One of the Boys | [3.5 stars]
On her third album, tough-talking country star Gretchen Wilson tries a little tenderness. "I know I don't act much like a lady/But I still need to be somebody's baby," she admits on the affectingly personal title tune. Wilson reveals more of her vulnerable side on "Pain Killer," a classic heartbreak ballad on which she seeks temporary emotional relief from a one-night stand. But Wilson is still a redneck woman through and through, as she boasts on honky-tonkers like "There Goes the Neighborhood" (one of four cuts cowritten by John Rich of Big & Rich). And on "There's a Place in the Whiskey" she shows she can deliver a drinking song just like one of the boys.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "One of the Boys"
Sky Blue Sky | [3 stars]
After Wilco's last studio outing, 2004's A Ghost Is Born, picked up a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album, the stakes have been raised for the Chicago band. But they don't seem to be feeling the pressure on the breezy Sky Blue Sky. The relaxed mood is set by the easy-going opener "Either Way," on which frontman Jeff Tweedy takes it all in stride: "Maybe you still love me/Maybe you don't/Either you will or you won't." Wilco keeps it mellow with the soothing, unassuming folk-rock of tracks like "Impossible Germany." Elsewhere, the sextet nails a couple of ballads back to back: the country-tinged charmer "Please Be Patient with Me" and the bluesy, Stones-esque "Hate It Here."
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Hate It Here"
5:55 | [3 stars]
Although she is better known as an actress, appearing in films like 21 Grams, French star Charlotte Gainsbourg made her recording debut at age 13. Now, more than two decades later, she has released her second album, which reels you in with its almost cinematic quality on songs like the evocative title track. With ambient music by the French electronica duo Air, lush production by Nigel Godrich (Radiohead) and Gainsbourg's hushed, breathy vocals, it all possesses a certain je ne sais quoi.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "5:55"
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend | [3.5 stars]
She's blonde, sings country and got her big break on a TV talent show. But don't mistake Miranda Lambert for Carrie Underwood. In fact, this Nashville Star alum blows away the American Idol winner on her crazy-good second disc. The Texas cowgirl ropes you in with both fierce foot-stompers (the bitchin' title track) and tear-stained ballads ("More Like Her") that bring out the slight quiver in her voice. Lambert has a sharp way with a pen, likening one man to "a sore in your mouth that you just have to bite."
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"
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