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Back Door Slam was XPN's Artist To Watch in March. Their CD "Roll Away" was released last July in the U.S. on Blix Street.

The enigmatic juggernaut that is Ryan Adams keeps on rollin'. It's exhausting to be a Ryan fan - he's just so prolific, and it's become difficult to digest one new album before another one comes along. That being said, it's important that you spend some time with his latest, Easy Tiger. What we have here is a truly great American songwriter who's really just hitting his stride.

Jack and Meg White certainly kick up a ruckus on the new White Stripes album Icky Thump. On their sixth album, the duo is louder and bolder than ever before. They try on plenty of previously unexplored American music styles, and the vast majority of it fits nicely. The best news is that it still sounds like The White Stripes.

First a brief history lesson: Joan as Police Woman is the nom de plume of Joan Wasser, a Maine-born, Connecticut-raised, Boston U.-educated singer/songwriter, guitarist and violinist. She was a member of The Dambuilders, a respected Boston band of the early 90's. After the drowning death of her friend and lover Jeff Buckley in 1997, she briefly joined Those Bastard Souls and then embarked upon a career of singing and playing behind some pretty remarkable musicians including Lou Reed, Elton John, Rufus Wainwright, Antony & The Johnsons, Sheryl Crow and others. She began performing as Joan as Police Woman in 2002.

Paul McCartney's new album Memory Almost Full may very well remind all of us of all the elements that made this guy such a talented, celebrated composer and performer in the first place. Let's face a few facts: Sir Paul has let us down in the past. Quite a bit of his solo output of late (he used to be in this band called The Beatles, ya see...) has been disappointing to say the least. Memory Almost Full (great title, by the way) will bring back fond memories of mid-70's Wings, the best parts of his solo albums, and even harkens back to the creative juggernaut that was the "Fab Four".

Bjork's new album Volta is one of the year's most innovative and exotic new releases. Ever since her days as the frontwoman for The Sugarcubes, Bjork has been one of pop music's most enigmatic and other worldly artists, and her solo career has confirmed that even more. Volta hearkens back to the sound of Bjork's earlier solo work yet still has some of the experimental verve of her albums like Vespertine and Medulla.

It's hard to believe that this is Rufus Wainwright's fifth album, but it's true - he's now a seasoned vet. He has grown up considerably on Release The Stars. After battling an array of demons (internal and external), he now sounds happier, more settled, and much more outward-looking. That being said, we still feel the sting of his wit, and the old Rufus sarcasm is still there if you turn over a couple of stones and listen closely.

Jeff Tweedy's a genius, I guess. I say that without any sarcasm intended - it's just that I feel kind of weird pinning that title on a guy who's basically a down-to-earth cat. I came to this realization while listening to the latest Wilco album Sky Blue Sky.

Leslie Feist's third album, The Reminder, is another strong outing from this prolific songstress. She may be best known for her work with Broken Social Scene or Kings Of Convenience, but not for long. This new album reinforces what we already knew... Feist is a very, very good songwriter with a memorable voice.

Helped along with some stellar guests (Joss Stone, Peter Gabriel, Branford Marsalis, Ziggy Marley, etc.) and outstanding Tony Visconti production, Angelique Kidjo's new album Djin Djin is deep and satisfying. This is the Beninise native's first new release since 2004.

Conor Oberst (a.k.a. Bright Eyes) has packed more into his 27 years than most artists accomplish in a lifetime. This new release - Cassadaga - will most certainly contiune the legacy. Named after a spiritualist camp in Florida where Oberst spent some time, Cassadaga is tuneful, bold and a further move away from his earlier work.

The very first time we heard Ryan Shaw's voice, we knew we were listening to something very, very special. He possesses an extremely emotional set of vocal chords. Fortunately for us, it is showcased in a great fashion on This Is Ryan Shaw, his debut album. It's a calling card for a gifted singer, a guy that should be around for a long time.

A perfect mixture of past & present, LCD Soundsystem's latest - Sound Of Silver - is this year's very best punk/disco/indie rock combination. The album's nine tracks are all instantly appealing, the perfect combination of groove and irony and sonic hoopla.

Already and XPN favorite because of her heartfelt songs and incredible voice, BRANDI CARLILE has upped the ante with her sophomore album The Story. The choice of veteran roots poducer T-BONE BURNETT was a wise one, because he's able to capture Carlile's emotion perfectly, and he coaxed some very, very stellar vocal performances out of her.

For the second major U.S. release, The John Butler Trio recruited producer Mario Caldato, Jr. (Beastie Boys, G. Love, Beck), and keyboardist Money Mark, but has retained the energy and groove of Sunrise Over Sea. Not really a "jam band" per se, the Trio is already a decade into their career, and Butler is a very underrated songwriter and singer.

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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