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Odds 'n' Sods: Liz Phair, Steel Train, Kylie Minogue, Courtyard Hounds, and More

Time to clear the desk of all these CDs. Stuff's really piling up and I'm not sure I'll get to write full posts of many of them, so let's take a quick look at what's new and notable (or not).

Tracy Bonham: Masts of Manhatta -- Remember Tracy Bonham? In the post-Alanis mid-'90s, she had a minor hit with "Mother Mother." Then, she promptly faded into semi-obscurity. Now, with those messy hit-making days long behind her, Bonham can simply be a musician. And this record isn't bad, full of eclectic (Tom Waits is an obvious influence) and unconventional instrumentation and arrangements, but not without some solid songwriting. Far more listenable than Joanna Newsom.

Liz Phair: Funstyle -- Believe the hype about this record, released unannounced over the July 4 weekend as a download by the alt-queen of the pre-Alanis early '90s. Unlike Tracy Bonham, Phair comes off as an artist uncomfortable in her own skin. And then there's the whole issue of talent. As a sort-of-edgier version of Sheryl Crow, Phair simply isn't the caliber of singer (really, she's pretty bad here) or songwriter to pull it off. Listening to Funstyle, it's not difficult to see why her label and agent dumped her, as sad as the story is.

Steel Train: Steel Train -- With a name like Steel Train, I fully expected alt-country. Nope. This is full-on theatrical and anthemic pop rock á la The Alarm. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought this were a Christian rock band. Lead track "Bullet" (which sounds like the handiwork of professional songwriters) actually has the lyrics "We are the last generation of hope / And I wouldn't mind / If together we died alone." Grow up, dudes.

Boondox: South of Hell -- Strictly for fans of that Kid Rock country/rap/cock-rock song "Cowboy." This record is on the Insane Clown Posse label, Psychopathic Records, and it closely adheres to that particular painted-face-and-depravity aesthetic, especially the song about Boondox inviting a girl into a threesome and then killing her with the same knife he killed the first girl with.

Kylie Minogue: Aphrodite -- "Put your hands up if you feel love," sings Kylie Minogue on one of the many flawless dance-floor gems on her latest record. Kylie Minogue may seem ageless, but her voice sure is heavily processed on Aphrodite. Not that it matters. I'm sure it'll sound just fine in the club. Sample song titles: "Everything Is Beautiful," "All the Lovers," "Looking for an Angel," and "Can't Beat the Feeling."

Courtyard Hounds: Courtyard Hounds -- The two Dixie Chicks whose names you don't know have a new record out, a collection of laid-back country-pop tunes that let their voices shine, without Natalie Maines' outsize personality and voice steal the show. Easy listening, solid (if particularly outstanding) songs, golden voices, tasteful production, duet with Jakob Dylan -- pretty much everything that Liz Phair would kill for right about now.

Woom: Muu's Way -- This is a precious boy-girl indie act from Oakland that seemingly would rather toy with a bunch of different musical notions than it would to simply write one of those boring old verse-chorus-verse-chorus songs. Listening to Muu's Way is like hanging out in Woom's bedroom for 31 minutes, looking at the unicorn posters on the wall and perusing their three-ring binder full of stickers. Wholly inoffensive and only occasionally interesting.

"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 41-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

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