Portugal. The Man Church Mouth (Fearless)
There's no denying that John Gourley and his two musical pals take themselves mighty seriously. Fortunately, they manage to merge artsiness with whimsy, cheek and good beats. The likes of "Sugar Cinammon," "Oh Lord" and the title track are herky-jerky alterna-rockers with willfully curious arrangements and vocals that crash and splash together in a flood of falsettos. They're the Man. -- Michael Roberts
The Budos Band II (Daptone Records)
From the folks who gave us Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, whose neo-retro sounds have reached much of the public via Amy Winehouse, comes the Budos Band, an instrumental collective that specializes in flashback soul of an especially addictive sort. "King Cobra" merges dub production with a blaxploitation vibe that will give listeners the Shaft, while "Scorpion" packs a lethal sting. You'll feel cooler after just one spin. -- Roberts
Steve Vai Sound Theories Vol. I & II (Epic/Red Ink)
Don't care much for the work of Mr. Vai, an obviously gifted instrumentalist, yet one whose guitar wizardry has always struck me as so much empty wanking. But rather than releasing yet another collection of forgettable fret fornication, he tries something more ambitious with Sound Theories, a carefully composed quasi-orchestral work overflowing with soundtrack elements. There are definitely moments on the likes of "The Murder" that are more Gouda than good, but melodramatic cheese is preferable to what he typically serves up. I didn't hate this nearly as much as I anticipated. Sue me. -- Roberts
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Robbie Fulks Revenge! (Yep Roc)
Fulks is an underappreciated roots practitioner who proves equally adept at bandstand stomping and tear jerking on this highly enjoyable double-CD set. Disc one, subtitled "Standing," contains choogalating renditions of "Fixin' to Fall" and other crowd-pleasers; disc two, dubbed "Sitting," takes a quieter approach to a wide range of material, even finding a way to make the robo-Cher opus "Believe" into an unexpectedly credible ditty. What the hell? -- Roberts
Johnette Napolitano Scarred (Hybrid Recordings)
The latest solo CD from Napolitano, who's best known for fronting Concrete Blonde, is a stone drag -- pretentious, sludgy and heavy-handed. Bailed at: song six, "Just in Time," which had me hearing way too many echoing Bunnymen. -- Roberts