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Sound advice

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Brandi Carlile

Bear Creek

Columbia Records

File next to: Rachael Yamagata, Overthe Rhine

Brandi Carlile has spent a decade enchanting fans with gritty vocals, stirring melodies and insightful lyrics most singer-songwriters can only dream of writing. Her last release, Live at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony, proved she can do whatever the hell she wants musically, and it's going to work because she's that damn good. Bear Creek further proves the point. The bluegrass ("Hard Way Home"), folk ("A Promise to Keep"), gospel (the album's lead single, "That Wasn't Me") and country ("Keep Your Heart Young") genres are represented, as are soul, rock and Americana. The earthy, stomp-rock of "Raise Hell" is one of Carlile's shining moments, while the ethereal, yearning closer, "Just Kids," will send chills up your spine. This is one of 2012's best albums, hands down. — Brian Palmer

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Alejandro Escovedo

Big Station

Fantasy/Concord

File next to: X, Bruce Springsteen,Chuck Prophet

At 62, Alejandro Escovedo rocks with the fire and urgency of a young musician still discovering his musical powers. In a way, he is. With rejuvenated producer Tony Visconti and songwriting partner Chuck Prophet, he's creating songs as intriguing and passionate as anything he's done, but with the insight of a guy who's hit more than a few bumps on life's hard road. Visiting early rock 'n roll rhythms, with a nod to his punk roots and Bowie/T. Rex love, Escovedo fills Big Station with tremolo-edged guitars, far-off trumpets, tight rhythms and lyrics that confess less and declare more. In "Never Stood a Chance," he sings, "the world's a big and crazy lover / so let's just dance here / where we are." Big Station crackles with electricity, and Escovedo — expressing defiance, exuberance, regret or quiet longing — transmits on a frequency all his own. — Lynne Margolis

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Pujol

United States of Being

Saddle Creek

File next to: Deer Tick, Dawes

Formerly signed to Jack White's Third Man Records, now the Conor Oberst-associated Saddle Creek label, Daniel Pujol has his indie credentials intact. United States of Being, the full-length album debut from the Tennessee native, opens with the sound of a buzzing cell phone. The songs that follow offer up a pretty stirring wakeup call on their own. Pujol mixes grainy guitar tones and raspy vocals with potent pop melodies to create a distinctive, highly appealing sound. "Mission From God" is a blast of concise, fast-paced power pop at just over two minutes, while "Providence" takes things in a more straightforward rock direction with convincing results. "Keeper of Atlantis" is full of slam-bam, garage-rock fun, while "Niceness" has a punky delivery that's considerably edgier than the song title suggests. All in all, an engaging album from an artist to watch. — Alan Sculley

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