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Jeremy Facknitz, From Those Sweet Ashes (Bullfrog Records) – In previous albums, Facknitz tried to preserve a power-pop aesthetic that kept his music from being pegged in acoustic lyricist categories. This impressive new album adds layers of instrumentation and polished arrangements, giving tracks the feel of Nick Lowe, Andrew Bird, or even John Darnielle. When an album confronts grief of all sorts and opens with two songs about suicide, it takes careful footwork to prevent a dirge-like ambience. Facknitz proves his transcendence in songs like “Ballet of an Unhatched Chick,” and adds his crowd-pleaser “Love So Big” to make sure everyone goes home happy.
Carla Olson, Have Harmony, Will Travel 2 (Sunset Blvd Records) – For being a top-notch Austin musician, both as founder of The Textones and in her solo work, Olson keeps a restrained ego and low profile. She picked fine vocal partners for her first duets album in 2013, and now returns with collaborators as varied as Terry Reid (singing “Scarlet Ribbons”) and Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits, sounding downright cowboy in “Goodbye My Love.” Where duets albums from divas can sometimes become overstatements, Olson keeps her guitar-playing crisp and her backing vocals amped down, yielding a roots-rock album of 11 wildly diverse and sublime tracks.