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click to enlarge LeAnn Rimes

LeAnn Rimes

Spitfire

Curb Records

File next to: Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert

Kacey Musgraves may be country music's brightest new artist, but LeAnn Rimes' Spitfire is its best new album. Rather than settle for some effortless middle ground between Taylor Swift and Patsy Cline, Rimes digs deep here, both musically and emotionally. The hard-charging title track conveys a "burning desire to let the whole town know that you're a dirty little liar," while the gorgeously remorseful "What Have I Done" finds her vowing to "smash every mirror in this empty house, 'cause, like you, I don't wanna see myself." Both songs benefit from co-writer David Baerwald's patented mix of romanticism and spite. And yes, the cover of Buddy & Julie Miller's "Gasoline and Matches" with Rob Thomas and Jeff Beck pretty much sucks. But skip ahead to originals like "God Takes Care of Your Kind," "Borrowed" and "Just a Girl Like You," and you'll forget all about it. — Bill Forman

click to enlarge CocoRosie

CocoRosie

Tales of a Grass Widow

Redeye Music

File next to: Incredible String Band, the Residents

It's annoying to see the same Brooklyn trendsetters, who gushed over CocoRosie in 2003, now declaring that they despise the Casady sisters. Bianca and Sierra always have admitted to being Dadaists who foil all efforts to make a fan base, reveling in bizarre mixes of 1920s vaudeville, lullabies, tape loops and found sounds. They also collaborate with Antony Hegarty and Diane Cluck, two other artists who are difficult to love. Yet the sisters' songcrafting gets better with each album, even if it takes some work to decipher. Much of Tales relies on simple, sincere lyrics that might be hippie-dippie if they weren't potentially ironic. You might dance to a track or two, you might dream to others, but the final hidden track, "Devil's Island," proves CocoRosie retains an element of terror, too. Give them love for continuing to plumb the frontiers of weird. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Piñata Protest

Piñata Protest

El Valiente

Saustex Media

File next to: Flaco Jimenez, Los Lobos

San Antonio's Piñata Protest combine Conjunto and punk rock. With an accordion out in front rather than a guitar, the band revs up classics like "Volver, Volver" and "La Cucaracha" on its thoroughly entertaining full-length debut, El Valiente. Of course, the idea of accordion-laced punk isn't new, since Irish-influenced bands have been doing it for years. But with its Tex-Mex underpinnings and bilingual lyrics delivered by frontman Alvaro Del Norte, Piñata Protest brings something new to the dance, or perhaps more accurately, the mosh pit. El Valiente opens with a great Spanish-radio intro for the band, then goes on to mix autobiographical originals like "Life on the Border," the swaying stomp of "Tomorrow, Today" and the speed metal-ish "Que Pedo" with the aforementioned covers. In fact, its version of "Volver, Volver" is one of the best ever. So play it loud and have yourself some fun. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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