Noteworthy: Reviews of new music

Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint – The River in Reverse (Verve Forecast): While restless Elvis Costello ponders what he wants to be next – Opera singer? Jazz composer? Fireman? – he and New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint have collaborated on a feisty, bittersweet tribute to the Big Easy that stands with the best work either has done to date. Costello reaches back 25 years to find his "Alison"-era voice, soulfully caressing seven well-chosen Toussaint nuggets and a half-dozen new songs, including Costello's accusatory title song in which he wonders, "How long can a lie be told?/ What would I take in exchange for my soul?/ Would I notice when it was sold?" Toussaint's rollicking piano anchors the well-oiled, horn-accented backing band, the unmistakable sound of a New Orleans well worth fighting for. Grade: A–
– John Kehe

Indigenous – Chasing the Sun (Ruf): Indigenous, an acclaimed blues-rock band from the Nakota Tribe of South Dakota, was once comprised of two brothers, one sister, and one cousin; it is now the moniker that the (now defunct) group's frontman Mato Nanji uses as a solo artist for this CD. (His brother, Pte, plays bass on the disc.) Fans of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray – and even Jimi Hendrix – will want to pay heed to Indigenous, a triple threat who balances his gifts as a songwriter, singer, and guitar player. If you're looking for blues-rock hooks, a healthy dose of gritty guitar licks, and resonant lyrics about fighting the good fight against adversity, then Indigenous – once your band – is your man. Grade: A–
Jim Sullivan

Irma Thomas – After the Rain (Rounder):Irma Thomas is at the height of her powers on "After the Rain," an album infused with themes of loss, survival, and a life fully lived. To call Thomas's vocals resonant is an understatement. From the gospel-tinged "I Wish I Knew How to Be Free" to the Delta stylings of "Another Man Done Gone," she sings with all her wisdom as a great-grandmother. Credit goes to producer Scott Billington for paring down Thomas's R&B sound in favor of the acoustic accompaniment of New Orleans musicians who make room for her genuineness to shine through. It is the closest she has gotten on record to her consistently outstanding live performances. She isn't just the soul queen of New Orleans; she's the mother of us all. Grade: A
Joanne Ciccarello

Walter Trout – Full Circle (Ruff): Each of the 13 songs on Walter Trout's "Full Circle," the blues-rock guitarist's first studio disc in five years, features a guest player (John Mayall, Jeff Healey, Coco Montoya, and others), but it's not a star showcase. It's just Trout and many of the friends he's played with over 35 years doing what they do best. The album includes slow blues, smoking lead guitar, acoustic blues, a "duel" with Healey on "Workin' Overtime," and a few songs about women who might have done Walter wrong. (In "Wrapped Around Your Finger," the New Jersey- born bluesman decides, "That's all right with me.") It's a cornucopia of blues-rock styles, performed with the artist's guarantee that it was all done live in the studio with no fixes afterward. Grade: B+
– J.S.

Tom Petty – Highway Companion (American): Tom Petty has clocked some considerable mileage in a 30-year career. Mostly, though, he's been traveling the same dependable route over and over again. Petty's sound may not have changed much – every song is still built from a foundation of Byrdsian jangling and acoustic strumming – but on "Highway Companion," an album themed around road travel, he sounds more world weary than ever. It doesn't start out that way. "Saving Grace," boasting an insistent ZZ Top-like riff, is an album opener worthy of blasting from an open-topped convertible. "Jack," too, is a pleasing ditty that lifts the riff to Love's "Bummer in the Summer." But the disc lacks any element of musical surprise and runs out of gas after too many mid-tempo tunes about listless travelers trying to find themselves. Grade: B
– Stephen Humphries

John Gorka – Writing in the Margins (Red House): On his 10th CD (not counting a new compilation), this reliable folkie is pushing at the margins with one cover ("I Miss Everyone") that's mighty country for a New Jersey-born Minnesotan, and another ("When You Sing") that brings in horns. Longtime fans might need time to warm to those. But the rest of the 12-track CD delivers his sometimes wry, often poignant lyrics wrapped in a mellow baritone that enriches duets, including ones with Nanci Griffith and Lucy Kaplansky. "Chance of Rain," "Broken Place," and the political "Road of Good Intentions" are among the instantly familiar. Grade: B+
– Clayton Collins

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