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[whitespace] Picks by Michelle Goldberg (MG) and Chris Knight (CK)

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Ani DiFranco
Up Up Up Up Up Up
Righteous Babe Records

Ani DiFranco is one of the most prolific musicians in pop music, often releasing two records in a year. Nevertheless, a new Ani album is still something to get excited about, especially one as diverse, smolderingly, sexy and lyrically wrenching as Up Up Up Up Up Up. It was recorded in New Orleans, and you can hear that city's sultry, swirling, loose-limbed funk in rockers like "Hat Shaped Hat." Other songs are redolent of a much sadder city: Buffalo, New York, the rust-belt town where both Ani and I are from. "Trickle Down" captures Buffalo's utter desolation after Bethlehem Steel, the town's main industry, shut down, seemingly leaving everyone's father jobless. Whispery-slow and thick with the city's snowy melancholy, "Trickle Down" is angry and political without being pedantic. On other songs, an upright bass, a Wurlitzer organ and an accordion create a haunting atmosphere that perfectly complements Ani's sublime, spine-tingling vocals. (MG)

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Plastic Compilation Volume 02

For the past few years, record companies have flooded us with so many generic electronic music compilations that it's tempting to dismiss the whole lot. But the second volume in Nettwerk's Plastic series shines because of its superlative artists and its confectionery pop appeal. Featuring such stars of the rave scene as the Crystal Method, William Orbit and Sasha, the album combines exuberant dance anthems with playful nods to New York electro and great remixes of pop musicians. In lesser hands, such remixes tend to be embarrassing demographic-grabbing gimmicks--ever hear the disco version of the Celine Dion Titanic song? Here, though, the remixers respect the visions of the original songs even while totally transforming them. Thus what looks disastrous on paper--like Roni Size's jungle remix of Sarah McLachlan's "Sweet Surrender" --ends up sounding surprisingly ethereal and innovative. (MG)

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Mark Turner
In This World
Warner Bros.

According to friend and piano player Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner "plays with a direct candor usually reserved for older players." With the overwhelming selection of fusion and acid crowding out straight-ahead jazz (in both record stores and clubs), Mark Turner's creativity and harmonic bravery are an example of the incredible music many jazz listeners are never exposed to. Even on cleverly arranged classics like "You Know I Care" and Henry Mancini's "Days of Wine and Roses," Turner turns the tables on the standard dominant-tonic progression, utilizing modes and progressions that often leave you no place to stand. The opening track, "Mesa," is like nothing you've heard before. Nevertheless, beneath the chaotic theory, the warm, quiet seductiveness of Turner's tenor saxophone blends this album together to make an intriguing and soothing whole. (CK)

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From the January 18, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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