New Age has a bad reputation, and for the most part the genre deserves its notoriety as "aural wallpaper." Nonetheless, this contemporary instrumental music can be played with self-discipline rather than self-indulgence, with real melodies rather than vague moods, and with roots that are respected rather than diluted. Artists such as Michael Hedges and Alex de Grassi have proven as much in the past, and Al Petteway & Amy White, winners of more than a dozen New Age Wammies, prove it again on their new album, "Racing Hearts."

This Takoma Park, husband-and-wife duo mix their own compositions with traditional Celtic pieces on the new disc, and it's encouraging that the originals boast the same melodic clarity and rhythmic rigor as the Irish dance tunes. Petteway, who mostly plays acoustic guitar, balances a technical virtuosity with a strong sense of song form to carve out bold, vocal-like guitar leads on instrumentals such as "Mariposa" and "Playground."

White -- who plays piano, mandolin, guitar, fiddle and percussion -- draws on her classical background to create ambitious harmonic arrangements for these folk melodies. She adds her voice to four numbers, including an especially striking version of the traditional song, "She Moved Through the Fair."

Appearing Friday at the Ram's Head Tavern. n To hear a free Sound Bite from Al Petteway & Amy White, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8108. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)