Peter CaseFlying Saucer BluesVanguard Records

Veteran folk-rocker Peter Case has spent more than a decade churning out highly acclaimed, expressive solo discs, but he's still best remembered as the guy who sang "A Million Miles Away." Yet that early '80s Plimsouls flashback doesn't even graze Case's depths. On this, his seventh album, Case's post-Plimsouls custom combo of traditional-folk and blues-rock continues with an added groove-oriented approach—his striking alterna-country arrangements are bolstered this time by such studio aces as Old '97s producer Andrew Williams, multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz and ex-Lone Justice percussionist Don Heffington. On "Walking Home Late," Case's lyrics make Memphis sound so inviting I'm half-tempted to hop a plane after every listen ("Wet blue neon by the motor hotel/Muddy water swirling/Midnight crawls/ Morning glories creeping up the red brick walls"). Then there's the feisty, Sun Sessions-style toe tapper "Coulda Shoulda Woulda," the sweet romantic ballad "Blue Distance," and a sultry, sax-blaring "Cool Drink o' Water." But Case really excels during "Two Heroes," a harmonica-laced stomp and vivid crime story that reaches Dylanesque proportions (think "Subterranean Homesick Blues"). Flying Saucer Blues is Case's most satisfying work since his 1986 solo debut—there's not a bad tune in the bunch.

A PERFECT CIRCLE
MER DE NOMS
VIRGIN RECORDS

Good and bad news for Tool fans: while Tool's Maynard James Keenan does indeed handle vocal duties on the much-hyped Mer de Noms, his A Perfect Circle project will undoubtedly postpone a new Tool release for a while longer (has it really been four years since Aenima?). Still, there's great stuff here, a dozen tracks that give Keenan's powerful, melodic voice a platform for more dynamic explorations of range and emotion (particularly searching and soaring on "3 Libras" and "Orestes"). A Perfect Circle opt for a much different route from the one favored by Keenan's main band (though you wouldn't know it from the album's first single, "Judith," which replicates Tool's heavy-mental thunder to a T). Aside from the obvious absence of drumming deity Danny Carey, musical elements completely foreign to Tool contribute to A Perfect Circle's meditative filigree: acoustic guitars, strings, break beats and lots of waltz times (!). Vestiges of Tool inevitably reveal themselves, but only filtered through distant pools of moody ethereality. The fist that clenched Tool so tightly now relaxes in a trance-like state of tension and release, yielding a stunning open ambiance that's equal to something like Days of the New. If you're looking for the tracks that seem to define A Perfect Circle's softer approach, though—songs that most clearly mark the break between A Perfect Circle and Tool, based on their titles alone—these would be "Rose," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Thinking of You." In other words, "Stinkfist" it ain't. (Matthew Kalinowski)

A Perfect Circle open for Nine Inch Nails at the Arrowhead Pond, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 704-2400. Tues., 8 p.m. $29-$50.
 
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