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Centro-Matic

Candidate Waltz

Undertow Music Collective

Buy if you like: Okkervil River, Monsters of Folk

Though their melodic sensibilities and studio smarts conjure up echoes of the Beatles, Centro-matic is anything but derivative. In fact, the Texas outfit led by Will Johnson (who's also in Monsters of Folk) is so unlike any other band that comparisons prove downright elusive. Candidate Waltz is full of sweet, beautifully blended pop harmonies — sometimes offset by fuzzed-out, crunching guitars, sometimes accompanied by delicate piano chords. There's drama in tunes like "All the Talkers," which brilliantly describes — from the audience's viewpoint — how an unknown band can blow away a crowd. "Shadow, Follow Me," with its hushed, gentle vocals, is also among the more linear songs. But Johnson's preference here is for clever abstract wordplay ("Only in My Double Mind," "Estimate x 3"), an approach that allows listeners to extrapolate their own meanings and imagery as they revel in this quartet's estimable sonic achievements. — Lynne Margolis

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Neil Young & The International Harvesters

A Treasure

Reprise

Buy if you like: Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris

Neil Young has toured in more configurations and settings than can easily be counted, from a solo acoustic show to rock with Crazy Horse, from his big band the Blue Notes to a tour with classic combo Booker T. and the MGs. A Treasure documents Young's fleeting on-the-road period with his mid-1980s country group, the International Harvesters, cherry-picking a dozen performances with full-on country arrangements by legendary sidemen like steel player Ben Keith and keyboardist Spooner Oldham. Fiddle-fueled takes on "Are You Ready for the Country" and "Get Back to the Country" will feel familiar to most Young fans, while other tracks (five of them previously unreleased) are more obscure, including the swinging "It Might Have Been," the humorous "Let Your Fingers Do the Walking" and the lovely ballad "Flying on the Ground is Wrong." A quarter-century on, these are treasures still worth discovering. — Alan Sculley

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Joe Ely

Satisfied at Last

Rack 'Em Records

Buy if you like: The Flatlanders, Billy Joe Shaver

When age forces us to look back instead of forward, some suffer the regret of unfulfilled dreams. But Joe Ely, who's accumulated enough experiences to fill three lifetimes, conveys his uplifting attitude right in Satisfied at Last's title. Fortunately, satisfaction hasn't mellowed him one bit — at least, not musically. Aided by some of Austin's finest players, he still delivers dramatic tales (fellow Flatlander Butch Hancock's "Leo and Leona"); simple, yet eloquent reflections on the past ("Not That Much Has Changed"); and bravado-filled stare-downs with mortality ("You Can Bet I'm Gone," in which he instructs, "When I die, don't toll no bells / Just put my ashes in some shotgun shells / Get all my friends some windy day / To say goodbye, watch me blow away"). Eddy and Bill Joe Shaver's "I'm Gonna Live Forever" clutches your heart, with Eddy's premature death and unfulfilled potential suggesting satisfaction is never absolute. — Lynne Margolis

  • Centro-Matic, Neil Young & The International Harvesters, Joe Ely

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