The recent release of "Round Room" marked the official end to Phish's two-year hiatus. And it sounds like the band never left.

The 12-song disc of new material was put together in less than three weeks, with little editing, in order to catch the raw energy of these four friends playing together again. But what's really new here is that the album consists entirely of songs they've never played in front of audiences, a first for a band that made its reputation by refining songs on the road before laying them down in a recording studio.

Unlike the last couple of albums, which centered on more delicate, concise tunes, "Round Room" doesn't project sheen so much as it does potential. Voices strain and the playing is exploratory, but in the end, Phish CDs are simply jumping-off points for live performances anyway.

"Pebbles and Marbles," with a tune fans will recognize from the Trey Anastasio Band instrumental, begins softly and builds to a peak with Anastasio's wailing guitar leading the way. Its nonsensical chorus -- "Pebbles and marbles like things on my mind" -- leaves one more riddle for fans to decode.

The 10-minute "Walls of the Cave" begins with daunting piano plucking, turns playful, then suggests a "Sultans of Swing"-like guitar riff before turning a corner exactly halfway through, when the guitar gets scrappy, the beat speeds up and the chorus becomes harmonized. It's just one of the five songs here that are more than eight minutes long, epics for the band to mold and perfect, then reinvent all over again . . . in concert.

-- Carrie Nieman

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8174.)


Field Mob There's the "Dirty South," the largely mythical realm of rappers like Master P and the Cash Money Millionaires, with their regional take on thuggery and bling-bling materialism. Then there's the dirty South, a gritty, all-too-real province tainted by racism, want and a withering anti-rural bias. Rap groups Nappy Roots and Field Mob inhabit the latter, both of them -- Nappy Roots from Kentucky, Field Mob from Georgia -- reclaiming what it means to be "country boyz" from the South even as they lament the conditions that plague their communities and keep people down.

Class-consciousness, much of it laced with barbed-wire wit, is writ large on "From tha Roota to tha Toota," Field Mob's new album. The record's title -- which, like the Nappy Roots disc "Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz" refers to comestibles -- goes whole hog with rural black stereotypes, as does "K.A.N.," the album's leadoff track, a bumping celebration of country living. Similarly pointed high jinks are evident in the way the two rappers, one of whom goes by the name "Boondox Blax," cut up in the barnyard scenarios depicted in the CD booklet.

Field Mob, however, plays the fool with serious intent. "Nothing 2 Lose" is a Curtis Mayfield-inspired plaint exploring the nexus between poverty and servitude. "Don't Want No Problems" looks at the South's legacy of hatred and violence, while "All I Know," its lilting funk akin to that of fellow Georgia hip-hoppers Goodie Mob, embraces an alternative. Inspirational couplet: "My tongue is my gun/ Revolution's already begun."

Would that this enlightenment extended to Field Mob's portrayal of women, a shortsightedness that also mars Nappy Roots' otherwise luminous album. At least Field Mob's "Bitter Broads" owns that "country girlz" can do it for themselves as well.

-- Bill Friskics-Warren

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8172.)


The John Scofield Band

Traditional jazz fans handle John Scofield's fusion forays much like a construction boss treats a worker with a weekend vodka problem. Just do your job, pal, and nobody cares. But for the past few years -- since Scofield discovered Medeski Martin & Wood's earthy funk -- he's fallen completely off the wagon. To purists, his latest album, "Uberjam," screams for an intervention. Yo, Sco, is that really someone rapping before you take your guitar solo?

The veteran post-bopper isn't going "8 Mile" on us -- at least not yet. But riding a high-voltage current of hard funk, Scofield's quartet head-bobs through rock, electronica and, yes, hip-hop -- all speed-glued together by sweltering skank-guitar. There's a catalyst at work here. Scofield's Ibanez makes its jagged brush strokes over the canvas of a second ax man -- the wicked-funky Avi Bortnick. When he's not dicing eardrums with Chic-style rhythm guitar, Bortnick moonlights as a gadget guru, relentlessly infusing songs with drum 'n' bass beats ("Jungle Fiction"), Indian samples ("Acidhead") and robot jibberish ("Lucky for Her"). As for Scofield? Dude goes off. He strolls through these feel-good tunes like the host at an all-night dance party: loose, euphoric and grinning widely. Scofield nimbly hopscotches through the improvisatory title track. He revels in the whimsical "Ideofunk." He sails above the summer vibe of "Offspring."

Some will point to "Uberjam" as the future of jazz. Others will dismiss it as a ploy to cash in with the college crowd; groove-celebs Karl Denson and John Medeski both make guest appearances. Either way, Scofield has earned the benefit of the doubt. As drummer Adam Deitch raps on, ahem, "I Brake 4 Monster Booty": "Sco rocked for Miles/ And he's one of the best."

-- Michael DeedsCE-5

Vic Thrill Vic Thrill, the leader of a band called Vic Thrill and the stage name of one Billy Campion, once described himself as an amalgam of P.T. Barnum, Iggy Pop and Elvis Presley. You don't need to catch the man's live act -- which includes freaks, glitzy costumes and, on at least one occasion, a 20-minute lecture about UFOs -- to sense that he's both a musician and the master of a three-ring circus of tripped-out sound. "CE-5," Vic's full-length debut, is apparently classified as "electro-trash pop," but everything about this album is far too eccentric and too amusing for two words and a hyphen.

It sounds like a bunch of deranged aliens singing cartoon theme songs. No, wait, it's more like a barbershop quartet of robots making speed-disco at a prom in the future. Or maybe it's polka for lunatics. Whatever it is, "CE-5" is the kind of album that is more fun to laugh along with than define.

You know you've landed in a wacky parallel universe within 15 seconds of the opening track, "Hummingbird Pneumonia." The song has a trotting, vacuum-packed synth beat and a chorus of IBM computers singing like happy pirates. (Maybe it's actually the Thrill and band mates Goth Castrado, Saturn Missile and Aure Dextra.) The verse from "Afrological" could be inspired by David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" days, but the chorus perks into something not even Ziggy's backup band, the Spiders From Mars, could have imagined. None of the lyrics make any sense ("Lived under a river with a friendly sound / Ran a villa nova above the ground," Thrill sings on "Pneumonia") which just adds to the interplanetary weirdness.

-- David Segal