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Simple Plan includes DVD with new CD

Plus: Arcade Fire may have best album of year

There's a varied mix of new CDs out this week. Canadian Simple Plan has a solid album that includes a DVD. Country singer Darryl Worley doesn't do a lot to elevate his star with a new, self-titled album. Earlimart mellows from their punk sound into a more mature group. Various artists honor the ballad on "The Rose & The Briar." And Montreal band The Arcade Fire has come out with what might be the best album of the year.

Simple Plan, “Still Not Getting Any”There are so many bands that Simple Plan sound a bit like, it’s easier to define them with musical math. Simple Plan’s new album “Still Not Getting Any” is Blink 182 plus Good Charlotte divided by Dashboard Confessional.

What it really equals is solid album, thanks in part to the production prowess of the legendary Bob Rock, who’s worked with everyone from Metallica to Bon Jovi.

For all of their sophomoric songwriting, Simple Plan is too tight to ignore. It’s a flawless creation of teen anthems with a knowing nod to the forlorn high schooler, me-against-the-world turmoil.

Simple Plan, hailing from Canada, knows the pain of young Johnny Everykid, and the five-piece band stuffs vague lyrics about overcoming a “big bad something” into every song.

“Shut Up” is a cascade of guitar sound strutting through a real catchy melody, then giving way to lead singer Pierre Bouvier often nasal vocals.

And “Welcome To My Life,” another top track, pours on more of the same. “Do you ever want to run away?/ Do you lock yourself in your room with the radio on turned up so loud, that no one hears you screaming?” Bouvier opines. You can almost visualize him little Johnny’s chin, helping him make it through another session of taking out the garbage, or whatever.

There are a few misses. “One” has a fully annoying violin back-up section, and we all know that if bands like Metallica can’t make the marriage of rock and opera night work, no one can.

Overall, this is real good stuff from a pretty good band that is exceeding expectations.

Additionally, “Still Not Getting Any” represents one of the industry’s first DualDisc releases. One side of the disc is the regular full CD, the other is a DVD containing a photo, a short video about the guys in the recording studio with Bob Rock and piecing together the album tracks, and a high-quality surround sound version of the new album.

It’s neat — in theory — that you could throw disc this in your computer or DVD player (or Xbox even...) and listen to the CD on one side, then flip it over and check out the DVD video action.

But there’s a big problem. The video quality is horrid. It looks to be a matter of video compression by the appearance of the fuzzy footage. It’s nowhere near the usual DVD video quality and it makes one wonder if there’s actually enough information storage space on the DVD side of the DualDisc for full resolution DVD video, or whether this is a new format that’s better suited for the desktop only — or the dustbin.

The DualDisc technology may need some serious refining if it’s going to stay around and be worth an extra dollar or two.—Ron Harris

Darryl Worley, “Darryl Worley”

Darryl Worley rode to the top of the country charts on the strength of 2001’s “I Miss My Friend,” a record considered to be a fresh breath of honky-tonk air amid a dearth of pop-country sound-alikes. However, its patriotic follow-up, “Have You Forgotten?” led to concerns that the Tennessee native was a little too eager to capitalize on post 9-11 successes by Alan Jackson and Toby Keith. Worley’s latest, self-titled recording avoids such obvious pandering but does little to elevate itself above the Music Row pack, which, it seems, is becoming increasingly dependent on a short-list of themes.

The record’s opening track, “Awful, Beautiful Life,” is typical. Over a rolling, banjo-driven backing track, Worley recounts a home life that’s “crazy, tragic, sometimes almost magic.” In the meantime, he works in references to drinking, church, family dinner, mom, football, a domestic disturbance and a cousin fighting overseas (fortunately, “Iraq” rhymes with “make it back”). Not that there’s anything wrong with singing about these things. It’s just that, more and more, such weary refrains are standing in for the gritty, realistic view of domesticity that Nashville songwriters were once famous for. (Think Lorretta Lynn’s “The Pill” or George Jones’s “Good Year For the Roses.”) Given his emotive, Merle Haggard-like baritone, in Worley’s case this seems particularly sad.—Paul V. Griffith

The Arcade Fire, “Funeral”The Arcade Fire’s debut “Funeral” has actually been out for over a month, but because it was initially devoured so rapidly, it’s only now widely available. A good thing, because it might be the best album of the year.

