VARIOUS ARTISTS, Zimbabwe Frontline Volume 3: Roots Rock Guitar Party (Stern's/ Earthworks) Even in theory, I'm not naﶥ enough to think all music should appeal

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Afro-pop, Counting Crows, and more.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Zimbabwe Frontline Volume 3: Roots Rock Guitar Party (Stern's/ Earthworks) Even in theory, I'm not naﶥ enough to think all music should appeal to all people—even the most open-minded listeners have their limits. But if lovers of lithe-and-lively indie pop can embrace exotic kitsch from Japan or Brazil, there's no reason on earth they should be any less susceptible to the heavenly guitar abstractions of Afro-pop from Zaire, Kenya, or Zimbabwe. If you possess an incurable sweet tooth for the likes of Ivy or the early Cardigans, you may find the newest volume of the Zimbabwe Frontline series to be the year's most glorious sugar rush. Approached leisurely, the percolating rhythms and sturdy tunes of these dozen gems saunter gracefully into focus; listen hard, and their dizzyingly melodic latticework guitars reveal a sweet, hard bite. And fully half of Roots Rock Guitar Party's tracks made me jump up and check the label: Max Mapfumo & Dopiro Band's pair of mbira, or Zimbabwean thumb-piano, fantasias; Muddy Face's giddily choppy "Mukoma Wangu"; and all three selections by John Chibadura & Tembo Brothers, whose style, which brings to mind a more lilting version of South African township jive, is as earthy as this supernally supple music gets.—Michaelangelo Matos

COUNTING CROWS, This Desert Life (Uni/Geffen) Roots rock rarely gets as severe and melancholy as Counting Crows manage to make it. Adam Duritz' yelp of a voice bears an agonizing weight as he spins his tales of lost love, lost happiness, and can't-go-home-again malaise; yet the band's music conveys a sense of ease. On This Desert Life, the musicians embrace a carefree and impromptu approach that splits their music wide open. Check out the slowhand guitar riff and matter-of-fact hand-clapping on the opening track, "Hanginaround," as Duritz wraps his odd sense of diction around a lax, warm melody. "High Life" rolls along with assurance, effortlessly moving through complicated string arrangements and sudden fadeouts, finding the song's heart with a natural grace. Explorations of tortured psyches persist, but the band's collective deep breath keeps things in perspective. Darkly poetic lines like "If dreams are like movies, then memories are films about ghosts" ("Mrs. Potter's Lullaby") and "I am covered in skin/No one gets to come in" ("Colorblind") find counterbalance in the less weighty melodies. There's even a hidden track that gives the record a goofy send-off, providing the listener with an unexpected album-concluding smile.—Matthew Cooke

BRUCE HAACK, Listen Compute Rock Home (Emperor Norton) In the '60s and '70s, Canadian inventor and composer Bruce Haack, aided by partner Miss Esther Nelson (and presumably, some controlled substances), created a handful of children's records for his Dimension 5 label that were like no others—before or since. Crappy homemade synths, prepared piano, psychedelic jump-cuts, elements of musique concrete, and crazed vocals combined on these oddball platters, which were somehow marketed to the little ones. There were educational tunes ("American Eagle," boasting rhymes such as, "When a fish is caught it's an eagle convention, the parents divide it and the kids pay attention. . . ."), there were fragmented pieces that frighten ("Way Out—Intro," "Hand Jive"), there was even a precursor to drum-and-bass ("Motorcycle Ride"). Occasionally world music creeps up ("Jelly Dancers," "Mudra"), but more often than not, Haack's music is completely genre-defying. Plenty of mind-blowing stabs have been taken at children's music over the years, thanks to innovators such as Jim Copp & Ed Brown and cartoon musician pioneer Raymond Scott, but this is easily the weirdest. Emperor Norton compiled an hour's worth of Haack's best moments on Listen Compute Rock Home, the precursor to the label's forthcoming tribute album. Beck and Stereolab's covers will undoubtedly pale in comparison to Haack's originals, a scary, fascinating repertoire that may well be the exact origin of attention deficit disorder.—Edward Garabedian

 
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