Picks and Pans Main: Music

UPDATED 09/13/2010 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/13/2010 at 01:00 AM EDT

Fantasia

Back to Me |

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R&B

"No more crying, going through hell/ It's all good, I'm loving myself," sings Fantasia Barrino on "I'm Doin' Me," the opening track of her third-and best-album. Those self-empowering lyrics were sung before the 2004 American Idol attempted suicide last month. Having survived this latest personal drama, hopefully now she can actually live those words. But the pain that Fantasia has been through adds a layer of real grit to everything she does. You can hear it on old-schoolish songs like the R&B hit "Bittersweet," an aptly titled ballad on which she digs deep with raspy-voiced emotion. Fantasia saves her best for last, though, on "I'm Here," a number from The Color Purple musical she starred in on Broadway. With this kind of gospel-charged transcendence, she could bring anyone back from the brink.

Goo Goo Dolls

Something for the Rest of Us |

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POP-ROCK

The Goo Goo Dolls gave up trying to be hip a long time ago. Instead, on their ninth studio album, the threesome makes serviceable pop-rock for the masses, with VH1-ready tracks like the driving opener "Sweetest Lie," the U2-lite "As I Am" and the first single "Home." Despite solid songwriting and musicianship, though, the generic quality wears thin in the second half. It doesn't help that bassist Robby Takac takes the lead from frontman John Rzeznik on two tunes that are something to forget.

Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses

Junky Star |

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

ALT-COUNTRY

Most musicians might expect to win a Grammy before an Oscar, but it didn't work that way for Ryan Bingham. The rootsy singer-songwriter picked up an Academy Award last March for penning "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" with T Bone Burnett. The spirit of that haunting ballad is alive on Junky Star, Bingham's stellar third album. With Burnett back as producer, this is rich alt-country terrain. While there are shades of that other Ryan-Adams-the gravelly-voiced Bingham is more of a cross between Bob Dylan and Nebraska-style Bruce Springsteen, making tracks like the harmonica-spiked "The Wandering" and the evocative title tune truly addictive.

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