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Mark Chesnutt

Outlaw

Saguaro Road Records

Buy if you like: Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon Jennings

Maybe it's no accident that Mark Chesnutt opens his new album with Billy Joe Shaver's "Black Rose," a hellacious tale of deliberate destruction that he sings as though he knows all about it. Producer Pete Anderson has put together a band that plays like they're getting paid in six-packs and dip, while Chesnutt's voice has clearly been Lone Star-cured in the honky tonks of his native Texas. The playlist here plays straight into the singer's strengths, with songs by Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Guy Clark and others. And right smack in the middle of the release, "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" takes over with a sense of sadness almost too much to bear, thanks to Chesnutt's crying time vocal and a heartbreaking string section full of king-size tears. Damn. For anyone who longs for the days when country music could scare you, here's the answer. — Bill Bentley


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Ratatat

LP4

XL Recordings

Buy if you like: The Chemical Brothers, DJ Spooky

The last time Ratatat found itself in the studio, the New York electronic music duo — which is composed of guitarist Mike Stroud and synthesist Evan Mast — cut enough tracks to make two full albums. So LP4 is a literal extension of LP3, Ratatat's previous album. (It's also, as the title suggests, the band's fourth album for the XL label, which is also home to artists ranging from M.I.A. to Gil-Scott Heron.) This second batch of songs, however, gets a lusher treatment than the first. Symphonic sounds are incorporated into Ratatat's synth-driven, beat-happy, guitar-laced formula, giving the songs a grandiosity and dynamism. That's key because, with the exception of a few spoken-word sketches (some in German), LP4 is an all-instrumental disc. But these songs aren't meandering, self-indulgent sonic explorations. Instead, they're sharply focused pop numbers that should be in the dance clubs and on the party soundtrack for the summer. — L. Kent Wolgamott


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The Gaslight Anthem

American Slang

Side One Dummy

Buy if you like: The Replacements, Bruce Springsteen

The direct references to Bruce Springsteen are gone on this third album from the Gaslight Anthem, but the New Jersey band still works in that anthemic, working-class tradition. This time, it's driven more by Replacements-style ringing guitars than Boss-toned piano and saxophone parts. Thematically, the songs are mostly concerned with wives and ex-wives, good times gone by, and a creeping onset of maturity: "Everybody used to call you lucky when you were young," sings Brian Fallon on "Stay Lucky," which fits neatly alongside other anthems like the punkish "Orphans" and the driving "The Spirit of Jazz." But there's also the soul swing of "The Diamond Church Street Choir" and "Boxer," while "The Queen of Lower Chelsea" is a quiet little number that provides further poignant observations. American Slang is a smart rock 'n roll record, bashing and popping and telling stories of real people in real places. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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