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Ringo Starr

Y Not

Hip-O Records

Buy if you like: The Beatles, Jimmy Buffett

At this stage of the game, people aren't holding their breath waiting for Ringo Starr to release a great album, which is clearly a good thing. Even with Starr producing himself and getting a little help from his friends Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh and Van Dyke Parks, Y Not comes across as a mostly disposable collection. The lyrics are consistently awful, and the musical borrowings from David Bowie's "Fame" on the title track fall just short of grand larceny. This becomes all the more unfortunate once you realize that Starr actually can get it right, as he proves on the midtempo pop gem "Everyone Wins," which would have had George Harrison bobbing his head with Beatlemania abandon. It's small consolation, but then again, Starr is a drummer. Maybe he should find, say, three other guys and put a band together. — Bill Forman


Lady Antebellum

Need You Now

Capitol Nashville

Buy if you like: Rascal Flatts, Sugarland

After a country chart-topping single ("I Run to You") garnered from a fine self-titled debut album, Lady Antebellum deserves its slew of country music awards as well as its two 2009 Grammy nominations. It's not exactly surprising, then, that Nashville's hottest trio doesn't mess around much with its rootsy country-pop formula here. And that's really no problem at all. From the lovely mid-tempo title track to the piano-laced "Our Kind of Love" and crunchy "Stars Tonight," this album hits the mark nicely, even if, when taken as a whole, it tends to be a bit softer than its predecessor. Far from suggesting a sophomore slump, Need You Now says that Lady Antebellum is bound to maintain a steady presence on the charts and will most likely become one of country music's newest arena-packing headliners. — Alan Sculley


Patty Griffin

Downtown Church


Buy if you like: Buddy & Julie Miller, Emmylou Harris

So what if she's a little red-haired lapsed Catholic from New England? Under producer Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin pulls off gospel so well, she could take on the Pope in a spirituality contest and seriously challenge Aretha Franklin for her Queen of Soul crown. (OK, perhaps that second part was blasphemous.) Backed by gospel greats the McCrary Sisters and Mike Farris — plus Julie Miller, Emmylou Harris and Jim Lauderdale — Griffin aces this mix of classics and rarities. Her almost-sinister "Death's Got a Warrant" could make the devil shiver; "If I Had My Way" builds in sexy intensity till it nearly explodes; and the bluesy "Waiting for My Child" is a slow-simmering knockout. Singing from the pulpit of a Nashville church has transformed Griffin into an even more powerful musical force, one deserving of next year's gospel Grammy. — Lynne Margolis

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