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BJM's music, however, is not the least bit excessive. A postmodern cut-and-paste collage of classic rock played on vintage instruments a la pre-'72 Stones, with jangly hooks and Floydian psychedelia, the band's sound is a throwback -- sonically and spiritually -- to the days when rock stars were exaggerated personalities. This is a good thing, if American bands are ever to reclaim their hotel-trashing, groupie and drug-connoisseur heritage.

While BJM singer Anton Newcombe may fancy himself the leader of a new revolution in pop music culture, Strung Out isn't highbrow. It leans heavily on straightforward arrangements and 12-string guitars, while droning organs, harmonica and tambourine are the real giveaways that theirs is a simple music well versed in rock's history. Strung Out is blissed out, with just enough ambiance and tension to keep it interesting and unpredictable. It never gels into cohesion, but ambles along loosely, managing to convey emotions without being direct. Standouts include "Maybe Tomorrow," with its Sticky Fingers slide and acoustic guitars and ascending vocal line, and the opening track, "Going to Hell," is a brilliant marriage of precision, Byrds-like riffs and loose-limbed drumming reminiscent of the Who's Keith Moon. All of which might easily find its way into the hearts and heads of the masses if radio cared a hoot about quality guitar rock these days. (***)

-- David Simutis

The Brian Jonestown Massacre performs Monday, July 27, at Instant Karma.

Cowboy Junkies
Miles from Our Home
Geffen

If every band has its proper place in our daily lives, then the Cowboy Junkies seem most effective for those moments before sleep. Plainly put, their thoroughly flaccid roots rock has all the therapeutic value of a Nyquil/rum cocktail. But as time has passed, Canada's most somnolent musical siblings have become more adept at the old bait and switch. They lure us into their numbingly static clutches with the perfect pop moment -- maybe two -- just so they can spend the rest of an album lulling us into a coma.

On the band's latest release, Miles from Our Home, that moment is the title track, its swaying chorus, simple, strummed chord progression and Margo Timmons's poised vocals combining with the lush production of John Leckie (Radiohead, the Verve) for a near-perfect Triple-A exercise in longing. Then, of course, there's the rest of the album, moments of which try the patience in infamous Junkies fashion.

So it could effectively be argued that the most consistent Junkies release to date is a best-of collection, 1996's Studio. And why not? Frankly, it's all anyone but the most enraptured Junkies fan needs to know about the group -- and that includes two telling dual realizations. First, chief songwriter Michael Timmons does have the capacity to write compelling songs, as opposed to the percolating tone poems and restrained atmospheria that pervade a majority of the Junkies' seven-album output over the last 12 years. But for whatever reason, Timmons has a short attention span for the accessible (perhaps it has something to do with his immersion in the blues and the more fringe elements of the singer/songwriter genre). Second, Margo Timmons has neither the voice nor the emotional fortitude to wrench her brother's more ephemeral material out of its self-imposed doldrums. Her singing is sweet -- some might even say hypnotic -- but it's hardly expressive, or all that emotive. At times, it has a neutralizing effect, as when she tackles the personal and spiritual upheaval of "Someone Out There," one of the more downcast numbers on Miles from Our Home.

"But what I want to know / Before you save my soul / Is who gave this power to that fucker up there," Timmons sings in the chorus. On paper, those words amount to profound desperation. But coming from her -- and further blunted by the song's antiseptic folk-pop melody -- they have all the immediacy of a Summer's Eve jingle. No more convincing is her performance on the languid "Blue Guitar" -- a tribute to the late Townes Van Zandt that features lyrics written by both Van Zandt and Michael Timmons -- on which a wrenching lament is finessed into a harmless lullaby.

It would be wrong to heap all the blame on poor, sweet Margo. For no matter how often Miles from Our Home flirts with change, something is always there to sabotage it -- and that, no doubt, is a band thing. In the album's liner notes, the group says the new songs emerged out of a period of "sitting and walking and watching things changing." Pity those changes didn't more fully involve the Junkies themselves. (**)

-- Hobart Rowland

Rod Stewart
When We Were the New Boys
Warner Bros.

The industry line on When We Were the New Boys is that it's his best since Every Picture Tells a Story. But don't believe the hype. Yeah, this is the raw-voiced rooster's best in a coon's age, or at least his smartest. It marks Rod Stewart's return to his spirited interpretive roots, as he covers songs written by the likes of Oasis's Noel Gallagher, Primal Scream and Skunk Anansie, Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, Waterboy Mike Scott and Ron Sexsmith.

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