Author

Stephanie Zacharek

The second record from ace producer-performer Daniel Lanois has the hypnotic power of a slow-burning candle: For the Beauty of Wynona’s lush, soft-focus beauty can be riveting, or it can put you right to sleep. Lanois folds Indian, Middle Eastern, and African flavors into folk and laid-back, bluesy rock, with meticulous layering of guitar, percussion, and sleepy-eyed voice. And as lumbering and logy as some of the melodies are, you can’t help wondering what kind of dreams they’d induce. B

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The chiaroscuro guitar sounds of Belly’s Tanya Donelly (formerly with the band Throwing Muses) and Tom Gorman, shifting easily from bold, black-crayon strokes to fragile pastel curlicues, keep most of Star’s moody pop tunes whirring. But not even Donelly’s breathy, pink-chiffon voice can prevent lyrics like ”Stick your finger in your eye, that’s the only way you cry” from crashing with a thud. B

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This sampling from Neil Young’s mid-’80s Geffen stint reminds us how many of his experiments — from straight-ahead country ballads to electronic rock — actually worked. His quivering, silvery voice on Lucky Thirteen is most affecting on the country tunes, but it’s undeniably human even when synthesized. On ”Transformer Man,” it conjures the pale, sweet sound of a host of sopranos. Young ricochets from style to style like a crazed cue ball, but more often than not he finds his pocket. B+

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Leonard Cohen never shrinks from scrutinizing the fears tucked away in our hearts like back-of-the-fridge Tupperware containers. Even so, his hope springs eternal on The Future, flourishing in majestic melodies — laced with angelic backing choruses — and in lyrics like ”There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” Cohen’s vision isn’t depressing; it’s just unflinching. A

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Singer-songwriter Suzanne Rhatigan unleashes To Hell With Love, a blues-based rock record that homes in on just how hard it sometimes is to be a woman. Rhatigan has absolutely no use for self-pity, though — she’s as tough on herself (”Sell me a dummy cos I’m always buying” ) as she is on the lousy lummoxes who don’t love her right (”When you grow up, then look me up”).

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