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Bruce Springsteen

Wrecking Ball

Columbia Records

Buy if you like: John Mellencamp, Woody Guthrie

Fans desiring a new Springsteen/E Street Band album in the tradition of Born in the U.S.A. or even Magic may be disappointed by Wrecking Ball. E Street-ers only make occasional appearances, and just one song, the stirring "We Take Care of Our Own," sounds like one of the classic anthems as Springsteen takes other directions. The folk and Irish influences of 2006's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions are mixed into more modern rock styles on songs like "Shackled and Drawn." "Easy Money" slips synthetic rhythms into an otherwise rootsy rocker, while the gospel-influenced "Rocky Ground" includes spoken-word vocals. Not all the songs take wing, but there are gems including the twangy "You've Got It." This album may not be built for commercial success, but it still sounds adventurous and vital. — Alan Sculley

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Todd Snider

Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables

Aimless Records/Thirty Tigers

Buy if you like: Robert Earl Keen, John Prine

As Todd Snider gets older and angrier, his cynical, sarcastic wit gains more power, especially when he economizes on winding stories in favor of more pointed barbs. With fiddler/vocalist Amanda Shires and co-producer Eric McConnell, he gives these songs inventive, nuanced arrangements that seem unrehearsed, but gain more dynamism with imperfection. Oh, the humor's still there — witness "Precious Little Miracles" ("Kids, they drive around looking for people to kill / Not even for money, but just for the thrill"). But so is the frustration. "In the Beginning" is about religious manipulation; "New York Banker" checks in on the haves and have-nots. In "Big Finish," he sings, "It ain't the despair that gets you / It's the hope." But then there's "Brenda," a Steve Forbert-sounding ode to a couple named Jagger and Richards. Snider manages to make it all sound effortless while staying right on target. — Lynne Margolis

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Dead Fingers

Dead Fingers

Big Legal Mess Records

Buy if you like: Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, the Civil Wars

Dead Fingers is married couple Taylor Hollingsworth and Kate Taylor. He plays guitar with Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band. She tours with her sister Maria Taylor of Azure Ray. They've impressively entered the duo territory occupied by She & Him and the Civil Wars with this debut. While "Another Planet" addresses the "missing you" aspect of two musicians on the road with different bands, other tracks are considerably less autobiographical. They're also too sharp to get stuck with just one sound; country-folk gives way to Stones-ish Southern rock 'n roll ("Against the River") and slide guitar-driven blues ("Lost in Mississippi"). On "Ring Around Saturn" they sound a lot like John Prine and Iris DeMent, which is a better point of comparison than the contemporary duos. Or, pull the Johnny and June card. That works, too. — L. Kent Wolgamott

  • Bruce Springsteen, Todd Snider, Dead Fingers

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