Cradlesong |

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He threw his matchbox twenty bandmates a bone by returning for a 2007 greatest-hits disc. Now Rob Thomas gets back to his burgeoning solo career. Like Something to Be, his 2005 solo debut, Cradlesong is about as solid as pop-rock gets. While there's nothing revolutionary about Thomas—and he certainly doesn't take any chances by again enlisting longtime matchbox producer Matt Serletic—he's a first-class craftsman who knows how to bust out the hooks. Highlights include the calypso-tinged "Hard on You" and the first single "Her Diamonds," with its facets of African and gospel music.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Real World '09," a punchy, propulsive whirl

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After her 2006 breakthrough, Begin to Hope, Regina Spektor recruited some top knob-twirlers for this follow-up, including Mike Elizondo (Eminem), Jeff Lynne (Tom Petty) and Jacknife Lee (R.E.M.). Don't worry about this singer-songwriter becoming a producer's puppet, though. She willfully maintains her sense of whimsy, her quirky charms extending from her lyrics to her vocals and classically trained piano work.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Laughing With," a lilting, left-of-center slice of piano pop

Jeremih |

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With Chris Brown's career a question mark, the time is right for this 21-year-old newbie to make a move. He's off to a strong start with "Birthday Sex," a Top 5 pop and R&B hit that, with its slightly Auto-Tuned amorousness, is part Chris Brown, part T-Pain. It's the best song here. But Jeremih can play innocent too, evoking a young Michael Jackson on the ballad "Starting All Over."

Wait for Me |


The press materials for Moby's new album reveal that he recorded it in his bedroom. Unintended or not, the result is a drowsy disc that is the equivalent of aural Ambien. After 2008's Last Night returned the electronica wizard to the dance floor, he's in major need of a Red Bull on ponderous tracks that, for all their moody atmospherics, don't really go anywhere, lacking memorable melodies and beats. Even Moby's tried-and-true trick of appropriating gospel voices on "Walk with Me" feels pretty tired.

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>• This summery midtempo bouncer from Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, due Aug. 25, finds MC getting a bit devilish with what sounds like a response to Eminem's "Bagpipes from Baghdad."

>THE MARS VOLTA Octahedron This alt-rock duo may be too far out in the cosmos for some, but adventurous explorers will enjoy this trippy journey. It takes off with "Since We've Been Wrong," a ballad for the heavens.

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AL B. SURE! Honey I'm Home The new jack swinger opens his first studio disc in 17 years with a bit of his 1988 hit "Nite and Day." He goes on to make an assured return with lush, sensual slow jams like "I Love It (Papi Aye Aye Aye)" and Sting's "Fragile."

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TANYA TUCKER My Turn Tucker was the Taylor Swift of her day, scoring her first hit when she was just 13. Now 50, she flips the script on country classics recorded by men, like "You Don't Know Me." Appealing? Yes. Amazing? No.

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THE CLIKS Dirty King Featuring a transgender (female-to-male) lead singer, this Toronto rock trio shows that they can be hard (the surf-guitar-riffed title track) as well as softer (the melancholy "Not Your Boy"). Although it never fully clicks, their second disc has its moments.

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>• As they start a summer tour for their new CD, Lines, Vines and Trying Times, they pick the live acts—past and present—they'd scream for.

THE BEATLES "Some people have been like, 'Yeah, I went to a Beatles show when I was really young,'" says Joe, 19. "I'm always like, 'That was probably the coolest thing ever!'"

KINGS OF LEON "They put out one of the best albums last year," says Nick, 16. "'Use Somebody' is one of my favorites. We respect them."

CAROLE KING "A huge influence on us as songwriters," says Kevin, 21.

JOHNNY CASH "It would be amazing to see him in one of those prison concerts," says Joe. "They're legendary."

THE ROLLING STONES "These guys are still playing to huge audiences," says Kevin. "Their music is timeless."

STEVIE WONDER "I still can't believe we [played] with him at the Grammys," says Joe. "He moves an audience."

>• With these two new acts, the string section has never been so smoking.

DAVID GARRETT This hunky German violinist, 28, recently released a self-titled CD.

What makes him hot: He's the face of a Banana Republic campaign, but he's no poser, studying at Juilliard under Itzhak Perlman and holding the Guinness World Record as the fastest performer of "Flight of the Bumblebee."

Sexy surprises: His versions of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" and Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" will bow you over.

ESCALA With a self-titled debut, this British string quartet is the new Bond.

What makes them hot: Having made the finals of Britain's Got Talent last year, the Simon Cowell protégées rocked Oprah in May. Call them the anti-Susan Boyles.

Sexy surprises: They outgun Slash on Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," and their take on "Live and Let Die" would slay Sir Paul himself.