Various Artists

Acoustic [V2 Records]

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V2 Records' impressive roster helps to fill out this two-disc set of mellow songs from Radiohead, Dido, Badly Drawn Boy, and Coldplay, as well as some well-known acoustic performances from Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley, John Martyn, and Simon & Garfunkel. Unlike some sort of massive "Unplugged" session, the compilation acts more like an introduction to acoustic music at the turn of the 21st century, with a handful of classic low-key favorites thrown in here and there. Almost all of the tracks have appeared as album tracks, B-sides, soundtrack selections, on-air performances, or live cuts somewhere else, but that doesn't change the sheer enjoyment of hearing alternate versions of songs that may be all-too familiar in their electric versions. As Radiohead drifts further and further out into electronic experimentation, their stripped-down "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" (originally released on The Bends) is all the more intriguing, and Stereophonics' live roll through the Rod Stewart classic "Handbags and Gladrags" is as charmingly boozy and gruff as any of the Faces early recordings. The exceptional Elbow are equally moving in an acoustic setting, as are the songs from Wheat, Doves, I Am Kloot, and relative newcomer Tom McRae. Sticklers out there may object that Mercury Rev's fully orchestrated "The Dark Is Rising" and Beth Orton's electronic blip-filled "Central Reservation" are hardly textbook examples of the word "acoustic," but their lush sounds provide good contrast to the warm and intimate selections surrounding them. In a market that is glutted with electronic "Chillout" records, it is warmly refreshing to hear some authentically chilled-out performances whose intimate looseness is far more at ease than any downbeat compilation in recent memory.

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