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click to enlarge The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

Wolf's Law

Canvasback (Release date: Jan. 22)

File next to: Muse, Silversun Pickups

With Wolf's Law, the Joy Formidable are already poised to finish 2013 on a number of writers' Top 10 lists. The album's epic rock sound melds seamlessly with gorgeous melodies, swelling choruses, singer Ritzy Bryan's both pixie-ish and ethereal vocals, and all the dramatic sweep and scope of a concept album that, for once, doesn't miss its mark. The driving rhythms and catchy chords on "The Ladder Is Ours" and the orchestration-heavy finale "The Turnaround" stand out as worthy bookmarks to this record, making fitting examples of the album's overall energy and diversity. The crunchy, distorted riffs and chugging drums on "Cholla" marry surprisingly well with thoughtful lyrics. Bryan's multifaceted presence (she whispers, shouts, croons and offers echoing vocals in equal measure throughout) makes these tracks transcend ordinary modern rock fare. Wolf's Law is a rocking good time. — Brian Palmer

click to enlarge Not Fade Away

Various Artists

Not Fade Away (Music From the Motion Picture)

ABKCO Records

File next to: American Graffiti and Cadillac Records soundtracks

David Chase's film about a '60s rock 'n roll band is all about the music — a fitting assemblage of '60s songs put together by Little Steven Van Zandt that set the tone and feel of the picture. Van Zandt's curation means the soundtrack is a very cool affair, including songs from James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Elmore James, Bob Dylan and perfectly placed numbers like the Small Faces' "Itchycoo Park," the Left Banke's "Pretty Ballerina," and Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra's "Some Velvet Morning." But Van Zandt also assembled the group that provided the sounds of the Twylight Zones, the movie's band. Its members included guitarist Van Zandt, and E Street Band veterans Garry Tallent and Max Weinberg, who cover "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (slightly psychedelicized) and — the real gem of the set — Van Zandt's own "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre," whose Byrdsy rock 'n roll nicely conveys the mood of the era. — L. Kent Wolgamott

click to enlarge Blue Cactus Choir

Blue Cactus Choir

... Once in a Bluegrass Moon

Porgy Records

File next to: America, Gordon Lightfoot

The title of this album may mention bluegrass, but there's much more going on with this collective fronted by singer/guitarists Marty Atkinson and Katy Boyd. In fact, you'll be hard pressed to find a single true bluegrass song among the album's 21 tracks, which might be more accurately described as acoustic roots music. "Blue Moon Over Mexico" has a poppy vocal melody to match its acoustic guitar and banjo arrangement. "A Cat Called Ginger and a Dog Called Fred Astaire" has a nice loping tempo, while the spare acoustic ballad "Southern Bird" nods to early Eagles in its harmonies and overall sound. A folkier feel emerges in songs like "Lucy Lu" and "Blind Date at Juanito's." Clocking in at nearly 90 minutes, the songs on ... Once In a Bluegrass Moon eventually tend to blend together, but fans of stripped-back country-pop should still find plenty to like here. — Alan Sculley

  • The Joy Formidable, Not Fade Away, Blue Cactus Choir

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