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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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“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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