New Releases

From Here To Now To You

Jack Johnson

Magpie And The Dandelion

The Avett Brothers

CROZ

David Crosby

Homo Erraticus

Ian Anderson

Hot Dreams

Timber Timbre

Resituación

Nacho Vegas

Antiphon

Midlake

Till Midnight

Chuck Ragan

Fanfare

Jonathan Wilson

These Changing Skies

Elephant Revival

Just Because

The Belle Brigade

Twin Forks

Twin Forks

Make My Head Sing...

Jessica Lea Mayfield

Big Inner: Outer Face Edition

Matthew E. White

My Mother Has 4 Noses

Jonatha Brooke

Troubled Days

Seabird

The Soul of All Natural Things

Linda Perhacs

Utah

Jamestown Revival

Fifth

The Autumn Defense

Reel to Reel (Bonus Album)

Rover

The Classic

Joan As Police Woman

Strangers

Simone Felice

Top Albums

All The Little Lights

Passenger
"All The Little Lights" is the breakthrough album by Passenger, featuring the global hit single 'Let Her Go.'

Blue

Joni Mitchell
Sad, spare, and beautiful, Blue is the quintessential confessional singer/songwriter album. Forthright and poetic, Joni Mitchell's songs are raw nerves, tales of love and loss (two words with relative meaning here) etched with stunning complexity; even tracks like "All I Want," "My Old Man," and "Carey" -- the brightest, most hopeful moments on the record -- are darkened by bittersweet moments of sorrow and loneliness. At the same time that songs like "Little Green" (about a child given up for adoption) and the title cut (a hymn to salvation supposedly penned for James Taylor) raise the stakes of confessional folk-pop to new levels of honesty and openness, Mitchell's music moves beyond the constraints of acoustic folk into more intricate and diverse territory, setting the stage for the experimentation of her later work. Unrivaled in its intensity and insight, Blue remains a watershed.

Jason Ankeny, Rovi

Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits

Bob Dylan
Arriving in 1967, Greatest Hits does an excellent job of summarizing Dylan's best-known songs from his first seven albums. At just ten songs, it's a little brief, and the song selection may be a little predictable, but that's actually not a bad thing, since this provides a nice sampler for the curious and casual listener, as it boasts standards from "Blowin' in the Wind" to "Like a Rolling Stone." And, for collectors, the brilliant non-LP single "Positively Fourth Street" was added, which provided reason enough for anybody that already owned the original records to pick this up. This has since been supplanted by more exhaustive collections, but as a sampler of Dylan at his absolute peak, this is first-rate.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Acoustic Sessions (Part 2)

Smith & Myers

Babel

Mumford & Sons
Babel seems an ironic title, considering the universal quality underpinning Mumford & Sons' musical language. A lot like its predecessor, Sigh No More, the album sweeps through one grand gesture after another while striking an uncanny triangulation between The Pogues, Bruce Springsteen and Animal Collective. So adjectives like epic, earnest and demonstrative all apply to their brand of banjo-laced folk rock. Pushing everything over the top is Marcus Mumford's lyricism, laced as it is with Christian metaphor and fervor. The most potent example is "Broken Crown," a Yardbirds-flavored, solemn and baroque-like ballad detailing an embittered battle over anointment between two lovers. Gruff and desperate, Mumford declares, "Crawl on my belly till the sun goes down, I will never wear your broken crown."

Justin Farrar, Google Play

Sigh No More

Mumford & Sons
English folk outfit Mumford & Sons' full-length debut owes more than a cursory nod to bands like the Waterboys, the Pogues, and the Men They Couldn’t Hang. The group’s heady blend of biblical imagery, pastoral introspection, and raucous, pub-soaked heartache may be earnest to a fault, but when the wildly imperfect Sigh No More is firing on all cylinders, as is the case with stand-out cuts like "The Cave," "Winter Winds," and "Little Lion Man," it’s hard not to get swept up in the rapture. Like their London underground folk scene contemporaries Noah & the Whale, Johnny Flynn, and Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons' take on British folk is far from traditional. There’s a deep vein of 21st century Americana that runs through the album, suggesting a healthy diet of Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Blitzen Trapper, and Marah. That melding of styles, along with some solid knob-twiddling from Arcade Fire/Coldplay producer Markus Dravs, helps to keep the record from completely sinking into the quicksand of its myriad slow numbers -- tracks like "I Gave You All," "Thistle & Weeds," and "After the Storm" are pretty and plain enough, but they neuter a band this spirited. Sigh No More is an impressive debut, but one that impresses more for its promise for the future than its wildly inconsistent place in the present. [A Deluxe Edition of Sigh No More was released in December 2010, and featured the original album, a second disc of 12 live recordings, and a DVD that included all three installments of the documentary "Gentlemen of the Road."]

