The Gourds, Heavy Ornamentals (Eleven Thirty Records). Earthy yet ethereal, dirt-road common yet mystical, the ever-evolving Gourds come close to magical alchemy on Heavy Ornamentals. Their down-home looseness masks the broadest of roots-music palettes and an unbounded taste for lyrics that seamlessly encompass everything from Monroe's bluegrass to Kerouac's hipster jive to Doug Sahm's Texas cool-cat soul. -- William Michael Smith
Kid Rock & the Twisted Brown Trucker Band, 'Live' Trucker (Atlantic). If Kid Rock's lawyers succeed, we'll never see a 1999 sex tape co-starring the Kid, ex-Creed creep Scott Stapp and four wanton females. But odds are good the video's a lot like this concert souvenir: Although it sounds like a good idea, it fails to deliver long-lasting satisfaction. You've got to be careful what you record. -- Roberts
Low Skies, All the Love I Could Find (Flameshovel). If you're fishing for surprises, don't waste any time with Low Skies' sophomore full-length, All the Love I Could Find. But if you like your slow-core Americana leavened with every dusty creak and croak that Palace, Canyon and Nick Cave made familiar, look no further. Tormented romance and spiritual corrosion never felt so comforting. -- Heller
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The Slackers, Peculiar (Hellcat). It's strange hearing garage-era Van Morrison fronting a full-scale big band or doing sloe-gin ska like the Specials. Stranger still when "Guantanamo Bay" replaces "Guantanamera" in protest-folk lyrics while stellar horns pepper '80s soul and gender-bending love songs. It's funny to hear "I Shall Be Released" done dub style. But not ha-ha funny. -- Skidmore
Sonic Syndicate, Eden Fire (Pivotal Rockordings). Order: Metal. Family: Swedish. Genus: Death. Species: Melodic. Just as new-wave keyboards revealed Andrew W.K. to be the complete prat that he is, a similar approach here gives Sonic Syndicate a disturbing edge into creepiness. Syndicate's technically astute, piston-pumping axes and precision double bass give Dark Tranquility a run for its mythology. -- Skidmore
The Subways, Young for Eternity (Sire). England's newest hype-makers, it turns out, are three kids -- two brothers and a girlfriend -- doing a garage-punk take on early Oasis. Fortunately, the Subways' debut has more going for it than energy, attitude and an oil tanker of positive ink. It's also got songs -- not to mention a wild-eyed authenticity that might just save it from the recycle bin. -- Heller
Wicked Wisdom, Wicked Wisdom (Suburban Noize). How best to enjoy the debut by Jada Pinkett Smith's band? Not by listening to the music, a made-to-order hardcore blend, or by focusing on the way Will Smith's missus spews profanities in a doomed attempt at establishing thrash credibility. Instead, spin it while speculating about what prompted this embarrassing move. My best guesses: boredom, marital stress or Scientology. -- Roberts