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THE BERNSTEIN BARD TRIO—Center of the Wheel(independent)

Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” was always meant to be recognized as a classic. Immersed in ‘80s production styles and Lauper’s distinctive voice, it might have been difficult to hear it, but that’s a seriously gorgeous tune.

The Bernstein Bard Trio see “Time After Time” for what it is, along with a host of other covers, on their new album, Center of the Wheel. In fact, of the album’s 13 tracks, only two are originals. The rest are culled from the history of music, with Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan, Sonny Rollins and the Beatles all seeing some fairly mellow action.

This might not come out right at all, because Center of the Wheel really is a rather good album, but the music is performed so delicately—acoustic guitar, bass and mandolin, primarily—that one can almost hear the erudite conversation of fellow diners above it. Of course, one would be thrilled to find the Bernstein Bard Trio playing in a restaurant, or anywhere else music is played.

When Center of the Wheel works best, it finds a bit of itself in the songs of other artists, such as on “In My Life” by the Beatles. But even more interesting are the two originals, with bass guitarist Robert Bard’s “Tango in Blue” appearing just two songs in. Exotic and inviting, the song arrives with the warmth of a Mediterranean breeze.

Mandolin player Steve Bernstein’s “Center of the Wheel/Tranquility” is the most complex piece on the album, a nine-minute epic that begins in loneliness and ends in triumph. —Crispin Kott

DENISE LA GRASSA—April Dreams(Deelagee Records)

On Denise La Grassa’s first album in seven years, the singer-songwriter opts to open strong. When she sings “Get Home & Give Me Love,” whether one hears a demand or a plea, it’s hard to ignore.

La Grassa’s voice is all full of honey throughout, and smoky, too. On “Deep Down Love” she’s carried along on a sea of angelic harmonies, while on “Yesterday’s Replay,” which almost sounds like something heard during the romantic climax of a John Hughes teen romance film, she’s all on her own. And either way, it works.

April Dreams is mostly dynamic, but there are a few missteps. Even with the keyboards of Ben Lewis sending chills, “Sweet Talk” sounds like a clumsy Melissa Etheridge retread. But the album picks up steam again one song later with “Perfect Little Girl,” which builds into an anthemic cousin in theme and style to “She’s Leaving Home” by the Beatles. —Crispin Kott

SPIRAL UP KIDS—Spiral Up Kids(Spiral Up Records)

Kids’ music was so bad for so long, it’s still sort of a shock when a band like Spiral Up Kids comes along. The album’s sleeve boasts that it contains “kiddie tunes the whole family can groove to,” and fortunately delivers on the promise.

“Alphabet” opens the proceedings on the crest of a wave of Caribbean music, and manages to turn learning the alphabet into something joyous rather than a chore. “Sugar” revisits the ever-popular Bo Diddley beat, but cools it down with friendly vocals and lyrics about all the delicious delights made from sugar. Too many listens might result in a trip to the dentist, but “My Kitty and Me” brings the sugar rush down to a buzz with feline harmonies and country fiddle. Elsewhere, “Boo Boo Blues” tells the tale of a skinned knee, and “Busy Toddler” covers a youngster’s itinerary by way of Van Morrison.

Back when all kids wanted to hear was Barney and the Wiggles, road trips used to be a painful ordeal for anyone over the age of five. Thanks to Spiral Up Kids, packing up the car no longer means packing up one’s sanity. —Crispin Kott

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