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The Black Keys

El Camino

Nonesuch

Buy if you like: The White Stripes, Led Zeppelin

El Camino is the Black Keys' catchiest album yet, adding pop shading to the duo's blues. Lush female backing vocals and xylophone are abundant, starting with the opener "Lonely Boy." There are also hooks galore and the most memorable melodies that singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have created. The buzzing boogie of "Gold on the Ceiling" turns the blues glam, à la Gary Glitter, while the dark, echoing, guitar workout "Money Maker" and the grinding "Run Right Back" are pure rock that could just as easily come from the '70s. Props are also due to co-writer/producer Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton, who knows his way around a hook. He's long worked with Auerbach and Carney and that combination repeatedly pays off, making this the richest, most listenable of the Black Keys seven albums. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Will Sexton

Move the Balance

willsexton.com

Buy if you like: The Beatles, Buddy Holly

Though less renowned than his brother, Bob Dylan sideman Charlie Sexton, Will too is a formidable guitarist and singer-songwriter. Unfortunately, he's struggled for recognition — not for lack of talent, but setbacks like a stroke just before Move the Balance was originally released in 2010. Unable to remember his songs, he couldn't promote the album. But his remarkable recovery (he's done late-night TV in Sahara Smith's band) prompted this deserving collection's reissue. With a melodic sense driven by the Beatles and influenced by everything from Tex-Mex to Buddy Holly (most notably on the hip-twisting rocker "For Always"), Sexton reels off one fine tune after another, aided by contributions from Mike Thompson (piano), Bukka Allen (B3, accordion) and other Austin greats. There's even a co-write with Steve Earle and Charlie: "Amnesia Lights." Nice to have him back. — Lynne Margolis

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Various Artists

This Warm December — A Brushfire Holiday Vol. 2

Brushfire

Buy if you like: Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz

For those who may not know, Brushfire is the label owned by Jack Johnson, and this album is the second collection of holiday tunes by the singer-songwriter and his roster of musical friends. But unlike so many other holiday albums, most of this one is made up of original tunes. Zach Gill starts things off on a mirthful note with "Party Hard," a song about over-indulging during the holiday season. Then there's Johnson's "In the Morning," which is about the excitement of Christmas morning sung knowingly from the perspective of a happy parent, while ALO's "Let It Ride" is a bluesy acoustic holiday lament. Most of the songs fit into the laid-back, pop-folk vein of Johnson's own music, which makes this collection a warm, decidedly relaxed addition to this season's flurry of holiday releases. — Alan Sculley

  • The Black Keys, Will Sexton, Various Artists

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