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Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - Page updated at 05:30 a.m.

New CDs from Bonnie, Bakelite, Alabama Shakes | New CDs

Bakelite 78, "What the Moon Has Done" (Bakelite)

Bakelite 78 — named after the plastic once used to make 78 rpm records — is all about Robert Rial, a gifted singer and guitarist whose voracious appetite for vintage music ranges from cabaret and hokum to Jazz Age crooning, rockabilly and New Orleans trad. Rial, who regularly holds forth at the Pike Place Market's Pink Door, has taken a leap with his new CD, a highly-arranged concept album brimming with bravura trumpet, dark tales of woe and Brechtian menace.

Without seeing the jacket notes, you'd think the material had been retrieved from old records, but, remarkably, Rial and his musical partner, vocalist Erin Jordan, wrote these songs. They have an uncanny ability to get their heads inside antique styles. The cutesy lingo of "The Cat's Meow," complete with clickety woodblocks, could easily have come from 1926 sheet music; "Dark Spot," from 1928 Nashville "hillbilly" angst; and "Country Cruisin'," Sun studios, 1956.

Bakelite doesn't just do old music, it seems to inhabit the past. "Monongah," a minor lament with stunning trumpet lines, regales that West Virginia mining disaster like it happened last week, "Tale of a Missouri Girl" revisits the midwest-lass-goes-to-Hollywood story line with affectionate good humor; and the macabre "World's Fair Hotel," in the voice of 1893 World's Fair serial killer, H.H. Holmes, resonates eerily. Tom Waits, anyone? "Las Vegas Bay Lament" makes a visit to that funhouse mirror, too. Scary stuff, and though overarranged here and there, the music is delivered with conviction and panache.

Paul de Barros, Seattle Times music critic

Bonnie Raitt, "Slipstream" (Redwing)

Sometimes we need reminding why an artist has stayed so good for so long. Bonnie Raitt's excellent new album does just that. Playing to this enduring singer-guitarist's strengths, the repertoire is fresh — from a roadhouse jump ("Used to Rule the World") and a fun reggae-beat cover of the pop oldie "Right Down the Line" on to some rollicking blues.

The set also exploits Raitt's knack for finding and finessing intimate ballads, the vulnerable flip-side of her rockin' blues woman persona.

Her soulful voice meshes beautifully with the plaintive "You Can't Fail Me Now," penned by Joseph Lee Henry and Loudon Wainwright III, and "Standing in the Doorway," a gem by Bob Dylan from his "Time Out of Mind." The "Slipstream" title borrows an image from the searching "God Only Knows," another fine Henry tune.

Bill Frisell makes a guest appearance. And is the studio band backup tight and funky? We expect as much from Raitt, and she doesn't let us down.

Misha Berson, Seattle Times arts critic

Alabama Shakes. "Boys & Girls" (Ato)

Every now and then, a band comes along that sounds like its members holed up somewhere for a long spell, emerging only after cobbling together a truly idiosyncratic yet faithful blend of American roots music and rock 'n' roll history.

That's the case with Alabama Shakes, a quartet whose first album, "Boys & Girls," is a quirky but undeniably stirring achievement in electric blues and soul. Steeped in the R & B house sounds of vintage labels Stax, Chess and Hi Records, but with a curious echo of San Francisco flower power, "Boys & Girls" could almost be mistaken for a rediscovered, late-'60s nugget.

Yet its garage band experiments with unpredictable rhythm and key changes, and its not-unpleasant hint of self-consciousness retooling Southern rock traditions for a South by Southwest era, give Alabama Shakes plenty of room for happy surprises. Lead singer and rhythm guitarist Brittany Howard brings both a growl and halting sweetness to the epic "You Ain't Alone," with its fall-on-your-knees passion, and ecstatic testifying to "I Ain't the Same." Lead guitarist Heath Fogg shines on the thrilling "I Found You," which rises from shy riffing to hard-charging anthem.

Tom Keogh, Special to The Seattle Times

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