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John Prine

In Person & On Stage

Oh Boy

Buy if you like: Bob Dylan, Tom Waits

John Prine has always stood out from the folk troubadour pack; he's closer to Dylan's equal than most, not in fame and album sales, but certainly in songwriting ability. If "Angel From Montgomery" were the only song he'd ever written, his immortality would be assured. But 13 other fine tunes here confirm his singular talent, as a singer/songwriter and a wryly humorous entertainer. In addition to "Angel," which appears here as a gorgeous duet with the angelic Emmylou Harris, standouts include "In Spite of Ourselves" (with Iris DeMent in Loretta Lynn mode) and "The Late John Garfield Blues" (with Sara Watkins' clear, strong voice contrasting beautifully with Prine's gruff counterpart). Watkins' fiddle sounds as lyrical as the words: "An old man sleeps with his conscience at night / young kids sleep with their dreams." Powerful stuff. — Lynne Margolis


The Black Keys



Buy if you like: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Howlin' Wolf

In the past, there was a question of how long the duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney could sound fresh with their guitar and drums format. Here, they walk the line between retaining and reinventing their identity. "Everlasting Light" starts the album with a deliciously funky sound that would make Prince proud. "Tighten Up" takes the funk in a more traditional, soulful direction, while "Never Gonna Give You Up" finds Auerbach and Carney exploring a sleeker side of R&B, showing they don't need a rough and tumble edge to be compelling. Elsewhere, songs like "She's Long Gone," "Next Girl" and "Howlin' for You" hew closer to the Black Keys' familiar gritty blues-rock sound. Forceful and emotionally vibrant, this is the Black Keys' richest album and a strong contender for album of the year. — Alan Sculley


Keller & the Keels


SCI Fidelity

Buy if you like: Grateful Dead, Yonder Mountain String Band

Does the world need a bluegrass version of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab"? Cracker's "Teen Angst"? Marcy Playground's "Sex and Candy"? We do, but we didn't know until Keller Williams and pals Larry and Jenny Keel decided to give 'em to us. This all-covers collection is a stripped-down acoustic affair; string-picking and harmonies shine and you can understand all the words. They also do the Drive-by Truckers' "Uncle Disney," the Presidents of the United States of America's "Bath of Fire," and songs by the Raconteurs, Grateful Dead, Ryan Adams, Danny Barnes, Kris Kristofferson and, of course, a version of the Butthole Surfers' "Pepper" (which may be better than the original). They say the title is not implying the songs are "stolen," but to remind listeners who illegally obtain them what they will be. — Lynne Margolis

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