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Blitzen Trapper

American Goldwing

Sub Pop

Buy if you like: Neil Young, Wilco

Early Blitzen Trapper albums like Field Rexx and Wild Mountain Nation showed a distinctive sound, along with a charmingly ragged edge suggesting the group was still mastering its instruments. The rough edges are less pronounced and songwriting is stronger, yet the group hasn't lost any of the unique sound that made it feel like a Appalachian country outfit gifted with a graceful Beatles-esque melodicism. American Goldwing brims with punchy pop tunes like "Fletcher," "Might Find It Cheap" and the title track, as well as more country-inclined ballads like "Love the Way You Walk Away" and"My Home Town." There are also a few new wrinkles, like the driving rock of "Your Crying Eyes" and the lovely piano-laced ballad "Girl in a Coat." There's little that's ramshackle here, just a fine album from a band that's evolved into one of the best on the Americana scene. — Alan Sculley

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Reckless Kelly

Good Luck & True Love

No Big Deal Records

Buy if you like: Micky & the Motorcars, the Eagles

With this debut on its No Big Deal Records, the pun- and fun-lovin' Reckless Kelly takes a more sober tack. It's as if the band realized good luck and true love are not easy to obtain — or, for that matter, hang onto. Lead singer-songwriter Willy Braun's offerings carry the sadness of someone who's lost some illusions, as well as people he loved. "Weatherbeaten Soul" and "I Stayed Up All Night Again" reveal serious heartbreak, and even "I Never Liked St. Valentine" (co-written with Todd Snider) and the title tune convey unlucky-in-love skepticism. In sharing those emotions, Braun's delivering some of his strongest work. But the rocking closer "Hit the Ground Runnin'" is vintage Reckless Kelly — an ode to their truest love: the road they can't resist. Pick up the CD version for its ultra-cool artwork, including a spinning "hand of fortune." — Lynne Margolis

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The Kooks

Junk of the Heart

Astralwerks

Buy if you like: The Beach Boys, the Kinks

The Kooks caused a major buzz with their 2006 debut album, Inside In/Inside Out. A huge hit in their native UK, it was released in the states to major fanfare but minor sales. And while the follow-up Konk failed to create much of a stir, the new Junk of the Heart sounds poised for a comeback. The album smooths the edges on the group's fairly boisterous sound, creating a thoroughly modern summery pop feel. The keyboards are more prominent this time out on tracks like "Junk of the Heart (Happy)," "Mr. Nice Guy" and "Taking Pictures of You," while pop-rock gems like "Eskimo Kiss" and "Is It Me" stick to their more traditional guitar-driven sound. Add them all up and Junk of the Heart offers enough strong songwriting and musical maturity to suggest that this one-time buzz band may well be in it for the long haul. — Alan Sculley

  • Blitzen Trapper, Reckless Kelly, The Kooks

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