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MoZella

The Brian Holland Sessions

Beverly Martel Music

File next to: Supremes, Temptations

It's ironic that, for her first album of new material since leaving Motown, MoZella has collaborated with Brian Holland of the famous Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team, who turned out many of that label's famous hits. The Brian Holland Sessions has vintage Motown written all over it. That means you get songs like "Hold On" and "Another You," whose bouncy pop melodies and tasteful strings evoke immediate — and sweet — memories of the Supremes; smooth ballads like "Exception" with a bit of snappy Smokey Robinson & the Miracles swing; and "Baby Save Me," which echoes the danceable pop of early Jackson 5. In fact, MoZella's high-pitched voice is not far afield from the singing of a young Michael Jackson. Combining classic Motown instrumentation with crisp modern production, the album proves Holland hasn't lost his songwriting touch and MoZella understands what the original Motown sound was all about. — Alan Sculley

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Sam Phillips

Martinis & Bikinis

Omnivore Recordings

File next to: The Posies, Conor Oberst

Sam Phillips' Martinis & Bikinis was one of the best albums of 1994 — a collection of achingly heartfelt pop songs from the former Christian rock singer and her then-husband, T Bone Burnett, who produced and played nearly all the guitars. Critically acclaimed and Grammy-nominated, the album contains some classic songs, like "I Need Love," while the production hints at the blend that Burnett would later bring to records done by artists like Elvis Costello, Los Lobos and Gillian Welch, as well as soundtracks of high-profile movies such as O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Crazy Heart. The reissue of Martinis & Bikinis contains the original album plus four bonus tracks, including an illuminating string quartet version of "I Need Love" and a 2012 take on "Strawberry Road." Those new versions add to what was already a fine recording, one that has, without question, stood the test of time. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Air Traffic Controller

Nordo

Sugarpop Records

File next to: Bleu, They Might Be Giants

Somewhere between the catchy and quirky pop of They Might Be Giants and the stately and, at times, baroque folk-pop of the Decemberists, lies the music of Air Traffic Controller (whose frontman Dave Munro was actually a U.S. Navy air traffic controller before going into music). There's also a touch of the Barenaked Ladies on songs like "If You Build It" and "Hurry Hurry," which serves as a contrast to the more deliberately paced "You Know Me," which mixes acoustic pop with deep strains of bass, swirling synthesizer and big vocals to create an intriguing mix of traditional and modern tones. There's even a bit of Americana on the galloping "Pick Me Up," and some textured pop psychedlia on "Any Way." Nordo was produced by Bleu, an artist who has shown a special talent for epic, highly melodic pop, one that well serves this buoyant, finely crafted pop-rock collection. — Alan Sculley

  • MoZella, Sam Phillips, and Air Traffic Controller

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