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Sunday, June 24, 2007

5TH GEAR

Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley is a man of many gears. And the country star from Glen Dale, W.Va., uses all of them on his delightful new recording.

Paisley is best known as a clever if cornpone jokester -- a modern-day Roger Miller -- and he's at his finest and funniest on "Ticks," the terrific lead single. In lusting after a girl (over some wicked guitar lines) and noting that he'd like to canoodle with her out "in the sticks," Paisley is simply setting up the frisky punch line, in which he declares: "I'd like to check you for ticks."

There are other amusing moments on Paisley's fifth studio set, too. "Online," for instance, shows the triple-threat singer, songwriter and guitar-slinger having fun at the expense of nerds who create much cooler identities on the Internet. And in "I'm Still a Guy," he announces: "I don't highlight my hair / I've still got a pair." Hoo ha!

But he can do serious songs just as well, and on "5th Gear" they include the sentimental weeper "With You, Without You," the introspective flashback "Letter to Me" and a saccharine-sweet ode to Paisley's wife and kids, "It Did."

Stylistically, Paisley is all over the map, recording everything from twangy ballads and a hymn to fiery country-rock songs to a honky-tonk shuffle: the spry, somewhat twisted "Bigger Fish to Fry," featuring Vince Gill, Little Jimmy Dickens and Whisperin' Bill Anderson. (As inspired as that collaboration might be, the one that's sure to generate the most heat is "Oh Love," a gorgeous, shimmering duet with country prom queen Carrie Underwood, who has never sounded better.)

Of course, given Paisley's virtuosity with the guitar, there are more than a few showcases for his high-octane fretwork, including a five-minute instrumental, "Throttleneck." The highlight, though, is "Mr. Policeman," with Paisley's scorching licks racing across the speakers. At least until Paisley, ever the comedian, downshifts and ends the song by quoting the old Jimmie Rodgers tune, "In the Jailhouse Now."

-- J. Freedom du Lac

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Ticks," "Mr. Policeman," "Oh Love"

KIDS: DUETS LIVE AT DIZZY'S

CLUB COCA-COLA

Joe Lovano and Hank Jones

For the past five years, saxophonist Joe Lovano and pianist Hank Jones have formed a cross-generational jazz partnership that has resulted in two brilliant quartet albums. In their latest outing, recorded at a New York club, they appear in a spare duo setting that gives them a chance to explore the shadows and swirling eddies of their music.

Their program -- which includes three tunes by Jones's brother Thad, along with several choice standards and originals -- is the essence of elegant musical intimacy. Lovano, one the most respected tenor saxophonists in jazz today, has a pinched, scratchy tone that gives a textured character to even his fastest passages. Jones, who will be 89 in July, maintains a timelessly fresh and lithe approach and is, quite simply, one of the most painterly pianists in the history of the music.

He shows his feathery touch on two solo pieces, "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' " and "Oh! Look at Me Now!" Each note is cleanly articulated, as his ideas unspool with perfect musical logic. His improvised phrases contain the delight of surprise -- yet always a perfect, well-made fit.

All 11 tunes are winners, but three standouts are "Soultrane," an affecting ballad by Tadd Dameron; Thad Jones's "Kids Are Pretty People," an infectious tune that struts with its chin up in the air; and the closing ballad by Jerome Moross, "Lazy Afternoon," on which Lovano plays soprano saxophone. Here, Lovano and Jones sustain a mood of melancholy and languor as they create a tone poem that echoes with wistfulness and quiet wisdom.

-- Matt Schudel

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Soultrane," "Kids Are Pretty People," "Oh! Look at Me Now!"

EASY TIGER

Ryan Adams

It has always seemed surprising that alt-country enfant terrible Ryan Adams, whose heedless and combustible offstage personality is the stuff of legend, makes such gentle, rueful albums. "Easy Tiger" is his mildest offering in years, and his best. Considering Adams's prodigious output (he frequently releases several albums per year and, for all we know, may be preparing to issue another one before lunch), this is saying something.

After dabbling in folk rock, Oasis-inspired pop and a sort of countrified New Wave, Adams has lately settled on a graceful kind of country folk that draws heavily from the Band, early '70s Neil Young and, especially, the Grateful Dead. "Easy Tiger" lacks the stitched-together, scattershot feel of his past few releases, though it also lacks their occasional flashes of brilliance.

It's thoroughly competent throughout (this, too, is saying something): Adams appears to have actually completed most of the tracks here, instead of giving the impression that he tired midway through and wandered off. Save for a few satisfyingly twangy old-school tracks ("Pearls on a String," "These Girls") and the baffling "Halloween Head," which appears to have wandered in from an unannounced Strokes collaboration, "Easy Tiger" concerns itself mostly with mid-tempo tracks. The bang-up "Two" (rumored to feature Sheryl Crow, whose vocals are unwisely mixed low), "Everybody Knows" and "Tears of Gold" are just the sort of Regrets, I've Had a Few ballads Adams does as well as anybody. When he feels like it.

-- Allison Stewart

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Two," "Everybody Knows," "Tears of Gold"

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