Beyond Playlist: Cobra Starship and more

Cobra Starship Hot Mess (Decaydance/Fueled by Ramen)

Don't know why clueless reviewers continue to refer to Cobra Starship as "an emo band." At this point, the main emotion they display is giddiness, and frankly, that's a blessed relief. From the group's beginnings, frontman Gabe Saporta, Ryland Blackinton and the rest decided to embrace mindless dance beats and keytars as opposed to using their songs as forums to bitch about every bad date they've ever endured, and Hot Mess pushes even further in the direction of good times and tongues in cheeks -- theirs or those belong to anyone else who's willing. "Nice Guys Finish Last" is a celebratory ass-shaker so cheerfully dopey that when Saporta asks for some help from the single ladies, a simulated batch of them chirp, "What do you want us to do?" That's followed by "Pete Wentz is the Only Reason We're Famous," which might have been true but no longer is, "Good Girls Go Bad," an ultra-catchy single that makes canny use of Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester, and "You're Not in on the Joke," which comes closer to censoriousness than anything else here. Which is only appropriate -- because in Cobra Starship's world, not having a sense of humor is the worst sin imaginable. Take that, emo boys.

Woody Guthrie My Dusty Road (Rounder Records)

Guthrie richly deserves his place in the pantheon of American originals. But he was enshrined so long ago that most of his songs, with the exception of "This Land Is Your Land," are seldom heard these days -- and even that one's generally performed by artists who know precious little about the rich and diverse catalogue from which it sprang. This lavishly packaged box set rights this wrong by way of a well-chosen song selection that depicts Guthrie as an impassioned, committed flesh-and-blood performer rather than a dry figure in a text book. The compilers rely on categories instead of chronology, with each disc focusing on a different facet of the troubadour's career. First up are his "Greatest" hits, which features some of his more familiar compositions, from the defiantly peppy "Going Down the Road (I Ain't Gonna Be Treated This Way)" to the enduring narrative "Pretty Boy Floyd." That's followed by "Woody's Roots," dominated by selections from the folk canon such as "Stackolee" and "John Henry;" "Woody the Agitator," a round-up of topical and protest material like "Gonna Roll the Union On" and "The Ludlow Massacre;:" and "Woody, Cisco and Sonny," co-starring Cisco Houston and Sonny Terry - lesser artists, true, but ones who bring out Guthrie's boisterous side. Also on hand are a number of previously unreleased ditties, including "Bad Repetation," and if none constitute lost gems, they contribute to a lively and compelling slice of U.S. musical history. My Dusty Road may be long, but it's well worth traveling.

The Cave Singers Welcome Joy (Matador)

Whereas Seattle once seemed to have an informal ban on any performer who didn't abuse his amplifier, the town is now home to an army of roots musicians specializing in post-modern explorations of assorted folk and blues. The Cave Singers fit snugly - maybe too snugly - into this category. Fans of guitarist/bassist Derek Fudesco from his days with Pretty Girls Make Graves will find some of that band's darkness but little of its racket in the slow-building strums he makes with guitarist/singer Pete Quirk and Marty Lund, who splits his time between guitar and drums. Would that he focused more on the latter than the former. "Leap" only truly gets going when the beats kick in after a typically deliberate guitar-picking intro - and while the percussive rumble that underpins "Shrine" helps build tension, the full-set workout that accompanies the arrival of background singers at around the three-minute point lifts the track to a much higher level. The material as a whole is earnest and atmospheric, but tunes like "Hen of the Woods" take so long to get going that they're almost over by the time they become interesting. Next time, maybe these guys should try starting in the middle.

Ashley Tisdale Guilty Pleasure Warner Bros.

No arguing with the success of the Disney Channel factory, which continues to crank out tween stars at an astonishingly regular rate, with the next barely pubescent celeb ready to rise just as the previous one is growing too much body hair in hard-to-shave places. But pity the poor souls who reach their expiration date - like, for instance, Ashley Tisdale, the best actress in the High School Musical films (granted, it's not much of a contest), who's trying her best to retain her once-massive fan base after moving out of the Mouse's house. Unfortunately, Guilty Pleasure is so overwhelmingly generic that it could have been made by practically anyone with the right producers and hair style. Either the cuts hew too closely to the teenage template, as with "Acting Out," which doesn't exactly make a lot of sense considering that Tisdale is now (egad!) 24-years-old, or they ape other pop artists without adding any distinguishing marks (e.g., the very Katy Perry-like "Masquerade"). At this point, Tisdale is still playing young in the studio and on the screen -- her next flick is the kids-centric Aliens in the Attic -- and maybe it's the best course of action. That way, she'll make as much money as she can for as long as she can from the audience she's got before moving on once and for all. And afterward, all the guilt magically goes away.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts