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Album Cover“As soon as Benjamin Booker’s eponymous 2014 debut kicks in with a skittish guitar run and a primal garage beat, it’s clear the guitarist — a native of Tampa Bay who spent time in New Orleans before heading back to Florida — is unapologetic for the debt he owes to Jack White. Like the Black Keys and Gary Clark, Jr. before him, Booker revels in gnarly guitar skronk, pushing the all-natural fuzz to the forefront — lessons perhaps learned from Jack White, but Booker distinguishes himself from the pack by adding a bit of swing and boogie to the raw roar.” -allmusic.com

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Album Cover“The Bakersfield tunes are the purest country music Cracker have released to date, with a rich dose of twangy soul that doesn’t negate the frequent seriousness of the lyrics as Lowery’s high-attitude vocals blend with Matt ‘Pistol’ Stoessel’s pedal steel and Luke Moeller’s fiddle. And the rock tunes sound sharp and muscular, with guitarist Johnny Hickman, bassist Davey Faragher, and drummer Michael Urbano bringing lots of spark and plenty of color to the proceedings. Brian Wilson may have invented the rock & roll ideal of California, but David Lowery is doing more than his share to chronicle the way life is lived in his adopted home state in the 21st century, and Berkeley to Bakersfield is one of Cracker’s most ambitious and satisfying sets in quite some time, as good as anything they’ve given us since Kerosene Hat in 1993.” -allmusic.com

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Album Cover“Four albums in, Colbie Caillat decided it was time for a cool change. The singer/songwriter remains quintessentially Southern Californian — her spirit is sunny, her melodies breezy — but she no longer dresses her songs in beachwear. She’s ditched the peasant skirts for stylish black dresses; she’s no longer strumming an acoustic guitar; she’s singing over densely arranged electronic tracks, some produced by Max Martin and some produced by Babyface, neither known for having much patience with neo-hippie surfer girls. If Caillat were less of a pro, this makeover would come across as forced and awkward, but she’s savvy enough to make the transition feel natural.” -allmusic.com

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Album Cover“…Billy doesn’t really throw himself into autobiography here, preferring to merely write from the perspective of an old punk rocker on the verge of senior citizenship. Frankly, that’s enough to give Kings & Queen of the Underground character if not quite a kick. Idol may be posturing — that’s what he does for a living, after all — but he’s relaxed here, certainly more so than he was on 2005′s hard-edged Devil’s Playground, having fun playing with his past while trying on some new fashions.” -allmusic.com

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Album Cover“Even though this album offers a handful of pieces for cello and piano, which Weilerstein and pianist Anna Polonsky play with charm and sentiment, listeners will pay the most attention to the concerto, which is the program’s raison d’être. Weilerstein’s highly personal and intensely Romantic style of playing is well-suited to this concerto, which is big on emotion and poignant lyricism, and her long lines and rapt expression effectively carry the piece.” -allmusic.com

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Album Cover“…this is a collection of real Mozart obscurities. And, perhaps surprisingly, Villazón brings them to life. He has performed these works frequently in recital, and it shows: throughout, he has a relaxed way of getting into character. Sample Con ossequio, con rispetto, from Piccinni’s L’astratto, ovvero il giocator fortunato, for an example of suppressed sarcasm that most singers would just leave alone. Deutsche Grammophon contributes clear sound from none other than Abbey Road studios, and the result is an album that should find a place in large Mozart collections and those of Villazón fans as well.” -allmusic.com

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She & Him: Classics

Album Cover“While the release of another standards album doesn’t always elicit cries of celebration, some artists are perfectly suited to such a task. Taking a romp around their own bailiwick is a breeze for pop classicists like She & Him, who offer up this platter of elegantly conceived cover songs that resembles the very source material that probably inspired their first three albums of original fare. The warm, vintage pop, jazz, and country that Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward have always seemed so smitten with comes to life on Classics.” -allmusic.com

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Neil Young: Storytone

Album Cover“…Storytone is fairly messy — which is quite an achievement for an album recorded in large part live in front of a full orchestra. Young does indeed croon over those strings, often rhapsodizing about the powers of new love or pleading to save the Earth, although he sometimes gets restless and rolls out a swinging big band. This means Storytone sometimes plays like a hybrid of Harvest at its most florid and the bloozy swagger of This Note’s for You — a curious combination that doesn’t seem quite as extreme on the album’s second disc, which houses nothing but solo renditions of the record’s ten tunes, but the very fact that there’s a reverse image of the album strengthens the impression that Young isn’t much in the mood to keep things simple.” -allmusic.com

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“While much of Springtime Carnivore waAlbum Coverlks in a Twilight Zone between indie pop and clever appropriations of the past, Morgan does manage to reveal a personality of her own over the course of these 14 tracks, and she comes off as clever, confident, and a sure hand with a tune on this set, while her voice suggests a meeting between Dusty Springfield and Kate Bush (if her voice has less range than the former, she’s thankfully less melodramatic than the latter). A smart and resourceful exercise in pop that works on several levels, Springtime Carnivore is an impressive calling card from an artist who clearly has interesting things up her sleeve.” -allmusic.com

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Album Cover “…for the most part, this has every one of Joel’s heavy-hitters, and his craftsmanship, both as a songsmith and record maker, has never shone brighter. The biggest fault is that there is a notable drop-off in quality after 1986′s The Bridge (which ends midway through disc two), but even so, this is as good a distillation of Joel’s talents imaginable.” -allmusic.com

