Sound advice 

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The Gaslight Anthem



File next to: Bruce Springsteen, Hold Steady

New Jersey's the Gaslight Anthem still channels Bruce Springsteen through the punk rock of the Clash and the Replacements, a combination leading to sincere working-class rock anthems. But the band's Mercury Records debut is given major label polish by Brendan O'Brien, a studio pro who's done records for Springsteen and Paul Westerberg. Together, they deliver punch after punch, as singer-songwriter Brian Fallon pours out his heart, more or less literally, on songs with recurring references to blood. The opening "45" is a fist-pumping ode to records, engines and heartbreak, while acoustic guitar and strings complement the closing "National Anthem." Along the way are grungy power ballad "Too Much Blood," the pain and regret of "Keepsake," and the album's highlight "Howl," a rockin' Replacements-like meditation on growing up. The year's best rock record so far. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Shovels and Rope

O' Be Joyful


File next to: Dixie Chicks, Sugarland

Cary Ann Hearst is a sassy Southern spitfire and musical force of nature, who probably couldn't deliver a bad note if her life depended on it. She's met her match in Shovels and Rope partner Michael Trent; together, they dish out 11 delightful songs brimming with grit and grins, not to mention rock 'n roll attitude, bluegrass chops and a honeysuckle charm that's just irresistible. From the New Orleans brass-meets-funky-blues-rock of "Hail Hail" to the twangy pop-rock of "Cavalier," each arrangement is clever and somehow original. Their voices wrap around each other tightly on the sweet, spare love song "Lay Low," while the timeless ballad "Carnival" finds Hearst sounding like she could be Debbie Reynolds singing "Tammy." Then there's the title tune, which is filled with banjo, grinding guitar and nuanced harmonies. This South Carolina duo is definitely onto something good. — Lynne Margolis

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The English Beat

The Complete Beat

Shout Factory!

File next to: The Specials, Madness

While founding frontman Dave Wakeling has kept various versions of the English Beat touring for a few decades, the band's recorded output essentially lasted three albums. This five-CD collection includes them all, along with a disc of remixes and another of live performances. It kicks off with 1979's I Just Can't Stop It, arguably the ska revival's best album. With skittering beats, tasty melodies and infectious energy, songs like "Mirror in the Bathroom," "Twist & Crawl," and a cover of "Tears of a Clown" remain essential. Later albums, while more uneven, include standouts like "Doors of Your Heart" and "Save It for Later." The disc of remixes included here is a bit superfluous; the Peel Session radio broadcasts and a 1982 Boston performance perfectly convey the kinetic vibe of a group that deserves to be revered by ska revivalists and fans for generations to come. — Alan Sculley


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