Crosby, Stills & Nash's Skeletal, Primitive Demos

Crosby, Stills and Nash

Demos (Atlantic/Rhino)

These are resurging times for this harmonic trio. They're in the midst of a 40th anniversary tour (which stops in Houston at the Woodlands tonight), were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in June, and are headed into studio with Rick Rubin for a new album of covers.

Demos is a collection of just a dozen tracks featuring early, working versions of songs that would end up becoming CSN (and sometimes Y) warhorses, as well as appear on various members' solo projects.

Make no mistake - not a single song is superior to what was eventually laid down on record. But there is a gentle charm to hearing these mostly one voice/one guitar works-in-progress versions.

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Big Weekend for the Tontons

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This is a good time for local music. From a fan's vantage point, albums have been dropping left and right. It's hard to find artists willing to take the time to write a solid full-length album rather than have five great tracks and seven fillers. For local musicians, step your game up. You may think you're doing well, but the Tontons' self-titled album raises the bar so high, only an "A" game can hope to compete.

Let's get something straight: No single song on the quartet's first full-length is better than the rest. Thus, critiquing will have to be done by category. First come Asli Omar's vocals. Her sultry, enchanting voice complements the cheery pop accompaniment very well, especially on "Kaleidoscope" and "Leon." Whereas the former finds her singing with more of a soul inflection, the other is light and airy pop, an act that can only be pulled off by a natural. This talent is clean.

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Local 7-Inches of the Week: A Ditchwater Double Dip

Dead Roses

"Sleep Dep."/ "Liar"

Ditchwater Records

Ralf Armin, Houston punk/glam pioneer and sometime Balaclavas sax-man could be the city's most underrated musicians. Between his works with Truth Decay, the late lamented Swarm Of Angels, and his seminal work with The Pain Teens and Really Red, Armin has paved a lofty path in the history of Houston noise.

Dead Roses' newest 7", "Sleep Dep."/ "Liar," alternately fuses elements of Armin's own musical past, while also digging deep into the aural roots. Side A's title track starts out innocently poppy enough, but soon turns into a reverb-drenched kiss-off. It's toe-tapping stuff you could break up with someone to.

The real action is on Side B, with the Roky Erickson-channeling "She's Not Calling Back," a nearly six-minute tantrum of frustration and emotional chaos. This is where the Roses really bloom, with Armin wailing against a wall of sound over a churning bath of guitar and a ringing phone.

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Local Album of the Week: Mango Punch's Una Casita Blanca

Mango Punch

Una Casita Blanca

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Mango Punch's Walter Shur is a great front man (as multiple Houston Press Music Awards wins prove), but his real talent lies in songwriting. His band Mango Punch's new CD, Una Casita Blanca (A Little White House), shows Shur's considerable range as a writer with tunes that range stylistically from flamenco to sweet, simple pop and folk-tinged dance numbers, all of them radio-ready.

Opener "Dar y Dar" (To Give and Give), may be Blanca's strongest tune. Driven by a flamenco-style guitar, it tells the story of a one-sided love - "Dar y dar y dar y dar y no recibe nada a cambio/ Ase que el amor se vaya acabando" (To give and give and give and give and receive nothing in exchange/ Finishes a love). Another highlight is the very danceable "Vete" (Go), a laid-back brush-off - "Vete pa que sepas lo que te ha querido" (Go, so that you can know how much I've loved you").

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Album of the Week: Tori Amos' Abnormally Attracted to Sin

Tori Amos

Abnormally Attracted to Sin

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If, like me, the only song you had heard off Abnormally Attracted To Sin prior to its release was the single "Maybe California," then (like me) the first few seconds of opening track "Give" made you whisper a relieved "Oh, thank God. It's not all going to be like that."

And it isn't. And that is a very, very good thing. Amos' previous album, 2007's American Doll Posse, marked the beginning of her return to her roots as a bad-ass, weird, experimental rock chick, from way back before albums like 2002's Scarlet's Walk and especially 2005's multi-layered but ultimately tepid The Beekeeper began flirting with adult contemporary. Posse brought back the rebellious-outsider attitude that attracted legions to Amos in the first place, an attitude which, on Abnormally, has flowered into a full-on middle finger in the face of what some suspected was shaping up to be a post-childbirth mellowing (Amos gave birth to daughter Natashya in 2000).

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The Whole Wide World: Vieux Farka Touré's

The son of the late, great Ali Farka Touré definitely does not live under his father's shadow. After his impressive self-titled debut two years ago, he emerges with Fondo (Six Degrees) , a disc that explores and expands Malian blues with a more global perspective.

