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Alabama Shakes

Boys & Girls

ATO

Buy if you like: The Black Keys, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

Four-piece soul/rock outfit Alabama Shakes has been the buzz band of 2012, months before its debut album's release. The good news is that Boys & Girls lives up to the hype, thanks largely to the powerhouse vocals of Brittany Howard. The album opens with the surging "Hold On," followed by the soaring ballad "I Found You" and the shaking "Hang Loose." With her gorgeous soul voice, Howard can sing and shout with the best, while the Shakes' guitar-rock base brings a rougher, rawer and rockier sound than the classic '60s and '70s soul. On the wrenching "You Ain't Alone," Howard sounds like a female Otis Redding, while the organ-drenched "Heartbreaker" combines breathy vulnerability with gravelly shouts. Here's one instance where you'll definitely want to believe the hype. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Lee Ranaldo

Between the Times and the Tides

Matador

Buy if you like: Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo

Guitarist Lee Ranaldo has come up with a fine album that's likely to provide some solace to Sonic Youth fans left in the lurch by the split of husband-and-wife team Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon. Between the Times and the Tides is filled with SY-style alternately tuned guitar workouts. But there are plenty of acoustic guitars along the way, with Wilco's Nels Cline pitching in some shimmering steel as well. The sound isn't as droney as Sonic Youth's, but the sturdy classic pop/rock numbers hold up just fine. There's no shortage of melody, delivered with the kind of raw skillfulness Ranaldo has brought to Sonic Youth albums for years. Written before the Moore/Gordon split, Between the Times isn't a documentation of a band falling apart. Rather it's a superb record from a musician whose contributions to the band's sound have often been overlooked. This one's all his, and it's all good. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Joe King Carrasco and the Crowns

Que Wow

self-released

Buy if you like: Texas Tornados; Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs

Que Wow is Tex-Mex rock 'n roll at its finest, delivered by the reunited Joe King Carrasco and the Crowns. It's a record that sounds like the band never broke up, even though it's been 31 years since the last recording. Kicking off with the boisterous, Farfisa-filled "Drug Thru the Mud," the group romps through party songs like "Havin' a Ball," pays tribute to the Puerto Vallarta club where Carrasco leads the house band with "Nacho Daddy," and tosses in lots of references to frijoles and tamales as it bounces through Caribbean-influenced tunes and, of course, hopped-up polkas. Que Wow isn't as over-the-top wild as the Crowns' early '80s records. But it's a more musically accomplished effort that demonstrates what a good guitarist Carrasco has become over the years. You can get a copy of Que Wow at joeking.com. Ay yi yi. — L. Kent Wolgamott

  • Alabama Shakes, Lee Ranaldo, Joe King Carrasco and the Crowns

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