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Band of Horses, Suzanne Vega, and Current 93 

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Band of Horses

Acoustic at the Ryman

Brown Records

File next to: My Morning Jacket, Okkervil River

To create this gem of a live album, Band of Horses employed the Direct Stream Digital format, previously the province of classical and jazz recordings. The process crisply captures the South Carolina-based band's beautifully tight performances over two nights last April at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. From these recordings, they selected a perfect 10 "greatest hits" that span the band's career, from 2007's "The Funeral" through the gorgeous ache and harmony of 2012's "Slow Cruel Hands of Time." Having started out in Seattle, they also include a ballad called "Detlef Schrempf," named after the former Supersonics player. Performed mostly on acoustic guitar and piano, the album showcases the expressive vocals of frontman Ben Bridwell and tight harmonies of his bandmates, suggesting a slightly rawer Crosby Stills & Nash. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Suzanne Vega

Tales From the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles

Amanuensis Productions

File next to: Beth Orton, Kristin Hersh

Suzanne Vega wasted too many years following her divorce from Mitchell Froom, first writing songs of anger and vengeance, then compiling a four-volume series of reworks of her 1980s songs. Beauty & Crime, released in 2007, had its moments, but didn't bring back "Luka." Suddenly, a new album appears that is sophisticated, beautifully engineered, and unexpectedly interesting. These songs are miniatures of fine storytelling, often in a fairy-tale mode. Vega even ventures into rock on tracks like "I Never Wear White." One could quibble about some over-production — or the over-reliance on Tarot and medieval references that makes the lyrics too formal at times — but these are minor points. This is Vega's best album since 99.9 Degrees Fahrenheit. It's a nice surprise to have a strong, happy and witty Suzanne Vega back again. — Loring Wirbel

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Current 93

I Am the Last of All the Field That Fell: A Channel

The Spheres

File next to: Shirley Collins, Swans

From their early days as abrasive industrial noise-merchants to a later predilection for gentler but sinister folk, Current 93 continues to expand, absorbing all manner of sacred and profane along the way. This new album continues David Tibet's fascinating, poetic ruminations on religion, mysticism and the apocalypse with a blend of wisdom and muted horror. The understated musical palette is colored with drums (a rarity on C93 records), John Zorn's saxophone, and avant-garde piano and guitar textures. While the unaccustomed might find Tibet's half-spoken vocals challenging, he gets assists from Antony Hegarty on the delicate "Mourned Winter Then" and Nick Cave on the dramatic "I Could Not Shift the Shadow." Beautiful, magical and doom-laden, this is another unique gem by Current 93, and as good a place as any for neophytes to jump in. — Collin Estes

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