Sound advice 

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The Walkmen


Fat Possum

Buy if you like: Cold War Kids, Pavement

The Walkmen have been through their share of record labels, most recently having shifted from Fierce Panda to Fat Possum. Fortunately, none of those changes have kept them from putting out albums highlighted by cascading electric guitars and Hamilton Leithauser's evocative vocal drone. Lisbon opens strongly with "Juveniles," its genuinely pretty pop sound softening the edge we've come to expect from the Walkmen. "Angela Surf City," meanwhile, stands as one of the most exuberant rockers in the band's repertoire. The rest is a mixed bag: Other high points include "Stranded," a sad-eyed ballad accentuated by prominent horn lines, and "Woe Is Me," which actually turns out to be a snappy rocker. But then things get ballad-heavy on songs like "All My Great Designs," "Lisbon" and "While I Shovel the Snow," proving that even an original sound rings empty when the songwriting falters. — Alan Sculley

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Justin Townes Earle

Harlem River Blues


Buy if you like: Woody Guthrie, Steve Earle

Yes, there is the whole lineage thing, but in many ways, Justin Townes Earle is his own man. On Harlem River Blues, Earle alludes to his many influences: from members of the Million Dollar Quartet to early Drifters ("One More Night in Brooklyn") and Woody Guthrie ("Working for the MTA"). Yet he still manages to make it all sound original. Even on "Christchurch Woman," the one song that his father, Steve, might have written, Earle takes it well beyond where Dad would. The beguiling "Wanderin'," "Slippin' and Slidin'" and "Ain't Waitin'" show his dexterity at updating traditions while respecting their foundations. Less evident this time is the sadness Earle so eloquently conveyed on his previous two outings. The exception is "Rogers Park," a piano-laced song of heartbreak. Overall, it sounds like Earle is happier now, more self-assured, and truly bound for glory. — Lynne Margolis

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Black Angels

Phosphene Dream

Blue Horizon

Buy if you like: Roky Erickson & the 13th Floor Elevators, the Doors

The Black Angels couldn't be more obviously '60s retro if they came out wearing Nehru jackets, tie-dyed T-shirts and beads. But that'll be no problem at all if they continue to make albums like Phosphene Dream. Psychedelic trademarks like echoing vocals and fuzzed-up instruments are used to nice effect on songs like "Bad Vibrations" and "Sunday Afternoon." The band also rolls out some vintage blues-rock on "Haunting at 1300 McKinley" (which is sure to appeal to Black Keys fans) and pulls out the timeless tones of the Farfisa organ for the Doors-like "Yellow Elevator #2" and the poppy "Telephone." Still, this would all seem like a mere period exercise if it weren't for the quality of the songs, which consistently entertain — and rock. The Black Angels don't exactly make the old new again, but Phosphene Dream is pretty darn groovy. — Alan Sculley


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