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Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker, Yim Yames

New Multitudes

Rounder

Buy if you like: Son Volt, My Morning Jacket

Nora Guthrie has turned mining her father's archives into a cottage industry—not for cash, but to keep his legacy alive. On the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie's birth, she's also spreading awareness of the folk traditions on which he built his career. And Jay Farrar, Yim Yames, Anders Parker and Will Johnson, the latest beneficiaries of her invitation to search for lyrical gold, do him proud. Son Volt's Farrar, who opens with "Hoping Machine" and closes with the title song, hasn't sounded this expressive in ages. Centro-matic's Will Johnson, whose musical prowess deserves more renown, conveys quiet dignity in "Chorine My Sheba Queen" and fills "V.D. City" with fuzzed-out energy. Varnaline's Anders Parker brings some pop, and on "Angel's Blues," some fire. Yames (My Morning Jacket's Jim James) meanders, dreamlike, through a version of "My Revolutionary Mind" that's completely unlike Tom Morello's." What a birthday present their harmonic convergence makes. — Lynne Margolis

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The Shins

Port of Morrow

Columbia/Interscope

Buy if you like: Spoon, Built to Spill

A decade after the band released its Sub Pop debut, titled Oh, Inverted World, James Mercer and his reconstituted Shins now are moving even closer to the mainstream. Port of Morrow puts a little 21st century indie rock spin on pop/rock moves that are rooted in the 1960s and '70s. Along the way, Mercer turns romantic and reflective on the tranquil ballad "September," the bouncy pop "Simple Song" and the regret-laden "It's Only Life." Other songs here pay tribute to his cool older sister and look at life from the perspective of a teenager. There's even an anthemic political number called "No Way Down" that should resonate with many Occupy supporters. But for the most part, there simply aren't a lot of edges to the music here. Instead, we get some clever zips and hooks that augment the simple melodies, actually a setting that's fine for Mercer's voice, but it doesn't add up to a compelling album. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Justin Townes Earle

Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel

About Me Now

Bloodshot

Buy if you like: Townes Van Zandt, Hank Williams, theAvett Brothers

The son of Steve Earle — and namesake of Steve's favorite songwriter, Townes Van Zandt — just turned 30 years old, but is already living up to the promise of his name. On his fourth Bloodshot release in as many years, Justin Townes Earle shows more of his uncommon talent and remarkable growth. No stranger to heartbreak, he's learned how to tug listeners' heartstrings like a master puppeteer — not with maudlin references, but with matter-of-fact lines like "Hear my father on the radio / Sometimes I wish that he'd just call." Though not many of us live through the pain of hearing our distant father on the airwaves, he makes us know exactly what it's like. Supported by Amanda Shires and other fine players, Earle imbues every song with the weary ache that permeates his soul. Yet somehow, it never grows tiresome. —Lynne Margolis

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