Love Is a Charm of Powerful Trouble
* * * *

The Immortal Lee County Killers II sound wild and desperate whether they're careening into their darkest emotions at a deafening whimper or a delicate whisper. Their rougher tracks ramble and stumble like a drunk on his way to fight the man who dare stole his woman, all dirty and badass and dangerous, with frontman Chetley "El Cheetah" Weise adding extra heavy distortion to his custom made guitar, sliding down its neck and punching out the next blast of noise with a heartily pained howl. At his side is drummer J.R.R. Token, pounding on the traps like all the good china's about to come crashing off the shelves. New material blends easily with covers of greats like Willie Dixon and traditionals like "Don't Nothing Hurt Me Like My Back and My Side," showing the duo is still proficient at presenting broken hearts, soul pains, and body aches with the same reverence they show to the original songwriters who shouldered these burdens. JENNIFER MAERZ

Twice As Nice
(Light in The Attic Records)
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After a five-year absence, Seattle boys the Sharpshooters' (DJ Supreme and DJ Sureshot) new CD, Twice As Nice, comes as a total surprise, a freak of nature. Everything they've done up to this impressive point has been rendered mere child's play, musings with studio knobs in the unconscious manner that boys play with xylophones or erector sets. Sharpshooter's earlier stuff wasn't entirely bad; they were comparable (and often on compilations) with much of the decent stuff that came out of Ninja Tune/Shadow Records scene of the mid-'90s. But in terms of ambition and achievement, nothing from this past measures up to the present Twice As Nice. The project is coolly controlled, designed, and managed. The beats are mostly of the hardcore boom-bap order, accompanied by either old-funk licks (played by Erik Dahlberg & Hans Fahling) or new-jazz vibes (played by the infinitely smooth Gary Gibson) and electric keyboards (played by the infinitely luxurious Jim Noriega). CHARLES MUDEDE

Friends of Dean Martinez
On the Shore
(Narnack Records)
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There are secrets stored among the prickly pear cactus and juniper trees in the deserts of Tucson, Arizona. I'm convinced of it. How else does one explain the compelling, narrative instrumentals from Tucson's Friends of Dean Martinez? Comparisons to the Calexico/Giant Sand Tucson posse are inevitable (FoDM started out as a Giant Sand side project, and Joey Burns and John Convertino went on to form Calexico after a couple of albums with FoDM), but thanks to Bill Elm's gorgeous pedal steel and Mike Semple's somber, daydream-inducing guitar melodies, the stories told on this double-CD set are undeniably their own--reverberating with slow-motion sensuality, quiet nostalgia, private thoughts, and still-healing wounds. MIN LIAO

* * * * Swee'pea
* * * Poopdeck Pappy
* * Wimpy
* Bluto