They are the newest band to emerge from Montreal, which has surprisingly emerged as one of the most vibrant rock ’n’ roll scenes in the country — er, North America.

The band is centered around husband and wife Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, who have in recent years been through the fire themselves, dealing with the deaths of many close family members.

The result is not so much a funeral, but the most cathartic and joyous wake you’ve ever been to. The sadness is palpable — Chassagne sings, “my family tree’s losing all its leaves” — but the band, scarred, is earnestly resilient.

The disc opens on “Neighborhood .1 (Tunnels)” with dancing piano notes over staccato strings, and as the guitar slowly rises, Butler’s voice shouts with a fierce urgency, inviting: “If my parents are crying then I’ll dig a tunnel from my window to yours.”

The first half of “Funeral” is a four-song suite about the interconnection of neighborhoods and family, full of everything from accordion to Modest Mouse-esque hollering.

It all clears out, though, for “Wake Up,” the album’s culmination. It’s a rocker of a hymn — a glorious battle-cry with throbbing guitar underlying a soaring chorus of oooh’s and ahhh’s.

With Montreal bands like this, who needs the Expos.—Jake Coyle

Various Artists, “The Rose & The Briar”Consider the ballad — an enduring form of expression that has come to mean, to the music fan, a song with details and meaning, one that tells a story. That is the focus of “The Rose & the Briar,” a compelling collection of ballads old and new, traditional and reinterpreted.

Assembled to accompany a new book of the same name edited by master music writer Greil Marcus, the CD — which takes its name from a reference in one of the oldest ballads in American tradition, “Barbara Allen” — is a slow train ride through the back roads of the country. It gets better with each listen, and you can’t say that about many albums.

We hear voices long gone, like Mississippi John Hurt singing “Frankie,” an early interpretation of the Frankie and Johnny mythology. We hear John Mellencamp singing a mournful version of the classic “Wreck of the Old 97,” and then hear Jan & Dean singing “Dead Man’s Curve” — offered as an update of the classic wreck tune. Clarence Ashley chimes in with his classic “The Coo Coo Bird,” and everyone from Dolly Parton and Duke Ellington to Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan make appearances, the latter with one of his crowning masterpieces, the intricate murder-and-intrigue saga called “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.”

Amid the complex musical strains, one note rings clear: The American storytelling tradition, always vibrant, remains a pivotal thread in the national tapestry. Musicians still turn to it, listeners still hunger for it, and even in an age of downloads and lip-synching, the ballad is still the repository for our dreams — as the variety on “The Rose & the Briar” shows so adeptly.—Ted Anthony

Earlimart, “Treble and Tremble”

Earlimart’s offering last year, “Everyone Down Here,” droned with boredom and monotony. But their new disc, “Treble and Tremble,” provides more texture and charm to Earlimart’s basic indie rock. The album opens with the soft backdrop of a piano driven melody, layered with whispery vocals that crescendo into the full body sound of the second track “First Instant, Last Report.” The band’s singer, Aaron Espinosza, writes all the lyrics. At times it bleeds with heartache and seems to be channeling the ghost of Elliott Smith, a friend of the band’s, to whom the album is dedicated. But it’s not so much the lyrics that are heartbreaking as it is their delivery.

What makes this album interesting is the band’s ability to experiment with different styles, from the vintage sound of “Broken Furniture” recalling John Lennon’s guitar work on “Working Class Hero” to the Sonic Youth inspired tracks (“Unintentional Tape Manipulations,” “A Bell and A Whistle”) using abstract harmonies and employing unconventional recording methods. The album has many subtle moments that can only be appreciated through repeated listens, such as the interludes of tracks like “808 Crickets,” and attenuated voices echoing in the backdrop of “The Valley People.”

“Treble and Tremble” shows Earlimart shying away from their earlier punk sounds and melding into a more mature, mellow sound.—Carrie Tolles