Buddy Guy

  • Rhythm & Blues
  • RCA/Silvertone

After 77 years on this planet, Buddy Guy is still a force to be reckoned with on the guitar. This hard-charging double album tackles both horn-drenched soul blues (on the "Rhythm" half of the album), as well as the Chicago electric blues. After a remarkable output of top-notch albums since the turn of the century, Guy continues to make a strong case for his own legacy. He may well have surpassed B.B. King as surviving standard bearer for the blues. And as for Guy's guitar work on the album, let's just say that fans of guitar-based blues should ignore this album at their own risk. (MS)

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Daft Punk

  • Random Access Memories
  • Columbia

The French electronic duo's fourth album was this year's most hyped, featuring the inescapable hit, "Get Lucky." It's most definitely a dance album, but not at all a typical one. Instead of using samples from other songs, Daft Punk decided to use real people instead – a bold choice for two guys who dress like robots. They pair also enlisted the help of guest artists from the heyday of Disco (Georgio Moroder, Chic's Nile Rogers) as well modern day artists (Panda Bear, Pharell Williams). They offer an exploration of dance music that is rooted in history, but probably a little ahead of its time. (BS)

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Michael Franti & Spearhead

  • All People
  • Capitol

Michael Franti & Spearhead continue to celebrate the human spirit while dissecting issues that separate people. According to Franti: "All People is about the beauty of diversity, being your authentic self in a crazy world and the infinite power of love." Even when examining political or socially sensitive issues, Franti maintains his positivity. His melodies are an infectiously catchy mix of pop, rock, rap, and hip-hop, with a hint of indie-folk. Franti hooks up with new collaborators including the hit production team The Matrix, songwriters J Bowman and Adrian Newman, and singers Gina Rene and Somalian émigré K'naan. (RMW)

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Junip

  • Junip
  • Mute

The albums from this Swedish duo often sound like a soundtrack for a movie that has yet to be filmed. There's a CinemaScope richness in how their layered. And acoustic guitars interplay with keyboards and beats, especially on their best songs which build to swirling, soaring climaxes. Singer Jose Gonzalez has a mesmerizing voice, one that can simultaneously convey both detachment and keen intensity. Though this is only their second album as Junip, it seems they have carved out their own genre. While they haven't yet made their definitive album, Junip makes a good go of it here. (MS)

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Erin McKeown

  • Manifestra
  • TVP

Manifestra, a word created by Erin McKeown, is a feminization of "manifesto," with a nod to the Latin word for window, "fenestra." The term suggests McKeown's growing sense of independence. By founding her own record label, she's freed herself from commercial constraints, allowing her social activism to be folded into her music. Tackling issues of political influence, she questions what lack of power does to the oppressed and how it changes those who hold it. Manifestra is McKeown's most musically diverse album mixing folk, pop, rock, jazz, and spoken word. Her intellect is apparent whether she's exploring social issues or personal relationships. (RMW)

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The Lone Bellow

  • The Lone Bellow
  • Descendant

Following an equestrian accident that left his wife facing paralysis, Zach Williams turned to writing and learned to play guitar for solace. After his spouse's miraculous recovery, Williams moved to Brooklyn, forming The Lone Bellow with friends Brian Emquist and Kanene Pipkin. Working with producer Charlie Peacock, the trio used Williams' songs as the foundation for its inaugural release. Recording live at Redwood Music Hall, Peacock captures the passion and anguish of Williams' lyrics as he veers between hope and desperation. The album's crowning glory is the band's gorgeous harmonies. That's what I call finding the silver lining in the darkest of storms. (RMW)

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Gov't Mule

  • Shout!
  • Blue Note

Twenty years into this Allman Brothers-born side project, Gov't Mule is still making fresh, inventive, and powerful music. Warren Haynes and company broke major ground by creating a double disc that highlights the band's strengths – dark, soulful songs highlighted by virtuosic performances. Disc two re-invents the first disc by inviting guest singers into the sessions to re-interpret the songs. Elvis Costello, Grace Potter, Jim James, Dave Matthews, and Toots Hibbert are among the contributors. Reminiscent of the band's history, Shout! started as a passing idea that morphed into something entirely different – a sign of this band's adaptability. (JS)

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Sigur Rós

  • Kveikur
  • XL

From the opening note you'll know this is a different kind of Sigur Rós album. A distorted charge of drum and guitar begins the Icelandic group's most aggressive work to date. After rumors of a break-up and last year's highly atmospheric Valtari, Kveikur continues the band's unpredictable journey. On it, Sigur Ros functions more like a rock band emphasizing drums and bass, but marrying a variety of other stringed, brass and percussion instruments into the mix. As a rock band, however, they are still one of the most unconventional ones out there, and that's a good thing. (BS)

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The James Hunter Six

  • Minute By Minute
  • Fantasy/Go

James Hunter's first American recording acknowledges his longtime band member with an official title. It also teams the band with producer Gabriel Roth, aka Bosco Mann, co-founder of Dap Records. Mann's label has helped revive interest in creating music in the mold of old soul and R&B music, while Hunter's career pays homage to the early era of rock and roll. Roth brings out the sharp edges of Hunter's songs through tight, no-frills production. Strutting bass, tenor sax, lots of snare drum and Hunter's crisp guitar work and crusty vocals make for music that mines the past for fresh sounds. (RMW)

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Gary Clark Jr.

  • Blak & Blu
  • Warner

For his debut, Gary Clark Jr. had a choice. He could focus on the neo-soul he played as a sideman to Alicia Keys, or he could dedicate himself to the blues he heard as a kid hanging around Antones, the famed Texas blues venue. Then again, he could follow in Jimi Hendrix's footsteps, creating pulsating psychedelic rock. Like a musical alchemist, Clark cooks up a potpourri of pop, rock, and soul, built on a bulwark of blues. His swampy guitar grooves and wild man vocals highlight the proceedings, but he is at his best when dedicating himself to unadulterated blues. (RMW)

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Camera Obscura

  • Desire Lines
  • 4AD

Over its 17-year career, Scottish band Camera Obscura has produced five albums that glisten with pop mastery. Taken as a whole, one might not notice changes in the band's sound, but closer examination reveals subtle variations and a maturing musical perspective. Tracyanne Campbell writes sweet melodies that adapt nicely to pop/rock aesthetics and float along on her airy vocals. Her language has grown more incisive, capturing the fine line that divides joy from pathos, particularly in matters of the heart. Desire Lines was recorded in Portland, Ore., with producer Tucker Martine and features guest turns from Neko Case and Jim James. (RMW)

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