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AUGUST 21, 2000: 

*** The Posies IN CASE YOU DIDN'T FEEL LIKE PLUGGING IN (Casa Recording Co.)

It's been more than a year since the Posies announced they were calling quits after a more than decade as Seattle's reigning kings of guitar pop. But 2000 is turning out to be a busy year for the not-quite-defunct band, who have been pared down to the core duo of singer-songwriter-guitarists Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow. Along with In Case You Didn't Feel like Plugging In, a nicely edited, cleanly produced, live acoustic performance that Auer and Stringfellow recorded earlier this year at a Seattle club, there's also a new Posies' greatest-hits set, Dream All Day, out on DGC/Interscope, as well as a four-CD retrospective titled At Least . . . At Last due later this year from Not Lame Records.

Auer and Stringfellow bring an appealing mix of energy, enthusiasm, and natural talent to the table on In Case You Didn't Feel like Plugging In, and they clearly relish the chance to page through the Posies songbook. The dry and dour "Precious Moments" finds the duo slipping into tedious introspection, and "Suddenly Mary" is too repetitious to support the stripped-down acoustic treatment. But Auer and Stringfellow more than make up for any missteps with a sublime version of the hook-laden "Flavor of the Month," where they showcase the resonant harmonies that have always been a Posies signature. -- Linda Laban

*** Big Muff AURALLY EXCITING REMIXES (Razor and Tie)

New York DJ Big Muff plays house music. Not the deep, plush, sultry version associated with Junior Vasquez, David Morales, and Danny Tenaglia, but a slinkier, minimalist texture akin to garage-style and acid house. The music sounds almost acoustic, bebop-like, as it tiptoes and finger-pops its way, led -- to best effect -- by the light vocal drama of chanteuses Lisa Shaw ("Feel What You Know"), Aiya ("My Funny Valentine"), and Lisa Woodward ("So Far Away"). Muff's singers never envelop you or crowd you with heavy breathing; instead, like the airy, dreamlike beats and electronica that keep them moving, Shaw, Woodward, and Aiya barely touch your ear -- "Easy does it" is their métier. Little wonder that the three versions of "Feel What You Know," two of "My Funny Valentine," and the single "So Far Away" -- like the CD's several, adjoining instrumental tracks -- feel closer to outdoor, beach-party music than to the humid, dark basement more typical of house music in a club setting. -- Michael Freedberg

*** Dolly Varden THE DUMBEST MAGNETS (Evil Teen)

Chicago's Dolly Varden are the Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris-style dueting team of husband and wife Stephen Dawson and Diane Christiansen, a couple of symbiotic songwriters who first cut their teeth as members of the late-'80s Chicago country-punk outfit Stump the Host. A sense of spacious, self-assured ease graces the dozen top-shelf, country-rock tunes on their third album. Dawson's nimble, pliant voice cannily combines the breezy ardor of Freedy Johnston ("Be a Part") with the devotional blue-eyed soul of Tupelo Honey-era Van Morrison ("Simple Pleasure"); meanwhile the dusk-colored hues of Christiansen's voice, which splits the difference between Kristin Hersh and Margo Timmins, flow like a dark, sure stream through understated tracks like "Progress Note" and "Some Sequined Angel." In the end, though, it's the way these two craft songs to suit their voices that makes Magnets so appealing and exceptional -- not to mention the refined musicianship that drives bittersweet ballads like "Along for the Ride" and amped roots-rockers like "I Come to You." -- Jonathan Perry

**1/2 Mephisto Odyssey THE DEEP RED CONNECTION (Warner Bros.)

The toast of San Francisco's dance underground, Mephisto Odyssey are at their best when they stick to what they know -- dance music. "Some Kinda Freak," "Sexy Dancer," and "Red Drums" are all elegant, refined boogie tracks, suggesting that music on the techno-house cusp can be forever expanded without much more than a campy sample or a risky refrain.

Unfortunately, Mephisto Odyssey enlisted the help of so many guests for their major-label debut that the music wound up losing its identity along the way (indeed, none of the four Mephistos is mentioned by name in any of the press material). These guests are parasites, bending everything to their own styles -- we get anonymous hip-hop from Oakland rapper Bigg Sauce, lethargic atmospheric pop from Gus Gus's Hafdis Huld, ragga jump-up getdown from MC Jamalski, Korny techno-thrash from Wayne Static of Static X, dreamy vagueness from Tarnation's Paula Frazer. Most of these detours sound decent, but they give the impression that straight-up dance music isn't good enough on its own. -- Kevin John

*** Kenny Roby MERCURY'S BLUES (Ricebox Records)

With his now-defunct No Depression outfit, Six String Drag, Kenny Roby mixed and matched musical styles from Southern gospel to British pop, insurgent country to Motown soul. On his first solo album, Roby picks up where Six String Drag left off. His Leon-Redbone-meets-Elvis-Costello voice is the perfect foil for his wry sense of humor, whether he's speaking as the jealous teenager in "Why Can't I Be You" or the boozing boyfriend in a teetotaling community in "In This Town." But Roby's wit and wisdom are never too clever or self-conscious. Consider the lover's plea from "In a Dress": "If I said I didn't care/Would you know that I was lying/Would you look me in the eye/Not even ask me why/If I said I didn't care." Every song on Mercury's Blues offers a different, compelling sound, from the New Orleans stomp of "In This Town" to the guitar crunch of the title track. And with only one track more than four minutes long, this release could teach a lot of pop songsmiths about brevity and storytelling. (You can order Mercury's Blues at www.riceboxrecords.com.) -- Nick A Zaino III

*** Nava s/t (Ryko Latino)

Since the early '80s, Rodolfo Barrera (a/k/a Nava) has been writing hits for Latin singers ranging from José Feliciano to La India and Elvis Crespo. On his first full-length release, this Puerto Rican original breaks Latin pop molds to deliver a set of eclectic textures, moods, and melodies. Like a number of Brazil's more popular seasoned pop artists (Caetano Veloso, for example), Barrera has contemplated funk, rock, and jazz in addition to his native pan-Latin styles. He uses instruments, melodies, traditional rhythms, and electronics as compositional elements without displaying any particular loyalty to existing conventions.

"La vaquita" ("The Little Cow") is a lyrical Tex-Mex ballad, with trombone and accordion the most prominent instruments. "Así na' má" ("Just like That") offers a smart take on American lounge funk but with techno overtones and, again, that trombone. "El Paraíso" ("Paradise") builds to a dense, frenetic climax; "Hey You" marries salsa's piano montuna with house ambiance. Barrera's silken, whispery voice is best suited to low-key material like the sensual samba of "Mujer boricua" ("Puerto Rican Woman") and the solo guitar ballad "Vuélvelo a intentar" ("Give Yourself Another Chance"). But his range and sophistication are a refreshing reminder that there's more going on in the Latin world than unbridled tropical boogie. -- Banning Eyre

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