CITIZEN COPE "Every Waking Moment" (RCA, 3.5)
This, the best-written and most cohesive CD yet for the Memphis-born Citizen Cope (also known as Clarence Greenwood), is roadhouse nirvana.
It's a deeply satisfying collection at once organic and complex, secular and sanctified.
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"More Than It Seems" sounds like a big-tent Southern pop revival meeting.
The bluesy title track recalls Delbert McClinton, with a tinkly c ountry piano riff in the background that could have been borrowed from Charlie Rich.
The entire CD is an intriguing blend of funky and homespun. In a recording studio, Citizen Cope is like a guy who can cook a fabulous meal on a little camping stove.
ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK "OPEN SEASON: FEATURING THE SONGS OF PAUL WESTERBERG" (Lost Highway, 3.5)
After several albums he recorded himself in his basement, former Replacements front man Paul Westerberg has made a pretty drastic leap back into the majors with his soundtrack to the Sony animated film "Open Season."
Westerberg's eight songs focus on the winsome and jangly side of his musical personality. The catchy and vibrant rockers "Meet Me in the Meadow" and "Love You in the Fall" benefit from the higher production val ues. But other songs, such as the ballad "I Belong" and "All About Me," are dull and formulaic.
The album also features two acts taking stabs at Westerberg songs.
Pete Yorn's "I Belong" goes nowhere, but Deathray offers a fun, Bay City Rollers-like r ea ding of "Wild As I Wanna Be."
SLEEPY BROWN "Mr. Brown" (Purple Ribbon/Virgin, 3.5)
When is a debut album not really a debut?
When it's by Sleepy Brown, the suave crooner w ho's been around long enough to have produced and written hooks for '90s Atlanta-area hit-makers En Vogue, TLC and OutKast.
The Organized Noise mixologist and unofficial OutKast member is up to some of his old tricks, fusing lusciously plush strings, brass signatures and plucked sitars reminiscent of Philly International for "Sunday Morning," "Me, My Baby & My Cadillac" and "I'm Soul."
But his production technique - from the squelchy slow reggae of "Oh No Hum" to the '60s TV-theme feel of "Margarita" - is lively and brightly inventive. The loverman makes beats that run as deep as his sumptuous voice.
And Brown achieves on one song, "Get 2 It," what Andre 3000 and Big Boi couldn't within the context of an album and a film - mix honky-tonk and hip-hop while making it swing boldly and memorably.
THE DECEMBERISTS "The Crane Wife" (Capitol, 3)
The Decemberists have never shied away from indulgence.
During the course of three albums, Colin Meloy and his Portland band packed their sea chanteys, murder ballads and other archaic narratives with a thesaurus-full of vocabulary words, and their audience expanded enough for a major label to sign them.
Now comes "The Crane Wife," and it's an odd dichotomy that contains the Decemberists' weirdest and most accessible songs.
Meloy conjures Civil War love affairs and Japanese folktales.
In his reedy voice, he sings of butchers, soldiers and thieves. The jangly "O Valencia!" and the lilting "Sons and Daughters" are irresistible folk-pop sing-alongs.
The three-part "The Island," on the other hand, is a plodding, 13-minute prog-rock extravagance f ull of shifting time signatures, showy guitar filigrees and heavy keyboards.
It's indulgent even by the Decemberists' whimsical standards.
THE RANDY ROGERS BAND "Just a Matter of Time" (Mercury, 3)
Just a matter of time?
The major-label debut by this road-tested Texas band that has slowly been building an audience suggests that the time is now for these guys to break big.
Time reunites the Randy Rogers Band with producer-songwriter Radney Foster, and the result is another thrilling blast of muscular rock and big ballads, all laced with a strong country flavor.
In spots, it sounds like the late, great Georgia Satellites with fiddles (the Satellites' Dan Baird even makes a cameo). Front man Rogers, collaborating with Foster and other estimable writers, covers familiar ground.
But he ranges with easy command from swaggering to soulful, providing meaty substance behind a charismatic, crowd-pleasing presence.
ANNE McCUE "Koala Motel" (Messenger, 3.5)
With "Koala Motel," Anne McCue builds on the beguiling strength of 2004's "Roll," a sophomore album that led Lucinda Williams to declare the Aussie singer-songwriter her favorite new young artist.
Williams lends vocal harmonies on "Hellfire Raiser" and will n o doubt stoke more comparisons.
McCue's music is indeed a richly organic, Lucinda-esque Americana blend, and she can sound just as achingly vulnerable.
But McCue handles all of her own guitar-playing, and as she shows in the rocking coda to "Hellfire Raiser" and Tony Joe White's "As the Crow Flies" (the only nonoriginal here), she can be a pretty hot ax-slinger.
Not that she is prone to cutting loose: With her dusky alto, taut narratives such as "Driving Down Alvarado," and more impressionistic mood-conjurers such as "Bright Light of Day," she unflinchingly stares down hard truths and lays bare her feelings in a more hypnotically seductive fashion that is no less devastating.