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BuzzCuts: New Music

Trout Fishing In America delivers a live album; Canadian pop group The Dears cross borders with new disc; Sleepy Brown makes a weak debut; Robin Thicke evolves in a sophomore set; Trey Anastasio is at home with the style of his second solo album; and The Killers' follow-up to their killer debut is long on both hits and frustration.

Trout Fishing In America - "My Best Day"
The Dears – "Gang of Losers"
Sleepy Brown – "Mr. Brown"
Robin Thicke – "The Evolution of Robin Thicke"
Trey Anastasio – "Bar 17"
The Killers – "Sam's Town"

Trout Fishing in America, "My Best Day" (Trout Records)

The new release from Trout Fishing in America showcases the duo of bassist Keith Grimwood and guitarist Ezra Idlet in a live performance, a show that includes fresh arrangements of older songs and two new ones.

Idlet and Grimwood, joined by multi-instrumentalist Fred Bogert, again target families as their audience. The opening number, "I've Got A Friend (and He Won't Be Quiet)," for instance, can resonate with young and old. For parents whose children are in a phase in which they insist on only Trout Fishing music when in the car, the new takes on favorite material will make everyone happier. The CD would also make a good starting point for those checking out the band for the first time or those who want to move from the band's adult CDs.

"My Best Day" includes songs that reflect the different styles common to Trout Fishing releases and shows — folk, jazz, rock, blues.

Bogert, alternately on guitar, accordian, piano and trumpet, adds a depth to the tunes and helps drive the music. Idlet and Grimwood, originally based in Houston and now in northwest Arkansas, have played together for 30 years. They tour almost constantly and they come through here as old pros who remember what it's like to be young — the encore number is "Beans and Weenies." (Chuck Bartels)

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The Dears, "Gang of Losers" (Arts & Crafts)

A critical and fan favorite in their native Canada, The Dears have tasted only moderate success here in the United States. That may all change with the release of their third full-length, "Gang of Losers."

The scope of their left-field pop is somewhat stripped down here compared to the orchestral romanticism of 2003's "No Cities Left" — but The Dears are no less engaging for it. The simplified approach is just as dynamic with its mix of pulsating modern rock and haunting ballads.

Lead vocalist and composer Murray Lightburn is both subtle and outspoken, and lyrically he has set himself and his bandmates apart from fellow Montreal indie darlings such as The Stills and The Arcade Fire.

He sinks his teeth into every idea with unflinching passion: the birth of his daughter ("Ticket to Immortality"); tried-and-true themes of love and loss ("Hate Then Love," "Ballad of Humankindness"); war and hate ("Fear Made The World Go 'Round"); and ignorance and racism ("Bandwagoneers," "Whites Only Party").

While there is melancholy, anger and nostalgia for innocence sprinkled throughout, Lightburn succeeds in balancing the music with an overall sense of love, laughter and hope.

Forget the disc's title: "Gang of Losers" is an intoxicatingly beautiful statement and The Dears' finest work to date. (John Kosik)

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Sleepy Brown, "Mr. Brown" (Virgin)

Like fellow singers Nate Dogg and Akon, Sleepy Brown has made a name for himself by smoothing out hard-edged hip-hop songs with soulful choruses. After his thin falsetto washed over OutKast hits like "So Fresh, So Clean" and "The Way You Move," a solo spin-off seemed inevitable. But years of record biz red-tape threatened to doom Brown to perpetual hook-singer status, albeit with arguably rap's most talented duo.

Now the long-awaited "Mr. Brown" is out. Unfortunately, the soulman hasn't made the strongest case for being regarded as more than a rap accessory. The album's Neptunes-produced first single, "Margarita," features Big Boi of OutKast, Pharrell, and a Latin-tinged beat that skips along to rhythmic bongo slaps and sprightly chord progressions. But it's a troublesome sign when the song's two guests outshine Brown on his own coming out party.

"Mr. Brown" isn't overloaded with cameos, just songs that focus mainly on old-fashioned romance. Over church-style organs on "Sunday Morning," Brown oohs and ahhs like a low-rent Marvin Gaye. On the string-propelled "Me, My Baby & My Cadillac," Brown extends the love metaphor to include his pimped-out ride. And "One of Dem Nights" recalls Barry White, with its sweeping synths and Brown's trite, whispered lyrics: "These insatiable acts that you're about to witness/Girl ain't no turning back."

