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Allison Moorer
Miss Fortune
(Universal South)
The gifted, Alabama-born Allison Moorer has all but abandoned her twangy past and embraced a poppier sound on her third effort. You can still hear the occasional steel guitar, but more prevalent are lush strings, slinky electric guitar riffs, smoky organ fills and Burt Bacharach-style trumpet hooks. What makes it all hang together is Moorer's sultry, Patsy Cline-meets-Cher voice. With her vocal talent and fashion-model good looks, why isn't she as big of a star as Faith Hill? -- Hill

Phillips, Grier & Flinner
Looking Back
(Compass)
Tradition meets perdition on this mellow session as acoustic virtuosos Todd Phillips, Matt Flinner and David Grier delve into genre-bending territory. The trio takes mandolin, stand-up bass and acoustic guitar down twisting back roads using the vintage sounds of Bill Monroe, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix and others. Can you say bluejazz? ­ Nick Hutchinson

Railroad Earth
Bird in a House
(Sugar Hill)
Add to the jamgrass family Railroad Earth, a band whose name derives from an ode by Jack Kerouac. Songsmith Todd Sheaffer and his talented ensemble kick up an acoustic fuss reminiscent of the best bluegrass and folk. "Mountain Time" creates a dreamy landscape in which a sleepy river keeps the clock, a tableau that best reflects the group's ethos. -- Hutchinson

The Supersuckers
Must've Been Live
(MidFi)
A more aptly ragged reflection of the Supersuckers' alter ego as countrified genre-benders than the studio outing Must've Been High (1997), this live release is an unexpected keeper. Culled from gigs in Texas and California, warts-and-all renditions of "Good Livin'" and Buck Owens's "Alabama, Louisiana or Maybe Tennessee" capture the guts and glory of a remote rockin' barroom where the distinction between rock and country, it don't matter none, no how. -- Eric Peterson

Tommy Womack
Circus Town
(Sideburn)
Energetic and boisterous, the post-punk visionary behind Government Cheese and the Bis-quits fuses mid-tempo rock with a country-leaning dose of common sense. Singing odes to shitty jobs and falling in love (then trying desperately to stay there), Tommy Womack issues his third and most fully realized batch of songs to date. Circus Town's crown jewel, a richly detailed tribute to the Replacements (right down to the vomit on the ceiling!), locates the creative alliance between humor and sadness. -- John La Briola

BLUES/R&B

Solomon Burke
Don't Give Up on Me
(Fat Possum/Epitaph)
Don't Give Up on Me is a kind of positive payback for Solomon Burke. After having influenced entire generations of musicians with his warm, powerful voice, he's honored here with the songwriting of some of his biggest fans, including Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and Tom Waits. Giving voice to Dylan's "Stepchild" and Van Morrison's "Fast Train," Burke offers a fitting and mesmerizing continuation of a brilliant, largely unnoticed forty-year career. -- Kurt Brighton

Joi
Star Kitty's Revenge
(Crazy World/Universal)
Joi Gilliam Gipp's "Lick" and "Crave" would make even Prince blush. Sexy and smart, Gipp takes listeners on a fantastic drum-and-bass joyride with "Techno Pimp," which rewrites Outkast's "B.O.B" as a ladies' anthem. Raphael Saadiq, Big Gipp of Goodie Mob and the Dungeon Family help her get nasty on a cover of Bootsy Collins's "Munchies for Your Love." But the most moving track is "Jefferson St. Joe," an elegy written to her father, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Joe Gilliam, who struggled with substance-abuse problems throughout his adult life. Sassy, salacious and soulful, this is sweet revenge. -- James Mayo

Meshell Ndegeocello
Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape
(Maverick)
Whether serving up crackling pop or bedroom balladry, Meshell Ndegeocello gives you something you can feel -- and the stimulation is as physical as it is mental. Woven throughout Cookie are samples from well-known poets and activists; activist Angela Davis's words flow seamlessly through the salsa-tinged "Hot Night," which also features rapper Talib Kweli. Ndegeocello throws down lyrical jihads and rides the sensual grooves of her band, concocting a mixed tape designed to free your mind -- and other parts, too. -- Mayo

The Sugarman 3 & Company
Pure Cane Sugar
(Daptone)
While dusty-fingered archaeologists like Peanut Butter Wolf unearth fossilized 45s from R&B's golden age, the Sugarman 3 keep the funk alive. This Brooklyn-based instrumental quartet rocks the sweet, warm, analog sound of soul circa 1969, resurrecting JB's muscular shuffle, the Meters' clockwork syncopation and Young-Holt Unlimited's breezy jazz vibe. As authentically old-school as they may sound, the songs on Pure Cane Sugar are all originals -- save for the Sonics' savage garage-rock anthem "Shot Down," which is liquefied, then poured into a pure funk mold by guest vocalist Lee Fields. Pick up a little Sugar, put your hips in gear and get ready to break some sweat. -- Heller

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