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Peter Himmelman

The Mystery and the Hum

Minivan Records

Buy if you like: Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson

Restless soul that he must be, Peter Himmelman seemingly can't commit to a musical style. That's not always a flaw, but this time it prevents an OK effort from being stronger. He starts out country-ish, then hits his Elvis-Costello-meets-Joe-Jackson mid-tempo stride on "Change My Channel." But he clicks the remote a little too fast for the rap-rocker "Good Luck Charm." After a dramatic mix of anger and fear (and fine pickin') in "Georgia Clay," his voice somehow takes on a Neil Diamond quality for "Ever So Slightly." "Medicine" just sounds pedestrian, and "Windshield Reflections" would be better in the hands of Michael Franti. The strongest moment is the closer, "Trembling in the Beams," with its sad piano conveying his melancholy longing for happier times. With some lyrical honing and stylistic tailoring, Himmelman may yet be ready for prime time. — Lynne Margolis


Marty Stuart

Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions

Sugar Hill

Buy if you like: Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard

Music doesn't get more country than Ghost Train, and country doesn't get any better than this. Marty Stuart, who's played with legends since he was a teenager, has a combination of songs and styles that reflect timeless traditional country sounds and themes. Some highlights: "Country Boy Rock 'n' Roll," a venture into hillbilly territory with Kenny Vaughan tearing up the guitar; the heartbroke ballad "Drifting Apart"; the classic country duet "I Run to You" with Connie Smith; the Merle Haggard update "Hard Working Man"; a prison song from the point of view of a "Hangman"; and a spoken-word trip to "Porter Wagoner's Grave." Keeping with tradition, there are three instrumentals including a great, if short, version of "Crazy Arms" with the legendary Ralph Mooney on pedal steel. To put it simply, Ghost Train looks to be the best country record of 2010. — L. Kent Wolgamott


Charlie Musselwhite

The Well


Buy if you like: Sonny Boy Williamson, Lazy Lester

After playing on scores of other artists' albums as well as 30 of his own, Charlie Musselwhite's newest is a career first for the harmonica virtuoso. The Well is his first full-band album for which he wrote all the songs, except for one track he co-wrote. This is also his most personal album, touching on his Delta roots in the blues ("Where Hwy 61 Runs"), his battle with alcohol and drug addiction ("Dig the Pain"), his recovery ("The Well") and the murder of his elderly mother (a duet with the great Mavis Staples on "Sad and Beautiful World"). Musically, it's a perfect distillation of Musselwhite's potent mix of Chicago and Delta blues idioms. And while stylistically it never strays far from what's sustained him, this album is both a blessing for old fans and a fine introduction for the uninitiated. — Alan Sculley

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