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Hayes Carll

KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories)

Lost Highway

Buy if you like: Robert Earl Keen, Ray Wylie Hubbard

Hayes Carll has pulled off the incredible feat of mixing humor and heartbreak into a perfect yin-yang balance. Half of these cuts are rollicking honky-tonkers like "Stomp and Holler" and "The Lovin' Cup," or twangers like "Hard Out Here" and the hilarious opposites-attract duet, "Another Like You," featuring Carll and Carrie Ann Hearst trading lines like, "Well, you're probably a Democrat" and "What the hell is wrong with that?" The title tune, military-speak for Kiss My Ass Guys, You're On Your Own, is a rockin' "Subterranean Homesick Blues"-styled song with anti-war sentiments. But the album also intersperses songs where there's a catch in Carll's voice that can't be faked and the words "worthy of Hank Williams" can't be avoided. "Chances Are," the mournful "Bye Bye Baby" and the tragicomic "Grateful for Christmas" might even draw tears. But this note-perfect album should also draw many, many accolades. It's a career-maker. — Lynne Margolis

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Kurt Elling

The Gate

Concord Records

Buy if you like: Jimmy Scott, Thelonious Monk

There might not be a more creative jazz singer alive right now than Kurt Elling, who possesses a stellar voice and a fearlessness when it comes to what he does with it. A Chicago native whose rich baritone and four-octave range got him signed to Blue Note in 1995, Elling and his quintet bring The Gate's nine songs eerily alive. Producer Don Was, best known for his work with Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones, brings a fresh approach that works unexpectedly well. Whether it's Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out" or Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady," the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" or Herbie Hancock's "Come Running to Me," even King Crimson's "Matte Kudasai," Elling twists our hearts into pretzels, warms them considerably and adds salt where needed. By the time he's finished, on the nine-minute original "Nighttown, Lady Bright," it feels like a brilliant journey has come to an end. So play it again. — Bill Bentley

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Pete Anderson

Even Things Up

Little Dog Records/Vizztone

Buy if you like: Robert Cray, Dwight Yoakam

Telecaster master Pete Anderson goes back to the blues he heard growing up in Detroit on this solid album that shows he could have gone the R&B route. Singing about half the songs in an effective rasp and blending in some very soulful instrumentals, Anderson, best known for his work with Dwight Yoakam, wrote all the songs on the record. The blues here are more the Robert Cray variety than Chicago style, but they really work, especially when he cuts loose on guitar, either augmenting a lyric or taking center stage on a killer instrumental like the driving "Wes' Side Blues." "Even Things Up" has a "deluxe edition" that features four bonus tracks. I highly recommend it to hear Bekka Bramlett wail through "Still in Love," plus the two live cuts that include "Feels Like Mississippi," a true story about getting chased down the highway by a tornado. — L. Kent Wolgamott

  • Hayes Carll, Kurt Elling, Pete Anderson

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