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Norah Jones

Little Broken Hearts

Blue Note

File next to: Jane Monheit, Diana Krall

If nothing else, Norah Jones won't be the queen of Starbucks after Little Broken Hearts. There's nothing on the record in the pop-jazz vein that made her rich and landed her an audience decades older than herself. Instead, she's teamed up with Danger Mouse to create a captivating set of indie pop tunes that showcase her fine voice while shaking things up enough that the "boring" label that has plagued her no longer fits. On "Miriam," the most stunning tune, she turns murderous toward the "other woman" and elsewhere sings of escape and renewal rather than just mourning lost love. Danger Mouse gives the music plenty of contemporary twists and turns, zipping from distant pop on "She's 22" to a rustic move on "Travelin' On" to the near-jaunty single "Happy Pills." Things are a little too mid-tempo samey for Little Broken Hearts to be great, but it's the best thing Jones has done in years, maybe ever. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Spiritualized

Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Fat Possum

File next to: Spacemen 3, My Bloody Valentine

Spiritualized's new album is a testament to leader Jason Pierce's uncanny ability to create consistently excellent records over the course of his British band's 22–year history. The album opens with "Hey Jane," an epic-length satirical counterpart to the Beatles' "Hey Jude" with an unexpectedly fatal conclusion — or maybe it's really just Pierce wondering why Jane isn't dead after nine minutes of him worshiping and brooding over her. While the album's first half candidly conveys the artist's experiences of lost love, the second is more in line with Pierce's gospel-soul ballad approach. ("Jesus won't you be my radio / Broadcast directions and tell me where I got to go.") It would be easy to criticize Sweet Heart Sweet Light for being almost a carbon copy of Pierce's previous work, but that would overlook just how brilliantly stylized and well-executed the album is. And these days, those qualities are hard to come by. — Jordannah Elizabeth

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John Fullbright

From the Ground Up

Blue Dirt Records

File next to: Townes Van Zandt, Jimmy Webb

There was a time when every new singer-songwriter who moved us was heralded as a "new Dylan." John Fullbright has a similar weight to shoulder; sharing an Okemah, Okla., birthplace with Woody Guthrie, people assume a natural kinship. Yet it's Townes Van Zandt who first inspired this troubadour, whose expressive voice sometimes conveys the world-weary resignation of a much older man — one who's arrived at each truth he tells through hard questioning and painful experience. "Gawd Above" carries a cynical bite worthy of James McMurtry (and vocals to match). "Jericho" soars on a melodic chorus with harmonies by pal Jess Klein. In "Fat Man," he rails against manipulative powermongers with a delivery straight out of the Brecht-Weill songbook. With masterful lyrics and melodies that stick, Fullbright has earned the right to wear at least one label: great new talent. — Lynne Margolis

  • Norah Jones, Spiritualized, John Fullbright

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