Since his first disc came out, Touré has been engaged in a whirlwind of activity - just last year, he went on extensive US tours and also appeared alongside Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley and Senegalese multi-instrumentalist Cheik Lô on Say It Loud: I'm Black And I'm Proud, a tribute to James Brown that included a concert at New York's Lincoln Center. If that wasn't enough to keep him busy, he also contributed to the In The Name Of Love: Africa Celebrates U2 compilation with a very personal cover of "Bullet The Blue Sky."

"Bullet The Blue Sky"

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Album of the Week: Girl in a Coma's Trio B.C.

Girl in a Coma

Trio B.C.

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It's so nice to type the words "Girl in a Coma" for something that has nothing to do with the San Antonio trio's March altercation with some off-duty Houston police officers at Chances, which landed two band members a weekend in jail and a court date later this summer. It's especially nice because GIAC's new album Trio B.C. - the band's second for Joan Jett's Blackheart Records, after 2007's Both Before I'm Gone - is a richly textured document of alternative pop and ear-piercing punk, with slight hints of country, Latin music and shoegaze adding to the fun.

Singer Nina Diaz coos about sucking some lucky boy's toes on the Cat Power-esque "El Monte" - pledging her love, but twisting the knife when she wonders, "Am I just another figure to call upon when you're bored?" and coos like Siouxie Sioux on the bewitching, Spanish-sung closer "Ven Cerca." "Baby Boy," is an eruption of mid-'90s Sonic Youth noise-punk, while the acoustic-powered "HH" and "In the Day" show the Smiths are never very far from the trio's thoughts.

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Classic Rock Corner: Simon and Garfunkel's Live 1969

Simon & Garfunkel

Live 1969

When Art Garfunkel tells audiences on he and Paul Simon's 1969 tour that the duo has just finished a new album, those clapping had no clue that by the time Bridge Over Troubled Water came out, the former childhood friends would have split acrimoniously and wouldn't regularly share the stage for another 13 years.

What you don't get on this new CD is much variation from the songs' recorded versions. Simon doesn't break out a blazing electric guitar solo on "I Am a Rock," and Garfunkel doesn't turn into a blues shouter on "Bridge." However, it is interesting to hear the audience reacting to a tune that - as iconic as it is now - hadn't been released at the time.

Still, many these live versions come off warmer or more lively than their studio counterparts, with the help of a crack backing band: "Homeward Bound," "Mrs. Robinson" and "The Sound of Silence" - ironically, on that song, it was producer Tom Wilson's instrumental add-ons that gave the duo its first hit. Only "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" fares worse, becoming a too-earnest folk dirge like a parody from A Mighty Wind.

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Local Album of the Week: Low Man's Joe's Where I Stand

Low Man's Joe

Where I Stand

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Before "Wanted Dead or Alive," before "It's My Life," before Jon Bon Jovi went off to Hollywood and took the Lost Highway through Nashville in 2007, Bon Jovi was a pretty decent hard-rock band. Poppier than most, definitely, but Jon's Springsteenian tales of boardwalk knockabouts and Richie Sambora's streetwise riffs combined to make a denim-clad, working-class alternative to stacked-heel Sunset Strip skirt-chasers like Mötley Crüe.

Judging by its debut CD, Where I Stand (released last year), Houston's Low Man's Joe is quite familiar with pre-Slippery When Wet Jovi - the woman in "No Heroes" even works in a diner. (All day.) Not only is singer Bret Gyrich's voice a dead ringer for Jon, growling the verses and exalting the choruses, but the music clings tightly to the Jersey boys' Thin Lizzy/Journey axis, with just a hint of Jovi's thrashier Garden State neighbors Skid Row.

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Album of the Week: Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown

Green Day

21st Century Breakdown

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In all actuality, there are two Green Days: The three punk snots who recorded everything from 39/Smooth to 1997's Nimrod and two thinly veiled side projects, the electro The Network and the reverberating Foxboro Hot Tubs. This represents Billie Joe and the boys at their most adventurously unhinged, spewing forth stream-of-consciousness punk rock you really only get from the ages of 14 to 19.

The second is the band that had kids, got married, got divorced and somehow found time to turn on Fox News just in time to see this country implode into a shitstorm of dissent and despair. This is the band that embraced Queen, The Who and the Boss, beginning with 2000's startlingly frank Warning! and in the process transcended an entire punk universe.

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