Donna Jean and the Tricksters, Donna Jean and the Tricksters (Ryko). Former Grateful Dead backup vocalist and Muscle Shoals studio alum Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay has honked behind some of rock's legendary artists. Stepping out front with New York's Zen Tricksters, Godchaux-MacKay proves she's still got it with natural soul-, blues- and gospel-tinged crooning while the Tricksters find room to stretch out in style. — Nick Hutchinson
Ghostface Killah, The Big Doe Rehab (Island/Def Jam). For all intents and purposes, Big Doe Rehab is the third act in Ghostface's Fishscale saga, about the cottage industry of drug dealing. The original formula of classic soul-flavored production remains, but this fish is more raw than stale, and Ghostface's attention to detail elevates his storytelling above that of any of his fellow Wu-Tang alums. — Nick Schreiber
Jim Jones, Harlem's American Gangster (Koch). The "We Fly High" guy ups his aim on his new mix disc, targeting Jay-Z with more than a little help from Damon Dash, Hova's estranged former partner. But far from being a knock-out blow, Harlem's American Gangster delivers a series of mild body shots that any veteran pugilist could see coming a mile off. — Roberts
Lightspeed Champion, Falling Off the Lavender Bridge (Domino). Although Lightspeed Champion represents Dev Hynes's first project since the breakup of Test Icicles, no one's going to call it angular. The album eschews jittery riffs and danceable rhythms for strummy confections pocked with cello and clarinet. It's diverting, if somewhat secondhand — a change of pace that seems to come more from the head than the heart. — Roberts
Smile Brigade, Take the Precious Edge Off This Treacherous Ledge (Tilton House/Beep Repaired Records). The debut from this Seattle quartet boasts solid songwriting that covers territory from searing guitar stompers to organ-driven '90s throwbacks to Americana-laced ballads. Unfortunately, none of these styles are executed with confidence or clarity, leaving the impression that this is a band still finding its way. Look forward to the next one. — Eyl
Seth Walker, Seth Walker (Hyena Records). Seth Walker serves Southern roots guit-pickin' and blues songcraft with ease and grace. Echoing a variety of artists, from Jimmy Reed to Ray Charles, he slips expertly from loose-jointed shuffles to organ-inflected feel-good fare and a whole lot more. An old soul with new fingers, Walker cooks from start to finish. — Hutchinson
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