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New releases from The Head and the Heart, the Rolling Stones and Van Morrison

Sound Advice

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The Head and the Heart
  • The Head and the Heart

The Head and the Heart

Signs of Light

Warner Brothers

File next to: Lord Huron, Hey Marseilles, Gregory Alan Isakov

Folk-rock Americana has hit an unfortunate rut, as acts like The Avett Brothers, The Lumineers and Band of Horses hew closely to predictable templates. But on Signs of Light, Seattle's The Head and The Heart escape folkie ennui by prioritizing pop riffs. While the similarly inclined Dawes is largely a vehicle for lead singer Taylor Goldsmith, The Head and The Heart go for a more collaborative approach where vocalist Jon Russell orchestrates but does not overshadow the rest of the band. Signing to a major label could have led to a calculated radio-ready "big sound," but tracks like "Take a Walk" and "False Alarm" are infectious tunes that hold up to repeated listening. Factor in borderline experimental rhythms, and The Head and The Heart deftly avoid the trap of numbing indie-folk sameness. — LW

The Rolling Stones
  • The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones

Blue & Lonesome

Polydor Records

File next to: Eric Clapton, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon

Few people expected the Rolling Stones to make a very good (and quite possibly great) album in 2016. The year of rock star and celebrity death spared Keith Richards; that in itself was remarkable enough. But for Blue & Lonesome, their 23rd studio album — and their first in more than a decade — the Stones returned to their roots. Their self-titled 1964 debut had only three original tunes out of 12; Blue & Lonesome is all covers. And not just any covers: The selection of mostly Chicago blues takes things right back to where the group started. They don't sound exactly like old bluesmen, though all but Ronnie Wood (a youngster at 69) are approaching their mid-70s. But they still tear into these songs with all the gutbucket feel of their blues forebears, reminding us once again that they're superb interpreters of blues classics. — BK

Van Morrison
  • Van Morrison

Van Morrison

Keep Me Singing

Caroline

File next to: Ry Cooder, Richard Thompson

Given that the Belfast Cowboy spent 2015-16 singing blues covers in small clubs in Northern Ireland, there was no reason to expect new material anytime soon. But Morrison has surprised fans once again with a dozen originals plus a cover of Aretha Franklin's "Share Your Love with Me." There may not be any of the strange Blakean flights of fancy that characterized Morrison's esoteric 1970s era, but Keep Me Singing tracks like "Tiburon" and "Every Time I See a River" provide plenty of proof that he remains a poet with few equals. Familiar musicians like Paul Moran and Dave Kerry join sessions that rarely wander into the difficult music for which Morrison can be infamous, but are complex and lush enough to satisfy longtime fans. Even when Morrison consciously attempts a session that goes down easy, his work could never be mistaken for easy listening. — LW

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