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2012

It’s interesting to think back to over twelve years ago when many of us first heard the music of John Mayer. Fresh-faced and innocent he would become yet another staple in the emergence of acoustic rock joining the likes of Dave Matthews and Jack Johnson. Unlike the aforementioned songwriters, Mayer grabbed as many headlines for his off-stage activities as he did for his music. Controversial interviews and high-profile arm candy may have acted as distractions for critics and fans. But on his fifth studio album Born and Raised, Mayer aims to strike those public perceptions and regain focus on his music. If you’re ready to listen, you’ll find that these songs are some of his best yet.

.Rarely, over the course of a year, is there a lack of music that we would categorize as ‘retro’ or ‘old school’. It’s easy to become enchanted by the familiar sounds of years gone by that are injected with a breath of youthful charisma. But there is that dilemma of separating the purely redundant with a talent that acknowledges his or her influences and is forward-thinking enough to still engage; cue Nick Waterhouse. A young soulful hipster from San Francisco, he surely takes a page out of the book that preceded him, but fits quite nicely into the current musical landscape as well.

While The Spinto Band has been making music for over 15 years, Cheers Elephant will have to play the role of new-comer this week. With that said the band’s third album Like Wind Blows Fire does a lot to impress. In many ways the new album does much to prove the band’s identity. Bright, summery tunes showered with melodic guitar riffs and catchy sing-a-long harmonies. The album starts with the tempting falsetto driven “Peoples” and follows with the album stand-out “Doin’ It, Right.” And as you work your way through these songs, more and more it’s clear that this is a band that’s realizing their potential with each note.

It’s been almost four years since their last studio album. Shy Pursuit is a welcomed return and as mentioned above, reconnects listeners to their knack for writing quick and catchy indie-pop gems. But on the new album their sound branches out a little more than we’ve heard previously. They approach some of these songs with a more worldly musical vision. Think along the lines of bands like Fools Gold or Vampire Weekend. Songs like “Jackhammer” soar over funky rhythms, as does the strummy album closer “The Living Things.” Overall, an adventurous musical ride.

Since the announcement of Little Broken Hearts, the new studio album from Norah Jones, lots of critics have alluded to a change in direction. Initially, that was due in part to her collaboration with producer Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) whose tactics behind the board have been well documented with bands like The Black Keys, Beck, Broken Bells and Gnarls Barkley. But it would be somewhat misleading to say a sonic shift wasn’t something we saw coming with Norah’s last few projects. In fact, she worked previously with Burton as part of his Rome project with Daniele Luppi. So what is it about this new collection that sets it apart from Jones’ previous works? Well, quite simply, it’s the subject of the songs.

For an artist that’s been as prolific as Jack White, it's hard to believe that Blunderbuss is the first full solo album from the former White Stripes frontman. From his time with the Stripes, The Raconteurs, the Dead Weather, to producing for the likes of Loretta Lynn & Wanda Jackson and even starting his own record label White has been somewhat of a musical chameleon. No matter what shade of Jack White most appeals to you, Blunderbuss can likely scratch that itch. Much like White's career this collection is full of sonic twists and turns that only prove to engage with each listen.

Honestly, what’s not to like about JD McPherson? The teacher turned rocker dials up a sound reminiscent of rock and roll’s early days on Signs & Signifiers, his first album. His style and attitude are both representative of those times, but noticeably his influences run the gamut from rockabilly to soul, from punk to hip-hop. It’s that combination of appreciation and living in present that makes Signs & Signifiers an absolute gem.

Simply stated, Slipstream is an album that stands as a welcomed return from Bonnie Raitt. Fans have been longing for a new album since 2005’s Souls Alike. And while Slipstream is definitely a reconnection to a cherished voice and heritage artist, there is some new territory covered on this collection. Most notably, Raitt collaborates for the first time with producer Joe Henry. And Slipstream also marks the first album Raitt has released on her own record label (Redwing Records).

We first met the Alabama Shakes this fall when the young band from Athens, Alabama released their first EP. Four songs rarely ignite a career as much as they’ve done for the Alabama Shakes. Fresh out of high school, the soulful rockers have been aggressively touring, impressing show-goers and gearing up for the release of their debut, full length album, Boys & Girls, due out this month on ATO Records. Led by dynamic frontwoman Brittany Howard, the Shakes deliver on their potential with Boys & Girls for one of the year’s most exciting debuts.

Mac is back! Well, to be fair, it’s not like Dr. John hasn’t been consistent in his musical output. He’s released more than a handful of albums since the turn of century. But with Locked Down, his latest, perhaps none of those recent releases matches this latest collection in terms of energy and/or sheer appeal. Many will argue that a five time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has the latitude to do just about whatever they want, but for Dr. John Locked Down is an album he needed to make and music fans need to hear.

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