. In fine form, the "Little Giant" was backed by a top-notch band (including Roy Hargrove and Billy Cobham) on swan songs like "Lester Leaps In" and "How Deep Is the Ocean."