Sound advice 

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The Little Willies

For the Good Times

Milking Bull Records/EMI

Buy if you like: Norah Jones, Willie Nelson

The Little Willies' name is a punny play on its members' love of country outlaw Willie Nelson and the music he came from. But this quintet is far more than a novelty cover band — or a mere diversion for its most famous member, singer/pianist Norah Jones. Though the Texas-raised chanteuse's voice is remarkably well-suited to these rave-ups, delivered with equal doses of love and camp, she's definitely one of a crew. Jim Campilongo and co-vocalist Richard Julian handle guitars, getting nasty on Loretta Lynn's "Fist City" as Jones throws some muscle into her normally well-mannered, smooth-as-jazz vocals. And gut-bucket bassist Lee Alexander gives a real tub-thumping to Ralph Stanley's "I Worship You." Along with drummer Dan Rieser, they pay lovely props to their forbears, offering a sexy, sultry "Lovesick Blues," a sublime take on "For the Good Times" and a truly ear-catching version of Nelson's "Permanently Lonely." — Lynne Margolis

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Peace of Mind

Controlled Substance Recordings

Buy if you like: Slightly Stoopid, Passafire

While there's no shortage of bands mixing reggae and various styles of rock today, Rebelution is working its way up the ranks. With Peace of Mind, the band continues to carry the torch, its bright, sometimes-horn-infused sound bringing the music a poppier edge than many of its peers. It actually works well, as the group mixes buoyant melodies into the reggae rhythms of immediately likeable songs like "Calling Me Out" and "Sky Is the Limit." Those upbeat tunes are balanced by the more subdued and contemplative tracks, including "Closer I Get" "and "Life on the Line," which also features some nicely layered instrumental textures. For further variety, Rebelution goes dubbier on "So High" and rocks it up on "Comfort Zone" and "Day by Day." And let's not forget the three-disc deluxe edition, which includes two additional versions of the album, one dub and one acoustic, for the truly diehard Rebelutionary. — Alan Sculley

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Red Wanting Blue

From the Vanishing Point


Buy if you like: Collective Soul, Hootie & the Blowfish

Frontman Scott Terry says Red Wanting Blue's goal is to create American rock 'n roll in the tradition of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. That intention is more than apparent on this unpretentious set of heartland rockers and ballads. The album hits a high point right off the bat with "Stay on the Bright Side," a full-bodied, mid-tempo rocker with a striking melody. Unfortunately, nothing else here quite equals that opening track. But there are still lots of worthy tunes, like the mid-tempo anthem "Audition," the melancholy "Love Remains," and the country-flecked "Cocaine." Red Wanting Blue's sound isn't the most original thing going; it immediately compares to the thoroughly mainstream rock of acts like Train, Collective Soul, Gavin DeGraw or Counting Crows. But songwriter Terry has a talent for writing rich melodies, which gives this timeless-sounding album a certain appeal. — Alan Sculley


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