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Sound Advice

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Conor Oberst
Conor Oberst
Merge Records / Release date: Aug. 5

Sounds like: American folk rock made in Mexico
Short take: Conor finds his cojones

When an acquaintance heard I was reviewing Conor Oberst's new solo effort, the phrase "wuss that he is" was uttered in response. For all his inherent musical gifts, Mr. Bright Eyes still can come across as an emo kid in singer-songwriter clothing. Not this time, however. Oberst brings out big guns, including guitarist Nik Freitas and Rilo Kiley drummer Jason Boesel, to bury his nasal indie rock beneath a dusty layer of twang-heavy tracks. "Cape Canaveral" and "Sausalito" kick off the affair with rolling road anthems, while "I Don't Want to Die (In the Hospital)" and "Souled Out" owe a debt to Beck and his anti-folk ancestors. Though the plodding, pained single "Danny Callahan" exposes Oberst's soft underbelly, his Band-like "Get-Well-Cards" shows a side of Oberst listeners rarely see the one that contains his spine and swagger. Jason Notte


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Eddie Floyd
Eddie Loves You So
Stax

Sounds like: Soulsville 2008
Short take: Legend returns in fine form

Some 40 years after writing, recording and making music history with "Knock on Wood," Southern soul man Eddie Floyd returns to the Stax label for an album of songs he wrote for other artists, including Carla Thomas and Sam & Dave, but hadn't previously recorded himself. Eddie Loves You So finds the Alabama-born Floyd passing over his best-known songs he also co-wrote Wilson Pickett's "634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.)" with Steve Cropper in favor of archival gems like the album-opening "'Til My Back Ain't Got No Bone" (recorded early on by William Bell and Esther Phillips) and "Since You Been Gone" (a song his old group, the Falcons, never released). Eddie's voice and the accompanying grooves are deep and soulful throughout, with the biggest surprise being "Close to You," a new Floyd composition that winds up being the album's best track. We love you too, Eddie! Bill Forman


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Heybale
The Last Country Album
Shuffle5 Records

Sounds like: Old-school alternative to the New Country
Short take: Country sidemen take the spotlight

Heybale are a super-group of sorts: Pianist Earl Poole Ball worked with Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Gram Parsons and played on the Byrds' seminal Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. Lead guitarist Redd Volkaert spent six years in Merle Haggard's band, while bassist Kevin Smith tours with Dwight Yoakam, and drummer Tom Lewis performs with Raul Malo. That leaves lead singer Gary Claxton, who is really Heybale's true shining star. His vocals are instantly appealing and downright devastating, with the kind of soulfulness that has always made country the workingman's blues. Even better, Claxton writes them as fine as he sings them. If "House of Secrets" doesn't send a jolt of sorrow up your spine, then it's time to see some kind of specialist. No wonder the guys had the guts to call this The Last Country Album. They just might be right. Bill Bentley

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