cd reviews POP/ROCK

Levon Helm, "Dirt Farmer" (Vanguard)

He's the last of the Band's three great voices -- and he's still around only because he has whipped throat cancer. The disease kept Helm from singing for several years, but now he can, and the 67-year-old drummer/mandolinist/guitarist has put out his first solo studio album in 25 years. The voice sounds a little pinched and ragged at times, but otherwise his unmistakably Southern instrument is almost totally back, and Helm sings with all the robust feeling of a guy relishing his second chance. The decidedly rustic "Dirt Farmer" features several traditional numbers that Helm learned while growing up in Arkansas, and some of them, such as "False-Hearted Lover" and "The Blind Child," have the ancient-folk air of another world. But much of the set, especially contemporary songs such as Steve Earle's "The Mountain" and Paul Kennerly's "Got Me a Woman," roll with a richly organic Americana vibe that would fit right in with the Band. 5311

NICK CRISTIANO, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

The Killers, "Sawdust" (Island)

The Las Vegas glam-poppers took a step back with 2006's sophomore slip "Sam's Town." Releasing this B-sides disc after just two albums isn't a good sign. But, lo and behold, "Sawdust" is more than just tossed-off scraps. Think "Hot Fuss Pt. II." Instead of striving for the conceptual grandeur of "Sam's Town," the Killers loosen up and have fun, proudly showing their U2 influence and covering such acts as Kenny Rogers and Dire Straits. Album opener "Tranquilize" is a Velvet-y duet with Lou Reed. Good times. 5312

SEAN DALY, ST. PETERSBURG TIMES

Aretha Franklin, "Oh Me, Oh My: Aretha Live in Philly 1972" (Rhino Handmade)

This captures the Queen of Soul at the top of her powers, performing in Philadelphia in 1972 at the convention of the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers. Backed by a funky, road-tested backing band, she rips (sometimes a bit too quickly) through an hourlong set of her own hits ("Respect," "Don't Play That Song") and covers (the Drifters' "Spanish Harlem" and Bacharach and David's "This Girl's in Love With You"). Her voice is luscious, juicy and staggeringly powerful, her improvisational energy indomitable, and she does a monumentally soulful "Bridge Over Troubled Water." "Oh Me, Oh My" is issued on Rhino's Handmade imprint (www.rhinohandmade.com), which means only 7,500 copies have been pressed. 5313

DAN DELUCA, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

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