• Aaron Neville, 'I Know I've Been Changed' (Tell It All)

    Aaron Neville, 'I Know I've Been Changed' (Tell It All)

    There's always been just a touch of evil in Aaron Neville's fluttery love-man vibrato, which serves him well on this back-to-church move. After all, the earthiest gospel doesn't just let you glimpse heaven above, it reminds you about hell below. I Know I've Been Changed courses with undercurrents of struggle, as Allen Toussaint's piano accents Neville's voice in subtle, spare arrangements (thank the restrained caress of producer Joe Henry). "Don't let the devil ride," Neville warns in that unmistakable croon--and you get the feeling that the man knows the destination.

  • Bobby Bare Jr., 'A Storm-A Tree-My Mother's Head' (Naked Albino/Thirty Tigers)

    Dwelling in the too-rock-for-country/too-country-for-rock DMZ, Bobby Bare Jr. has always been hard to pin down. But with backup from My Morning Jacket and a tight two-day recording schedule, Bare is at his sharpest here. The Jacket crew provide a Southern gothic vibe with widescreen ambience, while Bare sings about an assortment of down-and-out types who likely reside in the same parish evinced by the Drive-by Truckers. "One of us has got to go," Bare sighs on the song of the same name, trying to summon the courage for suicide. He lives to tell the tale. BUY: Amazon

  • Tim Kasher, 'The Game of Monogamy' (Saddle Creek)

    Tim Kasher, 'The Game of Monogamy' (Saddle Creek)

    Thirty-six seems young for a midlife crisis, but Cursive and Good Life frontman Kasher always was the precocious type. His debut solo album sports lyrics of the sort Loudon Wainwright III has been writing for decades, set to harp, oboe, strings, and horns. Lacerating sentiments clash with pretty sounds as Kasher holds forth on his "death wish," detailing the foibles of prodigal husbands. "I wanna have sex with all my old girlfriends again," he sighs on "There Must Be Something I've Lost" -- followed by, "Aw, fuck it," and the strings come in. Quite a convincing cry for help.

  • Bad Religion, 'The Dissent of Man' (Epitaph)

    Bad Religion, 'The Dissent of Man' (Epitaph)

    Three decades is a long time to stay mad. But on their 15th album, these venerable West Coast punks are as revved-up and pissed-off as ever, railing about everything from interpersonal relationships ("Cyanide") to illogical arguments ("Ad Hominem," on which frontman Greg Graffin puts his PhD to good use). There are a few new wrinkles -- the manic push-pull of "Meeting of the Minds" could almost pass for System of a Down -- but it's generally overdrive-guitar heaven. The money shot is "Someone to Believe," an anthemic fist-waver that roars against the dying of the light.

  • Jenny and Johnny, 'I'm Having Fun Now' (Warner Bros.)

    Jenny and Johnny, 'I'm Having Fun Now' (Warner Bros.)

    What hath She & Him wrought? I'm Having Fun Now is all whimsical, tongue-in-cheek cutesiness, but with songs this sugary, it'd be churlish to complain. Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis and singer-songwriter/boyfriend Johnathan Rice have both had their moments of pure-pop confection in the past, but never as crazily delicious as here. Bright Eyes' Mike Mogis burnishes the doomy sentiments about domestic serpents and sharp instruments with a deceptive gloss, so you won't notice the acid aftertaste until much, much later.

  • Superchunk, 'Majesty Shredding' (Merge)

    Superchunk, 'Majesty Shredding' (Merge)

    Superchunk's first album in nine years begins with the sound of clearing cobwebs and a hazy wave of feedback. Then the opening track snaps into a classic piece of churning punk-pop, complete with a North Carolina–centric lyrical reference -- to "Old 86," the highway into the band's hometown of Chapel Hill. And it feels like old times, even though the earlier demands of slack-motherfucker day jobs and girl-/boyfriend trouble have become the more pressing responsibilities of spouses, kids, and one improbable powerhouse of a record label. By now, Superchunk reside in the shadow of Arcade Fire, Spoon, and other Merge labelmates they've helped nurture. But the band remain a fond talisman of '90s indie rock as their generation goes gray.

  • Mavis Staples, 'You Are Not Alone' (Anti-)

    Everyone from Prince to Ry Cooder has had a crack at producing the iconic Staple Singers frontwoman over the years, and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy does the honors here by staying the heck out of the way. Staples takes us to church on a collection of mostly straight-up gospel, including remakes of three Staples oldies. Tweedy's influence shows primarily on the two songs he wrote, especially the stoic title-track ballad. Yet the album's best moment belongs solely to Staples -- a spare version of Randy Newman's "Losing You" that might well stand as definitive. BUY: Amazonsrc="http://www.spin.com/sites/spin.com/files/imagecache/huge_page_view/site s/spin.com/files/amazon.jpg">

  • Robert Plant, 'Band of Joy' (Rounder)

    Robert Plant, 'Band of Joy' (Rounder)

    Plant has had an unlikely late-career resurgence by embracing his folkier (if not freakier) side, starting with 2007's T-Bone Burnett–produced Raising Sand. Nashville alt-country icon Buddy Miller serves as ringleader this go-round, transposing Plant's misty mountain hop to old, weird Appalachia. Patty Griffin stands in for Alison Krauss as Plant's femme foil, with covers ranging from Los Lobos to Townes Van Zandt to '60s soul star Barbara Lynn -- all done up as moonshine-soaked country blues with a gospel undercurrent. "Satan, your kingdom must come down," Plant croons on the penultimate track. Take that, Jimmy Page.

  • Ray LaMontagne, 'God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise' (RCA)

    There's not much emotional nuance in Ray LaMontagne's fourth album, which maintains a brokenhearted downer elegance, similar to Neil Young at his most somber and sepia-toned, sung in a beautiful wail that Van Morrison might envy. Pedal steel, banjos, and subdued tempos contribute to the rustic vibe, and LaMontagne sounds like he's dying to crawl under the nearest rock in the woods. "There's just something about this hotel / Got me wishing I was dead," he sighs to begin "New York City's Killing Me." Maybe God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise is his Walden. BUY:Amazon

  • Dax Riggs, 'Say Goodnight to the World' (Fat Possum)

    In our vampire-obsessed culture, a few Twilight followers could conceivably graduate from Edward Cullen to Dax Riggs. The Texas-based singer-songwriter's second solo album plops Sun Studios into the middle of Transylvania, with Riggs as a pensive, late-night Elvis. He references hell, Satan, witches, gallows, and other morbid tokens, in a stately croon. Then he kicks the "gravedirt" off his "blue suede shoes" and covers "Heartbreak Hotel" as a sepulchral dirge. But getting so lonely he could die should not be a problem for someone as pointedly undead as Riggs. BUY: iTunesBUY: Amazon

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