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Three citizen critics of varying musical tastes rank a crop of recent albums from veteran rockers.


1 = Skip it
5 = Try it
10 = Buy it

(Illustrations by James Taylor.)  

Katherine, the Filmmaker
A writer-director who got into post-punk the first time around and helmed videos for R.E.M. (“Shiny Happy People”) and others. Teaches screenwriting at Columbia; her film Diggers, starring Paul Rudd, will be released next year.

John, the Ph.D.
Writing a history of sixties underground newspapers called Tom Paine’s Children for Oxford Press. Favors bands like the Clash and Sleater-Kinney that combine unpretentious rocking with intelligent lyrics.

Sarah, the Schoolteacher
Helps her Park Slope students learn about sharing opinions with others by soliciting their thoughts on the latest tunes. Currently listening to Rhino’s girl-group anthology One Kiss Can Lead to Another on repeat.

American V: A Hundred Highways
Johnny Cash
The final entry in the Rick Rubin–produced series of elegantly orchestrated covers (plus Cash’s last two original songs).

John [Rating: 10]: The ruminations on mortality—and there aren’t ruminations on much else—are very, very raw. I’d say it’s the most authentic and moving album about death that I’ve ever heard.
Katherine [Rating: 9]: That Johnny had one foot in the grave makes up for the fact that this is the umpteenth Cash-Rubin set of overly familiar tunes. Like a late Rembrandt self-portrait—disturbingly honest about admitting that imminent death is exhausting and frightening. But still a little stubborn.
Sarah [Rating: 7]: If Johnny Cash made an album of his favorite recipes in song form, I’d probably buy it. It’s sentimental enough to be affecting without overdoing it into melodrama.

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
Bruce Springsteen
Pete Seeger tunes covered by a characteristically large Springsteen ensemble.

Katherine [Rating: 10]: Not that it will surprise anybody, but Springsteen does a fantastic job of capturing wild in-the-moment sing-along excitement on record.
John [Rating: 8]: I’m impressed with the way he reinterprets these old songs in different styles—swinging New Orleans jazz, bluegrass, gospel, Celtic, etc.—and by the disc’s loose and freewheeling feel compared with some of his slick and overproduced recent work.
Sarah [Rating: 8]: The kids haven’t heard of Pete Seeger, but they know some of the songs and we all like them. “They make me feel like I’m in my parents’ bed when there’s a thunderstorm,” one of them says.

Highway Companion
Tom Petty
Slightly mellower-than-normal tuneage from the indefatigable classic rocker.

Sarah [Rating: 8]: When I was 13, I liked Tom Petty because he scoffed in the face of authority and told people off, but he did it cheerfully. Tom’s sadder and quieter lately, but he still manages to be charming in a man-isn’t-life-just-crazy-sometimes kind of way.
John [Rating: 7]: Though Petty’s often unsurprising, all of his records have a couple of songs that pull at my heartstrings, and here the track “Square One” reminds me how things should have finally turned out with my last girlfriend but didn’t.
Katherine [Rating: 4]: What is it with these graying boomers and their obsession with the “open road”? Where exactly would it take them, and what would they do once they got there?

Songs and Other Things
Tom Verlaine
Experimental new material from the rarely seen founder of Television.

Katherine [Rating: 8]: His hiccuping voice and prickly guitar have been an acquired taste since the high-CBGB days, and there’s a little misguided funkiness and draining free-form experimentation. But the deeper you get, the more irrefutably great it becomes.
Sarah [Rating: 6]: Verlaine’s mumbling, groaning manner had me scowling, my ear pressed to the speakers, trying to figure out the lyrics. When I finally did understand what he was saying, it wasn’t really that interesting.
John [Rating: 3]: I’m usually one of the first to rejoice when Verlaine decides to leave his bedroom, but this disc sounds like the soundtrack to a bad Tim Burton movie. And there aren’t enough of the guitar pyrotechnics one remembers from old Television vinyl.

Rather Ripped
Sonic Youth
The New York band’s 21st album in 25 years of pioneering downtown indiedom.

Katherine [Rating: 10]: More gossamer and shimmery than dissonant and screechy, and maybe my favorite Sonic Youth album ever. “Reena” is their catchiest song since “Kool Thing”—it’s no coincidence that the agelessly groovescent Kim Gordon is on lead vocal.
Sarah [Rating: 9]: Everyone perks up when I put this on. The kids are overjoyed, especially having been subjected earlier to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. One of them performs what might be the first-ever Sonic Youth-inspired break-dancing moves.
John [Rating: 6]: Thurston Moore and Gordon continue to moan their way through most of their songs instead of singing. Lyrics like “What a waste / You’re so chaste / I can’t wait / To taste your face” don’t help.

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