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2007

With his new album Armchair Apocrypha, Andrew Bird has delivered one of the most beautiful, challenging and diverse records we've heard in a very long time.

Modest Mouse's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is one of the most anticipated releases of 2007. Their last album, 2004's Good News for People Who Love Bad News, yielded a radio hit, VH-1 support and even a Kidz Bop tribute, but upon first listen, their follow-up gives the impression the members of Modest Mouse are chafing at their newfound success in a typically indie fashion.

Philadelphia's own Dr. Dog has really hit the jackpot on their latest album We All Belong. You'd be hard pressed to find a more engaging album anywhere, as the band effortlessly combine familiar pop touchstones with some excellent songwriting.

Always the cause for celebration in singer/songwriter and Americana music circles is a new album from the quirky and undeniably talented Lucinda Williams. Her new album West is a rather subdued affair, but it contains some of her most heartfelt balladry yet.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's debut album was a masterpiece of style and substance over hype. The staunchly independent group released that album without a label or promotion - traditional record biz promotion, anyway - yet it's sold in 6-figures... a daunting task in today's music-as-data, who-needs-records-stores market. All hipster eyes were/are on this second album Some Loud Thunder. Nobody should be dissappointed.

Much more diverse musically than her previous four studio albums, Children Running Through deals with some big issues lyrically - namely new beginnings and dealing with trouble and strife of all sorts. Standout tracks include "Stay On The Ride," "No Bad News" and the sublime "Heavenly Day," which builds slowly into a remarkable tune.

For their third album, The Shins have pulled out all the stops. Chock full of memorable tunes, Wincing The Night Away is at once the band's best and most eclectic offering.

Lily Allen is January's Artist To Watch. Winner of 2006 Digital Music Awards, Lily Allen is the 21 year old singer songwriter who has been tearing up the web lately. >Here's a bona fide Internet/My Space success story. Lily Allen's much downloaded tunes and much read muses on her personal page were the sparks that launched her promising career. With "Smile" already a U.K. number one, and her album dropping this week in the U.S., is superstardom pending? Perhaps it is, and, if it happens, I for one will be watching with interest because Allen is one quirky, unpredictable could-be pop star.

I know, I know... it's kind of hard to get worked up over yet another "tribute" album. What started in the 90's as a cool idea - that being contemporary bands paying homage to their musical heroes by covering songs from said heroes and then packaging it together as an album - has gotten stale and predictable. I must say that this one - Endless Highway: The Music Of The Band - is done with enough spirit and attitude to make you forget that you were tired of these things. A couple of dozen classic, timeless tunes to cover doesn't hurt, either.

A lot more than some bland nod to the "Great American Songbook" ala Rod Stewart, Erin McKeown's latest is a totally engaging romp through some truly great old tunes. I really think Cole Porter would be happy to hear this.

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