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The Jolly Boys

Great Expectation

GeeJam Recordings

Buy if you like: Buena Vista Social Club, the Specials

The concept alone would've been brilliant, even if the results had sucked: Jamaican band going since 1955 takes on Amy Winehouse's "Rehab," New Order's "Blue Monday" and other quirky hits from the past five decades. But Great Expectation doesn't suck, as the still-jovial Jolly Boys provide the talent and verve to turn novelty into revelation. If the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon felt too sanctimonious at times, there's no risk of that here, as digital beats slip into an enticing mix of banjo, acoustic guitar, rhumba box and, best of all, Albert Minott's soulfully resonant Burning Spear-meets-Prince Buster vocals. In nearly every case, the Jolly Boys match or improve upon the originals. And when Minott sings, "You're gonna reap just what you sow," at the end of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day," it doesn't sound like such a bad thing after all. — Bill Forman

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Emmylou Harris

Hard Bargain

Nonesuch

Buy if you like: Buddy Miller, Gram Parsons

With Hard Bargain, Emmylou Harris has crafted a spacious sound, using just two other musicians. At 63, her voice retains its striking clarity, even as it has deepened and warmed. The best song is the record's lead track, "The Road," Harris' touching autobiographical account of her days with Gram Parsons and his influence on her life and career. It's followed by 10 more tunes, eight penned by Harris, which make up a satisfying, if less than fully captivating, record. She sings of being a "Lonely Girl," which works fine. She gets topical, singing of Crescent City on the so-so "New Orleans," while "My Name Is Emmett Till" revisits the civil rights-era murder previously chronicled by Bob Dylan. Even when things don't come together, as on "Big Black Dog," the music is still plenty pleasant. And when everything works, Harris is touchingly brilliant. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Bowling for Soup

Fishin' for Woos

Brando Records

Buy if you like: Cheap Trick, New Found Glory

Veteran Texas punk-poppers Bowling for Soup create a hook-filled, oft-hilarious album that's an instant candidate for Record of the Summer. Veering from punk to Cheap Trick-style power pop, the group has a classic weekend escape song with "S-S-S-Saturday." "Friends Chicks Guitars" continues that theme, but leaves out the beer. There are power ballads, like "What About Us," and "Smiley Face (It's All Good)," in which BFS proposes a timeless solution to romantic dilemmas: "Why don't we just get naked?" Other highlights on Fishin' for Woos include "Here's Your Freakin' Song," a biting kiss-off to a woman who'd been asking for a song about her; the kinda creepy "Dear Megan Fox," a missive from an obsessed fan who's "just a click away"; and "Evil All Over the World," a hard-charging, tongue-in-cheek take on — you guessed it — girls. Dare you not to laugh. — L. Kent Wolgamott

  • The Jolly Boys, Emmylou Harris, Bowling for Soup

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