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Elliott Smith’s posthumous album, From A Basement On The Hill, was close to completion when Smith met his untimely, sad death. A truly talented songwriter, Smith rose from obscurity to mainstream awareness in 1997 on the strength of the song “Miss Misery” from the Academy Award nominated soundtrack to Good Will Hunting. But even with that stellar surreal performance – Smith in a white suit singing to millions of television viewers alongside Celine Dion and Trisha Yearwood – he remained one of pop music’s more engaging, much loved and revered, yet little known singers and songwriters. Who can also forget his breathtaking cover of the Beatles’ “Because” at the end of the film American Beauty? It is a great moment in movie music history.

Hailing from Montreal, Win Butler, Regine Chassagne, Richard Perry, Tim Kingsbury and Win’s brother Will make up The Arcade Fire. With a strong underground indie-rock following, Funeral is possibly the most critically acclaimed album of 2004 that fell under the radar. It’s a debut record too good and original to be ignored.

With Careless Love, Peyroux is once again proving herself to be an original interpreter and an open receptor to songs from earlier eras—an artist who channels vintage jazz and blues with chilling accuracy. “I feel very lucky to be part of a tradition of songwriting that stands the test of time,” says Peyroux. “I also feel lucky to be able to go back and perform as much as I did before—I can’t wait.” Adds Peyroux, with characteristic modesty:

If you thought Southern rock faded away when Lynyrd Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels’ radio popularity waned, then the Truckers embody the spirit of hard, road-driven rock and roll. With four of the Truckers hailing from North Alabama and with musical roots tied to the classic Muscle Shoals recording studio, it was the Truckers’ now classic 2001 Southern Rock Opera about Lynyrd Skynyrd that brought them critical acclaim and a record contract.

She’s a little bit alternative country and a little bit blue-eyed soul. Singer-songwriter Tift Merritt’s sophomore album is a mix of guitar rockers, thoughtful ballads and soulful horn-driven soul songs. Producer George Drakoulis, whose work has benefited the likes of the Jayhawks, Black Crowes and Maria McKee lends an organic, live-in-the-studio feel to this rootsy and soulful collection of tunes which – coincidentally - features guest appearances from members of the Jayhawks, Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, pedal steel whiz Robert Randolph and Maria McKee herself.

Guitarist, singer and songwriter Marc Broussard's new album Carenco (pronounced Karen-Crow) is named after his hometown in Louisiana. At a young 22, he sounds wise beyond his age mixing up soul and R&B with heavy doses of good old fashioned rock 'n' roll. Growing up in Lafayette, Louisiana, Broussard was exposed to music as a youngster as his dad was guitarist for the legendary South Louisiana swamp band The Boogie Kings. Marc debuted in 2002 with the album Momentary Setback, and on Carencro he continues to hone his incredible rocking soul stylings with his best songs and most soulful singing yet.

Tangos and cha-chas. Smoky, jazzy French love songs, film-noir orchestrations and Cuban dance music. Welcome to the post-lounge vibe of Pink Martini, the Portland, Oregon based collective orchestra. Vocalist and songwriter China Forbes and classically-trained pianist Thomas Lauderdale formed Pink Martini in 1994. Since then they’ve been winning over the hearts and minds of music lovers since their 1997 debut album, Sympathique.

Lonely Runs Both Ways is the first studio album in three years from Alison Krauss and Union Station: Krauss (fiddle and vocals), Dan Tyminski (guitar and vocals), Barry Bales (bass and vocals), Ron Block (banjo, guitar, and vocals), and Jerry Douglas (dobro).

Rapidly approaching their 30th anniversary as a band, and now almost 25 years since the release of their debut, Boy, I can think of few bands who have not only continued to impact popular culture and music but who continue to make great recorded music. Undeniably, U2 is one of those bands.

More Adventurous is the third album from the Los Angeles based Rilo Kiley, fronted by vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Jenny Lewis. Sharing musical sensibilities and indie-rock affinity with bands like Death Cab For Cutie, The Shins, Decemberists – Rilo Kiley are next generation rock and roll who have released a must hear album for 2004.

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