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Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears

Scandalous

Lost Highway

Buy if you like: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, James Brown

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears don't do sweet soul. They do down 'n dirty, in your face, punky funk. That's partly because Joe isn't a nuanced vocalist; he's a shouter, and on some cuts, like "Since I Met You Baby," his voice is torn and frayed. But he's going for emotion (and motion), not finesse. For this party-starting hybrid of Muscle Shoals and Motown, Memphis and Clarksdale (as redirected through the lips and hips of a rooster-strutting British icon) with just a little Black Keys grit, it mostly works. The title tune's transistorized guitar and phat bass sound like chopped 'n screwed R&B; "Ballad of Jimmy Tanks" features some Earth, Wind & Fire-style vocals (and those horns are the heart of this soul). But "Booty City" is close to Edwin Starr's "25 Miles," and "Mustang Ranch" is George Thorogood channeling John Lee Hooker. Original it's not, but it's definitely fun. — Lynne Margolis

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Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Mogwai

Sub Pop Records

Buy if you like: Sonic Youth, Tortoise

It's not hardcore, of course. Nor is it white noise, even if that's the name of the opening track. And while the closing number is called "You're Lionel Richie," that's probably not true either. The truth about Mogwai is that, after more than 15 years of artful guitar-rock godhood, the Scottish band's instrumental oeuvre still outshines its American "post-rock" counterparts with brutally beautiful melodies and arrangements that simultaneously melt hearts and minds. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, its seventh album and first for Sub Pop, is a reunion with original producer Paul Savage that works perfectly. Standouts include "Mexican Grand Prix," a rare vocal track with the snaky allure of early Wire and Can recordings. But more typical Mogwai tracks, from the serene "Letters to the Metro" to the riff-nasty "Rano Pano," remind us that sometimes words just get in the way. — Bill Forman

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Exene Cervenka

The Excitement of Maybe

Bloodshot Records.

Buy if you like: Signe Anderson, Sylvia Tyson

During her days fronting X alongside John Doe, Exene Cervenka sang about the gritty glare of the L.A. lights and what went on underneath them. On her latest solo album, that focus has shifted to drop-dead gorgeous songs about the vexing vagaries of love, hope and happiness. Songs like "Alone in Arizona" and "Half Past Forever" are movingly emotional exercises in longing, backed by the empathetic twang of her long-time California compadre Dave Alvin and the rock-solid rhythms of bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brady Blade. All sound like they're deeply wired into Cervenka's spirit. There are also swirling keyboard strings and high-stepping horns, and even during the most folkish turns and light-handed drums, this is music with a big kick. Cervenka's "we're desperate, get used to it" sentiments have largely given way to a heaven-sent and much-deserved glow. May that shine always find her. — Bill Bentley

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