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Robert Plant

Band of Joy

Rounder

Buy if you like: Buddy Miller, Los Lobos

It's too bad Robert Plant got six Grammys for Raising Sand, making it harder for this even-better follow-up to earn recognition. Full of carefully plucked obscurities and reinventions, this disc owes as much to Plant's new Band of Joy — the name of his pre-Led Zeppelin psych-folk group — as to his Americana explorations. The moniker fits perfectly; when Plant and co-producer/guitarist Buddy Miller, multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott, harmony vocalist Patty Griffin, bassist Byron House and percussionist Marco Giovino merge Eastern modalities with Appalachian folk and good ol' rock, the result is transcendent. Townes Van Zandt's "Harm's Swift Way" shimmers, while Los Lobos' "Angel Dance" shimmies. "You Can't Buy My Love" gloriously harkens back to "Can't Buy Me Love," and "Silver Ride" and "Monkey" hypnotize. Plant has found a perfect path. And band. — Lynne Margolis

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Weezer

Hurley

Epitaph

Buy if you like: Cheap Trick, Jimmy Eat World

The last Weezer albums have fallen short of the band's early sharp, smart power, so moving to respected indie label Epitaph raised hopes Weezer and songwriter Rivers Cuomo would be re-invigorated and return to form. But Hurley's a mixed bag. It does benefit from a rougher, punkish sound, especially on worthy tracks like "Memories" and "Trainwrecks." And there are some songs that recapture the old irresistible melodic touch, such as "Ruling Me" (a prototypical Weezer rocker), "Smart Girls" (a cheeky track about valuing intelligence in a woman) and "Brave New World" (arena-worthy with appealing grit). But several songs fall flat melodically and lyrically ("Run Away," "Unspoken," "Where's My Sex?"), and "Time Flies" misses the mark with its sludgy folk-pop sound. Hurley is a step in the right direction, but Weezer has a ways to go to match earlier glories. — Alan Sculley

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Kim Richey

Wreck Your Wheels

Thirty One Tigers

Buy if you like: Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris

If there were justice in the world, more people would know Kim Richey's name than Lady Gaga's, and she'd have a shelf full of Grammys. But money and fame aren't everything, and Ohio-born Richey has something priceless: the love and respect of fans who recognize her gift for crafting gorgeous songs. Her voice carries nuanced emotions like a breeze carries birds, with beauty and grace. There's an intimacy to "Word to the Wise," "Keys" and "Be Careful How You Go," a mix of delicacy and understated force that grips you completely. Richey often writes and records with artists of similar esteem; this album is peppered with names like Will Kimbrough, Mark Olson and Mando Saenz. Like her other five albums — including the highly acclaimed Glimmer and RiseWreck Your Wheels is worth many, many listens. — Lynne Margolis

  • Robert Plant, Weezer, Kim Richey

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