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The Builders and the Butchers

Salvation is a Deep Dark Well

Gigantic Music

Buy if you like: Blitzen Trapper, Felice Brothers

You have to hand it to an act that can sound like a cross between Ozzy Osbourne and a creature from swampy Southern backwoods. The Oz factor comes courtesy of Builders and Butchers singer Ryan Sollee, whose reedy voice sounds like the Prince of Darkness. The backwoods element comes from the music itself, which is filled with mandolin, banjo, acoustic guitars and percussion that brings Appalachian folk, gospel and jug band country into the realm of rock 'n roll. On Salvation is a Deep Dark Well, the band's second album, the stylistic mix works well, thanks to potent hooks and energetic playing. Standout tracks include the pleasantly pounding, piano-driven "Down in this Hole," and "Barcelona," which adds some Spanish flair to the frenetic strumming. "Devil Town" and "Short Way Home" boast edgy melodies that demand notice, while "Hands Like Roots" shows just how much wallop an acoustic track can pack. Yee-haw! — Alan Sculley

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Levon Helm

Electric Dirt

Vanguard Records

Buy if you like: Bob Dylan, the Band

These days, fans of the great rock group that started in the 1960s, the Band, don't have much to hold onto. Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson rarely surface at all, and Rick Danko has passed away. But drummer/singer Levon Helm is keeping the flame alive, and Electric Dirt may be the closest thing to a classic Band album since the original group's, er, disbanding in the mid-1970s. Songs like "Tennessee Jed" and "I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free" (with a wonderful mix of rootsy country-blues, also laced with buoyant Dixie horns and piano) and "King Fish" (with its unmistakable New Orleans vibe) sound like vintage Band tracks. Meanwhile, even deeper roots emerge on the title track and elsewhere on the album. Helm, whose weathered vocals were such an important asset during his time in the Band, is in fine voice as well. It all adds up to an album that's truly a timeless classic. — Alan Sculley

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The Lemonheads

Varshons

The End

Buy if you like: Old-school Evan Dando, Pearl Jam

Considering the success of the Lemonheads' 1992 cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson," the idea of an all-covers album from Evan Dando has merit. Normally, such efforts from established bands are masturbatory affairs; Varshons is the antithesis. Not bogged down with pesky songwriting, Dando keenly dissects and transforms the album's 11 tracks into Lemonheads magic. Most notable is his tender take on Linda Perry's "Beautiful" (a hit for Christina Aguilera), which channels Led Zeppelin-esque acoustic and electric guitar. There's the rocking "Dandelion Seeds" (July) and the gentle "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye" (Leonard Cohen), with whispering actress Liv Tyler. The going gets off to a clunky start with "I Just Can't Take it Anymore" (Gram Parsons) and "Fragile" (Wire). But Varshons mostly succeeds on its own terms and is clearly the best Dando has to offer these days. — John Benson

  • The Builders and the Butchers, Levon Helm, The Lemonheads

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