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Sound advice

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Amy Hart

Congratulations

Painted Rock Records

Buy if you like: Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi

Hart started her career in Chicago, where her early gigs included opening for Koko Taylor, Junior Well and James Cotton. On Congratulations, those blues roots are readily apparent, but so is a taste for rock and soul — not to mention a considerable talent for songwriting and some wry humor. "Get Ready," a sassy declaration of love, has a sweet, soul-tinged melody that matches its attitude. "Get the Girls Dancing" brings a funky edge to Hart's sound, while a grittier side emerges on "Put Me Back," "Ribcage" and the title track. Hart rocks the blues, but without the bombast many artists bring to it. She also mixes in a few solid ballads, the best of which, "When Love Comes to Call," has a bit of a Sheryl Crow-styled country soul feel. There's also humor, most blatantly on "Rich Ass Daddy," a swaggering look at the upside of settling in with a sugar daddy. — Alan Sculley

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Heavy Times

Jacker

HoZac Records

Buy if you like: The Hives, the Buzzcocks

The first thing that makes Chicago band Heavy Times stand out is a distinctive guitar sound that brings a tangy, trebly and brash element to just about everything it touches. Coupled with a drum sound that tends to go heavy on the cymbals and tinny on the snare, the result is an appealingly garage-influenced, thoroughly indie-rock sound. But history has proven that bands don't live or die on sonic quality alone. And Jacker, the band's sophomore album, definitely brings lots more to the table. Heavy Times have a way with short songs — such as "Let It Die," "Polar Moon" and "Electronic Cigarette" — that blast out rapid fire, full of energy and laced with simple guitar hooks that are strong enough to carry the day. These are the kind of songs that won't win any awards for sophisticated songcraft, but they make for noisy, punky fun. And that's an art form in itself. — Alan Sculley

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Miranda Lambert

Four the Record

RCA Nashville

Buy if you like: Gretchen Wilson, Allison Moorer

Miranda Lambert's new album finds the platinum country sensation revving up her spitfire persona on "Fastest Girl in Town," dueting with husband Blake Shelton on "Better in the Long Run," and mixing together styles that range from traditional heartbreak country to rock of both the fuzzy and Southern-tinged variety. Strangely enough, Four the Record is actually Lambert's fifth record, assuming you count her self-titled 2001 debut — which the Texas-born artist apparently doesn't. In any event, this is her most adventurous record to date, with Lambert having a hand in writing six of its 14 songs. She also explores what may be her true alt-country colors by covering Gillian Welch and David Rawlings' "Look at Miss Ohio" and Allison Moorer's gorgeous "Oklahoma Sky." All in all, Four the Record is a fine disc that shows why Lambert continues to reign at the top of the contemporary country heap. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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