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album cover“Dayna Kurtz is a welcome addition to the New Orleans music scene. She’s a singer/songwriter with the forthrightness of a farm girl and the wiles of a New York cabaret veteran, a superb vocalist and a deft painter of emotions with simple, effective strokes. When she moved to New Orleans in 2012 she’d already built an impressive resume in the folk/roots/Americana tradition with a series of critically acclaimed albums and a powerful performance at the Lagniappe stage at Jazz Fest. Her life has taken some eventful turns since that move. The breakup of her marriage and the death of her father shadow the themes of Rise and Fall.” -John Swenson/offbeat.com

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Rixton: Let the Road

album cover“Caught in an awkward place between the dance-rock cool of Ireland’s Two-Door Cinema Club and the earnest over-production of forgotten ’90s English boy band BBMak, Rixton are at their best when they’re being delightful or ridiculous, as the moments in between can be a bit boring. Produced by Benny Blanco, Robopop, Rob Golan, and Steve Mac, and featuring writing contributions from such ubiquitous contemporary pop luminaries as Ed Sheeran, Mike Posner, and Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas, the group’s debut album, 2015’s Let the Road, is a slick, somewhat dull, but occasionally invigorating listen.” -allmusic.com

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album cover“The album’s title comes from the final movement of The Four Quarters, a work depicting parts of the day that was commissioned for the Emerson String Quartet, but here receives its world-premiere recording. Despite the rather chilly church acoustic, this is a fine pick for collectors of contemporary chamber music in the classic media.” -allmusic.com

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album cover“Survivor’s guilt, realizing one’s destiny, and a Snoop Dogg performance of Doggystyle caliber are woven among it all; plus, highlights offer that Parliament-Funkadelic-styled subversion, as ‘The Blacker the Berry’ (‘The sweeter the juice’) offers revolutionary slogans and dips for the hip. Free your mind, and your ass will follow, and at the end of this beautiful black berry, there’s a miraculous ‘talk’ between Kendrick and the legendary 2Pac, as the brutalist trailblazer mentors this profound populist. To Pimp a Butterfly is as dark, intense, complicated, and violent as Picasso’s Guernica, and should hold the same importance for its genre and the same beauty for its intended audience.” -allmusic.com

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Ludacris: Ludaversal

album cover“Hip-hop has a towering pile of ‘the game needs me’ albums where an artist returns to stake their claim, but Ludaversal still feels fresh, alive, and needed, and maybe just because it comes from the unique voice that is Ludacris.”
-allmusic.com

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album cover“Caught halfway between a back-to-basics move along the lines of TWGMTR and a star-studded extravaganza, No Pier Pressure certainly doesn’t have much to do with the high art that’s marked Wilson’s new millennium; there’s nary an echo of the SMiLE revival or the Van Dyke Parks collaboration That Lucky Old Sun. This is all sand, sun, and Saturday night nostalgia, a sensibility goosed by the addition of Al Jardine, David Marks, and Blondie Chaplin..” -allmusic.com

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album cover“Whenever the album floats upon its orchestrations or sighs along with its rich swaths of brass, there’s a lightness to Natalie Prass, a lightness that also reflects in songs that are sweetly melancholic, not sad. So enveloping is the sound that it can sometimes be easy to overlook Prass’ songs, which are as exquisitely crafted as her album’s production. Her eye for telling romantic details and gift for gorgeous, lilting melodies mean this debut sinks its hooks in deep and soon seems to belong alongside the classics it so plainly resembles.” -allmusic.com

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album cover“Often, the persistent, moody murmur recalls a diluted Kings of Leon, a comparison that can’t help but underscore how Mumford & Sons have made the journey from retro throwback to glistening modern construction. Where once they carved their music out of reclaimed wood, they’re now all steel and glass — a bit sleeker but also a bit chillier. Such a description suggests this is a big shift, but it’s all surface: underneath that exterior, Wilder Mind is the same Mumford & Sons, peddling reasonably handsome reconstructions of times gone by.” -allmusic.com

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album cover“…a record built on the detritus of the last four decades of consumer culture. Songs are anchored on samples of Suzanne Vega (‘Centuries’) or, better still, a bizarre appropriation of The Munsters theme (the wild, careening ‘Uma Thurman,’ where the Halloween surfer-swing attempts to replicate the sexy menace of Pulp Fiction), but these are essentially accents on a record that fully incorporates Pete Wentz’s rock & roll savior aspirations with Patrick Stump’s eager, earnest soul. This collaboration comes in the form of the slow-burning ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’ (its whistled hook being a slyer nod to Peter Bjorn & John than the title’s allusion to the Who) and the full-on, spangled disco-rock of ‘Novocaine’ and ‘American Beauty/American Psycho’ — tracks whose imagination indicates that Fall Out Boy are able to harness their ambitions and accentuate their ideas as they start to creep toward middle age.” -allmusic.com

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album cover“There are no frills here but there is a distinct, compelling voice evident in Barnett’s songs and music alike. That’s what makes Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. so invigorating: it may have roots — perhaps even some inadvertent ones — but it’s music that lives thoroughly in the moment.” -allmusic.com

