RY COODER'S CAT, GYPSY SINATRA, SULTRY NORAH




Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) -- The following new recordings are disheartening and reassuring at the same time. Disheartening because, like all good music, they reflect the times, and good music these days tends to be gloomy and/or retrospective. Reassuring because they prove that real live musicians can still make real good albums.

RY COODER, ``My Name Is Buddy'' (Warner Music): On this ``re- enactment of the travels of Buddy Red Cat, Lefty Mouse, and Reverend Tom Toad, as they wander through the American West in the days of big bosses, farm failures, company cops, sundown towns, hobos, and trains -- the America of yesteryear,'' Cooder is accompanied by Van Dyke Parks, Pete Seeger, the Tex-Mex accordionist Flaco Jimenez, Paddy Moloney (of the Chieftains), trumpeter Jon Hassell and others. You get the impression of a digital Woody Guthrie looking back on his analog youth. The names of the songs suggest the ambience -- ``J. Edgar,'' ``Strike!'' ``One Cat, One Vote, One Beer,'' ``Cardboard Avenue'' (``Buddy can you spare a dime or two?'').

LEMMY CONSTANTINE, ``Meeting Sinatra & Django'' (Nocturne): Constantine puts a nice new multinational spin on popular music by marrying Frank Sinatra's songbook with Django Reinhardt's Gypsy swing. A self-styled ``crooner, seducer, and gentleman,'' Constantine is the son of that definitive American in Paris, the late movie star Eddie Constantine. Backed up by a swinging 4/4 acoustic-guitar Gypsy ``pompe'' plus violin, accordion and acoustic bass, Lemmy's dreamy old-time renditions are deep in irony and nostalgia. He is amusing himself, and us, even though things ain't what they used to be during the heydays of ``The Voice'' and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.

``BILLY STRAYHORN: Lush Life'' (Blue Note): Some of the best of today's jazzmen pay tribute to the pianist and composer known as Sweet Pea, who wrote such standards as ``Satin Doll,'' ``Chelsea Bridge,'' and ``Something to Live For'' for Duke Ellington's orchestra. Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano plays lustrous testimonials to the breathy Ellington tenor man Ben Webster on ``Rain Check,'' ``Johnny Come Lately'' and ``Lotus Blossom.'' Dianne Reeves sings ``Lush Life'' and ``My Little Brown Book,'' and Elvis Costello puts his own words to ``My Flame Burns Blue (Blood Count).'' There are lush tributes to Strayhorn by the pianists Hank Jones and Bill Charlap, and you can't beat the ``bad Czech'' George Mraz on bass.

NORAH JONES, ``Not Too Late'' (Blue Note): Jones's third album is working its way up the charts and it may be her best yet. Her usual plucked and bowed acoustic-chamber-music accompaniment goes well with her intimate breath vibrato. Jones's conviction and intelligence and respect for the past are special in the contemporary world of the pop song. With their soothing textures and tempos, her songs are above all love songs. Some of her more existential lyrics can sneak up on you. ``Someday we all have to die/But not now'' is somehow not so lovey-dovey. The melodies tend to be modest, and a bit repetitive, while the tempos are mostly dirges, but all of that only makes the whole thing sound even more like a Leonard Cohen record.

MICHAEL MANTLER, ``Review: Recordings 1968-2000'' (ECM): Composer, bandleader and trumpeter Mantler has been unusually successful in fusing jazz, rock, symphonic music and the art song. He has worked with (and was married to) Carla Bley, and they both played key roles with the Jazz Composer's Orchestra. On this melancholy anthology (perhaps a bit too ambitious), Mantler directs a diverse collection of excellent musicians including Jack Bruce (singing the words of Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett), Don Cherry, Don Preston, Marianne Faithfull, Pharoah Sanders, John Greaves, Mike Stern, Robert Wyatt (singing words by Paul Auster), Steve Swallow and the London Symphony Orchestra.

DON BYRON, ``Do the Boomerang: The Music of Junior Walker'' (Blue Note): The singer and saxophonist Junior Walker, a rambunctious Motown act, had hits like ``Shotgun,'' ``There It Is,'' and ``(I'm a) Roadrunner.'' Multi-reedman Byron has played swing, bebop, classical music, salsa and hip-hop with, among others, Daniel Barenboim, Salif Keita, Anthony Braxton, Mario Bauza and the Kansas City Allstars. For several years, he led a successful klezmer band. Listening to this bluesy, smart, well- produced, 21st-century version of a shouting Motown rhythm-and- blues groove, it becomes increasingly difficult not to sing and dance along. ``Pucker Up, Buttercup.''