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Elliott Smith’s posthumous album, From A Basement On The Hill, was close to completion when Smith met his untimely, sad death. A truly talented songwriter, Smith rose from obscurity to mainstream awareness in 1997 on the strength of the song “Miss Misery” from the Academy Award nominated soundtrack to Good Will Hunting. But even with that stellar surreal performance – Smith in a white suit singing to millions of television viewers alongside Celine Dion and Trisha Yearwood – he remained one of pop music’s more engaging, much loved and revered, yet little known singers and songwriters. Who can also forget his breathtaking cover of the Beatles’ “Because” at the end of the film American Beauty? It is a great moment in movie music history.

Hailing from Montreal, Win Butler, Regine Chassagne, Richard Perry, Tim Kingsbury and Win’s brother Will make up The Arcade Fire. With a strong underground indie-rock following, Funeral is possibly the most critically acclaimed album of 2004 that fell under the radar. It’s a debut record too good and original to be ignored.

With Careless Love, Peyroux is once again proving herself to be an original interpreter and an open receptor to songs from earlier eras—an artist who channels vintage jazz and blues with chilling accuracy. “I feel very lucky to be part of a tradition of songwriting that stands the test of time,” says Peyroux. “I also feel lucky to be able to go back and perform as much as I did before—I can’t wait.” Adds Peyroux, with characteristic modesty:

If you thought Southern rock faded away when Lynyrd Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels’ radio popularity waned, then the Truckers embody the spirit of hard, road-driven rock and roll. With four of the Truckers hailing from North Alabama and with musical roots tied to the classic Muscle Shoals recording studio, it was the Truckers’ now classic 2001 Southern Rock Opera about Lynyrd Skynyrd that brought them critical acclaim and a record contract.

She’s a little bit alternative country and a little bit blue-eyed soul. Singer-songwriter Tift Merritt’s sophomore album is a mix of guitar rockers, thoughtful ballads and soulful horn-driven soul songs. Producer George Drakoulis, whose work has benefited the likes of the Jayhawks, Black Crowes and Maria McKee lends an organic, live-in-the-studio feel to this rootsy and soulful collection of tunes which – coincidentally - features guest appearances from members of the Jayhawks, Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, pedal steel whiz Robert Randolph and Maria McKee herself.

Guitarist, singer and songwriter Marc Broussard's new album Carenco (pronounced Karen-Crow) is named after his hometown in Louisiana. At a young 22, he sounds wise beyond his age mixing up soul and R&B with heavy doses of good old fashioned rock 'n' roll. Growing up in Lafayette, Louisiana, Broussard was exposed to music as a youngster as his dad was guitarist for the legendary South Louisiana swamp band The Boogie Kings. Marc debuted in 2002 with the album Momentary Setback, and on Carencro he continues to hone his incredible rocking soul stylings with his best songs and most soulful singing yet.

Tangos and cha-chas. Smoky, jazzy French love songs, film-noir orchestrations and Cuban dance music. Welcome to the post-lounge vibe of Pink Martini, the Portland, Oregon based collective orchestra. Vocalist and songwriter China Forbes and classically-trained pianist Thomas Lauderdale formed Pink Martini in 1994. Since then they’ve been winning over the hearts and minds of music lovers since their 1997 debut album, Sympathique.

Lonely Runs Both Ways is the first studio album in three years from Alison Krauss and Union Station: Krauss (fiddle and vocals), Dan Tyminski (guitar and vocals), Barry Bales (bass and vocals), Ron Block (banjo, guitar, and vocals), and Jerry Douglas (dobro).

Rapidly approaching their 30th anniversary as a band, and now almost 25 years since the release of their debut, Boy, I can think of few bands who have not only continued to impact popular culture and music but who continue to make great recorded music. Undeniably, U2 is one of those bands.

More Adventurous is the third album from the Los Angeles based Rilo Kiley, fronted by vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Jenny Lewis. Sharing musical sensibilities and indie-rock affinity with bands like Death Cab For Cutie, The Shins, Decemberists – Rilo Kiley are next generation rock and roll who have released a must hear album for 2004.

The story behind Smile is fairly legendary by now - the masterpiece Beach Boys album that never was, is finally here. The Beach Boys' uncompleted 1967 album Smile has remained the Holy Grail of Brian Wilson’s long, incredible, tortured genius career in pop music. Thirty seven years since its intended release as the follow-up to their classic album Pet Sounds, Smileis very much the groundbreaking art-rock record it was rumored to have been. Described as those who have heard the original sessions, the ’67 Smile was the American Sgt. Pepper’s. But after Pet Sounds, the band – and Brian – had a breakdown that would take Wilson years to recover from.

On September 7 2003, the great singer-songwriter Warren Zevon passed away from a rare form of cancer. Originally given three months to live, Zevon went in to the studio a month after this diagnosis in August 2002 and began recording what became not only his last album, but one of his best, The Wind. For that album he called on some of his closest friends and collaborators throughout the years. Well documented by VH-1, the documentary also included footage from Warren’s appearance on the David Letterman Show in October 2002 in which the entire show was devoted to Zevon.

Singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur was discovered by Peter Gabriel in the mid-Nineties and released his debut album, Big City Secrets on Gabriel’s Real World label in 1997. Since then, Arthur has been a critic’s darling, a singer/songwriter of intense emotionality whose lyrical imagery is often dark and brooding. Occasionally, Arthur has been known to lighten up; particularly on the song “Honey And the Moon,” which became an XPN listener’ s favorite from his last album, Redemption’s Son.

Around The Sun is REM’s first album since their 2001 studio album Reveal. Throughout 13 songs – on their 13th studio album REM have produced a pensive, mid-tempo collection of songs that recalls the lushness of their best records from the Eighties like Reckoning, Fables, and Lifes Rich Pageant.

Named for the legendary Malibu, California recording studio where it was recorded, Shangri-La is a classic Mark Knopfler album. Including his great body of work with Dire Straits, Knopfler’s signature guitar sound, vocals and intelligent lyrics and songs have made him a favorite artist of XPN listeners and members.

Elvis Costello’s first album for the Lost Highway label is a roots-rock laden collection of songs inspired by the history and cultural import of the location where it was recorded – mostly in Oxford, Mississippi, but also in Clarksdale, Mississippi and Nashville. Costello - working with his band Steve Nieve on keyboards, bassist Davey Farragher and drummer Pete Thomas – touches down on gospel and soul, sweet ballads and rollicking rock.

In early 2002 WXPN listeners and members got their first taste of the sounds and music of Citizen Cope on his self-titled debut record on the Dreamworks label. Fusing soulful, down-home grooves with pop sensibilities, Cope’s record quickly found a home on 88.5 and developed a nice following in our listening areas. Cope’s debut was smart, intelligent, high quality music for an integrated world. Not afraid to take on weighty, social, cultural and political issues in his lyrics, he’s both a realist and an optimist. Songs like “If There’s Love,” “Let The Drummer Kick It,” “Mistaken Identity,” and “Contact” quickly became staples on the radio dial at XPN, as did Cope’s collaboration with Santana on the song “Sideways” from Santana’s Shaman album.

One of XPN’s Artists To Watch for 2004, singer-songwriter, Ray Lamontagne explains how Stephen Stills saved his life. One of six children raised by a single mom who worked hard to make ends meet, Lamontagne – who barely made it out of high school left his family for Lewiston, Maine. Bored, going nowhere in his life and doing some serious soul searching Ray was in Lewiston working long hard hours in a shoe factory when he experienced a musical epiphany.

In 1963, renowned chemists Bear Owsley and Nick Sands developed a strain of designer LSD which had a reputation for inducing tribal hallucinations. This strain of acid was called “west indian girl,” hence the name for which the Los Angeles duo of Robert James and Francis Ten have chosen to call their musical collaboration.

Everyone Is Here is Neil and Tim Finn’s first collaborative studio album in eight years. Throughout their careers, the Finn’s have enjoyed global success alone and together. Between their solo careers, Crowded House, and Split Enz, Neil and Tim Finn have written more than their fair share of classic tunes we have come to love over the years. There are too many songs to list, however a handful will remind you of their stature as significant songwriters: “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” “Weather With You,” ”Six Months In A Leaky Boat,” “I Got You,” “Persuasion,” and “She Will Have Her Way.” No fan of pop music can deny the power of these songs over time.

One of XPN’s Artists To Watch for 2004, Charlotte Martin is a remarkable new talent. In 2003 Ms. Martin released an EP called In Parentheses that signaled her engaging arrival. An intense piano-laden collection of confessional songs in which she demonstrated her amazing vocals, it was but a hint of the magic she would ultimately release on her full debut album, On Your Shore.

It’s been two years since the release of Bruce Hornsby’s Big Swing Face and on his debut for a new label, Columbia Records, Hornsby comes out swinging with 11 great songs. On Halcyon Days, Hornsby is in classic form; it’s a 21st century album that recalls some of his best work starting with his debut The Way It Is in 1986 and on 1993’s Harbor Lights.

For her debut on the distinguished Nonesuch label, k.d. lang’s new album is filled with songs that she says are “part of her cultural fabric, my Canadian soundtrack.” On Hymns, lang chose to cover songs written by some of her favorite Canadian singers and songwriters including Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn, Leonard Cohen, Ron Sexsmith, Jane Siberry, and Joni Mitchell.

Coming off their explosive performance at this year’s XPN Singer-Songwriter Weekend, the Old 97’s – fronted by Rhett Miller – return with a fine new collection. It’s their first new collection since 2001’s Satellite Rides and the first since Rhett Miller’s solo debut in 2002, The Instigator.

Singer-songwriter Ben Arnold is no stranger to XPN listeners and members. A staple of the local music scene since the early Nineties Ben is an honest and earnest songwriter of immense talent whether doing a solo gig with an acoustic guitar, as a member of the Philly super-group 4 Way Street or leading his own highly engaging rock band.

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