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One Direction: Four

“[O]n Four the scales are tipped heavily in favor of the kind of songs they do best, with the majority of them sounding like good-time hits that will go a long way toward warming up a cold November night.” –All Music Guide

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“The new songs are a nice touch, but the real purpose of this set is to offer casual fans a way to get all of Brooks’ best-known hits in one package, and in that regard The Ultimate Hits not only succeeds, it’s long overdue.” –All Music Guide

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“Curated by international pop star Lorde, the soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 1 transcends the level of both quality and daring normally offered up on soundtrack albums for big-budget movies, opting to lean more toward indie acts in sculpting a dark, menacing environment that matches the film’s heavy atmospheres.” –All Music Guide

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“Evoking the themes and spirit of the popular British television series, Christmas at Downton Abbey is a two-disc set featuring holiday music inspired by the show and its characters….Full of uplifting warmth and the kind of thrilling opulence befitting the fictional Crawley family and their servants, fans will find Christmas at Downton Abbey to be a fine seasonal companion to this much-loved show.” –All Music Guide

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“Rimes’ decision to play it cool in addition to having a bit of fun makes One Christmas a neat little seasonal treat.” –All Music Guide

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“One thing eternal prankster Seth MacFarlane takes seriously is Frank Sinatra….MacFarlane, perhaps wisely, opted to channel his Sinatra obsession into a Christmas record called Holiday for Swing!…MacFarlane loves Frank too much to mess with his music so he winds up with a retro salute that’s thoroughly pleasant.” –All Music Guide

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“On Betty Who’s debut album, Take Me When You Go, the 23-year-old Australian singer basks in pop’s sunshine….Almost all of the songs could score high-energy musical versions of classic ’80s teen-flicks like The Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink. That’s no dig, either: Take Me is expressive and emotional, smartly written, and quick to get to the point without pandering to any clichéd notions of what pop music ‘needs’ to sound like or touch on in 2014.” –Spin

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“This is the first Christmas release by celebrated American soprano Renée Fleming….[I]t’s not 100 percent clear that this is not an operatic album at all, but a jazz-pop collection. Fleming has sung this kind of music before, but she has made her reputation mostly through pure operatic releases….In all this is a holiday release that is unlikely to disappoint.” –All Music Guide

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Sam Hunt: Montevallo

“A quarterback-turned-country songwriter-turned-country star, Sam Hunt never makes apologies for his inherent bro-ness on his 2014 debut Montevallo….Hunt’s ability to fuse his classical construction with modern flair and pass it off as no big thing is what makes his debut something more than just another album from the bro next door.” –All Music Guide

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“More than half a century separates Per Nørgård’s First Symphony from his Eighth, which was first performed in 2012, the year of his 80th birthday….The First, very clearly written under the gigantic shadow of Sibelius… is dark and earthbound, a rather introspective, glowering work… but the Eighth is buoyant and extrovert, a haze of independent musical layers, constantly looking outwards. It’s a telling juxtaposition of old and nearly new.” –The Guardian

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Taylor Swift: 1989

“When Taylor Swift decides to do something, the girl really knows how to overdo it. So on her fifth album, when she indulges her crush on Eighties synth-pop, she goes full blast….Deeply weird, feverishly emotional, wildly enthusiastic, 1989 sounds exactly like Taylor Swift, even when it sounds like nothing she’s ever tried before.” –Rolling Stone

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“Retrospectively, it’s a surprise that Nicks sat on these songs for years, but that only indicates just how purple a patch she had during Fleetwood Mac’s glory days. It’s a good thing she dug through her back pages and finished these songs, as she’s wound up with one of her strongest albums.” –All Music Guide

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“[O]ne can imagine Adele’s thrill at soul’s grande dame covering her ‘Rolling in the Deep.’ Aretha Franklin kills it, with… awesomely casual fireworks….André 3000′s arrangement of Prince’s and Sinéad’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ has Aretha scatting giddily and quoting her doctor: ‘He said, “Aretha, girl, you’ve got to have fun!”‘ She is. It’s contagious.” –Rolling Stone

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“Beal continues the eclectic and wild streak he began on his debut, but takes it into more refined, if not completely more accessible zones with Nobody Knows. It’s hard to tell if the album feels angrier and grittier than its predecessor, or if peeling off the layers of lo-fidelity actually reveal an artist more raw and without rules than we first perceived.” –All Music Guide

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“The third and last of the Pistol Annies to deliver her own solo record, Angaleena Presley operates on a more intimate scale than either Miranda Lambert or Ashley Monroe. Lambert trades on her bravado, Monroe on her savviness, but Presley relies on subtlety on American Middle Class, her long-awaited 2014 solo debut….This is a rich, deceptively relaxed portrait of working-class life in America in 2014 and it will linger for some time to come.” –All Music Guide

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T.I.: Paperwork

“It is… the most excited he’s sounded to be rapping since Paper Trail. His voice and flow patterns are so inimitable they run the risk of becoming sound effects, but he’s pushing himself out of familiar cadences and revisiting some of the demented, spitfire youthful energy that used to make him unpredictable.” –Pitchfork

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You + Me: Rose Ave

“Pop singer Pink’s country/folk album – words you probably never expected to read – came about when she found common musical ground with Dallas Green, formerly of Canadian hardcore band Alexisonfire. As You + Me, the pair explore pastoral byways, and it’s a partnership of equals….Pink, credited here under her real name, Alecia Moore, slips in a few scaled-down power ballads, but these are also utterly lovely.” –The Guardian

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“Produced by [Randy] Jackson, Smokey duets with his guests on fresh versions of popular compositions he wrote during the early ’60s through the early ’80s, popularized by Smokey himself — with and without the Miracles – or other artists, namely the Temptations and Marvin Gaye.” –All Music Guide

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“There have been many ways to qualify praise for Weezer and with each successive listen, Everything Will Be Alright in the End certainly earns the typically backhanded compliments: ‘actually not terrible,’ ‘certainly better than Hurley,’ ‘probably their best since…Maladroit, that was good right?’ Or, Everything could be accepted for what it is and be held to a more manageable standard: how good does a Weezer album have to be before it can be considered actually good?  As it turns out, about this good.” –Pitchfork

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“Old Crow Medicine Show is one of the preeminent forces in the roots and Americana music world, and it’s easy to see why….Remedy is not just full of happy songs, but of protest songs belted at top speed and on full blast. Old Crow is having fun and playing songs without a thought toward self-importance, and these days, that might be the punkest thing a band can do.” –A.V. Club

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