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Neil Young

Psychedelic Pill

Reprise

File next to: Buffalo Springfield, Sonic Youth

Though Neil Young is often described as a "legacy" artist or a "classic rock" act, few with those tags are making new music at all, much less taking chances or revitalizing tried-and-true styles. Fewer still sound as dynamic today as they did starting out. Young, however, has never phoned it in, even when taking seemingly inscrutable detours. He's shared some of his finest moments of ragged glory with Crazy Horse, who saddled up again for this double CD. Even the 27-minute-plus "Driftin' Back" — which finds a delicate, contemplative mode before drifting into electric meandering — isn't aimless or dull. The soothing, almost hymnal "For the Love of Man" is a great lead-in to the harmony-laden epic "Walk Like a Giant." Then factor in autobiographical tunes "Born in Ontario" and "Twisted Road," and you're reminded once again why Young remains a giant in the pantheon of rock gods. — Lynne Margolis

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Amy Gore & Her Valentines

In Love

Space Lion

File next to: Cheap Trick, Go-Go's

Amy Gore, who fronted the Gore Gore Girls, has assembled a Detroit rock supergroup as her Valentines. The lineup includes guitarist Jackson Smith — the son of Patti and the MC5's Fred "Sonic" Smith — as well as bassist Leann Banks from the Von Bondies, still well known for their rivalry with the White Stripes. The album opens with car tunes — the bouncy swing of "Drivin' Around," the insistent buzz of "Cadillac," and a power-pop ballad called "Just a Dream" in which Gore proclaims "he's the car / I'm the driver." They crank up the killer chorus on "Static," which boasts the biggest hook on a record full of them, swagger through the '60s-drenched "You Won't Lead Me On," slow things down for the ballad "Remember Me," and go out rocking with "Diana" and "Send Me a Postcard." Gore injects pop sugar into the Detroit garage grit, and it pays off with smart, catchy rock 'n roll. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson

Wreck & Ruin

Sugar Hill

File next to: Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris & Gram Parsons

The latest from the wife-and-husband team of Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, Wreck & Ruin is a fine example of country music that manages to sound old as the hills in the best way possible. But it's full of new banjo- and fiddle-driven songs that serve as the perfect showcase for the couple's gorgeous harmonies. The two sing romantically about "The Quiet Life" at home in Australia, rave on about being "Sick as a Dog," tell stories of "Adam and Eve," and contemplate life after death in "Up or Down." Produced with Kasey's brother Nash, the record sounds superb — acoustic country done near perfectly with swing, spark and heart. Chambers has long been an alt-country, must-hear artist and she's found a perfect partner in Nicholson. Together they've made their best record yet. It deserves to be one of the top country records of 2012. — L. Kent Wolgamott

  • Neil Young, Amy Gore & Her Valentines, Wreck & Ruin

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