Dave Matthews Band, "Away From the World" (RCA)
The Dave Matthews Band's first post-hiatus album is a folksy, jammy tumble that feels much like the group's earliest work. Some of "Away From the World" is unabashedly cheesy, especially when Matthews uncages his lusty side on "Belly Belly Nice" or pleads in simplistic terms for a better world on "Mercy." Though Matthews occasionally splashes around in shallow lyrics, the band overall cooks, fleshing out these tunes in an integral way. The record forgoes the rough edges of its "GrooGrux" predecessor, instead bubbling like a lava lamp.
"Broken Things" opens the album with a trademark tension-building contrast between desire and darkness. The record peaks with "The Riff," which wends through fears and hopes and ultimately reveals the breadth of the band's prowess. DMB wraps up with two long-form pieces full of guitar strums, violin slashes, jazzy rhythms, and barroom philosophizing -- just like the good ol' days.
SCOTT MCLENNAN, BOSTON GLOBE
Aimee Mann, "Charmer" (SuperEgo)
Mann has mastered the art of songwriting to the point her songs sound deceptively casual, as if she's just experimenting with ideas and hitting upon gems time after time on her new "Charmer." The CD is a culmination of experience that started in the 1980s, when Mann fronted 'Til Tuesday, and has continued with her solo career that launched with 1993's "Whatever." Her understated singing gives voice to smart lyrics that portray her as wry, bittersweet and oddly relaxed, as if she's resigned, but not defeated.
Meanwhile, Mann's melodies are magnificent, perhaps the most consistent of all active singer/songwriters. As with her previous work, "Charmer" builds on low-grade infection, with Mann dispensing philosophical zingers in near-offhanded fashion as her subtle hooks slowly but surely embed themselves into the psyche.
For some, "Charmer" will quickly have the appeal of a favorite old album, its comforting strains sounding familiar by the second or third listen.
The riskiest cut, "Living a Lie," is a duet with James Mercer of the Shins, as Mann lets an outsider potentially shatter her private little world. However, the two prove simpatico, jointly singing the chorus, "I'm living a lie/You're living it too/Cause I live it with you."
Mann might be making a statement with the chugging title track as she observes, "When you're a charmer, the world applauds/They don't know that secretly charmers feel like they're frauds."
If that's a paranoid confessional on Mann's part, she can rest assured she appears to be completely genuine.
Mann performs Nov. 17 at First Avenue in Minneapolis.
CHUCK CAMPBELL, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE