Picks and Pans Main: Music

updated 11/01/2010 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 11/01/2010 01:00AM

CRITIC'S CHOICE

Kings of Leon

Come Around Sundown |

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ROCK

"This could be the end," sings Caleb Followill on "The End"-the opening track of Come Around Sundown-as if he's worried that Kings of Leon might crumble under the weight of expectation following 2008's breakthrough hit Only by the Night. Clearly, though, the Followill kingdom is in no danger: This album cements their place as new rock royalty. Indeed, the charging "Radioactive" is an arena-ready anthem on the order of U2. There are also cell-phone-waving ballads-such as the slow-burning "Pyro"-in the vein of "Use Somebody." Elsewhere, the Followill boys work sexy, slyly funky grooves like "Pony Up" while channeling the Four Seasons on "Mary." Although not quite a home run-it sags a bit in the middle-Sundown is no letdown.

Shakira

Sale El Sol |

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LATIN POP

Shakira's hips may not lie, but her Madonna turn on last year's She Wolf didn't always ring true. This quick follow-up, Sale El Sol (translation: The Sun Comes Out), lets Shakira be Shakira. The radiant results-with the Colombian crossover star singing mostly in Spanish-range from melodic ballads to punchy rockers and rhythmic fiesta-starters. The highlight? "Rabiosa," a dance-floor scorcher.

Sugarland

The Incredible Machine |

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COUNTRY-POP

On The Incredible Machine, Sugarland continues to crank out the kind of glossy, slick country-pop that may not endear them to purists but will get plenty of love on the radio. Whether it's the rock thump of "All We Are," the power balladry of "Tonight" or the soulful shuffle of "Every Girl Like Me," they thumb their noses at tradition and play to the masses. Even an acoustic-guitar-driven ditty like "Stuck Like Glue" owes much more to Jason Mraz than Johnny Cash. And while there's a manufactured quality to their sound, there's no denying the duo's nuts-and-bolts craftsmanship. Jennifer Nettles sparkles on lead vocals, especially on her close-up "Shine the Light."

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