Ben Folds Five
Ben Folds Five

In the true tradition of the guitar hero comes pianist Ben Folds, leader of the North Carolina trio Ben Folds Five. Just like the best fiery axmen, Folds commands and fuels his small, tightly wound Chapel Hill ensemble of piano, bass and drums with an authoritative virtuoso style that borrows from everywhere but still manages to lend inspiration to his instrument's possibilities -- he's the Jimi Hendrix of the baby grand, if you will. Folds' frenetic key-pounding eclipses old-time styles, out-plinking megastars such as Elton John and Billy Joel while playing simple pop in loving homage to the quirky likes of Todd Rundgren and Jools Holland.

A typical Ben Folds Five excursion will begin with a rolling, Joel-sy intro and slide into a verse and chorus reminiscent of Rundgren's Utopia. Other songs may slather on layers of Beatlesish harmonies before freeing themselves from rock and roll nostalgia with a bit of Gershwinesque classicism -- or they may Sgt. Pepper us with faux theatrics, only to plunge into a deep, soul-gospel groove. Complementing his work at the keyboard, Folds' clear, dynamic tenor swirls effortlessly through the mix. With Ben Folds Five, Folds has found a sleek but sensible display case for his set of finely crafted, sugary gems, all of which were written without a trace of conceit. -- Roni Sarig

Ben Folds Five performs Friday, February 9, at the Urban Art Bar.

Various Artists
Punk You (Music for the Discerning Slacker Punk, Vol.1)

Face it, kids: punk rock is nostalgia. It's the stuff of embarrassingly titled K-Tel-esque compilations such as Punk You -- the kind perfect for playing at your next punk theme party. Punk You collects, seemingly at random, 17 mostly memorable punk, post-punk and new wave tracks from the late '70s and early '80s. Ironically -- but somehow fittingly -- the CD is on EMI, the label that took a lead in making the revolution marketable by signing the Sex Pistols -- only to get squeamish and drop the group at the first sign of controversy.

Given punk's recent post-Green Day payoff, Punk You begins appropriately enough with Generation X (featuring future MTV rebel-throb Billy Idol), the most self-consciously trendy and commercial of the early punk bands. And while the big three of England's punk era -- the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Jam -- are noticeably missing, an attractive set of also-rans make up for their absence, among them the Damned, the Buzzcocks, Wired, Cockney Rejects and Stiff Little Fingers. Plus, there's the naughty-but-nice X-Ray Spex doing its classic "Oh Bondage (Up Yours)." Early new wavers Adam and the Ants, Siouxie and the Banshees, Bow Wow Wow and Blondie (the lone Yankee) add diversity, but also end up confusing the CD's focus. Thankfully, Punk You's closer adds relevance to an otherwise pointless collection: the lick from that tune, Killing Joke's "Eighties," formed the basis for Nirvana's "Come as You Are," and punk was born again, '90s style. -- Roni Sarig

Various Artists
From Dusk till Dawn -- Music from the Motion Picture

One sign that a director has clout in Hollywood -- or else that he's developed a hipster cachet that extends beyond the film world -- is the caliber of people he's able to recruit to contribute to his movie's soundtrack. The makers of Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino) and Desperado (Robert Rodriguez) recently joined together to lay waste to the Tex-Mex border with From Dusk till Dawn, and at the moment, they're hot enough to bring along ZZ Top for the ride. As a result, seldom have "screw y'all -- we're from Texas" sentiments been articulated in movie music so strongly, or with such a big grin.

In fact, ZZ Top's politically incorrect credentials are so well-established that the raucous blues-shuffle version of "Mexican Blackbird" is likely to draw not a single whine from the empowerment crowd. After all, if the bad boys of blues rock were going to change, they would have done so a long, long time ago. It's hard to imagine a better prelude to a barroom shootout than the strutting, beard-tossing "She's Just Killing Me." With a shout of "Suck my blood!" as the intro to a soaring, classic Gibbons-Hill bridge, this is the raw, unrefined traditional Top style that says, with a cynical smile, "Another joint with blood on the walls, another night on the road."

Keeping the Lone Star juices flowing, Jimmie Vaughan rips the hell out of "Dengue Woman Blues," and his late brother Stevie's archives contribute the ferocious "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Lesser known talents also merit mention. Describing Tito and Tarantula's "Cucarachas Enojadas" as vato-punk may seem insensitive to some, but no other description makes sense; and if your definition of drunk starts at "unable to count to two in your native language," Jon Wayne's "Texas Funeral" is just the anthem you're looking for. -- Jim Sherman

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Roni Sarig
Jim Sherman