- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

Eric Clapton, “Back Home” — An album of coruscating Robert Johnson covers (last year’s “Me and Mr. Johnson”) followed by a reunion with psych-rockers Cream … and now this? Mr. Clapton could’ve been spiking the ball but instead he trips at the goal line.

His first album with original new songs picks up right where 2001’s “Reptile” left off — in that cozy, climate-controlled zone of lite-rock for baby boomers with hurting ears. “Home’s” production is lambent and well-padded with horns, synths and back-up singers, not to mention marquee guests such as organist Billy Preston, guitarist John Mayer and ex-Blind Faith band mate Steve Winwood.

There are sprinklings of reggae (“Say What You Will,” “Revolution”), gospel (“I’m Going Left”), R&B; (the Spinners’ “Love Don’t Love Nobody”) and the requisite blues-rocker (“Lost and Found”) to keep hard-core fans from turning up their noses.

The twangy “So Tired” might explain why Mr. Clapton is on musical cruise control: It’s an adventures-in-baby-sitting number on which the 60-year-old new daddy describes the travails of teething and diapering. The enchanting title track closes “Home” and nearly redeems the overkill that precedes it. (Warner Bros.)

The New Pornographers, “Twin Cinema”— You might call the NPs a supergroup if they weren’t so recherche. The Vancouver-based indies, led by singer-guitarist Carl Newman, boast dedicated contributions from alt-country vocalist Neko Case and Destroyer frontman Dan Bejar on this, their third LP, which is (somehow) even more muscular and intricate and cryptic than 2003’s “The Electric Version.”

Miss Case extracts an angelic sparkle out of Mr. Newman’s coiling melodies and crossword-puzzle lyrics on “The Bones of an Idol” and “These are the Fables.” Mr. Bejar’s turns in his best NPs track yet with the shape-shifting “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras.” But it’s Mr. Newman himself who, inevitably, shines the most.

His piano chops sharpened and his influences (Joe Jackson, Brian Eno, the Kinks, the dBs) jumbled into a singular new power pop crossbreed, Mr. Newman reaches vertiginous new heights on “Use It,” “Sing Me Spanish Techno” and “Three or Four.” (Matador)

Chuck Leavell, “Southscape”It’s only rock ‘n’ roll … and Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell can play it in his sleep. A hankering to return to his jazz and gospel roots — not to mention the availability of uber-talented friends such as guitarist Larry Carlton and reedman Randall Bramlett — led this consummate Southern man and his Yamaha grand piano into spacious workouts such as the haunting “Altamaha,” the playful “Tomato Jam” and the wistful “Cherokee Wind.”

Two numbers (the title track and “Savannah”) beautifully conjure feelings of home and hearth; their intuitive Southern-ness will have even Yanks cursing the name of Sherman. And, for yuks, there’s a new take on “Jessica,” the Allman Brothers classic that long ago provided Mr. Leavell the platform for his signature piano solo, lovingly quoted and expanded upon here. (Mega Force)

Laura Veirs, “Year of Meteors”— Lay off the caffeine, lay down the BlackBerry and devote some undivided attention to the latest from this bookish Seattle singer-songwriter. As its planetological title may indicate, the material here is layered with assorted blips, chilly flutterings and other space-age doilies. But they’re usually an effective foil for Miss Veirs’ songs, the best of which (“Cool Water,” “Where Gravity is Dead,” “Spelunking”) maintain a folksy earthiness underneath the atmospheric add-ons. To quote the poetic Miss Veirs herself, this is music for people who like their rock “pretty and strange,” “strapping and deranged.” (Nonesuch)

The Evil Queens, “First It Boils, Then It Spills” — “It” means blood, and these Queens mean business. Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, the band plays ferociously sloppy punk in the style of the underrated mid-‘70s Cleveland scene that produced Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys. At its hookiest (“Grand Prix,” “Strong-Wristed Women”), the band approaches better contemporaries such as Queens of the Stone Age and Foo Fighters. At its silliest (“The Theme from Donovan”), it’ll send you to the medicine cabinet for earplugs and Tylenol. (Addison)

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