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Bobby Womack

The Bravest Man in the Universe

XL Recordings

File next to: Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett

Soul legend Womack hooks up with Blur and Gorillaz main-man Damon Albarn and XL Records owner-producer Richard Russell for this unexpected "comeback." Unlike many such projects, it defies the musty norm of venerated artists retreading a well-worn past. Instead, the purveyor of classic hits like "Lookin' for a Love" and "Across 110th Street" sets his rugged voice against Albarn's keyboards and Russell's beats, creating a mix of vintage soul and modern electronics. It's a compelling, atmospheric album that still finds Womack at the forefront, whether on the regretful "Please Forgive My Heart" or a team-up with Lana Del Ray on "Dayglo Reflection" (where she sounds better than on her own record). The soulman also rants at televangelists on "If There Wasn't Something There," and goes full-on gospel with "Jubilee," a fitting closer to his best set of music since the '80s. — L. Kent Wolgamott


Peaking Lights


Mexican Summer

File next to: Pocahaunted, Mi Ami

Dub occasionally sounds so austere that it gives you a heady headache. Props, therefore, to Peaking Lights of Madison, Wis., for transcending that tendency, and the ponderousness that often besets the other genre they draw heavily from: indie electronica. Like 2011's 936, this third album Lucifer features Indra Dunis' jaded (stoned?) vocals floating somewhere above husband Aaron Coyes' impossibly perfect blend of lo-fi analog sounds and digital sonic subterfuge. From post-minimalist looping ("Beautiful Son") to vaguely Afropoppy jams ("Live Love") to, well, straight-up dub ("Cosmic Tides," "LO HI") — all are woozily repetitive without leaning on repetition as a stylistic crutch. The melodies are so pristine that it feels good hearing them over and over again. More than ever, Peaking Lights seem in touch with the same mystical impulse behind dub, Krautrock and all things grooving. — Wyatt Miller


Delta Rae

Carry the Fire

Sire/Warner Bros.

File next to: Little Big Town, Fleetwood Mac

Delta Rae, a six-piece, four-vocalist outfit from North Carolina, ironically is still trying to find its voice on Carry the Fire. The band has the advantage of being backed by Sire Records co-founder Seymour Stein, who played a key role in careers ranging from the Ramones to Madonna. Stein has likened the band to a kind of American version of Mumford & Sons, but one could equate Delta Rae's harmony-filled pop with a latter-day Fleetwood Mac. For good measure, the band throws in a strong dose of rootsy Americana, plus some soul and gospel. The latter provides the album's best moment with the powerful call-and-response track "Bottom of the River." The rest is comparatively sedate, with traded-off lead vocals, harmonies and arrangements that aren't far from mainstream country. Not a bad thing, really, but not particularly exciting. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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