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BoDeans

Mr. Sad Clown

429 Records

Buy if you like: Everly Brothers, Uncle Tupelo

In the mid-'80s, few American bands held as much promise as the BoDeans. Their debut album, produced by T Bone Burnett, had the potential of debuts by Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen or anyone else. Sam Llanas and Kurt Neumann sang together like blood brothers, and "She's a Runaway" was a classic song just waiting for a mass audience. Fame seemed to beckon, and then it didn't. Nearly 25 years later, the Bodeans retain the undeniable emotional pull they've always had, two voices reaching for the sky and actually getting there. From the opening "Stay" to the closing "Gone X 3," they combine the most striking elements of American music without really trying. The duo can still break a day wide open with only a few chords, a lyric that goes deep inside and voices you can believe. Mr. Sad Clown is one of the happiest artistic achievements so far this year. — Bill Bentley

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Bettie Serveert

Pharmacy of Love

Second Motion

Buy if you like: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Pretenders

The Netherlands' most revered alt-rock veterans, Bettie Serveert come out rocking on Pharmacy of Love, more than some previous albums (most notably, the under-appreciated Attagirl). Songs like "The Pharmacy," "Deny All" and "Love Lee" rock crisply and concisely, but there's variety: "Mossie" builds from a delicate opening to a dramatic crescendo in which Carol Van Dyk pairs her voice with a sharply drawn guitar solo, while crashing drums and organ create a swirl of energy and melody underneath. "Calling" threatens to overdose on its three-minute soundscape intro, then delivers a big payoff as it shifts into majestic riff-driven rock. There's even a ballad, "Change4Me," complete with coquettish vocals. Bettie Serveert may never break big, but Pharmacy of Love should outshine most modern rock albums this year. — Alan Sculley

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Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

I Learned the Hard Way

Daptone

Buy if you like: Mary Wells, Otis Redding

As delightful as the current soul revival is, there really is something to be said for moving forward — or at least, striving for some measure of originality. Many of the tracks on I Learned the Hard Way, including the title tune, sound like reproductions of decades-old songs, not the work of a dynamic band with its own sound. All of which gives the album the feel of a reissue. Two exceptions are "If You Call" and "Money" (which bears no resemblance to the Barrett Strong classic), in which Jones lets loose with some serious screams and hollers that lift them way beyond the girl-group prettiness some of the other tunes carry. "She Ain't a Child No More" has intriguing lyrics and Jones' usually great vocals, but a very standard call-and-response soul arrangement. Still, soul fans who aren't seeking something new will love it. — Lynne Margolis

  • BoDeans, Bettie Serveert, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

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