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click to enlarge Rachael Yamagata "Heavyweight EP"

Rachael Yamagata

Heavyweight EP

Frankenfish Records

File next to: Sara Bareilles, Brandi Carlile

Indie singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata has released eight albums and EPs in less than a decade. She's also collaborated with Ray LaMontagne, Jason Mraz and Ryan Adams, among others, and has firmly established herself as one of this generation's most diverse indie artists. Her latest release is a more subdued album than her previous efforts. In fact, the rock, piano pop and blues sensibilities that have permeated those other records are largely absent here. Heavyweight's six songs are filled mostly with piano ballads, acoustic ditties, and shuffling numbers that focus on the ups and downs of love and relationships. Yamagata's gravelly-yet-resonant vocals on tracks like "Has It Happened Yet" mirror the inner strength she exudes in her songs, and the soulful ballad "It'll Do" sounds like something you'd hear in a smoky jazz lounge. All in all, this EP should whet fans' appetites for her next full-length offering. — Brian Palmer

click to enlarge Ke$ha's "Warrior" CD

Ke$ha

Warrior

Kemosabe/RCA Records

File next to: Lady Gaga, Pink

Having made a big impact with her 2010 debut album, Ke$ha is clearly aiming to join Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Madonna as the next arena-filling dance-pop superstar. Working with a host of hit-making collaborators (Dr. Luke, Max Martin and Benny Bianco, to name a few), she's created a varied album full of roof-raising treats. The synth-heavy "Die Young" has a killer pop hook that should make it a huge single. On "C'Mon," she shows off rap chops with rapid-fire lyrics, while "Wherever You Are" and "All That Matters (The Beautiful Life)" are both disco-fied fuzzed-up electro tunes. Meanwhile, "Dirty Love" is a rousing, humorous and slyly sexy rocker with an assist from Iggy Pop. There's even a touch of the Strokes' kinetic rock and Taylor Swift's singsong melodies on the bouncy "Only Wanna Dance With You," adding a little unpredictability to an album that'll heat up charts and dance floors for months to come. — Alan Sculley

click to enlarge CeeLo Green's "Magic Moment" CD

CeeLo Green

CeeLo's Magic Moment

Elektra Records

File next to: Stevie Wonder, Outkast

CeeLo's Magic Moment just might be this season's most anticipated holiday album, if only because his eccentric persona makes it the least predictable. And as it turns out, he pretty much hits this one out of the park. Green does a really good Stevie Wonder with his version of "This Christmas" and brings a festive R&B bounce to "White Christmas." He rocks up "Run Rudolph Run" in fine style, and it's hard not to chuckle as he incorporates "Mahna Mahna" into his spunky tune, "All I Need Is Love" — with some help from the Muppets, no less. The only moment that falls short is "Baby It's Cold Outside." Yes, it's a showcase for the vocal abilities of Green and Christina Aguilera — his fellow judge on the TV show, The Voice — but the big, brassy arrangements that open and end the song make the rest of it sound staid. By and large, though, this album delivers the magic promised in its title. — Alan Sculley

  • Rachael Yamagata, Ke$ha, CeeLo Green

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