Noteworthy: reviews of new music

Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther (Bella Union):If you're a band bent on borrowing liberally from the Library of Hallowed Pop, it's key to make good choices. First, check out the shimmering, harmony-rich vocals of '70s megastars Fleetwood Mac and CSNY. Then peruse the old-soul testaments of Neil Young and Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler, and be sure to reference the yearning, romantic tenors of Ron Sexsmith and Keane's Tom Chaplin. Finally, with your head stuffed to capacity with these classic, iconic sounds, go forth and make a glorious, spellbinding masterpiece of your own. And that's exactly what this little band from Texas did. Welcome to the Library, Midlake. File under: Best Record I've Heard This Year. Grade: A
– John Kehe

moe. – The Conch (Fat Boy): The critical success of 2003's "Wormwood," two years after "Dither," gave a lift to the long-running quintet from Buffalo, N.Y., and "The Conch" (album No. 7) should satisfy fans of the looping, moody musical genre. The echoing guitar and complex rhythms of these masters of improv are best heard live, where the free-form, lava-lamp musings can take cues from invested young fans. But even through earbuds, moe. can induce a meditative state. This well-paced set is varied to a degree that defies description. "Lost Along the Way" is hippyish, haunting. "Another One Gone" kicks in like some weird Old West reggae ballad and delivers a listener to "Wind It Up," which initially evokes deep space. Filmmakers ought to mine these guys for some soundtracks. Grade: B+
– Clayton Collins

Otis Taylor – Definition of a Circle (Telarc): Otis Taylor may have been an antiques dealer in his former career, but there's nothing old-fashioned about his style of blues. Built around mandolin, banjo, cello, cornet, and trumpet, Taylor's subjects range from a father's song to his bi-racial child ("A Few Feet Away") to the tale of a migrant ranch hand forced to return to Mexico ("Mexican Cowboy"). In other words, you won't find 12-bar shuffles about men sitting on the bayou, crying about cheatin' women who done them wrong. Blues guitarist Gary Moore establishes a great rapport with Taylor's voice – a gruff yet soulful instrument reminiscent of John Martyn – on three tracks, most notably on the irresistible riptide that is "Love and Hesitation." Grade: B+
– Stephen Humphries

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Lucinda Williams – West (Lonely Highway):That drawl – equal parts hard-won wisdom and world-weariness – is the best thing about "West," the first Lucinda Williams' full-length album in four years. Not much has changed: The opener, "Are You Alright," is muddy slowcore, and the title track, shelved at the end of the album, is woozy Americana. In between, above an overproduced backdrop, Williams elegizes ("Mama You Sweet"), daydreams ("Where is My Love?"), and sing-speaks a few lines of romantic poetry ("Words"). "West" never really goes anywhere, but that's the point. After 18 years and eight albums, Lucinda Williams is back where she started, walking the same country road, under the same tired sky.Grade: B
– Matthew Shaer

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