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Birdy: Fire Within

Album Cover“While the songs on Fire Within display vocal maturity beyond her young years, Birdy’s lyrics don’t stray far from the same emotions as every other 17-year-old — love, broken hearts, confusion — and this honesty feels natural and sincere without becoming cliché. With a flurry of teen internet sensations — singers such as Gabrielle Aplin and Lauren Aquilina have both made dents in the U.K. charts — Birdy’s second release is a testament to her confidence in her own songwriting talent, and of course, to the fragility and intensity of her pure, unblemished vocals.” -allmusic.com

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Hozier: Hozier

Album Cover“The album’s best tracks, like the warm, laid-back ‘Someone New’ and the grandiose shuffling of ‘From Eden’ are all front loaded in the first half, while side two feels a bit weighed down with a few too many slow, contemplative pieces. When you’re dealing with the kind of spells Hozier is casting, it’s always best to leave them wanting more. Still, the dirge blues of ‘It Will Come Back,’ with its dirty fiddle and electric guitar pairing, manages to rattle the church pews enough to help anchor the back half.” -allmusic.com

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Eric Paslay: Eric Paslay

“Paslay isn’t trying to change the world withAlbum Cover his songs, but he does want you to remember them without much strain, and if there’s a secret to success in Nashville, that just might be it — keep it simple and catchy. This self-titled debut release doesn’t change the landscape of contemporary country, but it sure recognizes it, and that’s Paslay’s songwriting strength. He doesn’t try to do too much here, other than deliver a good song. He understands the business, he understands his audience, and he understands the marketplace. A song you can sing along to on first listen will always win.” -allmusic.com

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Charli XCX: Sucker

Album Cover“On Sucker, she (XCX) keeps more of that hit-making swagger for herself, delivering attention-getting pop that’s bold enough to ensure she isn’t overshadowed by anybody. She makes her purpose clear with the album’s title track, a musical middle finger to the clueless set to revved-up synths and stabbing guitars. It’s a big change from the gothy pop of True Romance, though even on that album, XCX’s hooks were undeniable. Sucker is also full of should-be hits, but these songs also show how creatively she fashions the shiniest parts of the ’80s, ’90s, 2000s, and 2010s into her own highly stylized sound.” -allmusic.com

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Album Cover” Despite the loosey-goosey title, there’s not much left to chance on Anything Goes: it’s designed to consolidate Florida Georgia Line’s success and maybe give them a little bit of cred they never amassed on their debut. Those serious moments, crystallized by the salt-of-the-earth dirgey lead single ‘Dirt,’ are where FGL stumble. Whenever the duo acknowledge their essential suburbanness — which they do often, singing about Victoria’s Secret, Bacardi, and Seven Jeans among any other number of lifestyle signifiers — things flow just fine on Anything Goes. Kelley and Hubbard have an easy chemistry that lends itself to lubrication by Auto-Tune and the sleek digital gloss that shimmers over the entire album.” -allmusic.com

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Album Cover“It’s hard not to ascribe some meaning to the title of Old Boots, New Dirt, Jason Aldean’s sixth album. Edging into his second decade as a star, Aldean’s boots are getting a bit worn; he’s no longer an upstart, he’s a veteran who could almost be seen as an institution thanks to his long commercial track record. Stars have less reason to take risks — why upset the apple cart if it’s still generating revenue — but there’s some freshness on Old Boots, New Dirt, which means the second half of the title isn’t just talk.” -allmusic.com

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Album Cover ” The London Sessions just happens to have her best round of songs, productions, and performances since The Breakthrough, the 2005 album Smith references in one of several unnecessary testimonials and interview snippets placed throughout the sequence of songs. A couple moments are stilted and there’s some substandard songwriting, such as the woeful “I’ll keep gettin’ up, ’cause that’s what I’m goin’ to do/Gonna be the best me, I’m sorry if it kills you,” from the otherwise fine “Doubt.” The London Sessions nonetheless offers a sharp mix of duly aching ballads and substantive, highly detailed club tracks that are in the soul-rooted lineage of classics she has referenced, covered, and emulated throughout her career. Blige sounds as comfortable as ever over the scuffing percussion, prodding synthesizers, and even the noodling clarinet heard, at various points, in the likes of “Right Now,” “My Loving,” “Pick Me Up,” and “Follow.” The songs explore themes familiar to Blige’s listeners, yet little is less than fresh. Among the ballads, the Sandé collaboration “Whole Damn Year” is the most striking, disarming in its depiction of recovering from emotional and physical abuse, while “Therapy,” one of four songs made with Smith, is surprisingly understated, seemingly inspired more by Anthony Hamilton’s Southern gospel-soul.” -allmusic.com

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album cover“And now for something complete different…Connections – Mind The Gap is an organic mix of classical, blues and improvisational music that is built around the tuba. Jazz tuba is nothing new yet the inherent misconception is that the instruments natural “limitations” which include being the lowest pitched brass instrument would have the tuba relegated to the roll of orchestral music on a good day. Bob Stewart is to tuba what Miles Davis was to the trumpet, an improvisational revolutionary and now highly respected educator since joining the ranks of those teaching at Julliard. ” – Brent Black / www.criticaljazz.com
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Ed Sheeran: X

Ed Sheeran: X“It’s a little glib to call Ed Sheeran the U.K.’s answer to Jason Mraz, yet there’s a grain of truth in that statement. Like Mraz, Sheeran plays around with hip-hop cadences but at his core he’s a singer/songwriter, and a sensitive one at that, one who prefers love tunes to songs of protest, something that is quite evident on X, his second collection of original songs. Although he sometimes pours out his heart armed with no more than an acoustic guitar, he’s not a troubadour; those hip-hop roots means he’ll not only ramble out a rap, but he’s also quite comfortable with luxurious, shimmering textures and buoyant melodies.” –All Music Guide
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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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