Listening Log 

Under the Covers Vol. 1
Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs
(Shout Factory)

Sweet and Hoffs could have traded in the last of their diminishing fame chips for a degrading turn on, say, The Surreal Life, but instead they came together for this disarming project of mostly well-known '60s tunes. There are some missteps for sure. The pair sound utterly lost on Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" and the Who's "The Kids Are Alright." But on Fairport Convention's "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" Hoffs reminds you how great she was on those first two Bangles albums. On Young's "Cinnamon Girl," Sweet teams up with Richard Lloyd for guitar work that avoids aping the original while staking its own claim to fame. ("She May Call You Up Tonight") -- Werner Trieschmann

Grade: B+

Eye to the Telescope

KT Tunstall

(EMI UK)

You could fill a good-sized landfill with the sensitive female singer-songwriter CDs released since the advent of Lilith Fair. This debut by Scotland's Tunstall would be a candidate save for the punchy production work by Steve Osborne and Tunstall's own husky voice and singular weirdness. "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" tells the tall tale of Tunstall turning down a proposal from the horse of the title. "Suddenly I See" and "Other Side of the World" offer a bouncy, bass-driven balance to the times when Tunstall can't resist yet one more blah coffeehouse acoustic blues. -- WT

Grade: B

Live from Austin, TX

Merle Haggard

(New West)

A full band puts a little Texas swing in Haggard's step on the latest entry in the solid Austin City Limits series, originally recorded in 1985. Switching between his trusty telecaster and his fiddle, Hag runs through blistering versions of "Silver Wings" and "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink" and perfectly mopey takes on "Misery" and "Misery and Gin." Best is the too-short "Mama Tried," which kicks off with a nearly a cappella verse of "Tulare Dust" before Haggard launches into a country-boogie guitar solo. Essential for fans of Haggard, country, and good music. -- Stephen Deusner

Grade: A

Things Go Better With RJ and Al

Soul Position

(Rhymesayers)

Because hip-hop is so conversational, verbally it has both more content and higher expectations than other pop forms. That's why it's a bummer that so many MCs stick to genre tropes, meaning not just thuggin' and fuckin' but bitching about rappers who only talk about thuggin' and fuckin'. The best thing about Ohio indie lifer Blueprint is that he knows life's bigger than hip-hop: Sure, he's tired of sucker MCs peddling stereotyped, sensationalized notions of blackness, but he's also pissed about Tavis Smiley being taken off BET and fools using up his cell-phone minutes. His DJ partner, RJD2, animates it all with soul basslines and understated beats. ("Hand-Me-Downs," "The Cool Thing To Do," "Keys") -- CH

Grade: B+

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