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The Black Angels

Phosphene Dream

Blue Horizon Records

Buy if you like: 13th Floor Elevators, Blues Magoos

Right down to the same typeface that's used on the back of the 13th Floor Elevators' debut album, the Black Angels bask in the eternal glow of that pioneering psychedelic band's early light. Not to say the Angels are imitators, because they are definitely not that. Rather, they travel the same roads on parallel trips. The Black Angels have been there: They've watched the coming light wash over Austin in rays of fire, run from the melting heat of oppression, found redemption in the darkness of the Texas hill country. Phosphene Dream also has trace elements of early Velvet Underground, but there's plenty of originality in the tribal stomp of "Bad Vibrations," the ballroom celebration of "Hunting at 1300 McKinley" and the smashing attack of "Sunday Afternoon." With finely tuned antennae and a fully functional third eye, the Black Angels see things the rest of us barely dream about. — Bill Bentley

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Taylor Swift

Speak Now

Big Machine

Buy if you like: Carrie Underwood, Shania Twain

When your first two albums turn you into the most popular artist on the planet, you're likely to keep dancing with the one that brung you. Taylor Swift's third album continues to nurture the qualities that brought her chart-topping success — a melodic pop sound kissed by just enough rustic instrumentation to be called country, and an ability to tap into emotions that resonate with fans who are, like Swift herself, taking their first steps into adulthood. Musically, Speak Now doesn't offer many surprises, just measured stylistic advances (the rocking "Better than Revenge" being the one fairly bold move). It's easy to connect the dots from new songs like "Mine" and "Innocent" right back to effortlessly pop-rock hits "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me," and before long it does start to feel awfully familiar. But judging by first-week sales, 1 million Taylor Swift fans surely can't be wrong. — Alan Sculley

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7 Walkers

7 Walkers

Response Records

Buy if you like: Dr. John, Grateful Dead

While its most famous member is Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, 7 Walkers is primarily driven by the songwriting collaboration between singer/guitarist/producer Papa Mali and Dead lyricist Robert Hunter (plus essential contributions by keyboard/harmonica/trombone player Matt Hubbard). Mali definitely lets his Louisiana roots show through on tracks like "Evangeline," "Louisiana Rain" "and "New Orleans Crawl." The song "Chingo," featuring legendary Meters bassist George Porter Jr., can best be termed "electro-swamp." And "(For the Love of) Mr. Okra" boasts cool Herbie Hancock overtones. There's also a guest appearance by Willie Nelson on "King Cotton Blues," which unfortunately slides over the top, production-wise — a fault repeated elsewhere on the album. Still, the lyrics are often intriguing, the musicianship is excellent, and the soulful title tune closes the album on a serious high note. — Lynne Margolis

  • The Black Angels, Taylor Swift, 7 Walkers

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