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SOUND CHECK.

WILCO: ``A Ghost Is Born'' (Nonesuch) - Three stars

If it's immediate accessibility you're after, get a Motown compilation instead. Wilco's fifth album is one you'll have to live with before its patchouli-scented pleasures are revealed. A slow-motion slalom through various genres, the carefully crafted, sometimes deeply dull effort at once recalls peak-era R.E.M., early Neil Young and the long line of introverted singer-songwriters who release a single five-song album before retreating to a cozy existence as a mail sorter. Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy, though, clearly wants to rule the post office. With ``A Ghost Is Born,'' which extends the blurred sonic landscape and lyrical pipe dreams of '02's much-praised ``Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,'' the group stumbles upon something close to a signature style. The victories - ``Hell Is Chrome,'' ``At Least That's What You Said,'' ``Muzzle of Bees'' - are indeed ghostly laments seemingly held together by mere threads. Meanwhile, you can only hope failed gambits like the 15-minute-long ``Less Than You Think,'' which devolves into deadly static hum, aren't hints of what lies ahead. In stores Tuesday.

- Fred Shuster

DONNY HATHAWAY: ``These Songs for You, Live'' (Atlantic/Rhino) - Four stars

Hathaway, a suicide at age 33 in 1979, has two live albums in his catalog, but both have long been available only as German imports. This long-overdue collection combines the best cuts from those two albums with some incredibly powerful unreleased tracks, giving Hathaway fans and anyone with even a passing interest in great soul singing a reason to celebrate. Hathaway was as talented and inventive an arranger as he was a singer and could take any song and make it his own. If you're a fan, you know what he did with Marvin Gaye's ``What's Goin' On'' and Leon Russell's ``A Song for You.'' Heard here for the first time, though, are two other covers, chillingly beautiful versions of the Beatles' ``Yesterday'' and Stevie Wonder's ``Superwoman.'' Hathaway's influence over today's neo-soul singers remains profound. This superlative set, featuring beautiful session work from the always-welcome Cornell Dupree, Phil Upchurch and Jerry Jemmott, shows why.

- Glenn Whipp

DJ ABEL: ``Alegria'' (Tommy Boy) - Three stars

If you're in the mood for an evening of hip-swaying tribal-house beats, then get your cha-cha heels on. With this effort, Miami's superstar spinner Abel Aguilera brings the famed ``Alegria'' dance parties from New York's Crobar to your bar. On disc one, titled ``Peak Hour Set,'' Aguilera fuses a mix of commercial and semi-underground tracks to get the party started. Several remixes are credited to Rosabel (the production moniker used by Aguilera and Ralphi Rosario), including the current club smash ``Cha Cha Heels.'' But ``Wicked Fortress,'' with its contagious beats and churning groove, is an instant standout. Disc two, titled ``After Hour Set,'' goes dark and dirty with moody dubs and chants. ``Mobe Do,'' ``Discoteca'' and an unreleased version of ``That Sound'' make for succulent ear candy. DJ Abel spins Saturday at the Factory in West Hollywood.

- Phillip Zonkel

JOAO GILBERTO: ``In Tokyo'' (Verve) - Three and one half stars

For those who suffered through the poor acoustics that plagued Gilberto's much-anticipated Hollywood Bowl concert last summer, this is something of a consolation prize, offering evidence of what the show might have sounded like under the best of circumstances. It'sjust the great Brazilian master's voice and guitar, 70 minutes of classics like ``Corcovado'' and ``Wave,'' along with a handful of lesser-known gems. The sound is warm and intimate, the playing subtle and moving. A one-of-a-kind document.

- G.W.

JOSH WILLIAMS: ``Lonesome Highway'' (Pinecastle) - Four stars

Williams brings an unusually rich and sophisticated vocal range to the bluegrass field with this eclectic selection of semi-classic and more- contemporary tunes. His voice is a honeyed, ready-for-Nashville-radio instrument that smoothly straddles the tenor/baritone line, full of emotion but never overwrought. Oh, and he's a dang fine musician, too, always happy to display his versatile virtuosity on guitar, banjo and mandola (Williams also plays with Rhonda Vincent's crack outfit, the Rage). At only 23, he's delivered one of the best bluegrass albums of the year.

- Bob Strauss

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Review
Date:Jun 18, 2004
Words:691
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