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A summer of great music

It was the summer of '84. I was 14 years old. And Missy Hansek, my leggy, bikini'd classmate, was doing impromptu water aerobics in the shallow end of her pool. For various reasons, I was hovering in the deep end, terrified, but also convinced this was the most awesomely awesome thing I had ever seen. What I also remember, and what I'll never forget, was the song playing on Missy's clunky gray boombox: the Cars' Magic, a huge hit at the time. "Summer, it turns me upside down . . ." To this day, whenever I hear Ric Ocasek salute the sweaty season, I'm right back in the deep end .

You're never too old to cherish a good summer song. And it's not just the hits you hear at the pool or the beach. These are also the days of family reunions — and those long, soul-searching road trips to family reunions. The music you hear on Route 66 to Grandma's can last a lifetime. And the songs you hear next to Uncle George at the crab feast can be just as vital. Why? Because it all feels so dramatic. And good drama needs a good soundtrack.

Below you'll find the hottest new music for all summery occasions. For Twisting by the Pool: Weezer, Usher, Santogold. For a Family Affair: Al Green, James Hunter, Billy Joel. And for Road Trippin': Jakob Dylan, Martha Wainwright, Alanis Morissette. Maybe you'll find your own Magic moment on there. "Summer, summer, summer, it's like a merry-go-round . . ."



Album: Weezer (Geffen)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo is still flat-out bonkers, but there's certainly a method to his madness. This is the power-pop crew's third self-titled album, but you can just call it "the Red One." Much like "the Blue One" (with Buddy Holly) and "the Green One" (with Hash Pipe), Cuomo puts his slicker, catchier cuts on his color-coded work.

Why we like it: Cuomo now sports an unsightly 'stache from the Ron Jeremy collection, and he's still maniacally searching for the perfect pop "formula." But man, can Weird Boy write surly, power-chording confections about loving the loser within. Pork and Beans anyone?

Reminds us of: Heart Songs name-checks Cuomo's fave acts: Quiet Riot, Debbie Gibson . . .

Download this: Everybody Get Dangerous

Grade: B+


Album: Santogold

In stores: Now

Why we care: Mad-mixing dancehall toasts, New Wave gloss and Afrobeats, Philly-raised hype girl Santi White makes the head-snappiest, butt-bumpiest debut of the year. This politicized jolt is all over the joint, a head-spinning genre-clash meant to jack your hopes and your pulse.

Why we like it: She chants, she raps, she wails, she rocks — our melting-pot culture paying great artistic dividends. The production is a scrum of riot whistles, cyborg beats and vicious guitar peals. One minute she sounds like the Police; the next minute she sounds like a griot calling for the head of the king.

Reminds us of: If M.I.A. fronted Missing Persons (or if Karen O were the missing Marley).

Download these: Shove It and Creator

Grade: A


Album: Here I Stand (LaFace)

In stores: Now

Why we care: When we last saw Usher Raymond IV, he was a frequently shirtless bachelor moving 9-million copies of '04's promiscuous Confessions. But would you look at this: Here I Stand finds the 29-year-old R&Ber celebrating life as a family man, "eating my meals at home" and taking care of Usher Raymond V.

Why we like it: As the crooner balances sex and responsibility, it's the club-bangers that work better than the blah ballads. This Ain't Sex borrows side-to-side strut from Morris Day, and Usher and guest Jay-Z trumpet monogamy on the slick and rather convincing Best Thing.

Reminds us of: I wonder if Missy Hansek grew up to be an Usher fan . . .

Download these: This Ain't Sex and What's Your Name (feat.

Grade: B


James Hunter

Album: The Hard Way (Hear)

In stores: Tuesday

Why we care: He looks like a British pub brawler; he sounds like Sam Cooke's ghost. The 45-year-old Hunter has been a secret weapon for far too long, writing his own '60s-soul-kissed songs, picking a frisky Gibson and touring with a band that knows how to slay 'em. But now Starbucks is selling Hunter right next to its coffee. If anyone deserves star shine, it's this longtime busker.

Why we like it: It's a throwback house party complete with flirty innuendo, organ slides and sax blasts. It's so comfortable, so vintage, and yet this is original material, whipped up in the 21st century. It nods to yesterday but cooks with today's gas.

