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Cody Canada & the Departed

This Is Indian Land

Underground Sound

Buy if you like: Kevin Welch, Leon Russell

Cody Canada's former band, Cross Canadian Ragweed, was seen as part of the red-dirt genre some call "fratboy country" — music that has some twang, but also rocks enough to keep the beer-bongers entertained. With the Departed, he's moved way beyond that sometimes-pejorative designation. This 15-song collection of covers done in homage to his Oklahoma heroes exhibits a whole other side of Canada's talent. His vocals are superb throughout, and his versatility shines through in this survey of bluesy, sometimes Southern-inflected country rock (Leon Russell's "Home Sweet Oklahoma"), jazz/folk (JJ Cale's "If You're Ever in Oklahoma") and even occasional forays into Muscle Shoals-reminiscent funk ("Any Other Way"). Kevin Welch's "Kickin' Back in Amsterdam" and its bluesy follow-up, "Water Your Own Yard," are tasty morsels that would play well in any state. There's definitely still some heavy rockin' happening, but the shifting moods show Canada can point in any direction he wants. — Lynne Margolis

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Tim Easton and the Freelan Barons

Beat the Band

Campfire Propaganda

Buy if you like: Wilco, Buffalo Springfield

Although he's had six previous solo albums, Tim Easton only really came into his own on 2006's Ammunition and 2009's Porcupine. Beat the Band is one of two new albums from Easton (the other, Since 1966: Vol. 1, is an acoustic affair). And as the title suggests, it's a full-band effort, one that demonstrates Easton's continuing growth as a songwriter and bandleader. The album was recorded in just five days, with Easton's Freelan Barons providing supple backing to songs that straddle the realms of alternative country, pop and roots rock. Some of the best moments come with uptempo tunes like "Daily Life," "Maid of the Mist" and the blues-accented "Did Your Mother Teach You That." But Easton also offers up a few solid ballads, including the title song (with its lonely late-night feel) and "Nobody Plays Piano in Athens, GA" (which isn't true). Strong from start to finish, Beat the Band continues to push Easton toward the top ranks of roots/Americana artists. — Alan Sculley

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R.E.M.

Lifes Rich Pageant

EMI/Capitol/I.R.S.

Buy if you like: Big Star, Patti Smith

In 1986, no one was doing anything like R.E.M.'s thoughtful, melodic compositions —pretty, contemplative songs (like "Cuyahoga") that could also be gorgeously unsettling. Twenty-five years later, the songcraft displayed here still sounds transcendent — and completely original. With Lifes Rich Pageant, Michael Stipe's and Mike Mills' harmonies reached new levels of delicate beauty (as Stipe's pronunciation finally became understandable), and the band's instrumentation reached a new clarity that's even more enhanced with this anniversary remastering. It's impossible to listen to Mills' high tenor on "Superman" and not sing along, just as it's impossible to listen to the finest song in R.E.M.'s entire canon, "Fall on Me" (which even Stipe has admitted is his favorite), and not wonder why it wasn't the group's first mega-hit. This was the sound of a band completely ready for a wider audience, which it didn't reach until their next album. Better late than never. — Lynne Margolis

  • Cody Canada & the Departed, Tim Easton and the Freelan Barons, R.E.M.

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