• The Feelies, 'Here Before' (Bar/None)

    The Feelies, 'Here Before' (Bar/None)

    Three decades on, the Feelies' pace is closer to a relaxed amble than the anxious sprint of theirearly-'80s days - and yet they remain instantly, timelessly recognizable. Their first new album in 21 years would have sounded right at home on pre-Nevermind college radio, as guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million spin out one jingle-jangle, pastoral lope after another. And the songs evoke and acknowledge time gone by: "Is it too late / To do it again / Or should we wait / Another ten?" The years have been kind.

  • Eleventh Dream Day, 'Riot Now!' (Thrill Jockey)

    Eleventh Dream Day, 'Riot Now!' (Thrill Jockey)

    With its members doing time in Tortoise and Freakwater, Eleventh Dream Day have been a part-time proposition for most of the past decade. But all hands sound fully engaged on their first album since 2006, which opens and closes with glorious echoes of X's overdriven guitars and yowling male-female harmonies. Riot Now! also nods to Neil Young's droog-rock primitivism, pairing waves upon waves of guitar skronk with desperate declarativecommands: "It's time to cut the damned tree down!" Start swinging.

  • Caitlin Rose, 'Own Side Now' (Theory 8)

    Caitlin Rose, 'Own Side Now' (Theory 8)

    Caitlin Rose doesn't just sing, she juggles. On her first full-length album, Rose's dusky drawl somehow sounds deadpan, mournful, and angry all at once -- like a pissed-off Emmylou or a mellow Lucinda, if you can imagine such a thing. But it's a combination whose time has come. The spare Americana arrangements are subdued throughout, the better to hear memorable declarations like the "Spare Me" chorus: "Love is just one more useless thing you don't need, but you can't throw away." She doesn't really believe that deep down, of course, but she makes you feel it.

  • Mike Watt, 'hyphenated-man' (clenchedwrench)

    Mike Watt, 'hyphenated-man' (clenchedwrench)

    Even when he's getting in touch with his inner Stephin Merritt by indulging all manner of high-concept, rock-opera cleverness -- yes, every song title is hyphenated -- Minutemen/Firehose alumnus (and current Stooge) Mike Watt still believes in skronky brevity as the soul of punk-rock wit. There's no narrative thread to hyphenated-man, just 30 hit-and-run tunes on which Watt holds forth about Beatle barf (don't ask), "man-shitting-man" (who knows?), etc. His beat-poet spiel is more character-actorly than ever, but hyphenated-man is also more accessible than you'd think, thanks to Watt's skittery bass lines.

  • Buddy Miller, 'The Majestic Silver Strings' (New West)

    Buddy Miller, 'The Majestic Silver Strings' (New West)

    In contrast to Miller's usual earthiness, this Americana super-session is sonically lighter than air -- thanks to spectral six-string ambience from Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, and pedal-steel ace Greg Leisz, who adorn heavenly voices including Emmylou Harris and Patti Griffin. Which is ironic, given the gritty sentiments of the songs covered, centered on wrong-side-of-the-tracks classics from Roger Miller, George Jones, and Lefty Frizzell. But the best moment is an original, as Buddy and wife Julie quietly ride "God's Wing'ed Horse" on up to the promised land, sidesaddle in perfect harmony.

  • Lucinda Williams, 'Blessed' (Lost Highway)

    Lucinda Williams, 'Blessed' (Lost Highway)

    "Good luck findin' your buttercup," Lucinda Williams sings with a sigh to begin her tenth album, setting a good-riddance-to-wishy-washy-boyfriends tone that applies to many of these dozen songs. Title aside, Williams isn't inclined to count blessings here -- not with so many damn fools to suffer. Blessed feels more like a country-blues toast to the pissed-off side of interpersonal relations, set to coproducer Don Was' sturdy barroom roots rock. And Williams calls 'em like she feels 'em, offering lines like "You already fucked me dry" in a voice to match. Three decades of happy-woman blues, and she still hasn't found what she's looking for.

  • The Baseball Project, 'Volume 2: High & Inside' (Yep Roc)

    The Baseball Project, 'Volume 2: High & Inside' (Yep Roc)

    Where some baseball fans collect bubble gum cards, Scott McCaughey and Steve Wynn (assisted by R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, the Hold Steady's Craig Finn, and others) write catchy and proudly dorky garage-pop songs in tribute to unlikely heroes ranging from eccentric 1970s Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark "The Bird" Fidrych to current San Francisco Giant free swinger Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval. Unfolding like an epic tragedy, "Buckner's Bolero" defends 1986 World Series goat Bill Buckner as a fine player who didn't deserve his fate. Journeymen that they are, though, McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows) and Wynn (ex-Dream Syndicate) understand the poignant vindication in being remembered at all: "Maybe Bill Buckner was lucky his luck was so rotten."

  • Drive-By Truckers, 'Go-Go Boots' (ATO)

    Drive-By Truckers, 'Go-Go Boots' (ATO)

    Drive-by Truckers' ninth full-length bears the mark of recent collaborators Booker T. Jones and Bettye LaVette, with a late-night soul vibe and two covers of songs by Muscle Shoals legend Eddie Hinton. Still, it's yet another trip to the part of town where you really shouldn't be, in a district the Truckers call home. Mike Cooley does the country shuffles about love lost (or thrown away), evoking bittersweet resignation. But Patterson Hood is still the main event, calling forth a rogues' gallery of ex-cops, misunderstood stalkers, and disgraced preachers willing to kill to keep their secrets hidden. Most of them pay dearly.

  • Hayes Carll, 'KMAG YOYO & Other American Stories' (Lost Highway)

    Hayes Carll, 'KMAG YOYO & Other American Stories' (Lost Highway)

    Hayes Carll is a wiseacre well versed in both kinds of music -- "honky" and "tonk" -- played in a roadhouse out on Highway 61. KMAG YOYO (a military acronym for "Kiss my ass, guys, you're on your own") reveals Carll's bleeding heart, romantic as well as political. "Another Like You" has Carll and Cary Ann Hearst indulging in some hilariously insulting foreplay as they tumble toward bed. Meanwhile, the Dylanesque title track rambles intensely from Iraq on up to deep space, leaving the teenaged narrator dazed and confused.

  • Young the Giant, 'Young the Giant' (Roadrunner)

    Young the Giant, 'Young the Giant' (Roadrunner)

    These Orange County upstarts' most notable feature isn't their youthful vigor or melting-pot exoticism (members are of Indian, Persian, British, and French-Canadian descent). It's that Young the Giant project more ambition and emphatic sense of purpose than any band this side of U2. Frontman Sameer Gadhia sings in a declara-tive key of unwavering determination, undergirded by Jacob Tilley's sophisticated guitar sprawl and Francois Comtois' martial drums as the band's debut album goes marching on and on and on. They might not know where they'regoing, but they have no doubt they'll get there.

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