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Sound Advice

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John Mayer

Battle Studies

Columbia

Buy if you like: Jackson Browne, Jason Mraz

On his fourth studio album, Battle Studies, John Mayer embraces his inner sensitive dude, largely downplaying the showier guitar work for which he was once known, save for a few biting flourishes. Opening with the lush "Heartbreak Warfare," Mayer explores such touching topics as "All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye," asks "Do You Know Me" and whispers something about "no more suffering, no more pain" in "War of My Life." Getting the picture? "Assassin" sounds like a Sting song, as do several other tracks, which says everything about Battle Studies. A funkified version of "Crossroads" ends up being the most interesting track on the album. But that Robert Johnson/Cream cover just seems out of place in the midst of so much singer/songwriter schmaltz. Mayer has said that his models for the record were '70s L.A. soft rockers. Unfortunately, he's hit that target in all its soporific dullness. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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The Rolling Stones

Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!

Abkco

Buy if you like: Faces, the Black Crowes

The original single disc document of the Stones' 1969 two-night stand at Madison Square Garden is considered one of the all-time great live albums. This three-CD, one-DVD box treatment adds a disc with five songs that were left off of the original release — including, most inexplicably, "Satisfaction." The set is rounded out by a bonus 12-track disc featuring the evening's opening acts, B.B. King and Tina Turner. The Stones were in the middle of their creative peak, and their performances here are tight and spirited. King, meanwhile, is captured in the prime of his career, while Turner is at her frisky best, long before she shifted from rough-edged soul to the more polished pop material of the '80s and '90s. This reissue makes an already great live album that much better as it documents a historic moment for not only the Stones, but popular music itself. — Alan Sculley

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Norah Jones

The Fall

Blue Note

Buy if you like: Diana Krall, Cassandra Wilson

For The Fall, Norah Jones decided to collaborate with Ryan Adams and Okkervil River's Will Sheff, and to even let a little guitar noise seep into the mix. But as you might have guessed, the going never gets noisy, or even slightly out of hand. Instead, Jones applies her superb voice to pop songs like "Chasing Pirates," "Young Blood" (a cash-in on the vampire trend) and "Man of the Hour," which actually displays a bit of humor. Jones is a terrific singer who puts a jazz-tinged spin on much of her music, but her material is generally far from challenging. The Fall also tends to be less jazz oriented than Jones' first three albums. Still, it's what her legion of fans have come to expect: pretty music that's carried by a beautiful voice. Her pleasant vocals and pop grooves slip into what's sure to be perfect background music at your neighborhood Starbucks. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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