16 Biggest Hits

John Denver
RCA\Legacy's 16 Biggest Hits collects (you guessed it) 16 classic cuts from the legendary singer/songwriter, including "Back Home Again," "Rocky Mountain High," "Take Me Home, Country Roads," and "Annie's Song." Notable omissions such as "Calypso," "Grandma's Feather Bed," and "Perhaps Love" keep this skimpy overview from providing any real cultural impact, but there is enough here to recommended it if it arrives as the result of charity.

James Christopher Monger, Rovi

In Between Dreams

Jack Johnson
Singer/songwriter Jack Johnson writes songs that just feel good, sticking to an equation that combines his warm, relaxed voice with an acoustic guitar. That cozy formula made him a favorite among American college crowds, so it's no surprise that Johnson sticks with what he does best for his third album, In Between Dreams. Producer Mario Caldato, Jr. is back again, touching up Johnson's summery backdrop for another playful set of songs. The genre-blending charm and sweetness that fueled Brushfire Fairytales and On and On hasn't changed that much, but does it really have to? Johnson, alongside drummer Adam Topol and bassist Merlo Podlewski, makes safe records. While there isn't anything wrong with that, taking a few more risks sonically and lyrically wouldn't work against him. Tender moments such as "If I Could" and "No Other Way" showcase a more reserved side on In Between Dreams. Other highlights include the lullaby-like "Breakdown" and the bossa nova rhythms of "Do You Remember." Whether he's singing about being in love -- which he does quite well on "Better Together" and "Banana Pancakes" -- or reflecting on its hardships, Johnson's laid-back approach is his biggest strength. In Between Dreams is a bit brighter and more upbeat, but his song remains the same.

MacKenzie Wilson, Rovi

August And Everything After

Counting Crows
When the prevailing guitar jingle of "Mr. Jones" cascaded over radio in the early '90s, it was a sure sign that the Counting Crows were a musical force to be reckoned with. Their debut album, August and Everything After, burst at the seams with both dominant pop harmonies and rich, hearty ballads, all thanks to lead singer Adam Duritz. The lone guitar work of "Mr. Jones" coupled with the sweet, in-front pull of Duritz's voice kicked off the album in full force. The starkly beautiful and lonely sounding "Round Here" captured the band's honest yet subtle talent for singing ballads, while "Omaha" is lyrically reminiscent of a Springsteen tune. The fusion of hauntingly smooth vocals with such instruments as the Hammond B-3 organ and the accordion pumped new life into the music scene, and their brisk sound catapulted them into stardom. On "Rain King," the piano takes over as its aloof flair dances behind Duritz with elegant crispness. The slower-paced "Raining in Baltimore" paints a perfectly gray picture and illustrates the band's ease at conveying mood by eliminating the tempo. Most of the songs here engage in overly contagious hooks that won't go away, making for a solid bunch of tunes. Containing the perfect portions of instrumental and vocal conglomeration, the Counting Crows showed off their appealing sound to its full extent with their very first album. [The 2007 Circuit City exclusive edition came packaged with a free album cover iPod skin.]

Mike DeGagne, Rovi

The Warrior's Code

Dropkick Murphys
Boston's Dropkick Murphys turn in another collection of Irish-tinged punk rock on The Warrior's Code. The tempos are breakneck for the most part, and the energy is accentuated by the alternating lead vocals, a tag team of rage and bravado. That the group doesn't take itself too seriously is demonstrated on "Wicked Sensitive Crew," in which the singers discuss how they've been misunderstood as they've toured the world, when in fact they are "touchy feely sensitive guys." As if to demonstrate their sensitivity (sentimentality is more like it), they cover Eric Bogle's "The Green Fields of France (No Man's Land)," a reflection on the loss of a soldier in World War I and the general futility of war that is taken at a ballad tempo and even begins with a piano. They have also been to the Woody Guthrie archive of unpublished lyrics, and come away with "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," a goofy song they set to typically blistering rock. (In 2006, the song was given greater exposure when it was used in Martin Scorsese's Academy Award-winning film "The Departed".) The theme of war dead is brought up to date with the closing track, "Last Letter Home," the epistolary true story of a Dropkick Murphys fan who died in Iraq; the band played at his funeral. It is here that the punk rage seems to find a purpose.

William Ruhlmann, Rovi

From Here To Now To You

Jack Johnson

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow - The Greatest Hits Of Kenny Loggins

Kenny Loggins
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow compiles Loggins' biggest solo hits, including the chart-topping "Footloose" theme, "Danger Zone" (from Top Gun), and "I'm Alright" (from the classic Caddyshack), along with the newly recorded single "For the First Time."