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Madonna: Rebel Heart

album cover“Rebel Heart was introduced to the world with an indiscipline uncharacteristic of Madonna. Blame it on hackers who rushed out a clutch of unfinished tracks at the end of 2014, a few months before the record’s scheduled spring release. Madonna countered by putting six full tracks up on a digital service, a move that likely inflated the final Deluxe Edition of Rebel Heart up to a whopping 19 tracks weighing in at 75 minutes, but even that unveiling wasn’t performed without a hitch: during an ornate performance of ‘Living for Love,’ she stumbled on-stage at the BRIT Awards. Such cracks in Madge’s armor happily play into the humanity coursing through Rebel Heart (maybe the hiccups were intentional after all?), a record that ultimately benefits from its daunting mess.” -allmusic.com

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album cover“Dwight Yoakam recalibrated his career with 2012’s 3 Pears, returning to his former home of Warner and reconnecting to the nerviness of his first albums. With Second Hand Heart, Yoakam continues this unfussy revival, sharpening his attack so the record breezes by at a crisp, crackling clip. Once again, he’s reviving himself through reconnecting the past but what gives Second Hand Heart life is specificity, both in its songs and sound.” -allmusic.com

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album cover“A local example of that oxymoron, the ‘sideman supergroup,’ Barnstar! — Zachariah Hickman, Charlie Rose, Mark Erelli, and Taylor and Jake Amerding — has released a sophomore record that reveals a continuing fondness for the exclamation point, and for bluegrass-based, genre-bending music filled with jawdropping harmonizing, emotive ensemble playing, and a raucous immediacy.” -Stuart Munro/TheBostonGlobe.com

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Passion Pit: Kindred

album cover“Married after his group’s previous album, Gossamer, having split from prior bandmates, and appearing in a PSA about the importance of his having sought professional help for his bipolar disorder, frontman Michael Angelakos presents a gratitude-imbued, relatively ballad-heavy, but still sparkling third Passion Pit LP in Kindred. In no great shift from the distinctive sound of previous records, it is, if anything, even more sugary in the synth palette and high end, as on the lullaby-leaning tones and melody of the candy-lacquered, ultra-falsettoed ‘Dancing on the Grave.'” -allmusic.com

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album cover“On 2012’s Fear Fun, Josh Tillman introduced audiences to Father John Misty, a jaded and erudite, faux-bohemian retro-pop confectioner with a strong surrealist bent and an aptitude for capturing the American zeitgeist via wry couplets concerning the culturally and morally ambiguous wasteland of southern California. That penchant for gutter-highbrow confessionalism still looms large on his second long player, the lyrically and musically bold, and often quite beautiful, I Love You, Honeybear, but the drug-addled, disaffected Laurel Canyon drifter who served as the cruise director on Fear Fun has been replaced by a man trying to come to terms with the discombobulating effects of love, especially as it applies to his nihilistic alter-ego, which is mercilessly stripped of that ego throughout the 11-song set.” -allmusic.com

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Mark Knopfler: Tracker

album cover“Scaled smaller than 2012’s double-album Privateering, Tracker also feels suitably subtle, easing its way into being instead of announcing itself with a thunder. Such understatement is typical of Mark Knopfler, particularly in the third act of his career. When he left Dire Straits behind, he also left behind any semblance of playing for the cheap seats in an arena, but Tracker feels quieter than his new millennial norm.” -allmusic.com

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album cover“On their 2012 debut Boys & Girls, Alabama Shakes never hid that they were creatures of the New South — a band with old-fashioned blues, soul, gospel, and country in their blood but raised on modern rock. On their 2015 follow-up, Sound & Color, they free themselves from the vestiges of the past, let loose, and push themselves further in either direction. This could’ve resulted in a disjointed record pulling itself in two opposing directions, but the mess of Sound & Color is invigorating, likely because the album uses its title as a creed.” -allmusic.com

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album cover“This recording of Agostino Steffani’s opera Niobe, Regina di Tebe (Niobe, Queen of Thebes) comes mostly from a live performance at the 2011 Boston Early Music Festival; some music cut from the live production was added back in later. The performance was lavish, and the production, unlike most renderings of Baroque opera, made an effort to duplicate the scale and luxury that Steffani’s audiences would have experienced in Munich in 1688. The opera isn’t a great piece of drama; the libretto, loosely based on an episode from Ovid’s Metmorphoses, is filled with ill-differentiated extraneous characters, poorly integrated comic episodes, and a hodgepodge of musical styles. But it has a gleeful exuberance that makes it easy to see why it succeeded.” -allmusic.com

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album cover“While Netrebko’s name recognition is the chief reason most western listeners will notice this recording, her singing provides the best reason to hear it. Netrebko’s commitment to making this opera better known — indeed, making it her own — is reflected in her passionate performance, which is immediate and thrilling, and she imbues the music with intense emotion that is moving and memorable. The audio is exceptional, even by Deutsche Grammophon’s high standards, so the orchestra’s sonorities, dominated by woodwinds, are reproduced with vibrant sound. But above all, the audio gives Netrebko presence and warmth, so this is required listening for all of her fans and curious newcomers.” -allmusic.com

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album cover“These cuts, along with the title track, manage to strike the right balance of Kelly’s indomitable character and fresh electronic beats but overall Piece by Piece sounds a shade too desperate, which means it winds up having the opposite effect than intended: instead of sounding like a new start, Clarkson sounds a little bit behind the times.” -allmusic.com

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