Sound Advice 

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7 Worlds Collide

The Sun Came Out


Buy if you like: Finn Brothers, Wilco

Any self-respecting musician would be foolish to pass on working with Neil Finn, which is why his ambitious 7 Worlds Collide projects draw such high-caliber talent. This time, he lured members of Wilco, Radiohead's Phil Selway and Ed O'Brien, KT Tunstall, Bic Runga, Johnny Marr, Lisa Germano, sons Liam and Elroy, and even Finn brother Tim to his new studio for this double disc. Intriguing collaborations, such as Tunstall and Runga's "Black Silk Ribbon," and strong compositions provide pleasant surprises, though eventually, the mid-tempo soft-rockers cry for some contrast. We get a little with the Beach Boys-meet-the-Beatles "Bodhisattva Blues" (an O'Brien/Liam Finn co-write) and Wilco's "You Never Know," which is also heard on Wilco (the Album). But softer songs like "Too Blue" and "Hazel Black" also charm, while "Learn to Crawl" and "What Could Have Been" captivate in a low-key way, as does the entire album. — Lynne Margolis

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Brandi Carlile

Give Up the Ghost


Buy if you like: Sheryl Crow, KT Tunstall

Brandi Carlile has come up with at least one knockout song on each of her three albums. On her previous release, 2007's The Story, that wow moment came on the title track, a ballad in which Carlile explodes into a huge chorus. She put so much effort into it, in fact, that heading into the second chorus, her voice cracked. She kept that flawed vocal because it conveyed the passion of the song in a way a note-perfect performance might not have. This time around, we get "Dreams," a melodically euphoric rocking pop tune that should be a huge hit single. It's simply one of the best songs any artist has released so far this year. While nothing else on Give Up the Ghost can match it, Carlile continues to shine with her mix of earthy ballads ("Before It Breaks") and spirited rockers ("Caroline), solidifying her place as one of the best and most emotionally resonant "girls with guitars" out there. — Alan Sculley

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David Bazan

Curse Your Branches


Buy if you like: Sufjan Stevens, Death Cab for Cutie

Fans who mourned the 2006 breakup of Pedro the Lion will start feeling better (to the extent that's possible) after hearing Curse Your Branches, the first solo full-length by the group's former frontman, David Bazan. That's because much of the musical character of Pedro the Lion has carried over to this new effort. And as with Pedro's music, the songs on Curse have a definite downbeat quality — yes, Bazan still sounds like he's singing with a hangover — that's nevertheless redeemed by graceful melodies and literate lyrics. Bazan doesn't go for as much of a rocking edge here as he did with his former band, and that occasional jolt of voltage is missed. But his songwriting chops are still sharp, which means we can add tracks like "Please, Baby, Please," "When We Fell" and "Hard to Be" to his already long list of first-rate songs. — Alan Sculley

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