Jason Ankeny, Rovi

Greatest Hits

Neil Young
It may be hard to believe, but 2004's Greatest Hits is not only the first retrospective Neil Young has released since 1977's Decade, it's the first ever single-disc collection of his best-known songs. That's a span of 27 years separating the two collections, which is an awful long time to resist a Greatest Hits disc -- many of his peers succumbed, offering countless comps during those years -- and such a resistance to a compilation may not be much a surprise from the legendarily prickly Young, but what is a surprise is that 11 of the 16 songs on Greatest Hits were also on Decade. Of the five songs that were not on Decade, only two date from after the '70s -- 1989's "Rockin' in the Free World" and 1992's "Harvest Moon" -- while one of the remaining three (1970's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart") comes from the time chronicled on Decade; the other two, 1978's "Comes a Time" and 1979's "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)," arrived in the two years of the '70s not covered on the 1977 compilation. All this means is that Greatest Hits offers the basic canon, with no frills and none of Neil's trademark idiosyncrasy. Some may miss that cantankerous spirit, pointing out that this contains nothing from his towering twin masterpieces of dark introspection -- Tonight's the Night and On the Beach -- or that there's nothing from Buffalo Springfield (which was covered on Decade) and that noteworthy songs like "Powderfinger," "Cortez the Killer," "Lotta Love," and "Long May You Run" are missing. Ultimately, that doesn't matter much, because Greatest Hits has all the songs that every Neil Young fan, from the devoted to the casual listener, agrees are his biggest and best: "Down by the River," "Cinnamon Girl," "Helpless," "After the Gold Rush," "Southern Man," "Ohio," "The Needle and the Damage Done," "Old Man," "Heart of Gold," "Like a Hurricane." And that's why it works as an all-business introduction for the uninitiated and as a concise summary for those not willing to travel down all the long, winding roads Young has traveled over the years. In other words, it's as good a compilation as it could have been. [Greatest Hits was released in several editions. In addition to the basic single CD, there was a limited edition containing a DVD video with the promo clips for "Rockin' in the Free World" and "Harvest Moon." There was another limited edition with a bonus 7" record. Finally, it was also released as a high-resolution DVD Audio disc.]

Trouble

Ray LaMontagne
The best songs on Trouble, the debut release from songwriter Ray LaMontagne, draw on deep wells of emotion, and with LaMontagne's sandpapery voice, which recalls a gruffer, more sedate version of Tim Buckley or an American version of Van Morrison, they seem to belie his years. The title tune, "Trouble," is an instant classic, sparse and maudlin (in the best sense), and songs like "Narrow Escape," a ragged, episodic waltz, are equally impressive, with careful, cinematic lyrics that tell believable stories of wounded-hearted refugees on the hard road of life and love. Most of the tracks fall into a midtempo shuffle rhythm, so the words have to carry a lot in order to avert a sort of dull sameness, and when it works, it works big, and when it doesn't, well, LaMontagne is so serious and sincere about his craft that you tend to forgive him instantly. Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek guests on "Hannah" and the sad, somber lullaby "All the Wild Horses," playing fiddle and adding vocals, and producer Ethan Johns adds drums and other touches on most tracks. The sound is measured and sparse, with few frills (a five-piece string section is used on a few tracks, but is never intrusive), all of which supports the emotional urgency of LaMontagne's writing. "How Come" sounds a bit like a rewrite of Dave Mason's "Feelin' Alright," and a couple of other cuts seem a bit labored, but overall this is an impressive debut by an extremely special songwriter.

Steve Leggett, Rovi

Sweet Baby James

James Taylor
The heart of James Taylor's appeal is that you can take him two ways. On the one hand, his music, including that warm voice, is soothing; its minor key melodies and restrained playing draw in the listener. On the other hand, his world view, especially on such songs as "Fire and Rain," reflects the pessimism and desperation of the 1960s hangover that was the early '70s. That may not be intentional: "Fire and Rain" was about the suicide of a fellow inmate of Taylor's at a mental institution, not the national malaise. But Taylor's sense of wounded hopelessness -- "I'm all in pieces, you can have your own choice," he sings in "Country Road" -- struck a chord with music fans, especially because of its attractive mixture of folk, country, gospel, and blues elements, all of them carefully understated and distanced. Taylor didn't break your heart; he understood that it was already broken, as was his own, and he offered comfort. As a result, Sweet Baby James sold millions of copies, spawned a Top Ten hit in "Fire and Rain" and a Top 40 hit in "Country Road," and launched not only Taylor's career as a pop superstar but also the entire singer/songwriter movement of the early '70s that included Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, and others. A second legacy became clear two decades later, when country stars like Garth Brooks began to cite Taylor, with his use of steel guitar, references to Jesus, and rural and Western imagery on Sweet Baby James, as a major influence.

