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New CDs from Mark Knopfler, The Donnas

Also new releases from Babyface, KT Tunstall and Rogue Wave
/ Source: Billboard

Mark Knopfler, “Kill To Get Crimson”Lush and lovely, Knopfler’s fifth solo record doesn’t deviate from the formula set forth on his earlier efforts, proving that he’s taken the maxim “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” to heart. Knopfler continues to craft lyrics that provide snapshots of simple, small moments: a dance lesson in a school gym on “Secondary Waltz,” an artist craving a new color for a painting on “Let It All Go.” While Knopfler has mostly moved away from the type of song he wrote while fronting Dire Straits, “Punish the Monkey” would not be out of place on the band’s classic album “Money for Nothing.” There’s really not a weak track on “Kill to Get Crimson,” making Knopfler one of those rare artists who can deliver an album from start to finish.

The Donnas, “Bitchin’”If it were 1987, “Bitchin’ “ would be a major label’s wet dream. It’d be supported with big-budget videos played endlessly on “Headbanger’s Ball,” and with it, the Donnas would score a key tour with Poison en route to their own headlining jaunt. It being 2007, the girls’ awesomely ridiculous Sunset Strip-era gang vocals and hammer on-laden soloing aren’t exactly going to deliver them the keys to Madison Square Garden. While superbly recorded and at times a hoot to crank (largely for the shameless rips of Kiss, Joan Jett and Def Leppard), “Bitchin”’ is too light on hooks. Instead of three or four great potential singles, we get one in “Here for the Party” and a bunch that try really hard but ultimately fail to balance irony, nasty shredding and big choruses.

Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, “Playlist”As one of R&B’s most successful producers, has always been more interested in soft sounds than in hot beats, and on “Playlist,” the mostly covers follow-up to 2005’s underrated “Grown & Sexy,” he draws a line from his work back to the ’70s-era lite-rock hits that first inspired him to croon earnestly about the wonders of love and friendship. Sonic sap threatens everything here, but Edmonds usually manages to stave off Hallmark ickiness with an ear-tickling detail or two; dig the tasty Spanish guitar on his version of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” or the gorgeous backing vocals on his reading of James Taylor’s “Shower the People.” One of the disc’s two originals, “Not Going Nowhere,” addresses Edmonds’ recent divorce in language that’s more honest than you might expect.

KT Tunstall, “Drastic Fantastic”If KT Tunstall was at all intimidated by the prospect of following up her platinum 2006 debut, “Eye to the Telescope,” it’s certainly not audible on the 11 tracks of “Drastic Fantastic.” Tunstall crushes the sophomore jinx under the stilleto heels of the white boots she wears on the album cover, delivering a confident and assured set that’s fuller and a touch more electric than its predecessor. Tunstall sings at one point that “there’s no sense in traveling if we’ve already been that way,” and while “Drastic Fantastic” doesn’t reinvent her sound — the hand-clapping first single “Hold On” certainly harks back toward earlier hit “Suddenly I See” — it does move things forward, charging out of the box with the buoyant “Little Favours” and thrusting a defiant, girl-power chin out on “Hopeless” and “I Don’t Want You Now.”

Rogue Wave, “Asleep at Heaven’s Gate”Perhaps tired of existing in the shadow of the Shins at Sub Pop, Rogue Wave joins Jack Johnson’s Brushfire label for its third and most ambitious release. “Asleep” is notable for its beefed-up instrumentation and an overall darker tone than its predecessors. The chugging opener “Harmonium” denotes this shift in direction, propelled by pounding piano and clocking in at six-and-a-half minutes. “Ghost” swirls with feedback and a soaring chorus and “Phonytown” is a driving rocker backed by a funky bassline. The album still boasts Rogue Wave’s familiar lighter fare, namely the summery hook of “Lake Michigan” and the lo-fi goodness of “Chicago X 12.” “Fantasies” offers up Shins-esque “la la las,” and the stirring “Missed” is a heartbreaking ballad, as frontman Zach Rogue sings, “I could will you to stay but I guess you made up your mind,” before solemnly asking, “So, what’s next?”