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Alela Diane, Hey! Hello!, The Civil Wars 

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Alela Diane

About Farewell

Believe Records

File next to: Diane Cluck, Iris DeMent, Gillian Welch

Alela Diane captivated MeadowGrass attendees in 2012 with "Colorado Blue," the song that opens this new album. About Farewell was the product of divorce, and a new relationship that's left her an expectant mother. Diane has always sported a 1930s Dust Bowl integrity and simplicity, but this time it's tempered with sorrow and deep resignation on tracks like "The Way We Fell" and "Before the Leaving." She returns to arrangements that are minimal by design, in part because her ex-husband was leader of the larger band. About Farewell is a little shy of a breakup album for the ages, since Diane occasionally relies on a tired turn of phrase. But this is her strongest work by a long shot, and Rough Trade may regret dropping her from the label before releasing what could easily be her most popular album to date. — Loring Wirbel

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Hey! Hello!

Hey! Hello!

The End Records

File next to: Cheap Trick, the 88

There are only two members in Hey! Hello! — singer Victoria Liedtke and multi-instrumentalist Ginger Wildheart (of the Wildhearts) — but on this self-titled debut, they sound like more. The album comes out rocking with full-on guitars, bass and drums, sounding like Cheap Trick with a little Green Day on the side. Like any power pop album, it all comes down to whether Liedtke and Wildheart can write instantaneously catchy, energetic tunes, which they do better than most — especially on "Feral Days," "The Thrill of It All" and "Swimwear," which boasts a touch of New York Dolls glam. "The Thrill of It All" and "Black Valentine" are the kind of anthems that could get arenas rocking. There's nothing particularly innovative about the music Liedtke and Wildheart make, but with songs this strong, it doesn't matter. Hey! Hello! is a group whose future is as bright as its sound. — Alan Sculley

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The Civil Wars

The Civil Wars

Sensibility / Columbia

File next to: Sandy Denny, Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer

Joy Williams and John Paul White have a knack for marketing a level of passion rarely encountered in modern folk. It's ironic that the two are married to other people, an irony increased exponentially by the fact that the duo were not speaking to each other as this eponymous second album was mixed. Skeptics might say the breakup is another PR opportunity, but Williams and White always had more grassroots cred than that (impromptu free concerts, limited vinyl releases, etc.). It's no surprise this album is harder, grittier, with greater heartache than Barton Hollow. "The One That Got Away" sets the right tone for the first few songs, but the final tracks include quasi-released filler songs like "From This Valley" and Smashing Pumpkins' "Disarm." The Civil Wars may win some Grammys, but there's still an uncomfortable feeling of ambulance-chasing here. — Loring Wirbel

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