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click to enlarge Live From Alabama

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Live From Alabama

Lightning Rod Records

File next to: Drive-By Truckers, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals

This album was cut by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at August shows in Birmingham and Huntsville, Ala. It's an unvarnished 72 minutes by Isbell and his fine band, opening with the twang and backbeat of "Tour of Duty," one of the frontman's songs about veterans returning home, and ending with a cover of Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane." In between are a few of his old Drive-By Truckers songs, "Decoration Day" and the touching "Danko/Manuel," a Muscle Shoals soul cover of "Heart on a String," and the best of Isbell's solo material — "In a Razor Town," the award-winning "Alabama Pines," and recounting his dad's advice in the countrified "Cigarettes and Wine." Isbell remains one of our great Americana songwriters and performers, and Live From Alabama captures him and the 400 Unit in peak form. — L. Kent Wolgamott

click to enlarge Standing Ovation

Susan Boyle

Standing Ovation

Syco Music

File next to: Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow

The subtitle of the fourth album from the Britain's Got Talent phenomenon is, appropriately, The Greatest Songs From the Stage, since the disc is presented like a concert, with an encore of "This Is the Moment." That one's a duet with Donny Osmond, who also joins Boyle on "All I Ask of You." Michael Crawford turns up on "The Music of the Night." The rest is all Boyle, doing stage material like "Over the Rainbow," "Send In the Clowns" and "You'll Never Walk Alone." The arrangements vary slightly from the norm, but her voice is surrounded by strings and piano and each song soars toward dramatic crescendos. Those are perfect settings for Boyle, who puts her heart and talent into familiar numbers like "The Winner Takes It All," making for a very satisfying, if never surprising listen. — L. Kent Wolgamott

click to enlarge Three Chords Good

Graham Parker & the Rumour

Three Chords Good

Primary Wave

File next to: Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson

I believe I just saw hell freeze over and flying pigs accompanying Graham Parker's unlikely reunion with his original backing band. Parker has made excellent albums since splitting with the Rumour in 1980, but that band always injected extra sting into the rockers and added soulful swing to others. They don't try to re-create the '70s glory days, instead reflecting Parker's shift toward a more textured, relaxed sound. "Coathangers," the one true rocker, is a winner, and the other songwriting is inspired, while the Rumour provides excellent backing no matter the stylistic setting. They include first-rate ballads ("Long Emotional Ride," "Stop Cryin' About the Rain"), frisky folkish rock tunes ("She Rocks Me," "A Lie Gets Halfway 'Round the World"), and lilting reggae ("Snake Oil Capital of the World"). Let's hope this reunion carries on. — Alan Sculley

  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Susan Boyle, Graham Parker & the Rumour

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