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The Decemberists

The Hazards of Love

Capitol / Release: March 24

Sounds like: A wandering-minstrel side project

Short take: If you liked Zep's songs about hobbits, you'll love this

Long ago, Black Sabbath could sing about wizards and Led Zeppelin could discuss Middle Earth, and seem no less badass for doing so. The Decemberists, in their own way, revive that hallowed tradition with a concept that hits like a Norse hammer. Here's the gist: The heroine, Margaret, leaves home for a walk in the coniferous northern taiga and all hell breaks loose. The accordion-aided stroll of "Isn't It a Lovely Night" yields to the harpsichord romp, "The Wanting Comes in Waves," but soon devolves into the Geezer Butler-style guitar riffing that punctuates our protagonist's plight in "A Bower Scene," "The Queen's Rebuke" and "Margaret in Captivity." My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Robyn Hitchcock and others help this lush exercise in artistic hubris become a textbook lesson in epic songwriting. Jason Notte




Rough Trade / Release: March 24

Sounds like: Flight of the 1990s

Short take: Scottish band kicks out clichs

The 1990s' second effort, Kicks, draws equal amounts inspiration and ire through a dozen tracks of cocky power pop and garage-rock guitar. This Glasgow act isn't afraid to travel down clichd boulevards for a snappy hook or pop-ish moment. Leadoff track "Vondelpark" combines plenty of "Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh"s with a Pearl Jam-lite guitar solo, while "Everybody Please Relax" is an annoying, paint-by-numbers, Flight of the Conchords-sounding pop monstrosity. And actually, the comparison of 1990s to the New Zealand comedy duo turns out to be apropos throughout the album. In fact, the best track is the mid-tempo "59," which boasts a jangly Strokes guitar lead with singer Jackie McKeown delivering in a tongue-in-cheek falsetto the memorable lyric "One thing is driving me crazy / Your left eye is kind of lazy." At least Kicks is good for a few chuckles. John Benson


Brigitte DeMeyer

Red River Flower

BDM Music

Sounds like: Indie folk with Southern grooves and a Midwestern heart

Short take: The fourth time's the charm

From out of left field comes a singer-songwriter with the glow of greatness. This is Brigitte DeMeyer's fourth album, but if you haven't been trolling the outskirts of popular music, you've probably missed her. Which is a shame, because her voice is one that sinks straight into your heart the very first time you hear it, and her songs come from the center of her soul, with a haunting hurt that might never heal. DeMeyer has the balls of Bonnie Raitt (but never tries to sound like her), so there's no succumbing to sadness here. Drummer-producer Brady Blade uses ringers like guitarist Buddy Miller and pedal steel player Al Perkins to surround the songs with badass comfort. Red River Flower is ready to be heard, and hopefully will bring this singer-songwriter in from the cold. Bill Bentley

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