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El Vez
G.I. Ay, Ay! Blues
(Big Pop)

The world's most popular Hispanic Elvis impersonator uses his latest album G.I. Ay, Ay! Blues to attack current anti-immigrant fervor, adding his usual mingling of music cultures and a broad spectrum of rock history that begins with the King. From the resounding opener "Say It Loud! I'm Brown and I'm Proud!" through a "Taking Care of Business" that acknowledges the BTO hit's link to "Dance to the Music," El Vez is in control of his sources as much as history plunderers like Pavement, the Pooh Sticks, or Dread Zeppelin. His library leans heavily on Seventies glam (T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, Alice Cooper, Gary Glitter) but includes Lennon and Public Enemy as well. El Vez also takes time to update his running bio of Cesar Chavez, illuminate corners of Mexican history ("The Arm of Obregon," "Malinche"), and declare "I'm not white bread, but I am a sandwich" on "Soy un Pocho," an anthem for Chicanos whose first language happens to be English. Among such democratic sentiments, his feeling for Elvis is both affectionately wiseass and unfashionably compassionate, as proven on "Mexican-American Trilogy" ("You know that your Elvis was bound to die") and G.I.'s emotional climax, an inspired medley of the '68 comeback anthem "If I Can Dream" and Bowie's "Rock and Roll Suicide."

-- Rickey Wright

Salonen/Los Angeles Philharmonic
Bernard Herrmann: The Film Scores
(Sony Classical)

Few people know Bernard Herrmann's name, but almost anyone who has watched a movie from the last 50 years knows at least some of his compositions. The shrieking violins that accompany Janet Leigh's fatal bathroom misfortune in Psycho have entered the collective cinematic and cultural consciousness to the point where all you have to do to convey the idea of a brutal murder is raise an imaginary knife and scream "Scree! Scree! Scree!"

A complete classical musician, Herrmann's first film score was for Orson Welles's Citizen Kane. His best-known body of work, however, is the music he wrote for Alfred Hitchcock's thrillers, including, in addition to Psycho, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Marnie, North by Northwest, and Vertigo. Their partnership broke up after Torn Curtain when Hitchcock -- who stupidly had been convinced by studio executives that movies should spawn pop tunes -- fired Herrmann for turning in yet another masterful score. Hitchcock never made a first-class movie again, but Herrmann went on to produce more remarkable work with auteurs such as Truffaut (Fahrenheit 451) and Scorsese (Taxi Driver, his final score).

This new disc contains music from the aforementioned films. No news there; other compilations have covered the same territory. What's interesting about this release is the fact that it's conducted by a young Finnish conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, who is associated with modern classical music of the thorniest kind. Is Salonen slumming? Not at all. Herrmann's music can stand beside some of the best twentieth-century works written for the concert hall, and Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic are determined to prove it with these passionate, intense performances. Preconceptions about how this music should sound are swept away by the conductor's analytical ear, and even listeners who are very familiar with the scores will be impressed with the musicians' fresh approach.

-- Raymond Tuttle

Jason & the Scorchers
Clear Impetuous Morning
(Mammoth)

Jason & the Scorchers have always been an important band. Since they pulled onto the lost highway with their 1984 Fervor EP and its twang-punk version of Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie," they've been heroes to country rockers from Rank and File to Steve Earle to Son Volt. Thing is, the music they've made since then has always felt like a letdown.

Until now. Clear Impetuous Morning captures Fervor's rollicking spirit, then betters it by letting Warner Hodges's guitar run wild over Jason Ringenberg's catchiest batch of songs yet. Granted, Jason's lyrics on these new songs try a tad too hard ("Feeling like an unburied ostrich in a see-through disguise") and other times they don't seem to try very hard at all ("In the eye of sin, in the lion's roar, I can hear the slam of an iron door"), but what makes his songs work anyhow is the way he throws himself headlong into their stories, even when it's a story we've all heard before: The girl in "Going Nowhere" leaves home, searching for something better; the restless guys in "Self-Sabotage" and "Victory Road" are caught up in versions of the same thing.

Then again, the Scorchers have always been more about their hell-bent twang than their lyrics anyway. These boys play the way corn whiskey feels in your gut, and on Clear Impetuous Morning they sound like they've had a bellyful. From the breathless opening blast of "Self-Sabotage" to "I'm Sticking with You, " in which the steel guitar's whiz shifts to a quaking metallic rumble, this disc rocks the twang like the band's admirers have long known it could. The Scorchers have always been an important band, but now they've made an album that comes close to approaching their legend.

-- David Cantwell

eels
Beautiful Freak
(Dreamworks)

It doesn't take eels singer/songwriter E long to find the heart of the matter. He opens Beautiful Freak with the following bruising question: "Rags to rags and rust to rust/How do you stand when you get crushed?"

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