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Johnny Cash, Howler, Lake Street Dive 

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click to enlarge Out Among the Stars

Johnny Cash

Out Among the Stars

Columbia

File next to: Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings

As tragic as the 2003 passing of Johnny Cash was for American music, Cash's American Recordings series was the perfect way for his story to conclude. Those six stately, dignified albums cemented his standing as country music's greatest elder statesman and brought him back toward the forefront of public consciousness. The newly unearthed "lost" 1984 album Out Among the Stars lacks the majestic gravitas of tracks like "Hurt" and "Ain't No Grave," but the lighter tone sweetens the memory of the departed legend. His baritone is strong, the spirited pop-country arrangements possess an easy charm and humor, and it's a delight to hear the duets "Baby Ride Easy" with June Carter Cash and "I'm Movin' On" with Waylon Jennings. If the American series reminded us why Cash should be revered, Out Among the Stars reminds us why he was beloved. — Collin Estes

click to enlarge World of Joy

Howler

World of Joy

Rough Trade

File next to: M83, White Denim

On World of Joy, Howler offers up 10 songs that take the young Minneapolis band's influences, run them through a blender, and send the recombinant results rocking back into the world. To wit, "Drip" is '70s Ramone-ish punk, while "Don't Wanna" draws upon the bruddas-ballad side of Howler's hometown role models, the Replacements. The anthemic "In the Red," meanwhile, sounds like the Strokes through a hazy filter. And there's more, including "Indictment," which recalls the Modern Lovers, and "Here's the Itch That Creeps Through My Skull," which evokes Johnny Marr's guitar playing. (Thankfully, Jordan Gatesmith's vocals don't sound anything like Morrissey's.) You get the idea. World of Joy shows off Howler's fine taste in rock 'n roll, while finding a way to make their takes on those older styles sound surprisingly fresh. — L. Kent Wolgamott

click to enlarge soundadvice1-3_selfport.jpg

Lake Street Dive

Bad Self Portraits

Signature Sounds

File next to: Joy Kills Sorrow, Elephant Revival

The acclaim for Lake Street Dive's eponymous second album in 2011 could have guaranteed the members a career in swing novelty songs, à la Squirrel Nut Zippers. But when the following year's Fun Machine EP included Jackson 5 and Hall & Oates covers, it was clear this band was not merely stuck in the 1940s. On Bad Self Portraits, vocalist Rachael Price and cohorts prove they can knock out funny, danceable and consistent hits that hold up through dozens of listens. Those who tired of the band's many talk show performances of "You Go Down Smooth" will find relief in the title track and "Bobby Tanqueray," two among many delightful songs within. Maybe there's nothing on this album as bittersweet as "The Neighbor Song," but Price in front of a microphone remains an endless source of wonder. — Loring Wirbel

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