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Randy Travis
Around the Bend
Warner Bros. Records

Sounds like: What made country great
Short take: King of Country contender makes a comeback

Randy Travis lives or dies by how good his songs are, and on Around the Bend, they're almost all way better than just good. In fact, two of them ("Love is a Gamble" and "Dig Two Graves") are close to classic. Even better news is how strong Travis' voice remains: He's still got a deepness that can't be matched, and a clear-eyed way of taking on sorrow without flinching. Give the man extra credit, too, for covering Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," which Travis takes up into the mountains, finding its bluegrass heart and showing he's still got the fearlessness that brought him to the fair in the first place. Not a moment too soon for Nashville, either, which has the unfortunate habit of showing its elders the door and forgetting what made the music great. Welcome back to a real singer. It's about time. Bill Bentley


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The Walkmen
You & Me
Gigantic Music

Sounds like: A letter echoing from the road
Short take: Somebody's in luurrrve

With all respect to Soundgarden, the Walkmen have always been louder than love. Singer Hamilton Leithauser took the ambient echo used soothingly by My Morning Jacket and turned it into an indie warhammer. And then somebody got lovestruck and decided to tell us all about it. Produced by Chris Zane (Tokyo Police Club, White Rabbits) and John Agnello (the Hold Steady, Dinosaur Jr., Son Volt), You & Me teems with longing, heartsick road tales. This works behind the steel-drum guitars of "Postcards From Tiny Islands" and the melancholy horns of "Red Moon," but wanes with the overly familiar "Four Provinces." The Walkmen rev it up for the wandering, drunken "Seven Years of Holidays" which picks up where their euphoric "Lost in Boston" left off but are at their loveliest during the Dylan-meets-Band of Horses bounces and moods of "In the New Year." Jason Notte


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Matthew Sweet
Sunshine Lies
Shout! Factory / Release date: Aug. 26

Sounds like: A partly cloudy day
Short take: Less sweet, but tuneful

It's been nearly two decades since this Nebraska-born, Athens, Ga.-edified power-pop purveyor arrived on the national scene with his alt rock hit "Girlfriend." While sustained commercial success never panned out, Matthew Sweet's now released 10 studio albums with Sunshine Lies. The 13-track effort may lack some of the quintessential up-tempo sweetness that has come to define Sweet's career, but there are enticing digressions. "Around You Now" possesses a classic feel, with momentary Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies and simple yet engaging guitar melodies. And Sweet gets gritty with the garage-rock sounding "Sunrise Eyes," capturing the track's palpable urgency as he sings, "I need a way to tell you I'm in love with you / Right now." There's a realness that imbues Sunshine Lies, which makes it a perfect addition to the Sweet canon. John Benson

  • Randy Travis, The Walkmen, Matthew Sweet

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