BEN KWELLER

On My Way

(ATO Records) ***

The second LP from Texan Ben Kweller is an almost pure source of mellow rocking pleasure. The hooks are catchy, the playing is strong and limber, and the lyrics are amiably heartbroken. Best of all, however, is Kweller's gently casual singing, which sets the tone for the record's intimate, unpolished sound. Ethan Johns' relaxed production--allowing the band to sound like a band (rather than a stacked deck); allowing the mixes to remain rough--gives the record an unassuming pop swagger. The recordings feel like demos, captured raw by a band that knows how to hang back and let songs breathe. At times, the melodies become almost too familiar ("My Apartment" is directly reminiscent of "Homeward Bound," for example, and "Living Life" recalls "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant") but even when you can spot the influences, the songs feel no less fresh or vital, thanks to the confidence of the performances. SEAN NELSON

VARIOUS ARTISTS

The Free Design Redesigned: Vol. 1

(Light in the Attic) ****

The first volume of remixes of the '60s/'70s band the Free Design boasts an impressive roster of DJs and musicians (Belle and Sebastian, Madlib, Mellow) who manage to produce startlingly beautiful interpretations of a group whose music is already startlingly beautiful. The strangest remix is by Peanut Butter Wolf, which does not explore the content of the song it's remixing, "Umbrellas," but uses it as the starting point for a wild exploration through a galaxy of samples. The most stunning remix is by Seattle producers Sharpshooters. Simple and sensitive to the art and mood of the Free Design, the remix proves once again that Sharpshooters are still developing, still moving forward, with this remix marking the high point their creativity has thus far reached. The next volume of remixes is set to come out in the summer and will include, among others, the turntablist Kid Koala. CHARLES MUDEDE

LORETTA LYNN

Van Lear Rose

(Interscope) ****

For her umpteenth album, 68-year-old country icon Loretta Lynn is aided and abetted by 28-year-old garage-rock upstart Jack White of the White Stripes, who dedicated an album to her and who she subsequently tapped to produce Van Lear Rose. The production and arrangement has White's organic stamp, harking back to the simplicity and directness of the first two Stripes albums. Like Rick Rubin's American Recordings sessions with Johnny Cash, Van Lear Rose takes a country luminary into new territory. Unlike those Cash albums, though, Lynn's record isn't composed of covers; it was completely written by Lynn, the first time she has done that since her debut album. The 13 songs find the coal miner's daughter raising a ruckus, telling family stories, and singing the praises of the Lord and sloe gin fizzes in Portland. NATE LIPPENS

**** "We Are The World" - USA for Africa

*** "Do They Know It's Christmas?" - Band Aid

** "Sun City" - Artists United Against Apartheid

* "Tears Are Not Enough" - Northern Lights