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Jack White, First Aid Kit, and John Fullbright 

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Jack White

Lazaretto

Third Face/Columbia

File next to: Band of Skulls, Dead Weather

Given that Jack White assembled the nation's finest alternating all-female and all-male touring bands to support 2012's Blunderbuss album, it's surprising that the record itself from the White Stripes' founder was so lackluster. White seems determined to make up for that deficit with Lazaretto, which is brimming with riffs, odd stylings and unusual time signatures. White is so overbearing at self-promotion, some would find Lazaretto's diversity to be inherently suspect. Yes, there are songs like "Just One Drink" that are over-the-top novelty numbers, but there are also exemplary ballads like "Temporary Ground" and "Entitlement." White has figured out the right mix for his talents: He's indulged most of his experimentalism and hit-or-miss craziness elsewhere, but saved the really good stuff for this mainstream album. Now let's hope he brings the Peacocks and Buzzards bands back on the road to tour these songs. — Loring Wirbel

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First Aid Kit

Stay Gold

Columbia

File next to: Alela Diane, Lykke Li

This Swedish sister duo managed to break into the U.S. mainstream back in 2012 with their sophomore album, The Lion's Roar, thanks in large part to help from Conor Oberst. With Stay Gold, Johanna and Klara Soderberg now appear to be making a concerted effort to add a country-blues sound to their mix, possibly in the hope that they'll be ranked alongside Civil Wars, Smoke Fairies, or maybe early Tegan and Sara. Songs like "Master Pretender" and "Shattered & Hollow" take the sisters to at least Lion's Roar high points, though they don't tread entirely new ground. The Soderbergs remain on top of the current onrush of Swedish female vocalists who have gone off in search of more global audiences. Nevertheless, they must grow a bit to reach the next level, easily achievable since they are only 23 and 21 with three albums already behind them. — Loring Wirbel

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John Fullbright

Songs

Blue Dirt Records

File next to: Neil Young, Guy Clark

John Fullbright follows up his self-released Grammy nominee From the Ground Up, with a dozen exquisitely crafted tracks on Songs. Spare and economical, the 26-year-old Oklahoma singer-songwriter's new material is anchored by acoustic guitar or piano. "Never Cry Again," is the most lively of the bunch, a smartly written look at losing love that should be a country hit. Fullbright's been rightfully compared to '70s singer-songwriters Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, and this album is bound to add a few more for the list, including Texas master Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker, whom Fullbright resembles vocally. There's also some clever wordplay, such as the rhyming of "Little Lord Fauntleroy sitting in his La-Z-Boy" in "Keeping Hope Alive." "High Road," the longest song on the record, is a rural romance that will bring tears with its tragic tale of love and a tractor that typifies this superb collection. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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