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Clairy Browne & The Bangin' Rackettes, Jason Isbell, Surfer Blood 

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Clairy Browne & the Bangin' Rackettes

Baby Caught the Bus

Vanguard/Welk Music Group

File next to: Amy Winehouse, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

Even if you don't know Clairy Browne & the Bangin' Rackettes by name, chances are you've heard Baby Caught the Bus' opening track "Love Letter," a sassy, brassy soul tune that was featured on a widely aired Heineken commercial. The question, of course, is whether the Australian group can live up to it on the rest of the album. And, for the most part, the answer is yes. Baby has plenty of winning tunes, including the nifty piano-anchored "Aeroplane," the jumpin' jive of "I'll Be Fine," and, of course, the title track's mix of Motown and doo-wop inspirations. Browne and her Bangin' Rackettes may be riding the current wave of retro-soul, but, as the band name suggests, their sound tends to be more raucous and free-spirited, with enough blues and sweet girl-group harmonies to make the group stand out on its own. — Alan Sculley

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Jason Isbell

Southeastern

Southeastern Records

File next to: Ryan Adams, the Bottle Rockets

Jason Isbell delivers his strongest set of songs to date with Southeastern, an album that comes mostly wrapped in acoustic guitar-rooted sounds. He gets personal about grappling with sobriety on the opener "Cover Me Up," while his wife Amanda Shires' fiddle fits perfectly with his mournful "Traveling Alone." As a songwriter, Isbell tells poignant stories: "Elephant," about ignoring illness in a relationship; "Different Days," about a runaway girl; the criminal's lament "Live Oak"; and the beautifully harrowing incest ballad "Yvette." But this album isn't all singer/songwriterly, as evidenced by the ringing electric guitars on "Flying Over Water" as well as "Super 8," a rollicking, on-the-road rock 'n roller set in, yup, a motel. More captivating with each listen, Southeastern is a perfect showcase for Isbell's superbly crafted songs and evocative singing. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Surfer Blood

Pythons

Warner Bros.

File next to: Wavves, Fang Island

From the chiming opener "Demon Dance" to the insistent Strokes-like "Weird Shapes," from the slow, plaintive "I Was Wrong" to the angular "Squeezing Blood," Surfer Blood's Pythons delivers a winning combination of indie rock and power pop. The Florida band's second full-length album finds the Bloods lighten up the hazy beach rock of 2010's Astro Coast in favor of big hooks, bigger guitars and solid rhythms. "Say Yes to Me" is a dose of driving rock, while the back-to-back pairing of "Beyond the Grave AKA Blair Witch" with the swaying "Needles and Pins" adds up to pure pop perfection. Pythons' 10 songs clock in at just under 35 minutes, with only the heavy "Slow Six" crossing the four-minute mark. But short songs with lots of hooks is a proven recipe, and Surfer Blood succeeds in bringing all the right ingredients to the table. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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