Paul Simon

So Beautiful or So What |

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FOLK-POP

"You know life is what we make of it/ So beautiful or so what," muses Paul Simon on the reflective title track of his latest. Certainly, the 12-time Grammy winner has earned the respect to wax wise as he approaches turning 70 in October. And there is plenty of sage meditation on life-and "The Afterlife," as one song is explicitly titled-on Simon's first album since 2006's Surprise. Whether he's contemplating the vastness of "love" on three tunes whose titles start with that four-letter word or pondering "Questions for the Angels" ("If you shop for love in a bargain store/ And you don't get what you bargained for/ Can you get your money back?") on one harp-laced ballad, Simon takes you on a graceful, spiritual journey. Musically, he harks back to 1986's Graceland-one of his greatest triumphs-on world-beatish cuts such as the Indian-tinged "Dazzling Blue" and the African-textured "Rewrite." So beautiful indeed.

If you're feeling nostalgic for some pre-solo Simon, check out the new 40th-anniversary CD/DVD edition of Bridge over Troubled Water, the 1970 classic that was S&G's final studio album together. It will ease your mind.

K.D. LANG AND THE SISS BOOM BANG

Sing It Loud

Unlike many showier singers, lang knows that there is a world of nuance between a wail and a whisper. She explores it all with her velvety voice as, leading her new band, the chanteuse veers between torch and twang.

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JOHN OATES

Mississippi Mile

Always in the shadow of Daryl Hall, Oates hits his solo stride on Mississippi Mile, covering Americana territory with bluesy originals and rootsy remakes like "All Shook Up" and Hall & Oates' own "You Make My Dreams Come True."

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KIMBERLY CALDWELL

Without Regret

Eight years after placing seventh on Idol, Caldwell finally releases her pop-rock debut. Solid if unspectacular, it features some pretty good Kelly Clarkson knockoffs, while also calling to mind Melissa Etheridge on "Heart Like Mine."

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THE PRETTY RECKLESS

Light Me Up

When it comes to actors turned singers, Gossip Girl costar Taylor Momsen, fronting this band, is one of the better ones. She makes a credible Courtney Love wannabe on sleazy-fun rockers. But the album loses steam on the slow stuff.

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JILL SCOTT, "GOLDEN"

This song puts me in a good mood. It has a really positive message.

JESSIE J, "PRICE TAG"

I want to duet with her. That would be so awesome!

AALIYAH, "BACK & FORTH"

I love her voice, and she was a great dancer too.

KE$HA, "CANNIBAL"

When I was on tour with Justin Bieber, my Warriorette [dancer] Simrin and I made up a routine to this song.

2PAC, "DEAR MAMA"

My favorite 2Pac song. I wish I could have met him.

JOHN LEGEND, "GREEN LIGHT"

I'm taking piano lessons, but I can't play like him yet!

PLAN B

Proving that Amy Winehouse is not the only Brit who can do Motown-inspired soul-pop with a hip-hop swagger, Plan B comes up with his own Back to Black in The Defamation of Strickland Banks. With a creamy croon that nods to Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye-along with a gritty rap delivery-it's no wonder he hit No. 1 in the U.K.

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FOR FANS OF: AMY WINEHOUSE

ELIZA DOOLITTLE

Possessing a charm that can be as quirky as her stage name, this fair lady recalls another whimsical Londoner who sings with a thick accent: Lily Allen. Among the highlights of her self-titled debut, which has already gone platinum in the U.K., are the jaunty "Rollerblades" and "Mr. Medicine," a delightful dose of sugar pop.

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FOR FANS OF: LILY ALLEN

THE BELLE BRIGADE

"I just fell in love and I couldn't help myself." So sing siblings Barbara and Ethan Gruska in the opening moments of the Belle Brigade's self-titled debut. You may be thinking the same thing after listening to this L.A. duo's sun-kissed, harmony-sweetened sounds, which are reminiscent of the California folk-pop of Fleetwood Mac.

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FOR FANS OF: FLEETWOOD MAC