ALT-COUNTRY

Cold Roses
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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After releasing one album per year since his 2000 solo debut, Heartbreaker, as well as two EPs in 2003, Ryan Adams—the Energizer Bunny of alt-country—didn't put out any new music in 2004. Lest you think the singer-songwriter was suffering from an unusual case of writer's block, Adams is returning to his Prince-like prolificness this year with three (!) separate releases, the first of which is this double disc. And while some judicious editing could have made for a stronger single CD, Cold Roses finds Adams in near full bloom. Working in a band setting for the first time since he split with Whiskeytown in 1999, Adams returns to the rootsy territory of 2001's glittering Gold after the amped-up assault of his last full-lengther, 2003's Rock N Roll. The collaborative writing and recording process with his new quartet (plus singer-pianist Rachael Yamagata on three tracks) results in a more relaxed, upbeat tone. In fact, the usually ornery Adams seems to be cracking a smile on breezy country-rockers like "Dance All Night" and the first single "Let It Ride," on which he sings of exorcising his demons: "Let it ride/Let it take away all of this darkness." Not that Adams has completely gone over to the light side. Over the soothing strum and twang of "Sweet Illusions," he tenderly croons about "lonely nights multiplied by the blues that I can't resolve." On the achingly beautiful ballad "How Do You Keep Love Alive," he wonders, "What does it mean to be so sad/When someone you love/ Someone you love is supposed to make you happy." But Adams without a little misery would be like roses without thorns.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "How Do You Keep Love Alive"

ALT-POP

Ride

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Move over, Gretchen Wilson. There's another authentic, exciting young country-blues singer on the Nashville scene. Fairchild, a 27-year-old from Mississippi, has a lot of the earthy sensuality that Wilson displays. Her "Redneck Woman" is "You Don't Lie Here Anymore," a classic get-out-and-stay-out country tune that Fairchild cowrote with Clay Mills and Sonny Lemaire. She and producers Buddy Cannon and Kenny Greenberg also found some extraordinarily well-suited outside material, especially the vigorous "Eight Crazy Hours," by Leslie Satcher and Darrell Scott, and the scooty Pat McLaughlin-Bill Kenner number "I'm Goin' Back." None of which would matter much, of course, if Fairchild couldn't sing. But she can, with a Bonnie Raitt-like edge mixed with a languorous soulfulness appropriate to her Delta upbringing. And her singing never seems to be derivative; she has the distinctive, tangy style of an original. Fairchild is also backed by a first-rate group of studio musicians, notably keyboardist Steve Nathan and harmonica player Pat Buchanan, who are a driving force behind Ride's engaging appeal.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "You Don't Lie Here Anymore"

COUNTRY

Silent Alarm

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Brimming with post-punk edginess and neo new-wave energy, these Brit rockers get the party started with a full-length debut that finds them joining the bloc of retro-'80s U.K. bands like Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs and the Futureheads. Silent Alarm sounds Bloc Party's arrival with the propulsive rhythms of the agitated opener "Like Eating Glass" and keeps up the breakneck pace for much of the CD, including the aptly titled "Positive Tension," on which lead singer/guitarist Kele Okereke lets loose his tortured, high-pitched wail. Although there's a sameness to some of the songs and the disc runs out of steam toward the end, Bloc Party—anchored by a killer rhythm section—gets your groove on.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Positive Tension"

ALT-ROCK

Songs for Silverman

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The Bens are on a roll. On the heels of first-rate albums in 2004 and '05 by fellow singer-songwriters Ben Kweller and Ben Lee—with whom Folds recorded the 2004 EP The Bens—Folds steps up with the sterling Silverman. There is nothing trendy or gimmicky here, just artful, piano-driven pop with rich melodies, Beatles-esque harmonies and smart lyrical spins. On the Elton-ish first single "Landed," Folds sings about snapping back to reality after a crazy relationship: "I've been on some other planet/ So come pick me up, I've landed." Meanwhile, "Late" is a touching eulogy for Elliott Smith.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Landed"

ALT-POP

Three Chord Country and American Rock & Roll

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Raw, playful and given to celebrating such southern comforts as chewing tobacco, newcomer Anderson is a 28-year-old Oklahoman straight out of the Toby Keith/Travis Tritt school of rock-infused country. Whether he's singing about escaping small-town confinement in "Podunk" or a convict brother in "Clothes Don't Make the Man," he comes across as a real country guy with a good ear for melody and a reedy yet pleasant tenor. Anderson carries the folksiness a bit too far on the vulgar "Stick It," which he cowrote. For the most part, though, he has an ingratiating style that should find him a solid place in Nashville.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Every Time I Hear Your Name"

COUNTRY

Mighty Rearranger

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Nobody will mistake Plant's current group for that other band he was in. His latest musical incarnation—with Strange Sensation, the quintet with whom he began playing on his 2002 covers set Dreamland—is hardly in the same league as Led Zeppelin. Still, you've got to give Plant, 56, credit for at least keeping things interesting in his fifth decade of rocking. On his first disc of new material in 12 years, he adds electronica elements as well as Middle Eastern and African flourishes to his bluesy classic rock. But the mixed results won't inspire a whole lotta love.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Shine It All Around"

Amerie With her hit "1 Thing," off her second CD Touch, Amerie, 27, is the hottest new thing in R&B.

ON HEARING HER SONG PLAYED IN THE CLUBS Sometimes people know that you're there and are so busy looking at you that they don't really dance. I like when I can sneak a peek and they don't know I'm there.

ON HOW THE FIRST DAUGHTER COSTAR IUGGLES MUSIC AND MOVIES I really love what Will Smith has done. Jennifer Lopez is great, but she doesn't tour. I want to do the kind of movies that Nicole Kidman does, but also want to keep touring. It's hard to balance that.

ON AMERICAN IDOL I detest American Idol and the other shows like it. I always feel sorry for the contestants. Some people grow from being beaten down, and they rise up. Other people need to be nurtured in a different way. Artists are very sensitive.

ON THE "1 THING" SHE LOOKS FOR IN A GUY What turns me on is confidence. What turns me off is a guy who always has to be the jester or like the class clown. I prefer someone who's cool and I laid-back.

For information on where to find our Download This picks, go to www.people.com/downloadthis or AOL (Keyword: People)

  • Contributors:
  • Chuck Arnold,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Carla Hay.