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Wednesday, January 12, 2005; Page C05


Julie Roberts

In 2004 only a handful of Nashville vets -- Loretta Lynn, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw -- released recordings any deeper or more finished than the debut of this young singer from South Carolina.

Julie Roberts's country knows no boundaries on her self-titled debut album. (Mark Abrahams - Mercury Records)

Illuminating a scintillating groove titled "You Ain't Down Home" with bulletproof instinct, Roberts establishes her suburban candor right away.

She introduces one of those rare country voices that can do several things at once: As she sings her stories -- tensing and relaxing, exercising power yet never going overboard -- she also examines their implications, feels their emotions.

"You Ain't Down Home" zeroes in on a well-dressed guy who "makes it all look impressive," fluent in cool talk on his high-tech cell phone, but who, in Roberts's critique, lacks the crucial "down-home" quality of being real.

This is the song of a woman for whom cliches of sophistication cut no ice, and Roberts immediately commands the authority to appoint herself an arbiter.

The rest of the CD builds on this awesome opener. On "Unlove Me," Roberts asks a guy to make her feelings for him vanish, singing with the knowledge of how impossible that task is anytime soon.

On "Break Down Here," another mid-tempo ballad, she equates car trouble with multiple heartaches. And on "Wake Up Older," in a gutsy performance that seems likely to become a classic, she faces one tough morning after an incautious night spent trying to forget busted-up love; Roberts exposes not only pain but also, as she mentions, unbrushed teeth.

That's the kind of detail that intense mainstream country singers can deliver. With her debut, Roberts joins the down-home elite.

-- James Hunter


Ricardo Villalobos

For a musical movement that sounds only slightly interested in its home planet, techno maintains a deep fascination with geography. Techno lore trades in tales of margins eclipsed and borders crossed, but it's just as rooted in the concrete particulars of its nodal cities. Places such as Detroit, Chicago and London will forever mark the map, but right now the most vital and inventive techno comes from Berlin.

Ricardo Villalobos reigns as the darling of the German capital, where shifty minimal-techno skitters as much as it stomps. The rhythms on Villalobos's excellent December album, "The Au Harem d'Archimede," might sound small from a distance, but their sense of scale changes with every tiny click and whir. In the album-opening track, "Hireklon," resonant ping-pong sounds glide over synthesized hand drums and organic flitters of acoustic guitar. "Serpentin" stares down the thumping weight of techno from a peripheral angle, erecting a dance-floor structure at a strange slant.

Part of Villalobos's unique style owes to his immaculate sound design, which mimics the clear and grainy sounds of wind whipping through trees. But more of it calls on his restless resistance to loopy repetition: In "For All Seasons," he translates the patterns of laptop techno to the lilting runs of Latin music, leaning back on bongo drums that sound breezy and hectic in equal measure. The track signals Villalobos's heritage as a Chilean artist lending warmth to a Germanic milieu; it also exemplifies techno's devotion to maps fit for remixing.

-- Andy Battaglia

"The Au Harem d'Archimede" is not available in most retail outlets but can be found in some specialty record shops and online at such merchants as www.forcedexposure.com.

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