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CD Reviews: New releases from the Little Black Books, Rich Mattson and Brother Ali

There is no end in sight for the Duluth music scene's banner year, and the Little Black Books' latest is certainly no exception. Recorded last winter at Rich Mattson's Sparta Sound studio on the Iron Range, "Sparta Circle Drive" perfectly evokes ...

There is no end in sight for the Duluth music scene's banner year, and the Little Black Books' latest is certainly no exception.

Recorded last winter at Rich Mattson's Sparta Sound studio on the Iron Range, "Sparta Circle Drive" perfectly evokes the warmth and alternate isolation of late nights spent in the Northwoods. (As yet another testament to illustrator Chris Monroe's brilliance, this is an album you can definitely judge by its cover.)

What's most striking about this album, however, is that it serves more as a welcome return to the sound of frontman Mark Lindquist's "Mr. Lindquist" albums than as a logical follow-up to the amped-up sound of the previous Books releases.

So, while the patented "rawk andor roll" sound of Giljunko may be on permanent vacation*, from the opening chords of "Grind Him Down," this album's mostly acoustic-based, stripped-down sound never fails to pull you in.

The real clincher, though, is "Wet Gospel," which will most likely go down as the most striking Lindquist-penned track ever put to tape. It's simple enough -- like the best of the songwriter's campfire-ready gems -- but this particular performance is utterly haunting.

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Lindquist delivers his narrative with such impeccable conviction that it's truly painful to realize that his music has never been appreciated on a national level.

If only they knew what they were missing.

*Please excuse this shameless Aerosmith-fueled nostalgia crusade....

For more on the Little Black Books, visit www.myspace.com/thelittleblackbooks .

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Sporting a much rawer sound is Mattson's "Inspiral Notebooks," the Glenrustles and Ol' Yeller frontman's first solo outing.

As it was recorded over the course of nearly a decade -- from late-night sessions, no less -- "Notebooks" is also decidedly more "all over the place" than the Books' latest.

"Runner" leads off the pack of songs, somehow conjuring up both R.E.M.'s Sonic Youth era (namely "Monster") and the best of '60s garage rock. Not to be pigeonholed, Mattson continues his recording odyssey with "So Many Faces," a beautiful midtempo piece in the key of the Zombies' brilliantly executed "Odessey and Oracle," and "Happy Happy Happy," the perfect soundtrack for any bass guitar-equipped space cadet's cosmic misadventures.

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The remainder of "Notebooks" continues on in a similar time warp fashion, playing a genre-bouncing game of hopscotch between the big, cushy 'phones adorning your smiling ears.

While none of it is entirely earth-shattering in form, it's 100 percent enjoyable. Some of the other choice highlights include the infectious, jangly pop of "Greener," "All Over Me," a Glenrustles "leftover" that sounds as if it escaped from Nirvana's "Unplugged," and, in all of its disjunctive, post-punk glory, "Moths in the Moonlight."

For more on Rich Mattson, visit www.myspace.com/reggiepype .

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Minneapolis' Brother Ali is a number of things.

Yes, he's an albino; yes, he's a Muslim and, yes, he's a white rapper -- but don't let him catch you defining him by any of those labels.

Above all else, he's a talented musician on one of the nation's hottest hip-hop labels, Rhymesayers Entertainment.

"Our songs are supposed to be the voice of our soul," he raps on "Truth Is," from his latest full-length record, "The Undisputed Truth."

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That one line really says a lot about Ali's approach to creating music. There's much more of a message in his songs than your typical hip-hop record, and a lot of that stems from the Wisconsin native's quest for personal identity.

However, Ali is overly concerned with making a statement -- to the point of neglecting to write memorable hooks that might keep listeners' headphones on for more than just a few spins. While he brings up a number of good points about race and meaningless labels, these astute observations consume much of "Truth's" lyrical content, quickly becoming redundant and dragging down the record's pacing.

While this is unfortunate, Ali's saving grace is producer Ant, "the other half of Atmosphere," who provides imaginative beats on a number of tracks: Slug's right-hand man strikes gold on the explosive "Whatcha Got," the soulful combo of "Take Me Home" and "Walking Away" and "Listen Up," which echoes the Ali/Atmosphere collaboration "Cats Van Bags."

But the real standout is the aforementioned "Truth Is," an addictive piece of audio gold repetitive enough (in the best way possible) to fuel any mindless summer excursion -- this year's "Washitup," to be sure.

While Ali is nowhere near the level of Atmosphere's output, these select tracks prove that he can definitely hold his own with much of the Rhymesayers roster -- and in no way is that a small feat.

For more on Brother Ali, visit www.brotherali.com .

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