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Tom Moon

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When he started the Robert Glasper Experiment, the pianist was trying to blend hip-hop, jazz and R-and-B into a new sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHERISH THE DAY")

For some people, gospel music is all about the message — of faith and forbearance, sin and salvation. For the members of the mostly instrumental supergroup known as The Word, gospel is more about a feeling. The group's long-awaited second album, Soul Food, is a rousing, thoroughly modern take on gospel.

Brittany Howard sure can raise the roof. The singer possesses a furious streak, with startling rawness in her delivery. When I first caught Alabama Shakes live, the focus was all on her. The thing was, the band behind her sounded oddly flat: The musicians had clearly done their homework on Memphis soul, but they didn't take the music anyplace interesting. What a difference a couple years on the road can make.

Working as a music journalist means that some days you get to tell people, in breathless prose, about an incredible new record you've discovered. On other days, you have to tell people that an artist you've followed and respected for years is no longer living. That part is never any fun. Listening to the hushed, elegantly spare Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith, I found myself transported back to the period right after Smith died, of apparently self-inflicted stab wounds, in 2003.

He asks a lot of questions, this José González.

He opened his last album, 2013's band project Junip, with a thought experiment Nietzsche could love: "What would you do if it all came back to you?" The song, "Line Of Fire," dwells in a mood of idle 3 a.m. musing; González tosses out existential/metaphysical conundrums like he's feeding bread to ducks — casually, without worrying much about concrete answers.

Dylan The Crooner

Feb 3, 2015

Bard. Voice of a generation. Bob Dylan has been called many things over the years. With his new album, Shadows in the Night, the 73-year-old aims for another title: crooner.

The new LP features Dylan's versions of 10 songs from the Great American Songbook — all of them recorded at one time or another by Frank Sinatra — and it's a strange, moody, sometimes brilliant left turn for the artist.

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Saxophonist Bobby Keys was still a teenager when he started playing with his fellow Texan Buddy Holly and pop star Bobby Vee. Later, he joined up with the Rolling Stones. And for more than 40 years, Bobby Keys' powerful sax was a key part of their sound.

This is not Dueling Banjos: The Married Couple Edition. You won't find the careening energy of the mano-a-mano from the Deliverance soundtrack, or of the Flatt and Scruggs classic "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." Outbreaks of dazzling, speed-demon technique are few.

In the last 20 years, Prince has gotten more attention for his acrimonious spat with Warner Brothers — and the shenanigans surrounding his name — than for the music he's continued to make. And yet, as a performer, Prince is still undeniable, one of the living best.

A clue about the scruffy aesthetic of Sukierae arrives at the 2:27 mark of "World Away," one of 20 (!) songs on the first family-band album from Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. Until this point, the tune — a variation on the Bo Diddley beat strummed on acoustic guitar, with Tweedy's sleepy voice distantly implying a blues cadence — has been fairly straightforward.

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Joe Beck was a hard-working musician who played guitar in recording sessions with James Brown, Miles Davis and Paul Simon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE KIND")

Melissa Aldana, who became the first female instrumentalist and first South American musician to win the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition last fall, is not the average talent-contest winner.

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The creators of pop music are usually able to break down the fundamentals of their craft — that search for the clever rhyme, the killer beat, the singable chorus. They are less articulate, understandably, about the other quest, the one that powers those everyday searches: the pursuit of ecstasy in sound. There's something almost paranormal about that part of the creative process, yet we know those moments, instantly, when we hear them.

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Damon Albarn's first solo album is out today. Albarn was the frontman of the acclaimed British rock band Blur in the '90s, and since 2000, he has spearheaded the multi-platinum group Gorillaz.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WINDMILL")

Every language has words and phrases that elude easy translation. In Portuguese, "saudade" (pronounced by Brazilians as "sow-DAH-djee") is one of those. Some musicians equate it with the blues; it's generally associated with melancholy and longing. In its most recent bio, the Washington, D.C., electronic duo Thievery Corporation defines it as "a longing for something or someone that is lost."

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It's the fall of 1970. Neil Young takes the stage at a small club in Washington, D.C. His career is heading in a new direction: His folk-rock group, Buffalo Springfield, has dissolved; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is on the way out, and he's going solo.

The apparatus Joni Mitchell famously described as "the star-maker machinery behind the popular song" has been in overdrive lately, preparing the world for Lady Gaga's new music.

Guitarist Pat Metheny is revered for his bright, accessible modern jazz. Saxophonist and composer John Zorn is associated with much knottier, often dissonant experiments.

These days, when a rock band is tagged as a next big thing, there's usually some high-concept gimmick involved. Dawes is different. Singer and guitarist Taylor Goldsmith writes straightforward verse-chorus-bridge songs that focus on the turmoil beneath the surface of relationships, romantic and otherwise. Some seem downright ordinary — until Goldsmith shifts perspective between verses or slips in a startlingly self-aware observation that makes you think, "Wow, this guy is cutting close to the bone."

When singer Thom Yorke stepped away from his influential rock band Radiohead in 2006 to release The Eraser, many thought the quirky electronic project was a one-off. Not so, it turns out. Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich called on rock-star friends for a tour, and since then, the group has convened occasionally in the studio.

When he's leading his band My Morning Jacket, Jim James often comes across as a seeker — someone with at least passing curiosity about the metaphysical, if not the unknowable. On his first solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, his questioning goes a bit deeper.

An expanded version of Fleetwood Mac's 1977 album Rumours comes out this week, to mark the 35th anniversary of one of the top-selling albums of the '70s. The deluxe set includes demos, outtakes from the recording sessions, live recordings and a documentary DVD, along with a vinyl pressing of the original album.

After a slew of multidisc sets devoted to key points in the career of Miles Davis, you'd think Columbia Records would have unearthed every speck of consequential music by now. But not quite.

This week, Columbia brings out Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2 — a three-CD, one-DVD set devoted to the jazz maverick's "lost" quintet, his touring band from 1969.

I became a Bruno Mars fan in about 60 seconds. It happened in the car, when "Grenade" — from his first album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans — came on the radio. One time through the refrain and I was hooked. With just this album and a string of cameo appearances from the Hawaii-born singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Mars established himself as an elite pop talent.

The spread of formal jazz education has created a new breed of global musician: one who uses improvisation, and other devices associated with jazz, to transform folk and traditional music. The Albanian singer Elina Duni is part of this rising class. Her latest release, Matane Malit ("Beyond the Mountain"), offers a transfixing balance of old and new.

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