Darius Rucker

True Believers |

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If you still needed more convincing about Darius Rucker going country, then the Hootie & the Blowfish refugee provides it on True Believers. Indeed, his third Nashville effort has already produced his sixth No. 1 country hit in the fiddle-happy "Wagon Wheel"—a song originally sketched by Bob Dylan and then fleshed out by Old Crow Medicine Show's Ketch Secor. The track features labelmates Lady Antebellum on background vocals, and Rucker shares their pop-friendly sensibility on cuts like the title tune and the summer-ready "Radio." Elsewhere, Rucker—only the third black artist to top the country charts, after Ray Charles and Charley Pride—shows his soulful side with gospel ("Take Me Home") and R&B ("Leavin' the Light On"). But the highlight is "Love Without You," an aching ballad featuring Sheryl Crow, another pop-rocker who's looking to pull a Darius with a country crossover.


Laura Mvula

Sing to the Moon |

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"Sing to the moon and the stars will shine/ Over you, heaven's gonna turn the tide," croons Laura Mvula on the title track of her debut album, which is so magical it may leave you feeling as if you're floating somewhere up in the galaxy. The classically trained singer-songwriter, who plays everything from piano to tubular bells here, is the latest in a wave of British soul-pop sirens vying to be the next Adele. And with her enchanting, lushly arranged potion of neo-soul, orchestral pop and torchy jazz—plus a lovely lilt perhaps owing to her Caribbean roots—she's the most likely to keep you spellbound.

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Beyoncé Knowles

"Grown Woman" Queen B runs the world again with another female-empowerment anthem, taking it to Africa behind Timbaland's tribal beats.

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"Dirty Laundry" The new U.S. X Factor judge airs her jealousy of Beyoncé after Destiny's Child split.

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"New Slaves" The expectant father hasn't mellowed with this stark diatribe on racism and materialism, but let's hope for better on his upcoming album.

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"Little Bit of Everything" After all that Mariah-Nicki drama, Urban exhales with this breezy "little chill song."

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The death of Doors founding member Ray Manzarek on May 20—he passed away from bile duct cancer at 74—saw one of the greatest keyboardists in rock history break on through to the other side. He made me hear the organ in a completely different way than I ever did in church while growing up. And so did the Doors open my ears to the psychedelic possibilities of music, making me feel cool just listening. Check out Manzarek dancing around Jim Morrison's sexy-spooky presence on The Very Best of the Doors (inset) and break out your go-go boots.

Alice in Chains

The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

It almost feels like these hard rockers, long past their '90s heyday, are from the Jurassic period. Although there are some worthy moments, such as the sludge-crunch single "Stone," there are way too many lulls to keep you hooked.

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IV Play

Yes, it's his fourth album, but the title of The-Dream's latest also harks back to R. Kelly's 12 Play. But this can't touch that 1993 sex-o-classic. While there are some hot bump-and-grinders ("Equestrian," "Too Early"), it lacks real staying power.

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Amy Grant

How Mercy Looks from Here

On her first album in 10 years, Grant demonstrates that she was never the type of singer who would blow anybody away on American Idol or The Voice. Still, her vocal purity lends sweet spirit to these inspirational tunes.

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Frank Turner

Tape Deck Heart

One of the year's best rock albums comes from this English singer-songwriter, whose folk-punk sound alternately brings to mind R.E.M. and Green Day, Damien Rice and Arctic Monkeys. His music and lyrics are straight from the ticker.

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It's been 11 years since your last album. Why?

I had a lot of issues with my label [so] now I'm independent. I try to balance being an artist and a label owner. It's like compartmentalizing my brain, but it feels good.

Digging any newer female rappers?

I think Nicki Minaj's music is good, and Azealia Banks' wordplay is clever. And there's a new girl, Nacho, on my album who is dope.

How did you meet your British beau, Maximillion Cooper?

He owns the Gumball 3000 [British road rally], and I got asked to drive in it for Team Puma. We met on the red carpet, and we've been together ever since. I moved to London. We talk about [marriage]—he's the person that I can see myself with.

Who would you love to lock lips with if you weren't taken?

Channing Tatum! He's your Sexiest Man Alive for a reason. I hope this doesn't get to Max!


With R.E.M. having ridden off into the alt-rock sunset, the silver-anniversary deluxe edition of their 1988 major-label debut feels more like gold. Green blooms from the jangle pop of "Stand" to the guitar stomp of "Orange Crush" and the folkie balladry of "You Are the Everything," one of their most beautiful love songs. Plus a bonus disc from the Green World Tour - Live in Greensboro 1989 - captures Michael Stipe's act in all their '80s glory.

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