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Jay-Z and Kanye West

Watch The Throne (Deluxe Edition)

Def Jam

Buy if you like: Ludacris, Snoop Dogg

Jay-Z and Kanye West, who've taken to calling themselves The Throne, have made the hip-hop record of the year here. Crammed full of 16 tracks produced by the likes of RZA, the Neptunes and Swizz Beatz, Watch The Throne finds the duo swapping lines and complementary themes, with name drops ranging from Mark Rothko to LeBron James to Ferris Bueller. The guest star of the show is 23-year-old R&B singer Frank Ocean of the Odd Future collective, who appears on two of the album's most impressive tracks — the hard-punching opener "No Church in the Wild" (which features Jay-Z's musings on religion, sex and drugs) and the gorgeous, soulful "Made in America" (a Kanye/Jay-Z original number that also pays tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.). The other great song on the very good album is "Otis," which features the guys rapping with some humor over Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness." — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Rival Sons

Pressure & Time

Earache

Buy if you like: Puddle of Mudd, Led Zeppelin

Unabashedly retro, Rival Sons is a 1970s-style "classic rock" band that channels Led Zeppelin, the Faces, Cream and the like, hitting a blues-boogie sound that is far from new but more than a little appealing. From the opening riff and roll of "All Over the Road" to the uplifting finish of "Face of Light," Pressure & Time clocks in at just 31 minutes, avoiding the endless guitar solos favored by much of the genre. It also mercifully doesn't come close to the Black Sabbath sludge that bogs down many of today's classic rock revivalists. Instead, Rival Sons takes Jay Buchanan's Robert Plant-style vocals and combines them with some solid guitar work by Scott Holiday and an equally solid rhythm section that swings a little. As a result, songs like the title cut and the swagger-and-stomp "Burn Down Los Angeles" can hold their own with anything on classic rock radio. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Bottle Rockets

Not So Loud: An Acoustic Evening

Bloodshot

Buy if you like: Uncle Tupelo, Neil Young

This band from Festus, Mo., has always been known for its potent brand of rural-infused, roots rock. But lately, the group has been putting down the electric guitars — well, most of them — for the occasional unplugged show. But as this live album shows, even their lower-key approach sounds plenty muscular. What also shines through (and this will be no surprise to the group's devoted following) is frontman Brian Henneman's first-rate songwriting, even though a single disc can only touch on the fine songs from Bottle Rockets' seven studio albums. Among them are the poppy gems "Gravity Fails" and "Kit Kat Clock" (which gets a more deliberate and twangy treatment here), the songs that show Henneman's sharp sense of humor ("1000 Dollar Car" and "Kerosene"), and the poignant side that surfaces on "One of You" and "Smoking' 100's Alone." Not So Loud isn't standard issue Bottle Rockets, but it's not to be overlooked. — Alan Sculley

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