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Instead of easily compiling these 15 choice cuts and serving them up in a nice, tidy package, Oldham decided to re-record the material in a country vein, using his bolder Bonnie Prince Billy persona and backed by some of the finest session men Nashville has to offer (players like drummer Eddie Bayers, fiddler Stuart Duncan, and pianist Hargus "Pig" Robbins).

Unsurprisingly, Greatest Palace Music enjoys sterling production but mixed interpretive results.

Greatest Palace Music isnt so much an apology for the earlier, often roughshod quality recordings as it is another curious, intriguing addition to Oldhams redoubtable body of work.

Ludacris: The Red Light District Def Jam South, 2004 Rating: 3.8 Astute Shaking Through regulars might recall that this writer took Ludacris to task last year for indulging in ugly, lowest-common-denominator posturing on Chicken -N- Beer.

Elton John: Peachtree Road Universal, 2004 Rating: 3.7 At his current level of media recognition, Elton John could easily set his musical career on "coast" -- and an argument can be made that he's done so for many years.

But with Peachtree Road, John once again admirably sets out to make a strong album filled with solid, durable tunes, continuing in the vein of (and improving upon) 2001's Songs From the West Coast, instead of simply issuing a piece of product studded with one or two hopeful hits. The opening "Weight of the World" is too slow setting a tone, and "Too Many Tears" settles for cheap emotional button-pushing, tritely evoking the deaths of John F. But elsewhere, John -- aided by longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin -- delivers some of his best material in at least a decade, made all the stronger by its refusal to conform to modern-day radio format standards in hopes of scoring an "I'm Still Standing"-sized hit.

But District packs a number of bouncy, accessible car-radio stocking-stuffers, like the ingratiating single "Get Back" (still a bit too puffed-up with thug posturing, but at forgivable limits), "Number One Spot" (hearing Ludacris rap "Scheme, scheme / Plot, plot" is a highlight that has to be heard to be fully appreciated) and "Put Your Money" (with a surprising guest turn from DMX).Although Almost Killed Me runs out of gas near the end, it nonetheless signals the arrival of an exciting and noteworthy new band.The Divine Comedy: Absent Friends Nettwerk / Parlophone, 2004 Rating: 4.0 Neil Hannons first post-fatherhood album, Absent Friends, reflects a more sobering, candidly honest worldview from the conspicuously cheeky artist.The Baroque arrangements and ornately articulate baritone (and, occasionally, soaring falsetto) remain in full force, but the lyrical content clearly reflects a shakeup in Hannons long term priorities.The aggrieved Leaving Today reveals the artist checking in on his young daughter before heading off on the road; the delightfully airy Come Home Billy Bird follows a travel-weary businessman who cant wait for his journey to end; the cavernous Freedom Road details a trucker hanging up his CB radio for the final time.What keeps Almost Killed Me from little more than gimmicky diversion is Finns impressive lyrical skills (Ill be damned if they didn't disappear / Wandered out of mass one day and faded into the fog and love and faithless fear, from Hostile, Mass.) and the band members ability to serve up indulgent guitar solo clichs (as they do at the end of Most People are DJs) and then comment on such excess (by abruptly cutting off the solo and beginning the next song), thus celebrating and poking fun at them at the same time.The earnest Certain Songs, which celebrates those tunes that get scratched into our souls, and the gloriously anthemic Knuckles, which humorously rhymes Kevlar vests with crystal meth, are standouts.But a trio of unmemorable cuts from the Hail sessions (Paperbag Writer, I Am a Wicked Child and I Am Citizen Insane) drains all life from the disc, validating Radioheads knack at choosing the best material for the full release.And closer Where Bluebirds Fly is a laptop experiment in repetitive starts and stammers that fails to reach a satisfying resolution.When it was announced that the title of his next album would be The Red Light District, your humble correspondent must admit that he feared more of the same.So it's an exceedingly pleasant surprise to report that District keeps such coarse pandering to a minimum.

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