Author

Jim Greer

Joss Stone

We admit the idea of a pretty 16-year-old white girl from England fronting a band of Miami soul veterans – Betty Wright, Little Beaver, Latimore – and covering songs written before she was born smacks of cynical marketing. Thing is, Joss Stone does have an extraordinary voice, and the only misguided ploy on The Soul Sessions is a Roots-produced slo-mo cover of a White Stripes tune (”Fell in Love With a Boy”). And even that’s pretty good.

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As Meat Loaf albums go, ”Couldn’t Have Said It Better” delivers the thesp-rocker goods as effectively as anything from the glory days of ”Bat I” or ”II”. You’ve got your overwrought ballads, your full-throated rock operettas, and your complete lack of restraint or taste. What you don’t have is Jim Steinman, who wrote all the Meat Loaf songs you can sing from memory, or any persuasive argument why Meat Loaf shouldn’t just stick with the acting thing.

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The Stereophonics are stars in their native U.K., but that fame has yet to translate overseas. This CD is unlikely to change that. Kelly Jones’ weatherbeaten rasp suits his band’s guitar-heavy riff-rockery, and his occasionally catchy songs are besotted with American-style blues-derived stomp. But few Americans prize American-style blues-derived stomp these days.

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On A Perfect Circle’s second album, frontman Maynard James Keenan sounds as elliptically tortured as ever, reeling out impressionistic laments in his portentous baritone. Keenan, who doubles as singer for misery-mates Tool, famously refuses to discuss the specifics of his demons in interviews, but his band’s winding, off-kilter rhythms and contrapuntal guitar riffs create an ominous atmosphere that’ll make you inclined to forgive his stubbornness.

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North Mississippi Allstars

Boasting an enviable lineage – two sons of Memphis producer Jim Dickinson (Big Star, the Replacements), one son of bluesman R.L. Burnside – North Mississippi Allstars aim to put a new spin on Southern rock. Their third album, Polaris, is a bluesier – and more laid-back – take than that of fellow revivalists Kings of Leon, and when it works, as on the strings-laden ”One to Grow On” (featuring guest vox from Oasis’ Noel Gallagher), ”Polaris” bears serious fruit.

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Alien Ant Farm

Alien Ant Farm, who survived a serious tour-bus accident in Spain last year, show admirable recuperative powers on truANT. The album blends influences as disparate as Gang of Four, Rush, and the Police. Rife with riffs and hooks and buttressed by an athletic rhythm section and Dryden Mitchell’s robust pipes, it’s a high-voltage treat.

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The Bouncing Souls stick to their Clash-by-way-of-Rancid template on the workmanlike Anchors Aweigh. Only ”New Day,” with its shifting dynamics and anthemic thrust, transcends the Souls’ sometimes too-obvious dependence on their antecedents. While there’s no dearth of energy or genuine feeling here, there’s also no surfeit of imagination.

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Killing Joke, Killing Joke

It’s hard to overstate the influence of ’80s industrial icons Killing Joke on present-day hard rock: Everyone from Metallica to the Foo Fighters is in on the Joke (Dave Grohl even plays drums on this record). And no wonder: The band’s brutal one-chord guitar riffs, pounding beats, and politically charged lyrics are intense, and the original lineup (re-formed for the new Killing Joke) still knows how to rage against the machine. Only the somewhat sterile production detracts from a fine reunion.

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Dashboard Confessional’s third studio album, A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar, expands the parameters of the band’s earlier acoustic-based sound, with the addition of electric guitars and more complex drumming enhancing frontman Chris Carrabba’s emo-lite songcraft. Credit producer Gil Norton’s (Pixies, Counting Crows, Foo Fighters) uncanny arranging skills. And credit Carrabba’s ear for melody for ”A Mark”’s heartfelt heft.

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The title (meaning ”already heard”) may imply a lack of growth, but the sophomore effort by these emo-core specialists displays conclusive evidence of progress, both stylistically and lyrically. Frontman Jesse Lacey seems less interested in pummeling the listener with hooks than in hooking you with carefully crafted dynamics and tempo shifts that add emotional heft to his sensitive-guy crooning. The lyrics are especially bleak, recalling Gentlemen-era Afghan Whigs in their unflinching honesty.

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