This one's easily the best rock album of the year, a ferocious return to form that eschews all the therapy-driven insecurities of recent years and slams listeners up against the wall. This is metal at its best, with plenty of crazy time signature changes and lyrics about dying. Frighteningly good. - ROD LOCKWOOD
Structured like an old-fashioned double album, the Truckers are at their peak as a songwriting collective, exploring the lonely angst and subtle joys that come with living in the heart of this country. Spanning musical styles from Crazy Horse-inspired jams to gentle country, the Truckers are peaking. - R.L.
David rode to stardom on the wave of the U.K.'s infatuation with 2-step via his work with Artful Dodger and his smash debut "Born To Do It." On this, his fourth album, David stepped out as a contemporary R&B singer and songwriter with his own distinctive style, his voice now richer and his style more expressive. From a superb mash-up of a David Bowie sample on "Hot Stuff" through bumping beats and smooth ballads, this disc has it all. Trust me. - RICHARD PATON
Two years after the best-selling "Eyes Open," Snow Patrol released a disc that holds on to the basic elements of a signature sound - a mix of gorgeous ballads and stirring rockers, all anchored by an ear for melody and strong dynamics - but takes it further. The result is a near-perfect pop/rock album crammed with washes of chiming guitars, melodies that can soar or be plaintive, sometimes-complex arrangements -and even a three-part song cycle to close out the disc. - R.P.
After selling more than 49 million albums, Jackson proves he still has plenty of inspiration left. His mellow, resonant baritone easily handles a wide assortment of country two-steps and ballads. - KEN ROSENBAUM
The warmth of Chesney's baritone washes over you on these 12 easy, reflective, country numbers that paint a picture of his surroundings or emotions. After a couple tunes like that, the uptempo stuff is a welcome break from the serious side. The instrumental work is restrained and interesting throughout. - K.R.
Vuckovich, who emigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe as a youth in the 1950s, came through with one really gorgeous follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2006 CD, "Street Scene," a tribute to the classic American film noir genre of the 1930s to 1950s that has inspired him as a pianist-composer. - TOM HENRY
Even if the arrangements weren't so great on this album - and they are - it would be worth picking up just to hear the near-perfect tone of Dr. Michael White's clarinet. The New Orleans native is one of those instinctive talents who moves listeners with a sound that's so soothing and soul-nourishing that it gets inside their bones. - T.H.
"Juno" leapt to No. 1 shortly after its release last Jan. 18, for good reason: Classic artists such as the Kinks, Buddy Holly, and Mott the Hoople were wonderfully blended with indie groups such as Sonic Power and Cat Power, giving the disc a distinctive, quirky feel. - T.H.
James Newton Howard was totally on his game with this lush, inspirational score. The six-time Oscar nominee and three-time Golden Globe-winning composer came up with some beautiful, poetic classical music with just the right Celtic touch. - T.H.
Forget the Dr. John mystique. This is a great album for anyone who wants to feel today's post-Katrina pulse from a burly old New Orleans guy who once called himself the Night Tripper and fancied himself as a voodoo practitioner. He called this disc his angriest release ever. We call it impassioned art, akin to what one might find on a protest album. - T.H.
A joyful album of swamp blues with a food-and-family theme. Ball's title track, which is wonderful in its own right, is equalled by a zesty swing number that celebrates the beauty of watermelon. - T.H.
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