Blake Shelton

Based on a True Story ... |

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COUNTRY

It would be easy for cynics to dismiss Blake Shelton's eighth studio album as a product of synergistic opportunism more than artistic inspiration. After all, it drops the same week that Shelton returns as a coach for the fourth season of The Voice. What a coinkydink? But the ever-engaging country star smoothly wins over the skeptics. Hey, the dude isn't the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year (third time running) for nothing. While Shelton, perhaps too busy with his TV pursuits, didn't write a lick of this, you wouldn't know it from how these songs—and stories—capture his personality. Like him, it's just all so dang likable. He hits his stride quickly with the first two tracks: "Boys 'Round Here," which boasts some of the same slinky swagger of wife Miranda Lambert's "Baggage Claim" and features her Pistol Annies on backup, is a talk-singing ode to "keepin' it country." Then the ballad single "Sure Be Cool If You Did" nails Shelton's aw-shucks charm as he unassumingly woos a woman who's "lookin' like a high I wanna be on." When you're on a high like Shelton, you can get surefire songs like these.

Dido

Girl Who Got Away |

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POP

"If only for today/I wanna be/The girl who got away," sings Dido, providing a dreamy escape on the title track of her fourth album. Her last one came out way back in 2008, so this girl did indeed get away for an extended hiatus. But aside from recruiting rapper of the moment Kendrick Lamar to appear on the pulsing "Let Us Move On" (Drake might have been a better choice), it's as if she never left. Electronica, folk and hip-hop still float gently through her moody atmosphere. Sometimes, though, all the understated ambience can fade into the background like sweet nothingness.

Depeche Mode

Delta Machine |

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ALT-ROCK

Coming off of Dave Gahan's revelatory album with Soulsavers, 2012's The Light the Dead See, Depeche Mode's latest feels somewhat disappointing. It's solid—their synth-pop sound still holds up surprisingly well after more than 30 years—but unspectacular. Still, songs like the electro-piano ballad "Heaven" and the "Personal Jesus"-esque "Soothe My Soul" show why these Brits will always be goth gods.

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THE BEATLES' DEBUT ALBUM

They don't make bands like the Beatles anymore—and they don't make albums the way the Fab Four made their debut, Please Please Me. The disc was rush-released on March 22, 1963, in the U.K. to capitalize on the success of the singles "Love Me Do" and "Please Please Me." With only those two hits and their B sides recorded, the Beatles took one day to lay down 10 other songs in less than 10 hours! The result whips and crackles by in no more than 33 minutes with eight Lennon-McCartney originals (including "I Saw Her Standing There") and covers like "Twist and Shout." Shake it up, baby? They sure did.

Beyoncé Knowles

"Bow Down/I Been On" Queen B rips pretenders with the B word on an edgy boastfest that shows Jay isn't the only one in the house with street fierceness.

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KENDRICK LAMAR FEATURING JAY-Z

"Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" remix Jigga sounds more engaged than he did with JT on "Suit & Tie," but the younger rapper doesn't need him.

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WILL.I.AM FEATURING JUSTIN BIEBER

"#thatPOWER"

This club pounder could be just what Biebs needs to pump himself out of his blues.

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THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS

"Up in the Air" On a stadium-ready anthem from their upcoming album, Jared Leto's band takes off into the U2 stratosphere.

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The Strokes

Comedown Machine

These New York City boys seem to have hopped a time machine back to the '80s on their fifth album, with synth-infused tracks ("One Way Trigger") and blissful dance-rockers ("Welcome to Japan") that'll take you higher.

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OneRepublic

Native

As a writer and producer, Ryan Tedder has made magic with the likes of Adele, Beyoncé and Kelly Clarkson. But aside from the rare moment ("Feel Again") on their third album, he fails to really bring it leading his pop-rock band.

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Thompson Square

Just Feels Good

On their second album, this husband-wife duo—2012's CMA Vocal Duo of the Year—bring real-life intimacy to relationship tales like the ballads "That's So Me and You" and "If I Didn't Have You." At times, however, it just feels so-so.

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Jimi Hendrix

People, Hell and Angels

With all the Hendrix compilations and reissues there have been over the years, it's easy to overlook one. But this collection of previously unreleased studio recordings such as the freaky-funky "Izabella" feels like unburied treasure.

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KACEY MUSGRAVES

Your debut, Same Trailer Different Park, is getting attention for "Follow Your Arrow," which among other things supports the gay community. Why tackle that topic?

My friend from high school came out to me: He had gone through a lot because we were from a very conservative area [in Texas]. It's an issue that isn't talked about in country music. But it's time for that to change.

You cowrote Miranda Lambert's single "Mama's Broken Heart."

She made that song her own, and that's really cool. She's opened a lot of doors as far as being a woman who stands up for herself and says something.

What did you listen to growing up?

My dad played Neil Young and Tom Petty records, and I used to sing Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn songs. And like every other girl, I was really into the Spice Girls and 'N Sync.

Is it true you can yodel?

Yeah! I learned when I was in a western swing group. I haven't yodeled in a while. I'd need a major buzz to start again.