Johnny A. Get Inside (Favored Nations)
Thus far, I've hated everything that's come out on Steve Vai's virtuoso-only Favored Nations label. Not because I hate the virtuosos, but because the production values are skewed shamelessly toward contemporary pussy jazz a la Hiroshima and Yellowjackets. This is somewhat true of blues guitarist Johnny A.'s second release for FN, but he's got even more soul than he has chops, thus saving his new record from being one giant bore. Johnny A. crosses genre fences with the ease of a hot knife through butter, and his skill is unearthly, yet palatable.
PJ Harvey Uh Huh Her (Island)
Four years since her last studio release, PJ Harvey returns with, if you can fathom the notion, her most personal record to date. That's partly due to the fact that she wrote, performed and produced the entire affair herself, but also because she's mastered the art of peeling away her own skin. Deeply emotional and musically visceral (if sparse), Uh Huh Her is a painful listen that's also intensely addictive. Harvey's recordings have always been completely devoid of charm and hope, a tool she has effectively used to make her work irresistible. Brutal, delicious.
Dimmu Borgir/Old Man's Child Devil's Path/In the Shades of Life (Candlelight USA)
Suffice to say that Norse black metal bands Dimmu Borgir and Old Man's Child have shared members over the years. Now they're sharing a record, which, in the end, does more to underscore the power and prowess of the lesser-known OMC than it does to promote Ozzfest attractions, Dimmu Borgir. OMC's Galder is a far more sinister vocalist than DB's Shagrath, and the blastbeats somehow sound more sincere on OMC's half of the album. DB's death metal-meets-John Williams orchestrations sound mechanical and just shy of inspiring.