Sound advice 

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The Bird and the Bee

Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates

Blue Note Records

Buy if you like: Hall and Oates, Lowell George

Sometimes music should be fun. That's what Inara George and Greg Kurstin, aka The Bird and the Bee, provide with these eight Hall & Oates remakes plus one new original. George's voice is wonderful throughout the whole album, whether it's on "Sara Smile," "Maneater" or "Private Eyes." The instrumental backings are modernized in a way that makes them exciting while never drifting into novelty. Kurstin has plenty of obvious respect for the blue-eyed soulmen's '80s hits, but he also isn't afraid to play around with the edges. On the whole, this makes for a lively ride through the past, while ensuring no one gets overly whiplashed looking back. And this being just volume one, can a Huey Lewis & the News tribute be far behind? Yes, the heart of rock 'n roll is still beating. — Bill Bentley

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Joe Bonamassa

Black Rock

J&R Adventures

Buy if you like: Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Although young by genre standards, 32-year-old Joe Bonamassa has established himself on recent albums as one of the finest blues-rock artists on the scene. This time out, the emphasis is on the rock side of the equation, beginning with the brash guitar chords and crashing drums that greet listeners on the opening track, a cover of Bobby Parker's "Steal Your Heart Away." From there Bonamassa finds creative ways to interpret John Hiatt's "I Know a Place" (which takes on a notably harder edge), Jeff Beck's "Spanish Boots" and even Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire." But Bonamassa's original material is just as strong and inventive. He brings some honky stomp to "When the Fire Hits the Sea," a touch of Middle Eastern exoticism to "Quarryman's Lament," and then thunders away on "Wandering Earth" with a volcanic guitar riff that would make Led Zeppelin proud. — Alan Sculley

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We Built a Fire

Morr Music

Buy if you like: Sufjan Stevens, Sigur Rós

It makes perfect sense that so many of Seabear's song titles ("I'll Build You a Fire," "Cold Summer," "Warm Blood," "In Winter's Eyes," "Fire Dies Down") contain references to temperatures and seasons, whether literal or metaphorical. The band is, after all, from Iceland. But unlike fellow Arctic Circle resident Björk, their music contains no sharp edges. It's all soft, dreamy, light, airy ... like watching the aurora borealis shimmer through flakes of falling snow. Violin fills, xylophone chimes, autoharp plucks and childlike voices waft through these tunes, giving the whole affair an almost narcotic feel. That is, until they momentarily shake us out of our reverie with an electric chord or dissonant note, after which they lull us back into reverie with more gossamer beauty. Seabear sings in English (no Hopelandic!), but the words seem almost superfluous; it's the sonic mood the band evokes that captivates. — Lynne Margolis

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