By Michael Henningsen
Jean Michel Jarre Essential (Dreyfus)
At least a full decade before electronica, techno and ambient were officially declared genres, the music that defined them was lumped in the new age category and, therefore, unfortunately stigmatized as bullshit background music for tofu-eaters looking to get their yoga on. French electronicist Jean Michel Jarre's earliest and best work was among the falsely imprisoned. Fast-forward to the '90s and bands such as Stereolab, High Llamas, St. Etienne, Air and countless others. What was then considered to be the latest craze was actually a co-opting of Jarre's pioneering work in electronic music. Listen, learn—this is whence it came.
The Devlins Waves (Nettwerk)
While Bono and The Edge have the market cornered in terms of their status as the Darlings from Dublin, brothers Colin and Peter Devlin have been working on the fringe, making a string of pearly pop gems since 1992 to little stateside notice. Working in the shadow of a band like U2 can't be much glamorous fun, but The Devlins have pressed on in relative obscurity even so, with records that contain plenty of nods to their Irish rock forefathers, but also a sense of urgency that's born of pure commitment to one's craft. Waves is the latest, greatest example.
Robert Earl Keen Live From Austin, Texas (New West)
Robert Earl Keen carries many torches; those passed to him according to Divine plan by such Texas songwriting giants as Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Willie Nelson to name but a few. And while those are certainly among the largest musical shoes to fill, Keen does it with a genuine grin, wry wit and a level of songwriting genius that he, himself, doesn't appear to be particularly aware of. While his studio albums are mostly fabulous, this live set presents Keen and band in their natural habitat, performing at an absolute red line.
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