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Picks and Pans Main: Music

updated 03/01/2010 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/01/2010 01:00AM

Johnny Cash

American VI: Ain't No Grave |

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COUNTRY

Pulling a 2Pac, Johnny Cash is still releasing new music seven years after his death. His second posthumous album, following 2006's superior American V: A Hundred Highways, is the final (or so we think) installment in the series produced by Rick Rubin. The specter of death hangs heavily over this brief set, recorded in the months leading up to his passing (during which time he lost wife June Carter Cash). Cash defiantly confronts his mortality on the traditional "Ain't No Grave," while seeking salvation on Sheryl Crow's "Redemption Day." With his fragile, tentative delivery, the Man in Black is clearly a shadow of his former self, but he is still a powerful presence to the end.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "I Corinthians 15:55," the haunting lone Cash original

V.V. Brown

Travelling Like the Light |

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SOUL-POP

On her debut album, V.V. Brown takes you on a fun journey back to the '50s and '60s. From the surf guitar of the groovy opener, "Quick Fix," to the girl-group harmonies of the closing ballad, "Travelling Like the Light," it's a nostalgia trip that has both sass and soul. While Brown's retro moves can feel a little familiar, bringing to mind such other British acts as Amy Winehouse, Estelle and the Noisettes, she clearly has learned well from the old school.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Leave!," a doo-woppy incitation to dump him

CRITIC'S CHOICE

Daniel Merriweather

Love & War |

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SOUL-POP

In 2007 Australia's Daniel Merriweather upstaged Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen as a featured vocalist on producer Mark Ronson's album Version. The retro-soulful singer gets his much-deserved close-up on the year's best debut (already a hit in the U.K., where it came out last June). With Ronson again behind the boards, Love & War at times feels like the male answer to Back to Black, while also conjuring up Paolo Nutini and the artist formerly known as Terence Trent D'Arby.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Cigarettes," a nicotine-tinged saloon song

Allison Moorer

Crows |

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ALT-COUNTRY

"Fall down on me like a feather floating on a breeze," sings Allison Moorer, pretty much nailing the effect of her new CD in the opening line. With a soft, soothing beauty that sneaks up and wraps its wings around you, Crows is a rare bird, creating a mood that is sometimes more torch than twang.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Still This Side of Gone," a heartbreaker of a ballad

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