One Tree Hill 2If you're a fan of rootsy Texas cowboy country, you should check out the Palo Duro Records label. The label has issued Texas Unplugged Vol. 2, a collection of acoustic campfire-ready songs from Lone Star state artists The Derailers, Dale Watson, Morrison-Williams, Two Tons of Steel and more. The first collection was reviewed here last year, and the second helping is another fine collection of country rock.

Modern rock gets a review on the latest soundtrack from the popular One Tree Hill TV show. One Tree Hill Vol.2: Friends With Benefit offers Gavin Degraw's 2003 cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" backed only by a piano, and Fall Out Boy provides the longest song title I've seen in a while: "I've Got a Dark Alley and a Bad Idea That Says You Should Shut Your Mouth (Summer Song)." The disc also offers tracks from the past couple of years recorded by Feeder, Audioslave, Nada Surf, Hot Hot Heat, Shout Out Louds, Jimmy Eat World and more.

 

Cat Power
The Greatest
(Matador)

Chan Marshall, the voice, guitar and piano behind Cat Power, has one of the most difficult to pin-down styles you're likely to hear. Sometimes contemplative and vulnerable, at turns sultry and jazzy, and then again smokily country-esque with a k.d. lang twang, on her latest release she spins a web of musical allure that begins slowly and ends with your utter captivation.

The Greatest opens with its title track, a dreamy meld of piano, melancholy strings, a wavering guitar, almost transparent R&B background vocals and Marshall's own whispery vocals. She sings from a point of sad knowledge, as she looks back and intones "once I wanted to be the greatest."

Some cymbals and drums lazily smash open the next track, the jaunty strolling "Living Proof," which adds the slight drive of organ and subdued horns to the mix.

A little later, the talent of her backing band, which helped create the Memphis Soul sound of the late '60s and early '70s, comes to the fore in "Could We," as Marshall's sultry tones recall Tanita Tikaram, while the band struts its horns and rhythm prowess behind her.

There's a hint of back porch twang in "Empty Shell" and the echoey melancholy of Marshall's plaintive vocal and somnambulant piano, and strings on "Where Is My Love" recalls the dreamy alternative experiments of This Mortal Coil in the '80s.

A background whistle and a bluesy piano roll opens "After It All," and the next track retreats to a reverb-heavy guitar and vocal whisper.

The disc ends with the only track that includes any noticeable guitar distortion, as the band steps up its attack slightly to strut with restrained power behind Marshall's call for "Love & Communication."

The Greatest is an album that gets greater with every listen. This is rich, chocolaty music to dream to.

 

Donald FagenDonald Fagen
Morph the Cat
(Reprise)
½

As both the lead singer of Steely Dan, and more recently as a solo artist, Donald Fagen has been mining the same cool jazz meld of rhythm guitar and haughty electric piano for the better part of 30 years.

His latest offering, Morph the Cat, could as easily have been recorded in 1986, as 2006; while Fagen's voice occasionally betrays the gravel of age, for the most part, this latest collection would slip into a jukebox filled with tracks from his 1982 album The Nightfly and his 1993 disc Kamakiriad, without being noticed.

And like those discs, this album has only eight songs (plus a reprise), though it clocks in at 53 minutes of music.

There are no sit-up-and-take-notice hit single tracks on Morph the Cat. Like most of Fagen's output of the last couple of decades, this is a well-crafted, relaxing, jazzy exercise in lightly punctuating horns, smoothly layered vocals and tight guitar and bass rhythm lines.

It's recommended for late-night listening, with brandy snifters and smoking jackets.