Sound advice 

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The Courage of Others

Bella Union

Buy if you like: The Czars, Fleet Foxes, In the Court of the Crimson King

What a difference an album makes (and, in this case, the four years it took to record and release it). Midlake's third collection finds the Denton, Texas band tapping into a sound that British art-rock bands once favored, back before the excesses of prog messed it all up. Echoes of Fairport Convention's "Sloth" and King Crimson's "Epitaph" infiltrate gorgeously melodic tracks like "Acts of Man" and "Small Mountain." Tim Smith's singing has settled into an easy baritone that recalls Richard Sinclair (of Canterbury scene stalwarts Caravan and Hatfield & the North), its depth and resonance reflected throughout all aspects of what's easily Midlake's best album. After radically changing its sound and approach twice now, the band is garnering massive critical raves that might finally translate into actual sales, and this record deserves it. Future reinvention is no longer necessary, or even advisable. — Bill Forman

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Allison Moorer



Buy if you like: Tift Merritt, Kim Richey

Allison Moorer has a beautifully nuanced voice capable of delivering both a sweet soprano and a dusky mid-range. But her songwriting is inconsistent, and the fact that she wrote all but one of Crows' 13 cuts weakens the album. It starts out promisingly enough with "Abalone Sky" and the jazzy "Goodbye to the Ground" (on which she sounds not unlike her sister, Shelby Lynne). But "Just Another Fool" has almost laughably bad lyrics, and on the ballad "Easy in the Summertime," the line "they make me wanna rock 'n roll" never sounded less, well, rock 'n roll. "Like the Rain" is pretty and delicate, and she carries the jazz/blues ballad, "Should I Be Concerned," well enough. But the poppy "The Broken Girl" seems awash in lost potential, like she's trying to step out of herself but is unsure where to go. Unlike the crows Moorer sings of, these songs rarely take full wing, so the album never soars. — Lynne Margolis


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