The Royal TenenbaumsThe soundtrack to The Royal Tenenbaums is a quirky affair, thanks to compiler, composer and former Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh. The disc includes a number of Mothersbaugh instrumental tracks interspersed between songs by Bob Dylan ("Wigwam"), The Clash ("Police & Thieves"), Ramones ("Judy Is a Punk"), The Velvet Underground ("Stephanie Says") and two somber Jackson Browne covers performed by Nico ("These Days" and "The Fairest of the Seasons"). There are also a couple of McCartney-esque songs from Emitt Rhodes and Elliott Smith and the "Charlie Brown" favorite, Vince Guaraldi Trio's "Christmas Time Is Here."

The soundtrack to the Jim Carrey vehicle The Majestic is dominated by classic big band and boogie woogie sounds, thanks to The Spencer Wyatt Big Band, Nat King Cole and Jim Cox. It also includes The Mills Brothers' "Paper Doll," and some instrumental-backing music from composer Mark Isham.

The soundtrack to Orange County opens with a typically pounding new track from The Offspring ("Defy You"), and moves on to a live version of "Story of My Life" from Social Distortion. Much of the disc is filled by hard-rocking modern bands like Lit ("Everything's Cool"), Creeper Lagoon ("Under the Tracks") and Foo Fighters ("The One"). There are a couple of "rappy" funk tracks from Crazy Town and Bad Ronald, and a couple of mellow songs from former Beach Boy Brian Wilson. The best track on the disc is an uncredited appearance of "Hello" by Sugarbomb (from the "Pop Stops" album of the year for 2001). And in an odd marketing ploy, the soundtrack includes a second four-song disc titled "New Music From New Artists" that includes tracks from Zebrahead, The Ataris, Riddlin' Kids, and Ill Kidd.

Capitalizing on the country's current patriotic fervor, Columbia/Legacy has reissued two of Johnny Cash's early '70s albums Ragged Old Flag and America, which marked the end of his 15-year streak of hits. The latter disc includes "Paul Revere," "The Battle of New Orleans," "Remember the Alamo" and more. Ragged Old Flag includes the title track, as well as "Southern Comfort," "King of the Hill" and "I'm a Worried Man."


Laura Dawn - Believer Laura Dawn

"I knew there'd be hell to pay for living as I chose to" declares young singer-songwriter Laura Dawn in "Free and Lonely Life," the opening track of Believer. She proves her independent spirit by delivering a disc that moves without pause between thoughtful, quieter fare like "Free and Lonely Life" and the poignant "Useless in L.A." to punky, pounding Bif Naked-style pop in "The Old You" and "Delicious" to avant guitar rock in "Party Girl" and the martial drum-backed "Believer." The New York-by-way-of-Ohio singer pulled in a crack band to develop her songs in the studio; the disc includes help from members of The Replacements, A Perfect Circle, Shudder to Think and Love Spit Love.

The mix of avant rock musicians helped keep her songs from being produced as light sing-song pop; the group brought in a mix of powerful guitar and drum loops, as well as more ambient textural work with electric cello and piano.

Believer offers something for rockers and pop radio alike the chimey love triangle pop track "So Small" and the string-augmented "I Would" could be part of Lisa Loeb's repertoire. With its range of styles, emotions and flavors, Believer introduces a talented songwriter Dawn sounds to be at the beginning of a strong career.


Athenaeum - Athenaeum Athenaeum

A couple years ago, Athenaeum dropped its debut disc [radiance] at just the right time to pick up the slack in the middle-of-the-road rock vacuum created by the dissolution of bands like Toad The Wet Sprocket and Gin Blossoms, joining other up-and-comers like Better Than Ezra and Goo Goo Dolls. While they made some waves with [radiance], getting airplay on MTV with "Flat Tire," they didn't exactly become household names.

Along the way from there to here, they lost their founding guitarist, and in early 2001 they recorded their new self-titled followup as a trio. But after it was finished, they also lost founding drummer Nic Brown, who explains his departure in their Web site biography: "This album is good, I promise. So ... good, in fact, that I quit the band and went to college. They replaced me with some new guy (Jeremy Vogt of Tonic, The Connells). God help him.")

The new album is good a solid mix of driving guitars, pounding drums, catchy choruses and strong harmonies. "Suddenly" is a perfect opener, with quiet strums at the beginning as Mark Kano sings "Please wake me/I don't know if I'm still dreaming," leading to a head-nodding chorus embracing change: "suddenly everything changes/suddenly everything's fine/suddenly the words jump off the pages/suddenly I'm alright."

With a strutting rock guitar, the band covers the "Damage" that two people in love can cause each other and (perhaps) the subsequent desire for liquid "Comfort (in a bottle please)." They also get dramatic with the reach of strings in the slowly grinding, melancholic "Sweeter Love."

"Frozen in Time" offers another slow-building anthem, and "If Baby's Gone," the closing track, displays the band pushing their envelope with a lilting ballad.

Athenaeum is a solid rock album that amply displays the soothing power of Kano's low, charismatic vocals. Its one fault is that it tends to sound a bit samey throughout, and never quite drops a "blockbuster" radio hit it's an easy-listening rock album, without any particular "standout" cuts. Still, Athenaeum offers some of the most consistent Toad-style rock being made today. If you're a fan of Toad the Wet Sprocket, The Gufs, Stir, Radford or Mars Electric, you'll enjoy Athenaeum.