William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Till Midnight

Chuck Ragan

Astral Weeks

Van Morrison
Astral Weeks is generally considered one of the best albums in pop music history. For all that renown, Astral Weeks is anything but an archetypal rock & roll album: in fact, it isn't a rock & roll album at all. Employing a mixture of folk, blues, jazz, and classical music, Van Morrison spins out a series of extended ruminations on his Belfast upbringing, including the remarkable character "Madame George" and the climactic epiphany experienced on "Cyprus Avenue." Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Morrison sings in his elastic, bluesy voice, accompanied by a jazz rhythm section (Jay Berliner, guitar, Richard Davis, bass, Connie Kay, drums), plus reeds (John Payne) and vibes (Warren Smith, Jr.), with a string quartet overdubbed. An emotional outpouring cast in delicate musical structures, Astral Weeks has a unique musical power. Unlike any record before or since, it nevertheless encompasses the passion and tenderness that have always mixed in the best postwar popular music, easily justifying the critics' raves.

William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Greatest Hits

The Band
The Band was a very album-oriented group, and only had two Top 40 hit singles. So one could argue that a single-disc greatest hits compilation, or best-of anthology as this might more properly be called, is not the optimum way to dig into their repertoire. But if you're limiting yourself to one Band collection and your budget or patience does not stretch for the two-CD To Kingdom Come set, this 18-song program hits all the famous buttons, including "The Weight," "Chest Fever," "Up on Cripple Creek," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "The Shape I'm In," "Stage Fright," and "When I Paint My Masterpiece." Naturally, it leans most heavily on their first two albums, which supply four songs each. Good, lengthy liner notes by Rob Bowman are a nice bonus, considering that single-disc career-spanning overviews often dispense with such frills. Strange, though, that "Don't Do It," their one Top 40 hit single other than "Up on Cripple Creek," isn't here; in fact, there's nothing from their live Rock of Ages.

Richie Unterberger, Rovi

The Best Of Simon & Garfunkel

Simon & Garfunkel
The Best of Simon & Garfunkel supersedes Greatest Hits as the best compilation of the duo, with more tracks (20 compared to Greatest Hits' 14). Among the new additions are some notable hits: "Hazy Shade of Winter," "At the Zoo," "Fakin' It" (in its "Mono Single Version," for what that's worth), "The Dangling Conversation," and the 1975 reunion "My Little Town." Includes the A-sides of all 16 S&G singles to make the Billboard charts, as well as three B-sides and one album cut. The only number lost from the Greatest Hits set is "Kathy's Song."

Richie Unterberger, Rovi

Utah

Jamestown Revival

Greatest Hits

Cat Stevens
Like many of his peers, Cat Stevens made records that were identified by strong, memorable hit singles, but make no mistake: he made albums that were cohesive works onto themselves. For that reason, the very idea of a Cat Stevens greatest-hits collection may be troublesome to some fans, since they will only notice the missing album tracks, but Greatest Hits does its job exceptionally well. With the exception of "The Hurt," all of his hits from the early '70s -- "Wild World," "Moon Shadow," "Peace Train," "Morning Has Broken," "Sitting," "Oh Very Young," "Another Saturday Night," "Ready," and "Two Fine People" -- are here, along with three other fine album tracks. In short, it is everything that casual fans need -- and even fans that find a favorite or two missing will be hard-pressed to deny that this is a solid introduction and a great listen.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Grace

Jeff Buckley
Jeff Buckley was many things, but humble wasn't one of them. Grace is an audacious debut album, filled with sweeping choruses, bombastic arrangements, searching lyrics, and above all, the richly textured voice of Buckley himself, which resembled a cross between Robert Plant, Van Morrison, and his father Tim. And that's a fair starting point for his music: Grace sounds like a Led Zeppelin album written by an ambitious folkie with a fondness for lounge jazz. At his best -- the soaring title track, "Last Goodbye," and the mournful "Lover, You Should've Come Over" -- Buckley's grasp met his reach with startling results; at its worst, Grace is merely promising. [An LP version was also released.]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Top Songs

Let Her Go

Passenger

I'm Shipping Up To Boston

Dropkick Murphys

I Will Wait

Mumford & Sons

American Pie

Don McLean

Fast Car

Tracy Chapman

The Funeral

Band of Horses

What's Up?

4 Non Blondes

Mr. Jones

Counting Crows

I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)

The Proclaimers

The Cave

Mumford & Sons

Better Together

Jack Johnson

Little Lion Man

Mumford & Sons

A Horse with No Name

America

Take Me Home, Country Roads

John Denver

Danny's Song

Loggins & Messina

Trouble

Ray LaMontagne

Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song)

Oscar Isaac

The Sounds Of Silence

Simon & Garfunkel

Happy Together

The Turtles

Mrs. Robinson

Simon & Garfunkel

Sundown

Gordon Lightfoot

For What It's Worth

Buffalo Springfield