Sound advice 

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American Made

Free & Alive Records

File next to: John Mellencamp, Avett Brothers

Originally a Kurt Neumann side project, this became a BoDeans album after Sam Llanas left the band and Neumann decided to carry on without him. He said he'd been doing most of the heavy lifting anyway on recent BoDeans albums, and American Made indicates he might be right. Except for the close harmonies they did so well, it's hard to tell Llanas is gone. Longtime BoDeans accordionist/keyboardist Michael Ramos, fiddler Warren Hood and bassist Ryan Bowman make this an almost all-Austin project (drummer Victor Indrizzo is the exception), yet it still sounds BoDeans-ish. That is, it's soulful, "heartland" roots-pop-rock. "Don't Bring Me Down" has jazz notes; "American" carries a slight Celtic lilt. "Jay Leno" might remind listeners of a more pensive Chili Peppers tune. But the lone cover is a fine version of Springsteen's "I'm On Fire." Not surprisingly, Neumann pulls it off, with a little help from his newer friends. — Lynne Margolis

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Patti Smith



File next to: Sonic Youth, Television

Banga is punk poetess Patti Smith's 11th album and her first collection of original material in eight years. It comes after her best-selling memoir Just Kids and feels similarly reflective, with songs about Amy Winehouse ("This Is the Girl"), survivors of Japanese tsunami ("Fugi-san"), and even a birthday song for her friend Johnny Depp ("Nine"). The music is structured pop ("April Fool," with Tom Verlaine alongside); sprawling, meandering meditative rock ("Constantine's Dream"); and something close to free jazz on "Tarkovsky (The Second Stop Is Jupiter)," with Smith's singing as strong as it's ever been. Her words tumble and twist, creating imagery and evoking emotions. There's also a perfectly chosen cover of Neil Young's gentle "After the Gold Rush." Some 37 years after her classic Horses, the 65-year-old Smith remains a vital artist who pushes rock into realms of depth and meaning. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Shonen Knife

Pop Tune

Good Charamel Records

File next to: BMX Bandits, the Vaselines

Thirty years after forming Shonen Knife, founding frontwoman Naoko Yamano brings another bunch of innocent, wacky, power-punk rock 'n roll to life on the Knife's 18th album. "I need more excitement," the guitar-slinging singer pleads on the bouncy Ramones-ish title cut, while "Osaka Rock City" pays homage to her hometown. On "All You Can Eat," Yamano sings over hammered chords and kazoo about a restaurant that offers, yes, all you can eat, while reminding herself to take some vegetables as well. Her view of "Psychedelic Life" comes in the form of a 1960s-ish tune that's anchored by the chant, "burning incense, burning incense," along with the hilarious statement, "I feel like a bohemian." The whole album romps along with the spirit of pure rock fun that makes this yet another Shonen Knife charmer. — L. Kent Wolgamott


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