• Bobby Womack, 'The Bravest Man in the Universe' (XL Recordings)

    Like other sensitive kids who become writers, I got the message early on that boys don't cry and real men keep a lid on their feelings. Yet anytime James Brown appeared on TV, the electricity was palpable as he wailed, danced, and screamed until he broke down, whereupon his assistant would wrap him in a cloak and escort him offstage, the audience applauding as if Jesus had turned water into wine, until he magically sprang back to life.

  • Dent May, 'Do Things' (Paw Tracks)

    Mississippi quirkster swaps ukulele for Beach Boys harmonies and Casio funk; swell tunes, summer vibes abound.

  • Ultravox, 'Brilliant' (Captiol/EMI)

    New Romantics reunite for elegiac prog on new wave punch; like Queensrÿche with fewer solos, more synth pomp.

  • Soulsavers, 'The Light the Dead See' (Mute)

    There was a time not so long ago when you were automatically denounced as "faggy" or "uncool" (or, at least, "pop") if you defended electronic acts like Depeche Mode. Yet the band's concerts were always far more rock'n'roll than most actual rock shows, mostly thanks to frontman Dave Gahan, who commands an audience with the all-consuming joy of a Michael Jackson or a Freddie Mercury. No matter how fast and furiously he spins like a leather-clad dervish, the stage clearly remains where he feels safest, where he most effectively shares Something to Believe In.

  • Rebecca Ferguson, 'Heaven' (Syco/Columbia)

    Brit talent-show vet strikes right retro-R&B poses, but rarely amounts to more than a bland Macy Gray.

  • Scissor Sisters, 'Magic Hour' (Casablanca)

    Diplo, Azealia Banks and other hot guests accentuate the sprawl in art-pop band's cheeky disco deviations.

  • Keane, 'Strangeland' (Island/Interscope)

    Keane are one of those groups based entirely on a single riff from a better song in a better band's catalog — in this case, the piano part from U2's "New Year's Day." When the Keane's Hopes and Fears (better title: The Bono Variations) surfaced in 2004 — a year in which Coldplay released no recorded music — the masses hungry for contemporary yet comforting AOR gobbled it up. Unlike so much 21st century Brit rock, that debut even went platinum in America, and now ranks as one of the world's best-selling albums of the last 10 years. Seriously. Keane's biggest hit, "Somewhere Only We Know," fills every qualification for Mountaintop Rock, a.k.a., the Euro equivalent of America's Heartland Rock.

  • Kimbra, 'Vows' (Warner Bros.)

    Kiwi songbird emits offbeat R&B charms sharper than duet dude Gotye; debut LP actually invigorated by Yankee meddling.

  • Haley Reinhart, 'Listen Up!' (19/Interscope)

    Thank Adele for an Idol album with depth. Thank Winehouse for dusty soul. Thank Reinhart for the pipes.

  • The Sugarman 3, 'What the World Needs Now' (Daptone)

    Daptone and Dap-Kings crew-members reunite for righteous instrumental '60s soul shindig.

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