THE 'PONTOON' GROUP!

Little Big Town

Tornado |

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COUNTRY

They've been around longer than other coed country groups like Sugarland, Lady Antebellum and Gloriana. Still, it took 10 years after their self-titled debut for Little Big Town to finally score their first No. 1 country single: "Pontoon." Riding a slinky groove, it's a smooth-cruising ode to their favorite mode of nautical transport. Hopefully "Pontoon" has made just the splash this quartet needs to get listeners onboard for their fifth studio album, because there are better songs here. Just check out "Sober," about wanting to die high on love, or "Your Side of the Bed," which examines a married couple drifting apart even while sleeping together. Although all four members-Jimi Westbrook, Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman and Phillip Sweet-trade off on lead vocals, it's their harmonies and vocal interplay that are showcased on wistful tunes like "Can't Go Back" and "Night Owl." In that sense, they are true team players.

Dave Matthews Band

Away from the World |

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ROCK

As demonstrated by this year's American Idol champ Phillip Phillips, you shouldn't underestimate the influence of Dave Matthews on a generation of Hacky Sack-playing music men. While he and his band may not be the hippest act around as they hit middle age, they remain loved by loyal fans and respected by peers (2009's Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King earned their first Album of the Year Grammy nod). Matthews settles into his role as the new Sting on Away from the World, smoothly moving from jazzy workouts ("Broken Things") and funky jams ("Belly Belly Nice") to folk-inflected ballads (the ukulele-laced "Sweet"). Even if the music doesn't exactly surprise, his socially conscious statements on "Mercy" and "Gaucho" (which could have done without the children's choir) show he still believes in making change.

Bob Dylan

Tempest |

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HAPPY 50th ANNIVERSARY!

ROOTS-ROCK

Bob Dylan's 35th studio album essentially marks the 50th anniversary of his self-titled debut, which was released March 19, 1962. And while it will not go down as a Dylan classic, Tempest shows that, at 71, he's not ready to go gently anywhere. This is the odd, ornery work of an elder statesman who has earned every right to be odd and ornery. Continuing down the gritty, rootsy road of 2009's Together Through Life, it's a dark, sometimes murky journey. Kicking off with the New Orleans shuffle of "Duquesne Whistle," it winds into the rolling reflection of "Long and Wasted Years" and "Pay in Blood," on which Dylan, his voice more grizzled than ever, sinisterly sings, "I pay in blood, but not my own." But at 68-plus minutes, the album loses steam, particularly on the title track, a nearly 14-minute epic about the Titanic that feels as long as watching the film.

In the first of two shows at New York's Yankee Stadium, Madonna demonstrated why she is still the original dance-pop diva. The highlight of the concert-which, as she described in a manifesto on the MDNA tour e-mailed to press earlier that day, was "part cinematic musical theatre, part spectacle and sometimes intimate performance art"-was a sequence in which the cheerleader-uniform-wearing 54-year-old went from "Express Yourself" into Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," a similar-sounding song that she has called "reductive." Then she did a bit of "She's Not Me," a standout of 2008's Hard Candy. It was a moment of high camp-and cattiness-that reminded everyone in the crowd why there will never be another Madonna.

ALICIA KEYS, "Girl on Fire" Keys brings the heat with her impassioned delivery on the title track from her upcoming album-even if it all sounds a bit familiar.

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TRACE ADKINS

"Tough People Do"

"Tough times don't last, tough people do." With that kind of slogan, it's no wonder this has become a GOP anthem.

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ONEREPUBLIC

"Feel Again"

On this feel-good song, the "Apologize" guys display shades of Coldplay-and the Killers' "All These Things That I've Done."

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BRANDY

"Wildest Dreams"

Although not quite as fierce as "Put It Down," this smoky, sensual midtempo continues to bode well for Two Eleven, due Oct. 16.

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THE XX

Coexist

There's a reason why the xx are one of rock's hottest acts: The British trio does romantic synth-pop suited for dark times. On their terrific second disc, they deliver quietly devastating dirges and sexy, pulsing pop perfect for a make-out. A neat trick.

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THE AVETT BROTHERS

The Carpenter

With uber-producer Rick Rubin behind the boards, this alt-folk trio-only two of whom are actually brothers-crafts an album that achieves rootsy bliss on songs such as "Winter in My Heart" and "Through My Prayers."

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TOBYMAC

Eye on It

This Grammy-winning singer-rapper, formerly of the group dc Talk, has notched the first Christian album to hit No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart in 15 years. Really, though, his songs can be just as pop as Owl City or, yes, even Justin Bieber.

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DAVID BYRNE & ST. VINCENT

Love This Giant

Inspired by a love of horns, the Talking Head teams with Annie Clark (St. Vincent) for a set of art pop. It's not an easy listen: The rave-up "Who" aside, the songs are as complex as AP calculus.

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ALSO REVIEWED BY KEVIN O'DONNELL

Bob Dylan is America's greatest poet and one of the most influential people in music worldwide-for me, he's a master class in artistry. When I make music, I always read his lyrics and remind myself what it means to write songs that say something. He documented history: the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. We'll never see anyone give a voice to what everyone was experiencing the way he did.

YOUR VIDEO HAS BEEN WATCHED MORE THAN 100 MILLION TIMES.

It's awesome. I made it just for Korea. Then I uploaded it to YouTube, and it went worldwide. It's astonishing!

DEFINE "GANGNAM STYLE."

I'm saying I'm the guy that's suitable for a kind of lady who's gorgeous in the daytime and who's going crazy at night. The guy's gotta be handsome, skinny, muscular. I'm not that kind of person. That's the point. It's a twist.

WHAT'S THE SECRET TO DOING YOUR DANCING-HORSE MOVE?

You've got to be serious in the face.

EVER BEEN TO THE U.S. BEFORE?

I went to Boston University and Berklee [College of Music] from '96 to '99. Classes were too early in the morning. I was a freshman for four years.

YOU SIGNED WITH JUSTIN BIEBER'S MANAGER. HOW ARE YOU CELEBRATING YOUR SUCCESS?

Drinking. I drink too much. Whiskey, rum, anything strong!