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Mumford & Sons

Babel

Glass Note

File next to: The Lumineers, The Avett Brothers

Mumford & Sons is changing the face of modern rock like few have done before, and with Babel the look of that face is becoming more surprising. "I Will Wait" continues the band's penchant for mixing raucous bluegrass stylings with rousing choruses to great effect, and "Lovers' Eyes" is the sort of epic love song you might expect to hear in a pub in the Scottish Highlands. "Lover of the Light" and "Whispers in the Dark" address man's struggle to remain upright in the face of trials and tribulations, and on "Hopeless Wanderer" changes in the song's time signature mix with driving rhythms (and a lively banjo solo) to underscore the track's focus on searching for your life's purpose. No thundering drums, no crunchy guitar riffs, or significant angst, or songs about faith in God. Babel is modern rock in 2012, and it is good. — Brian Palmer

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John Hiatt

Mystic Pinball

New West

File next to: Buddy Miller, Ry Cooder

John Hiatt is unquestionably one of the planet's most brilliant tunesmiths. So it's frustrating to hear albums that alternate seemingly tossed-off songs with works of sheer genius. You start to wonder if he should slow down a bit. Maybe rework a few tunes. But his greatness overshadows the more rote-sounding tracks every time, and on this album, the gutbucket blues-rock of "We're Alright Now," the scarily confessional (and classically Hiatt-sounding) "It All Comes Back Someday," the haunting heartbreak of "I Just Don't Know What to Say" and sad charm of "I Know How to Lose You" make you forgive the weaker spots. "No Wicked Grin" and "Blues Can't Even Find Me" reach even higher, earning status as the latest in a long line of sparkling gems. Here's hoping we'll hear Hiatt's keening twang delivering these new classics live for years to come. — Lynne Margolis

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Wanda Jackson

Unfinished Business

Sugar Hill Records

File next to: Rosie Flores, Loretta Lynn

Rockabilly mama Wanda Jackson is enjoying a late-career rejuvenation, thanks to fans like Jack White and Justin Townes Earle, who makes his producing bow here. Sure, these songs are (or sound like) standards, but it's not adventurousness we're seeking, just plain old fun. Jackson's just the gal for that, as evidenced by her shimmying in those fringe jackets and cracking feisty jokes onstage. But she knows how to croon her way through ballads such as "Am I Even a Memory?" and "California Stars" with considerable dexterity. Her cover of the Stones' "It's All Over Now" may be a little tepid, but "Pushover" is right out of girl-group heaven, with a crew of backing vocalists including Amanda Shires and some fine riffs by guitar ace Kenny Vaughan. The track reminds us that Jackson has never been a pushover — and never will be. — Lynne Margolis

  • Mumford & Sons, John Hiatt, Wanda Jackson

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