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Sara Watkins

Sun Midnight Sun

Nonesuch

File next to: Sarah Jarosz, Chris Thile

Nickel Creek veteran Sara Watkins' second solo album is a sweetly intoxicating blend of vocal, instrumental and songwriting talent that shows why she's a favorite of A Prairie Home Companion's Garrison Keillor. Singing with a combination of delicacy and strong assurance, while playing fiddle and other stringed instruments with grace and spirit, Watkins skips far beyond her bluegrass roots into a genre of her own. Her fiddle lends the Everly Brothers' cover a galloping Western tempo, with guest vocalist Fiona Apple providing added spirit. From Dan Wilson's "When It Pleases You" to Willie Nelson's "I'm a Memory" to Watkins' own compositions and co-writes with her brother Sean and producer Blake Mills, Watkins intrigues with unexpected instrumentation, odd time signatures and lyrics that keep you wondering what might come next. It all adds up to a brilliant album from a consummate artist. — Lynne Margolis

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Garbage

Not Your Kind of People

Stunvolume

File next to: Blondie, PJ Harvey

Garbage's first album since 2005's Bleed Like Me is a biting, snarly return to form for the '90s hit alt-rock outfit. Not Your Kind of People kicks off with its best song, "Automatic Systematic Habit," which finds Shirley Manson at her snippiest, while the band's highly electrified signature combo of guitars, synthesizers and drums has never been more propulsive. The opening track sets the stage for an angry, vengeful record, a fact that song titles like "I Hate Love" and "Battle in Me" basically give away. Throughout the album, Manson is at the peak of her form, combining her characteristic combination of angst and cool, while producer Butch Vig crafts a dense, hard-hitting mix that, by album's end, is nearly exhausting. While Garbage is unlikely to fully recapture its mid-1990's success, the self-released Not Your Kind of People holds its own as a solid comeback. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Tenacious D

Rize of the Fenix

Columbia

File next to: Spinal Tap, Steel Panther

Tenacious D, the mock rock outfit made up of Jack Black and Kyle Gass, tries to rebound from the bomb that was 2006's The Pick of Destiny. The opening title track finds the duo acknowledging the failure of their critically reviled movie project, while vowing to rise again. No such luck. There are a few good songs — "The Ballad of Hollywood Jack and the Rage Kage" takes on Black's stardom vs. Gass's relative obscurity; "Roadie" is an almost heartfelt tribute to rock crew guys; and "39" is a hilarious, raunchy takeoff on Neil Diamond, with Black singing lustfully about an older woman. But there are too many stupid between-song skits and too many weak novelty songs for this to be anything more than a record for hardcore fans. Rize of the Fenix will be on the charts for a brief moment, but soon it will fade from view. — L. Kent Wolgamott

  • Sara Watkins, Garbage, Tenacious D

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