Sound Advice 

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Jennie DeVoe

Strange Sunshine


Buy if you like: Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal

The blues-soul idiom has more than its share of acts that try to get your attention with big guitars and strong backbeats. Jennie DeVoe takes a refreshingly different approach, pulling back on the instrumentation and applying a more subtle and nuanced touch. It works, first of all, because it leaves room for her sultry and earthy voice to shine. What also helps is that DeVoe has some solid songwriting chops. She brings understated sass to "No Damn Man," unfurls a beguiling guitar riff that lifts "Map of the World" to considerable heights, and generates some deep and unhurried boogie on "Shoulda Stayed." The lone cover on the album, the Susan Tedeschi/Tom Hambridge song, "Foolproof," is another highlight, as DeVoe works an effectively dirty groove on the track. Turns out she knows how to pick outside material, too. — Alan Sculley

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Leave this Town


Buy if you like: Live, Pearl Jam, Bon Jovi

Remember the bombastic rock band Live, fronted by singer Ed Kowalczyk? He used to favor the Pearl Jam delivery method: soft verse, thrashing chorus, soft verse, louder thrashing chorus. "Selling the Drama," indeed. Chris Daughtry learned from Kowalczyk and Eddie Vedder, and Rob Thomas and Bon Jovi. Aiming for the backs of arenas, he brought in Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, Ben Moody and David Hodges of Evanescence, and Nashville hit cranker Brett James, among others, to help craft these produced-to-the-teeth rockers ("No Surprise," "Open Up Your Eyes") and power ballads ("Life After You"), most right out of the '90s. Curiously, the song that could be a country or Americana classic (not rock), is "Tennessee Line," written by Daughtry and bandmate Brian Craddock. Maybe they should leave the ringers home and concentrate on writing together. — Lynne Margolis

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All Smiles

Oh For the Getting and Not Letting Go


Buy if you like: Big Star, Minus 5

Don't let the opening track of this album, "Maps to the Homes of Former Foes," fool you. Sure, it's a largely acoustic, rather gentle and not terribly noteworthy little ditty. But the song does serve as a way for listeners to ease into what otherwise is a pretty impressive and mostly harder-hitting collection of work. Rooted in classic power pop, All Smiles (which is the work of Jim Fairchild of Grandaddy) brings considerable heft to songs such as "I Was Never the One," "Foxes in the Furnace" and "Our Final Roles as Birds," while also making sure to cram in plenty of pop melody in the process. On "The Ones I Want to Live" and "The Brightest Beyond," Fairchild's band applies a more spare touch, but there's still some punch to the rhythms and the hooks are just as immediately grabby. This consistently strong collection should generate plenty of smiles all around. — Alan Sculley


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