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The Rifles

The Great Escape


Buy if you like: The Jam, Soft Boys

According to the press materials that accompany The Great Escape, the Rifles have made a decent stir in their UK homeland ever since the release of their 2006 debut album. After listening to this newly released sophomore album, I'm happy to be counted alongside those British fans who were so suitably stirred. But don't just take my word for it. Both Oasis and Paul Weller — the former Jam mainman — are also fans. Evoking both classic and modern Britpop, the band's consistently solid and sharply melodic sound covers a good deal of stylistic ground. Songs range from the driving, chiming rock of "Out in the Past" and the bouncy "Romeo & Julie" to the snappy skiffle-pop of "Winter Calls" and the churning horn-accented rock of "The General." The Great Escape offers every indication that this band isn't just another one-shot wonder. — Alan Sculley


Sam Baker


Music Road

Buy if you like: John Prine, Todd Snider

Sam Baker is not much of a singer, yet his breathy, near monotonal tenor and halting, almost spoken delivery give strength to his remarkable storytelling. His spare characterizations are similarly rich in their economy; like Ernest Hemingway, he knows less is more. Cotton differs slightly from Baker's previous work because the music itself is less sparse; after an ethereal round of "Dixie," it slides into the uncharacteristically drum-driven near rocker title tune before returning to Baker's gentle strumming. Filigreed by Steve Conn's gorgeous piano, this third album in a trilogy is about forgiveness: for slavery, forced marriage, disappointment, accidents (including his own near-death in a terrorist train bombing in Peru). "Ice that is black" is how Baker refers to the danger awaiting a sad woman who left on Christmas night in the song "Angel Hair." It's powerful stuff, haunting and gripping. — Lynne Margolis


The Stone Roses

The Stone Roses 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

Sony Legacy

Buy if you like: Oasis, Franz Ferdinand

If you want to know where modern Britpop began, The Stone Roses — the striking 1989 debut from the band of the same name — is a good place to start. Blending jangly guitar with Manchester melancholia, the Stone Roses combined hooks, attitude and emotion, along with some great vocals by frontman Ian Brown, into a hit-making machine across the pond. Even so, the Stone Roses never got much attention here in the states. This deluxe edition includes the original album, which sounds fabulous, as well as a disc of demos that are more enlightening than most such collections. There's also a full-concert DVD with bonus music videos. Some 15 years after the band's breakup, this re-release of its classic album should bring the Stone Roses the accolades they are clearly due. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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