Joe Henry, Civilians (Anti). Jazzy, but not quite jazz, old world, but completely now and rock, Joe Henry showcases his varied talents with an album of laid-back summer picnic melodies from an impressionistic painting. Emotive lyrics and colorful chord progressions move his music like a lazy river with an urgent need for rapids. — Glenn BurnSilver
Hillstomp, After Two But Before Five (Fuzzmonster Records). Blues-loving Hillstompers Henry Kammerer and John Johnson (due at 3 Kings Tavern on Friday, August 24) have great taste; much of the material on this live recording comes courtesy of R.L. Burnside and Fred McDowell. Hillstomp's own compositions follow in the same rough-hewn tradition, and the unvarnished performances earn deserved whoops from the crowd. Were Burnside and McDowell above ground, they'd undoubtedly join in. — Roberts
Looker, Built to Burn (OLP Records). This Laramie, Wyoming, garage band hammers big fuzzy guitar into the middle of your forebrain like the second coming of the Fluid. "Mind Control On the Radio" is good for at least fifteen mph over the speed limit, while "What a Waste of Time" puts the pedal to the floor on the home stretch. — Rob Williams
Sinead O'Connor, Theology (Koch). Two decades after she first riveted listeners as an angry woman with a shaved head, wailing out "Troy" with a death grip on her vocal cords, O'Connor has yet to recapture the compelling nature of her earlier outbursts. Her voice is thinner and more shallow now, which does nothing to help bring Theology's droll lullabies to life. — Dave Meyer
Prefab Sprout, Steve McQueen (Legacy/Kitchenware). Why the deluxe reissue treatment for a 1985 CD by a now-obscure British band that made nary a ripple in the States? Because McQueen is a wonderfully warm collection of actual songs — a point underscored by a companion disc on which singer-songwriter Paddy McAloon offers new acoustic versions of his original compositions. It's not Prefab — just fab. — Roberts
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Tiny Vipers, Hands Across the Void (Sub Pop). Tiny Vipers' latest sounds like coffee-shop folk music being performed by a single wan angel standing at the precipice of hell — with Jesy Fortino playing the role of cherub. While Void is spare and plaintive, Fortino's haunting lyrics and intricately plucked guitar hint at a great menace around every corner. — Meyer