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MUSIC REVIEW: 'I'm 10,000 Years Old: Elvis Country'

Elvis Presley "I'm 10,000 Years Old: Elvis Country" (3 1/2 stars): Released in January 1971, "Elvis Country" shows Elvis Presley still enjoying the artistic renaissance he launched with his 1968 TV special. In short, that means the King was fully...

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Elvis Presley

"I'm 10,000 Years Old: Elvis Country" (3 ½ stars): Released in January 1971, "Elvis Country" shows Elvis Presley still enjoying the artistic renaissance he launched with his 1968 TV special. In short, that means the King was fully engaged and working with better material than he did during the '60s. It's a potent combination.

Some of the numbers here exude countrypolitan elegance, like the truly great, string-kissed version of Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away" and Dallas Frazier's "There Goes My Everything." But the album employs the unusual gimmick of featuring snippets of a gospel rocker, "I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago," between all the tracks, and many of the performances have a similar down-home, loose-limbed feel. They include a bluegrassy take on Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt's "Little Cabin on the Hill" and a hard-edged R&B version of Bob Wills' "Faded Love." The highlight of the three bonus cuts is the Frazier ballad "Where Did They Go, Lord."

This two CD reissue includes the subsequent album "Love Letters From Elvis." It featured material recorded at the same Nashville sessions that produced "Elvis Country," but it's not as consistent. Elvis does tear it up, though, on "Got My Mojo Working/ Keep Your Hands Off of It" and the old Ricky Nelson hit "Cindy Cindy," with hotshot guitarist James Burton, who is all over both albums, reprising his role from the Nelson version.

The Big Pink

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"Future This" (2 ½ stars): London's the Big Pink debuted in 2010 with "A Brief History of Love" and its irresistibly catchy single, "Dominos." They favored the densely distorted guitars of shoegaze bands such as My Bloody Valentine, but their heart was in the hooks and the big beats rather than in the dreamy feedback. On "Future This," the duo of Robbie Furze and Milo Cordell lay bare their grandiose aspirations. It's an album of stadium-size sing-alongs full of optimism, skyward-swirling synths, and stomping beats.

It's stuff the Brits do well -- Oasis and the Verve come to mind, but also Depeche Mode -- and "Future This" has its triumphant tracks: the Laurie Anderson-sampling "Hit The Ground (Superman)" and the "Dominos"-esque "Stay Gold," in particular. But they also get all worked up over trivialities, and "Rubbernecking" and "Jump Music" sound overblown and relentless rather than irresistible.

Idle Warship

"Habits of the Heart" (3 stars): The mystery of why Res -- the soulful Philadelphia rock singer born Shareese Ballard -- hasn't achieved wider name recognition by now is a head-scratcher for fans who heard her 2001 debut album, "How I Do," in which she sang songs mostly written by Santi White, who would go on to make a name for herself as Santigold. Unfortunately, there weren't all that many of those people, largely because Res was mistakenly marketed as a neo-soul artist, rather than the genre-hopping alt-pop act she is at heart.

"Habits of the Heart" isn't likely to turn Res into a major star, either, partly because it's another hard-to- categorize project. It's a collaboration with well-respected rapper Talib Kweli that is much more of a thinking person's dance-floor party starter than a conventional hip-hop album, though Kweli does rap on it, most effectively on the hard-driving, synthy single "Covered In Fantasy." Res, for her part, comes up with a steady supply of memorable, grabby hooks and makes you impatient for the next proper Res album.

Matthew Dear

"Headcage" (EP) (4 stars): "Headcage," the latest release by DJ and solo artist Matthew Dear, is a testament to the often- overlooked power of EPs. Only four songs long, it is creative and engaging for its entire 15-minute duration -- all killer, no filler. It's also a new direction for Dear, whose last release, 2010's "Black City," was a dark, atmospheric, Philip K. Dick-esque affair. Although in line with 2007's "Asa Breed" and its indie-rock influences, "Headcage" is still a departure from Dear's previous work. It's both poppier and more rooted in DJ and electronic culture. Songs are lively, instantly accessible, with an emphasis on definitive beats. Yet there is still an eerie undercurrent of temptation and danger, as Dear's David Bowie-inspired vocals slide and tumble around alluring melodies and rhythms. If this EP is any harbinger of where his next full-length is headed, Dear is poised to cross over from niche electronic artist to mainstream icon.

Mac Miller

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"Blue Slide Park" (2 stars): Best known for his dippy rap rip on "Donald Trump," Mac Miller of Pittsburgh is one strange bird. On his debut full-length album, he does the unthinkable where hip-hop is concerned and uses not one guest chorus or verse. You'd have to go out of your way to find any contemporary hip-hop album, let alone a first-time outing, that isn't laced with outside MCs. Then again, Miller's charmed, frat-boy pop-hop sound is strangely old school. It borrows beats from DJ Kool, makes merry with the subjects of girls, green, and beer, and finds the MC using a voice not unlike Eminem's -- if you can imagine Slim Shady's "Stan" as a jolly sort who killed his victims with kindness and candy.

Miller is overly chipper, yet that enthusiasm -- like his sense of melody -- is contagious as all get-out. "Party on Fifth Ave." is cloyingly celebratory. "I'm gonna feed the world/you can put it on my tab," goes the happily hackneyed hook of "Frick Park Market." The punky "Up All Night" and the reggae-fied "Under the Weather" come with catchy, very persuasive choruses. "Blue Slide Park" makes the listener feel like the vegan sweet-talked somehow into buying baby back ribs: It's yummy stuff, even if it isn't very filling.

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