Wye Oak, Eels, and Rodney Crowell 

Sound Advice

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Wye Oak


Merge Records

File next to: The Joy Formidable, The xx

Jenn Wasner, songwriter and vocalist for the duo Wye Oak, loves to surprise and confound fans with unexpected turns. The 2011 album Civilian kept Wye Oak's hard-rocking sound, but added an eerie and noisy edge that gave the album's tracks a haunted quality. This year, Wasner reached a point of writer's block with the electric guitar, and made a radical shift to synthesizers and bass. The result is a tense, EDM-influenced sound that dwells somewhere between The xx and Phantogram. When that dreamy style is combined with Wasner's husky voice, the result can be appealing, as in "The Tower" or the title track, but occasionally too sugary, as evidenced in "School of Eyes," though the lyrics are always fearless and literate. Wasner fans will be happy that she is constantly reinventing herself, but her special brand of guitar feedback will be missed by many. — Loring Wirbel

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The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett

E Works

File next to: Sparklehorse, Randy Newman

Mark Everett may not be as prolific as Matt Valentine or Guided by Voices, but listeners have been drowning in Eels-related material of late. Since the stunning 2005 double album Blinking Lights, Everett has offered a trilogy suite of his mood swings, with a chunk of the tale issued every nine months or so. In this new work, Everett strips down backing instruments and opts for piano-driven tunes recalling Randy Newman. But where Newman makes the occasional observation about short people or rednecks, Everett is focused firmly on lamentations of the self, like the most obsessive of confessional poets. Even though the arrangements are crisp and he can turn a good phrase, Everett's "poor me" songs begin to run together. This album, like the last two, is offered in a two-disc edition with 40 minutes of bonus material — but is that necessary? — Loring Wirbel

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Rodney Crowell

Tarpaper Sky

New West Records

File next to: Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett

Rodney Crowell began recording the songs that became Tarpaper Sky in 2010, bringing in many of the musicians who played on his 1988 breakthrough Diamonds & Dirt to join him live in the studio. The album is worth the wait, capturing Crowell at his best. It kicks off with laid-back anthem "The Long Journey Home," and follows up with "Fever on the Bayou," a gentle-rocking, Louisiana-rooted song of love and lust. Most of the songs are about women, including the ballad "God I'm Missing You" and the shuffling, detail-filled "Grandma Loved That Old Man." "Jesus Talk to Mama" is a bluesy swinging of celebration and rehabilitation, while "The Flyboy & The Kid" is a nod to Crowell's relationship with his mentor Guy Clark. Beautifully produced with guest vocals from the likes of Vince Gill and Shannon McNally, Tarpaper Sky is singer-songwriter country at its finest. — L. Kent Wolgamott


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