Just as lightning arrives before thunder, the reggaeton craze that flashed through Twin Cities nightclubs a couple years ago is now being rolled into something unique by local musicmakers.

The first major all-local reggaeton compilation CD, "Lightning & Thunder, Vol. 1," arrives with an all-star release party tonight at the Varsity Theater. The show's lineup (like the disc) includes known reggaeton purveyors Maria Isa and the Kamillion, rappers Truthmaze, Unicus (of Kanser), St. Paul Slim (Guardians of Balance) and Buss One (ex-Leroy Smokes), plus reggae stars Innocent, Prince Jabba and Dred I Dread's Pee Wee Dread.

"Until now, people's perception of reggaeton was that it was a club genre -- it was only about shaking your butt," said E.G. Bailey, spoken-word artist and proprietor of the label behind the CD, Tru Ruts. "I think we've made it more of a conscientious thing."

Indeed, many of the 14 songs on "Lightning & Thunder" -- including Truthmaze's "No Time ... " and Innocent's "Brighter Day" -- are as lyrical and thought-provoking as they are rhythmic. There's more meaning in one of these songs than in all the dopey hits by reggaeton kingpins Sean Kingston or Daddy Yankee. (Reggaeton, for those who don't know, is a lively melding of hip-hop, reggae and other Latino and Caribbean music styles.)

Perhaps the strongest statement in "Lightning & Thunder" is the mix of artists. Their backgrounds range from Puerto Rican and Dominican to Jamaican to north Minneapolitan and even Duluthian.

"The CD is a testament to the diversity of the Twin Cities," said Kyle Brochert, the Duluth native and Leroy Smokes trumpeter/producer who was the project's unlikely driving force.

Better known by his poorly devised hip-hop alias High Style Kyle, Brochert, 32, befriended local reggae players like Innocent and Jabba when he tended bar at the Blue Nile between Leroy Smokes tours. He and the Smokes players also started performing as Maria Isa's backing band last year.

"The different scenes were all kind of related; they just needed a common thread to tie them together," Brochert said. "I guess that was me."

He and the other Leroy Smokes instrumentalists invited all the vocalists to their Dinkytown studio last year. Their musical backing helped make it a cohesive CD. Other highlights on the album include Maria Isa's snarling "Tres Preguntas," the tasteful party-starter "Zoom Dale" by Latino wunderkind Chino Fino (who has since moved to Miami) and "Fuego Candela," a smoky gem by hip-hop duo Don Xaba and Backup Plomo.

"I think the CD pretty accurately captures a movement," Bailey said.

Brochert believes things will keep moving from here.

"We've already started on Volume 2," he boasted.

A new leaf

A good candidate this year for most improved band: Hojas Rojas, whose 2006 debut offered decent if undistinguished Flaming Lips-ian alt-rock. The quartet truly comes into its own with its second effort, "Helium," an eight-track collection on Eclectone that lands with a party Saturday at the 400 Bar, also featuring Big Ditch Road (9 p.m., $7).

HR sounds scrappier and looser on the new disc, which is one of the improvements. Tunes like "The Girl Song" and the title track have an off-kilter quality, reminiscent of Pavement, that belies the band's subtly climaxing guitar parts. Frontman D.J. Kulkielka adds to the charm with a lovable lonely-guy howl and coy lyrics, evident in songs such as "Stupid," "Foolish" and "Delusional." Sounds like someone was thumbing through a thesaurus after a bad breakup.

Companion-less Donohue

Acoustic guitar guru Pat Donohue -- best-known as the house guitarist on "A Prairie Home Companion" -- will promote his new CD, "Freewayman," Saturday at the Fitzgerald Theater (8 p.m., $29). The disc features solo guitar instrumentals and nothing but, as Donohue picks out rollicking versions of Skip James' "Cypress Grove Blues" and the swing standard "Stompin' at the Savoy," plus a dozen originals.

Donohue is one of many local associates of Minnesota music vet Michael Johnson ("Bluer Than Blue") planning a benefit for him April 27 at the Fine Line. Johnson is recuperating from quadruple bypass surgery.

Random mix

When Laurie Lindeen was at South by Southwest two weeks ago on a "Rock Memoirs" panel with Semisonic's Jacob Slichter, her book "Petal Pusher" wasn't the only thing she had to promote. Rhino Records is issuing a 20-track best-of from Zuzu's Petals next month, titled "Kicking Our Asses" and featuring two previously unreleased tracks. Funny timing: Those Replacements reissues are also due next month on Rhino. ...

Lupe Fiasco's "Superstar" duet partner Matthew Santos, who's performing Saturday at the Cedar Cultural Center, came to town a few days early to talk with students Wednesday (and raise food-drive money) at his old high school, Minneapolis Southwest. ...

I was just starting to figure out what "Electric Arc Radio" is, and now it's coming to an end: Last show is Saturday at the Woman's Club Theatre, 410 Oak Grove, Mpls. (7 p.m., $6-$8). ... Also on Saturday, Papa John Kolstad, Cadillac Kolstad, Clint Hoover, Johnny Law and Chastity Brown will perform at McMahon's Pub to promote "Southside Soul, Vol. 1," a compilation CD of south Minneapolis musicians that's being put out by the freebie neighborhood newspaper Southside Pride. Geez, of all the newspapers in town that still has money to sponsor a CD.

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658