Too often Brown's hushed come-ons place more emphasis on manufacturing moody moments than asserting his personality. The result is that his loverman croon gets lost in the sonics, making it hard to connect with Brown as more than another R&B lothario with friends in high places. (Brett Johnson)

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Robin Thicke, "The Evolution of Robin Thicke" Star Trak

For his sophomore disc, Robin Thicke takes a page from the Justin Timberlake manual of blue-eyed soul for the new millennium.

Like the former 'N Syncer, Thicke — son of "Growing Pains" actor Alan Thicke — sings in an alluring falsetto and enlisted the talent of the Neptunes' Pharrell Williams to give "The Evolution of Robin Thicke" an urban sheen. The formula, which Timberlake used for his debut, "Justified," works incredibly well, so Thicke was wise not to stray far from it. In fact, the sparse, electro-funk slice "Wanna Love U Girl" could have easily fit onto Timberlake's new disc, "Futuresex/Lovesounds."

But whereas Justin references Michael Jackson, Thicke channels Marvin Gaye, notably on the rich-boy-blues track "Cocaine" and the classic soul-leaning "Got 2 Be Down," where Faith Evans is the Tammi Terrell to Thicke's troubled man.

Comparisons aside, Thicke is an impressive singer-songwriter in his own right with resplendent vocals a knack for vivid songwriting. The rock-tinged gospel track, "2 The Sky," finds Thicke surrendering to a higher power as he sings, "I wake up holding on to this pain/And there's nothing else I can do /But to give myself up to the sky." Although Thicke's first record, "Beautiful World," failed to attract a broad audience, "The Evolution of Robin Thicke" is a sharp record with definite mass appeal.

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Trey Anastasio, "Bar 17" (Rubber Jungle)

Former Phish frontman Trey Anastasio seems to feel much more at home in "Bar 17," his second solo release since his famed jam band called it quits.

"Bar 17" is an inconsistent effort, most notably sporting some weak lyrics. But compared with his very pop-oriented previous effort "Shine," this one comes off as a much more comfortable fit.

He finds the most success with quieter, introspective tunes like "A Case of Ice and Snow," a haunting track punctuated by a beautiful organ melody.

"Goodbye Head" could have fit on any Phish record while "Let Me Lie" comes off as a Syd Barrett-esque, early Pink Floyd ditty that has much more going on beneath the surface than a cursory listen may reveal.

"Bar 17" was three years in the making, and the variety of songs and musical styles — orchestral, full-out rock, acoustic — exemplify the influence of the 40 musicians who are credited with playing on its 13 tracks.

Unlike "Shine," which felt heavily produced and packaged, "Bar 17" feels much more airy and a better fit for Anastasio's guitar-playing style. It's another step in his evolution as a solo performer and its one that Phish fans and those new to his music should pay attention to. (Scott Bauer)

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The Killers, "Sam's Town" (Island/Def Jam)

To anybody who'll listen, Brandon Flowers, lead singer of The Killers, will extol his newfound love of Bruce Springsteen and The Boss' influence on the band's latest album "Sam's Town."

Lyrically, Springsteen's tales of physical and social isolation, and the hope and dejection that springs from it, permeates much of the album ("This town was meant for passing through, boy it ain't nothin' new," Flowers sings in "This River is Wild.") But perhaps the more relevant lyric comes from "For Reasons Unknown," when Flowers notes, "I check my face. I look a little bit older."

Yes, the quartet that helped get every Gen X and Y rock kid on the dance floor two years ago has matured and, with "Sam's Town," has produced a hit-or-miss collection of new rock anthems. Like their debut album "Hot Fuss," "Sam's Town" is front-loaded with instantly catchable songs, but the album unfortunately runs out of steam by the end. The foursome write brilliant, uptempo pop songs, but softer songs like "My List" sound more like '80s hair metal ballads than new prom anthems.

But while it's hard to beat the immediacy that much of "Hot Fuss" offered, the band has grown up and they seem to understand that you can add elements to your music (Is that a glockenspiel?) without releasing the cliched "difficult" second album.

Unlike many of their peers, The Killers admirably avoid rehashing their uber-successful debut wholesale. The result is a more ornate, diverse album that is long on both hits and frustration. (Jason Newman)

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Previous BuzzCuts: Reviews Of New Albums By Janet Jackson, Mario Vazquez, Alan Jackson, Scissor Sisters, Paul McCartney And Solomon Burke.

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