Michael Houser | Sandbox
Music, when done effectively, should elicit some type of emotional response. In fact, one could perhaps even say that the true essence of music is emotion. Michael Houser's Sandbox is an exercise in this "Music = Emotion" theory. For the majority of the album, it's impossible to separate Houser's emotions from his playing. The twelve songs that make up Sandbox are deeply intimate and do a remarkable job of displaying both the various aspects of Houser the musician as well as lending insight into Houser the man. In many ways the album epitomizes the dualities that have always adored fans to Houser. A good portion of Sandbox was written and recorded with the harsh knowledge that his death was coming soon, yet in the heart of this darkness, Houser was able to maintain the simple, childlike beauty and ease that has always permeated his work. Evidence of this can easily be found on the title track, fan favorite "Sandbox." While there are several lighter songs that lean on the bright strings of the mandolin ("Nacoochee Queen" and "Country Sex Song"), the more memorable selections seem to deal directly with meeting one's maker. Songs like the haunting "Solitude" highlight the lingering lead that always set Houser apart, and the album-opener "No Matter What" features perfect vocal harmonies between John Bell and Houser as they sing about "crossing a river" and finding one's way back to shore. The message is clear and incredibly heavy, yet the guitar lines manage to be both angelic and mournful, but never despondent. - The Kayceman

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Two Gallants | The Throes
On the eve of their new record that will probably put them on every hipster's charts for this year, I'd like to take a moment and celebrate the old. The Throes is a masterpiece, immediately became a new love and was easily one of the ten best records of 2004. "Drive My Car" will always hold a place in my heart of a certain time, cause you don't need this kid. "Train That Stole My Man" is so *authentic* - how can these twentysomething kids possibly have ridden the rails in the old west? I love my country, but I fear your mother... If liquor's a lover, you know I'm a whore. So many good lyrics, if you don't love this album, you might not be listening. - TK
One track recommendation: "Nothing To You"

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The Slip | "Even Rats"
You've seen the song shred live. You've streamed it for weeks on their website. You've unlocked it and air guitared to it on uber-popular PS2 game Guitar Hero. Now you can finally rock it out on Rhapsody, mix it into your playlists, and you can even purchase it from the Real music store. And well...since you've had it this long... you can have my stereo! - TK

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Arctic Monkeys | Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
Like Albert Finney's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning factory worker whose words name it, the Arctic Monkeys' over-hyped debut LP is equal parts ale-soaked smart-arse and disenchanted romantic. Expect saloon bar witticism ("Fake Tales of San Francisco" where the "weekend rockstars are in the toilet practicing their lines"), flailing nihilism ("I Bet That You Look Good On the Dance Floor") and bitter rumination ("When the Sun Goes Down"). Smart, spunky, spiky. - Jamie D

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The Derek Trucks Band | Songlines
Getting studio recordings to capture the vibrant energy and flowing sound of a live show can be excruciatingly difficult, but Songlines succeeds in recreating the excitement of Trucks' concerts. Jamming heavy on bluesy rock touched with elements of jazz, Latin and other world influences, this album practically puts you on the green of your favorite outdoor festival. - ES
One Track Recommendation: "Crow Jane"

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Hot Buttered Rum String Band | Well-Oiled Machine
Finally, some Hot Buttered Rum to slather all over your Rhapsody. The progressive bluegrass-meets modern folk band is well oiled indeed, from their veggie oil-powered bus to their live show. Produced by Mike Marshall, the players of HBR (Bryan Horne-bass, vocals, Nat Keefe-guitars, vocals, Zac Matthews mandolin, fiddle, vocals, Aaron Redner-fiddle, mandolin, vocals and Erik Yates-banjo, flutes, accordion, vocals)- keep the music low-key and filled with California sunshine. Highlight tracks include "Firefly" and "Waiting For a Squall." The album features sit-ins from Peter Rowan, Mike Marshall and Darol Anger. - TK

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Belle and Sebastian | The Life Pursuit
Button up the cardie and tape up the hornrims: B&S's 2006 release is freaking fantastic. The witty, literate songcraft is still here, but the omnivorous genre-jumping has gotten even sharper, with group leader Stuart Murdoch introducing more of a lean '70s rock bite into the band's jangly '60s sound. "Song for the Sunshine" mixes Sly Stone in with Hall & Oates and Seals and Croft. Bloody Brilliant. - ND
One Track Recommendation: "The Blues Are Still Blue"

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Electric Soft Parade | The Human Body EP
ESP create inspired, sometimes wacky and always engaging noisy pop. The downright addictive "A Beating Heart" employs a single steady beat to pace meditative, mantra-like vocals; "Cold World" oozes McCartney with its rollicking, pop-propelled piano; and "Stupid Mistake" pulses with the same dreamy droning as Swervedriver. - LR

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Television | The Complete Elektra Recordings (box set)
People should have strands of Television wired into their DNA by now, but newcomers will find something very special. This box set houses the band's revelatory debut, Marquee Moon; its unjustly savaged followup, Adventure; and the 1978 concert documentary Live at the Old Waldorf, from here in San Francisco. Worth it to listen to the live stuff, starting at track 27, there is shredding on "Foxhole" and "Little Johnny Jewel." There isn't a late '70s punk band that can match Television's live sound. - ND

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Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band | Hammersmith Odeon, London '75
Finally, this old bootleg is released with better sound quality than the analog tape copied in my dorm room. Captured live in 1975, when he was at the height of his artistic power, Bruce tears through a Born to Run-heavy set. "Born To Run" itself is a major highlight, but be sure not to miss the best song from his debut Greetings from Asbury Park record, "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City," which rocks so hard it sounds like Springsteen has Robbie Robertson and the Band behind him. - TK/MMcG

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Fried Glass Onions: Memphis Meets The Beatles (Inside Sounds)
Many of today's best Memphis soul acts take on the obviously legendary Beatles songbook, with both sides coming out on top. It's all funky and irrepressible, with elegant tracks ("Blackbird") meeting cuts that show how blazingly original and awesomely weird the Beatles really were ("Happiness Is a Warm Gun," "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window"). Dig a pony. - ND

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