There are so many R&B pop tarts with one-word names these days that it takes something special to separate one singer from the next. Amerie's second record has it, the smashing first single (and remix with Eve on the mike) of ''1 Thing," an electrifying dance track featuring some furious percussion, and the singer's jittery, jagged vocals. If it's not the best song released this year, it's tough to name another that's as infectious and invigorating. While nothing else here comes close to matching that, the rest of the record has some sharp moments and is a quantum leap over Amerie's 2002 debut, which was simply generic fluff. The title track, produced by Lil' Jon, is a keeper, another club banger that sounds a bit similar to jams he's created for Ciara and Usher, but still rewarding. Bryce Wilson, formerly of Groove Theory, helps provide the silky ''Not the Only One," and ''Can We Go," the lush collaboration with Carl Thomas featuring a smart Earth Wind & Fire sample, is a delicious mix. Amerie doesn't have the most powerful voice, and she gets by on plenty of attitude. When some of the production flourishes are stripped away as on ''Just Like Me," her weaknesses are exposed but they are not lethal. Amerie also co-writes a batch of the songs, and they show that she has the right touch and is versatile enough to be taken seriously.
Benzos isn't the first band to genuflect at Radiohead's altar, but it's one of the few that brings an original vision to the carefully choreographed collision of anthemic rock and ambient electronics. Formed in 2003 by first cousins Christian Celaya and Michael Ortega and rounded out by a trio of music conservatory pals, the NYC quintet kicks off its debut CD with ''All the King's Men," a skittering, politically-pointed mash of chilled mood and guitar mayhem. Celaya and Ortega share vocal duties, and their soaring falsettos weave into shimmering braids on dark, driving ''You're Forever an Hourglass" and ''Glass Souls," a pensive ballad that morphs, oddly and artfully, into a disco tune. The uneasy alliance between man and machine deepens in the glorious fusion of ''It's Amiable," where plucked acoustic guitar and warm bass lines twine with washed-out synths, fat brushstrokes of fake strings, and the echo of windswept beats. It's a beautiful track whose integrity is rooted equally in good writing and trippy textures, and it's exactly that elusive mix of songcraft and soundscape that sets Benzos apart. The band doesn't always hit the mark. ''Morning Stanzas" is front-loaded with stellar material but loses steam; a handful of tracks -- among them meandering ''Sore Eyes" and ''Ideal Magnet," which was clearly intended to be hypnotic but just sounds out-of-focus -- never quite reach the electronic rock heights this young band is capable of scaling. Benzos performs with Aberdeen City tomorrow at T.T. the Bear's.
Ad Frank AD FRANK IS THE WORLD'S BEST EX-BOYFRIEND
Stop, Pop, and Roll
The new album by local songsmith Ad Frank bursts with lovelorn desperation and dark wit. Take the self-deprecating swagger of its title, which was reportedly inspired by a journal entry that his ex-girlfriend invited him to peruse. But such quips, and the glam-rock glitter of his backing band, the Fast Easy Women, prevent the album from being overly morose, as does Frank's voice, which at its most urbane and emotional evokes Roxy Music-era Bryan Ferry. Frank earned his chops fronting local indie acts Miles Dethmuffen and Permafrost, and on four solo albums, and has a knack for clever, sophisticated pop. The gleefully angst-ridden ''Unspeakable" reverberates with achy vocals and militaristic drumrolls. The spry piano melody and cabaret flair of ''You Will Never Learn to Play the Cello" belies such choice phrases as ''and the sun sees the world is never ugly, but he's never met you." Ouch. The lyrics aren't always so spot on, as when Frank stretches his billiards metaphor a bit thin on ''Pool." But the album manages to straddle the line between droll and downhearted, with enough smarts and sensitivity to make it a pleasurable listen. Ad Frank plays Passim on May 28.
YOU AIN'T TALKIN' TO ME:CHARLIE POOLE AND THEROOTS OF COUNTRY MUSIC
Charlie Poole drank too much, died too young, and left a slew of pre-Depression recordings that are good enough to stand up to anything in the hard country canon. But when Poole died in 1931 at 39, he was working in the mills of North Carolina, a failed musician with little to show for his recording trips to New York City. Over the years, he's remained virtually unknown. The three-disc ''You Ain't Talkin' To Me" should change that. Poole plays a kind of hillbilly pop, his songs driven by a sharp voice, catchy melodies, and the driving, banjo playing style known as ''clawhammer." As Poole sings about his troubles with women and booze, it's easy to connect the dots to other twangy outlaws, from Hank Williams Sr. and Merle Haggard to Gram Parsons and Lucinda Williams. One thing to note: This set isn't all Charlie Poole. Smartly, Legacy wants to show how Poole, who didn't write songs, adapted other people's tunes to make them his own. Many of the Poole remakes are juxtaposed with the original versions. We get to hear how deftly he covered vaudeville tunes and cleaned up racist songs done at the turn-of-the-century by white singers in blackface. Some stores are not stocking the Legacy box because of its unusual size. The company sells it at legacyrecordings.com for $27.98.
On his previous mixtapes and during his wildly entertaining live dates, DJ Z-Trip was unafraid to drop large blocks of cheesy '60s rock, heavy metal, and bubblegum pop into his clever mixes. Unlike some of his peers, he was a fierce populist as a beat juggler and provided a trippy good time. His first official record steers clear of Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, and the Romantics, and relies more on basic electronic, hip-hop formulas. It still adds up to a fun ride despite some detours into the land of bland. The disc is kick-started with a decidedly old-school hip-hop vibe with ''Listen to The DJ" with Soup of Jurassic 5 getting nice and silly, while ''All About the Music" is just that, along with a clever, fleet rap from Whipper Whip of the Fantastic 5. The DJ manages to squeeze Jethro Tull into an adrenaline rush of ''Take Two Copies" but he loses his nerve on the substandard ''Bury Me Standing." Chester Bennington of Linkin Park shows up for ''Walking Dead" but the cut is simply a blatant stab at radio play. Still, despite occasionally getting his gears jammed, Trip still knows how to turn down the roof and air things out.