Reminds us of: Hunter's signature guitar move is a one-legged duckwalk, a pogo stroll. Let's see Guitar Hero Nation try that.

Download this: Don't Do Me No Favours

Grade: A

Al Green

Album: Lay It Down
(Blue Note)

In stores: Now

Why we care:
God bless the Rev. Al, the always-smiling soulster who splits his time between getting you closer to the Lord and getting you closer to the nook-nook. Mr. Let's Stay Together is in sweet-talking mode here, teaming up with disciples John Legend, Corinne Bailey Rae and Roots drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson.

Why we like it: With the Dap-Kings Horns (who helped Amy Winehouse get vintage) blowing him back in time, Green gets all Memphis '71 on us, taking the heat and grit of his hometown and whipping up a sepia smoothie. The organ work by James Poyser is slinktastic.

Reminds us of: When you're in Memphis, go see the Rev. Al at the Full Gospel Tabernacle.

Download this: Take Your Time (with Rae)

Grade: A-

Billy Joel

Album: The Stranger: 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Columbia)

In stores: July 8

Why we care: Has it really been 30 years since we first waved Brenda and Eddie goodbye? Oy, I can totally feel my back going out on me. The Piano Man's '78 masterpiece
gets the luxe triple-disc treatment, with the remastered album plus a '77 show from Carnegie Hall and a DVD of rare footage — all in a slick collector's case.

Why we like it: When those ominous piano pounds kick in at the 2:49 mark on Scenes From an Italian Restaurant, signaling an epic here-we-go shift in storytelling, it's impossible not to get in on the dorky group sing.

Reminds us of: "They started to fight when the money got tight / And they just didn't count on the tears . . ."

Download these: All nine tracks, 42 minutes

Grade: A


Jakob Dylan

Album: Seeing Things (Columbia)

In stores: Tuesday

Why we care: For the past 16 years, pop-rocker Jakob Dylan has tried to avoid the Old Man's legacy. But for his first solo album, not only does he jump to his dad's longtime label, Columbia, he makes a folk disc about living honest in an era of lies.

Why we like it: "It maybe has a pitchfork / Maybe has a tail / But evil is alive and well." Produced by ubiquitous svengali Rick Rubin, who most recently convinced Neil Diamond to ditch the clutter, the quietly intense Seeing Things isn't as word-wonderful as Dylan Sr.'s songbook. But the son has a knack for intriguing double-speak that still gets the point across.

Reminds us of: There's no shame in being Bob's boy after all.

Download this: I Told You I Couldn't Stop

Grade: B+

Martha Wainwright

Album: I Know You're Married but I've Got Feelings Too (Zoe)

In stores: Tuesday

Why we care: Like brother Rufus, showbiz kid Martha Wainwright has a drama-queen flair for orchestral swells and cliff-hanger gravitas. But whereas Rufus' vocals are operatic, Martha spouts about infidelity with a Strawberry Shortcake curl that growls into a teenage wail.

Why we like it: "You cheated me and I can't believe it / I've been calling since 4 o'clock last night." Wainwright's second disc is top-heavy, as she indulges in desperation early then loses focus. But when she's the unhinged Other Woman — boiling hooks instead of bunnies — she's both creepy and captivating.

Reminds us of: I once unwisely dated a colleague who twice dumped water on my work computer. There's a lesson there, I think.

Download this: Bleeding All Over You
Grade: B+

Alanis Morissette

Album: Flavors of
(Warner Bros.)

In stores: Tuesday

Why we care: Of all the pop stars I've interviewed, no one has cursed up an R-rated storm like Alanis. At one point, our talk basically turned into a scene from Goodfellas. I'm telling you, it was love at first [email protected]$%. So when she sings a blue streak on her first new material in four years, it makes me feel all bleepin' warm inside.

Why we like it: This isn't the best Alanis album. With its Mideast swirls, trip-hop beats and oft-turgid self-analysis, it can play like a parody. But there are spots of remarkable revelation, including the spellbinding breakup song Not As We. "Day one, day one, start over again . . ."

Reminds us of: Thanks to ex Ryan Reynolds for being an inspirationally lousy boyfriend.

Download these: Not As We and Torch

Grade: B-

A summer of great music 06/05/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 6, 2008 4:43pm]
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