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Toby Keith

American Ride

Show Dog

Buy if you like: Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn

The title cut of Toby Keith's new album is already a huge hit, even though it's hard to tell whether the bellicose country star is celebrating or taking a slap at America in the global warming age. The rest of the album, which will likely follow the single right up the charts, isn't so ambiguous. Rather, it's a collection of just what Keith's fans want to hear: shakin' honky tonk rockers like "If I Had One," heartbroke numbers like "Woke Up on My Own" and ballads like the piano-drenched "Tender as I Wanna Be." Keith is never subtle, which can occasionally give his music some emotional power, but mostly just makes things overwrought. Still, he does nail the other topical song on the disc: "Ballad of Balad," a banjo-rooted, boots-on-the-ground Iraq War song that won't be used by Army recruiters, but it sure is popular with the soldiers. — L. Kent Wolgamott


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Flaming Lips

Embryonic

Warner Bros.

Buy if you like: Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart

Embryonic is psychedelic, surreal and just plain weird, instantly re-establishing the Flaming Lips as the psychedelic band of the past three decades. Anti-commercial in the best possible way, this 12th studio album from Oklahoma City's favorite sons traverses through spacey, jazz-tinged rock and slams around with distorted guitar, bleeps, clangs and echoing vocals, all in service of fractured songs that are plenty catchy but certainly not sing-along fare. That's likely to disappoint the festival crowd that's embraced the cuddly Lips for the past decade or so. But it's a welcome break from what passes for the mainstream these days, closer to the odd, engaging rock that made the Lips the Lips in their entertaining, challenging club band days. Embryonic is what used to be called "headphone rock," making it perfect for the iPod era. And if you get the deluxe version, it's 18 songs of pure Lips weirdness. — L. Kent Wolgamott


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James McMurtry

Live in Europe

Lightning Rod Records

Buy if you like: Steve Earle, John Hiatt

For his first foray to Europe early this year, James McMurtry took along former Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan, the Heartless Bastards (bassist Ronnie Johnson, drummer Daren Hess) and guitarist Tim Holt. It was smart; the legendary McLagan adds a light touch to McMurtry's sardonic songs of desperation and ennui, without overshadowing his formidable guitar playing, which gets the space it deserves in a live setting. Showcasing cuts from 2008's fine Just Us Kids (on which McLagan also played), this disc adds a new dimension to gems like "Ruby & Carlos," another of McMurtry's beautifully detailed, immeasurably sad tales of loneliness and despair. Only the best musicians can go from pin-drop-quiet ballads to blistering rockers like "Freeway View" with such ease, and having an audience emphasizes that brilliance. A bonus DVD, featuring pal Jon Dee Graham on "Laredo," makes a nice bonus. — Lynne Margolis

  • Toby Keith, Flaming Lips, James McMurtry

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