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Sound advice

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Otis Redding

Live on the Sunset Strip

Stax Records

Buy if you like: Percy Sledge, O.V. Wright

In early 1966, Otis Redding was at that exact apex where his unrelenting power intersected with a growing public profile. Already a heavyweight among African-American musicians, he was starting to see his presence lean into popular music across the board. On these two discs, Redding isn't a polished singer by any means, and that's good — because the way he turns his emotions into explosives has to be heard to be believed. Hits like "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)," "These Arms of Mine," "Respect" and "Mr. Pitiful" are some of the best ever recorded, and these live versions are even more expansive. Redding had also started covering the Stones' "Satisfaction" and the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night," making them his own in the process. There have been other releases featuring recordings from these shows, but no collections as complete and, by extension, inspiring. — Bill Bentley

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Various Artists

Friday Night Lights Vol. 2: Original Television Soundtrack

Arrival/Scion Music Group

Buy if you like: White Rabbits, John Doe

Some soundtracks are a jarring mishmash of styles, promoting individual acts more than helping express the program they represent. That's not the case here. These tracks are exceedingly well-chosen, and even though they're not meant as literal representations of on-screen events, they do evoke moods appropriate to the show. The opener, White Rabbits' bracing "Percussion Gun," is perfect for a drama about high-school football; it actually sounds like marching-band drummers were used on the song (which also has great harmonies). The Heartless Bastards' "Sway" is appealing in a garage-sloppy way, while Band of Skulls gets a little heavier with "I Know What I Am." John Doe's "Meanest Man in the World" and the Avett Brothers' "If It's the Beaches" are lovely treats, as are AM's atmospheric "What You Hide" and Augustana's "Fire." This one's a keeper. — Lynne Margolis

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Elizabeth Cook

Welder

31 Tigers

Buy if you like: Loretta Lynn, Miranda Lambert

Cook's fifth and best album is both funny and heartfelt, traditional yet fully contemporary. The Florida native, who hosts the Apron Strings show on Sirius/XM's Outlaw Country channel, is a sharp songwriter and evocative singer with plenty of twang. "El Camino," "Yes to Booty" and "Snake in the Bed" showcase biting humor about lusting after the wrong guy, the effects of alcohol on sex, and just plain goofiness, respectively. But they're balanced by personal songs like the touching, acoustic-rooted "Mama's Funeral." "Girlfriend Tonite" is a lived-in view of marriage, and the heartbreaking "Heroin Addict Sister" might just be the best song on the record. A cover of "Blackland Farmer" displays Cook's traditionalism, even if the rest of the music has more edge and bite suited to the middle-of-the-road that is today's mainstream country. No matter: Welder has a shot at being the best country record of 2010. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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