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BuzzCuts: New Music

Bjork soars to tribal, universal heights on new CD "Volta," 'The Chicas Project' CD collects latest in hip Latin grooves, and Joan Armatrading takes her blues guitar out for a fling.

Bjork, "Volta"
Various, "The Chicas Project Official Soundtrack"
Joan Armatrading, "Into The Blues"

Bjork, "Volta" (Atlantic)

"Volta," the latest release from the pixie-esque virtuoso Bjork, is nothing short of inspired ... and inspiring.

A rhythmic, accessible departure from 2004's experimental vocal medley "Medulla," "Volta" volleys between ballads and other anthems, delving into lush pop and electronic territory fused with newly ripened emotion.

The CD opens forcefully with the tribal, thumping "Earth Intruders."

"We are the Earth intruders/ We are the sharp shooters," Bjork chants in a growling voice.

One of three songs on the album produced by beat-master Timbaland, it's Bjork's battle cry for the universe, a 21st-century march seething with African percussion and an all-female brass band/chorus.

Wind-swept "Wanderlust" highlights Bjork's amazingly wide vocal range, reminiscent of 1997's layered album "Homogenic."

On languid duet "The Dull Flame of Desire," she yearns for love and lust with Antony and the Johnsons' vibrato-smooth singer Antony Hegarty, unfurling joyful references to "lightning" and eyes of "sparkling fire."

Almost 15 years since Bjork's first solo album "Debut" launched her operatic pipes and eccentric dance tunes (and moves) onto the world, she is firmly rooted to a musical legacy of distinct, boundary-breaking artists such as Bob Dylan and Prince.

Unapologetically unique, she is not afraid to fight for herself, and the rest of us.

CHECK THIS OUT: "Declare Independence" is the ultimate shout-along, a fervid call for cultural autonomy in which the Icelandic singer belts, over crunching beats, "Declare independence! Don't let them do that to you!" (Solvej Schou)

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Various, "The Chicas Project Official Soundtrack" (Nacional)

Latin music is often lumped into two groups: the accordion-infused norteno common on the West Coast or the tropical sounds of salsa that are hot in the East. But much like the television series at the base of "The Chicas Project," its soundtrack shows there is a whole lot of variety in the Latin world.

If you haven't seen it yet, "The Chicas Project" is a reality show on the Latin-oriented cable network Mun2 (say "mun-dos" which is Spanish for "worlds"). It pairs two young Latinas, a Queens girl who digs reggaeton and a rock-loving chica from Los Angeles, and sends them out on adventures a la Paris and Nicole. The CD features the grooves that Yasmin and Crash listen to on their journeys.

If you'd like to hear what is new, sophisticated and hip in Latin music, this album gives you a good sampling in one solid package.

The 17 songs here could be broadly classified as "Latin alternative," but there's wide variety within that genre. There's the sultry voice of Andrea Echeverri on three cuts (one from her recent solo album, one as half of Aterciopelados and one as a guest of her musical partner Hector Buitrago). Several of Latin-alt's up-and-coming stars are represented, such as Pacha Massive, Sara Valenzuela and The Pinker Tones, whose "Karma Hunters" is the show's theme song.

Some of the best cuts are the sound collages of Bomba Estereo, the Nortec Collective and Mexican Institute of Sound.

CHECK THIS OUT: The first two cuts, the reggaeton "Arenita Playita" by Cuarto Poder and Pacha Massive's smoothly bilingual "Don't Let Go," should be the two must-have sounds for the summer. Both are infectious, uptempo and muy, muy cool. (Michelle Morgante)

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Joan Armatrading, "Into the Blues" (429 Records)

There's something frightening about hearing an artist describe a disc as a great opportunity to play the blues guitar. Unless it's B.B. King, of course.

That's not to offend blues fans. It's just that songwriting tends to get overlooked in genre exercises, and the best picking in the world won't salvage perfunctory compositions.

Joan Armatrading doesn't completely avoid that trap, but she's too good a songwriter to get lost in it. She's always had an earthy way of digging into the emotions of love and loss. Those powers have only deepened with age.

The best work here are songs that are really only cousins to the blues, like the light reggae of "A Woman in Love" and the raving rocker "There Ain't a Woman Alive (Who Likes to Look in the Mirror Like You Do)." "Play the Blues" and "Into the Blues" aren't blues at all; they're love songs where blues is a character.

She can pick, too. The woman has never played better guitar on record.

Joan's so playful and engaged here that we'll skip by the utter mess "Liza," and the few other spots where it sounds like blues you'd hear at a theme bar.

We also simply love the sense of humor in including a lyric sheet for "Deep Down," which repeats the title phrase a mere 98 times. (David Bauder)

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Previous BuzzCuts: New albums from Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau; Ozomatli; Fountains of Wayne; and LCD Soundsystem.

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