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A fresh look at new Americana and roots albums 

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New Americana and roots albums are blooming across the nation, led by the unexpected return of Kinky Friedman, offering his first album of originals since the late 1970s. Circus of Life (Echo Hill Records) takes both inspiration and styling from Willie Nelson, and Friedman’s mellow, world-weary voice only ventures into the maudlin in his ode to Willie, “Autographs in the Rain.”

The raucous side of roots is displayed in the newest studio effort from Milwaukee’s Wooldridge Brothers. Starts at Dusk (Anodyne) features riffs reminiscent of The Hold Steady, and Scott Wooldridge’s lyrics in tracks like “Zero Information” are minor-key masterpieces.

Two new offerings from Nashville artists also stand out from the crowd:

Lera Lynn is an actress who brings as much pop and rock as alt-country to her mix. Her album of duets Plays Well With Others (Single Lock Records) features such unexpected gems as a cover of TV On the Radio.

Meanwhile, Laurel Wright and Wes Lunsford, who record and perform as The Young Fables, have released Old Songs (Hope Tree Entertainment), a sophomore suite of originals with traditional country influences featuring stunning tracks like “Sawmill Wages.”

And finally, L.A. is keeping up its reputation as a secondary city for roots music. Rob Waller’s ensemble I See Hawks has a new studio collection, Live and Never Learn (Western Seeds), that’s full of Pacific Coast twang, while Dawes cuts back the rock riffs on the folk-heavy Passwords (Hub Records), with singer Taylor Goldsmith sneaking in soft saxophone backing that gives some tracks an unfortunate lite-rock sound.

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