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Mac is back! Well, to be fair, it’s not like Dr. John hasn’t been consistent in his musical output. He’s released more than a handful of albums since the turn of century. But with Locked Down, his latest, perhaps none of those recent releases matches this latest collection in terms of energy and/or sheer appeal. Many will argue that a five time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has the latitude to do just about whatever they want, but for Dr. John Locked Down is an album he needed to make and music fans need to hear.

On his new album Justin Townes Earle aims to prove a few things, including the fact that it’s ok if the title of your album is longer than the actual runtime of the record. Alright, joke’s aside Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now may be one of the more verbose album title’s we’ve seen in quite a while, but that hardly reflects the concise nature of the songs it headlines. Ten songs clocking in just over thirty minutes, Nothing’s Gonna Change… is one of Justin’s finest works to date harnessing his strength as a captivating storyteller.

Port of Morrow may be the first new album from The Shins in nearly half a decade, but those five years were far from your typical hiatus. The new album may better serve as a reintroduction and/or reincarnation of frontman James Mercer, rather than a continuation of what we’ve come to know from the band itself. The primary reason is that since 2007’s Wincing the Night Away, the entire band with the exception of Mercer has been replaced. Port of Morrow is also the first album from The Shins to not be released on the Sub Pop label. Mercer is releasing the collection on his own label Aural Apothecary (distributed by Columbia). And perhaps most notably Mercer seems to have confidently taken the reigns with a distinct vision and sonic direction for the band.

For Bruce Springsteen, an artist of true iconic stature and fame, you sometimes wonder where the motivation comes from. He’ll sell records as long as he keeps making them and fill seats as long as he keeps playing in front of them. For ‘The Boss’ life doesn’t seem too shabby. However listening to his new album Wrecking Ball, Bruce seems anything but content. For Springsteen making records at this point is hardly about moving up Billboard charts or filling stadiums, it’s about marking a moment in time. Wrecking Ball speaks to our hardships, our challenges and the eventual hope that lies ahead.

Some music fans may remember a band called The Format. They released a couple records in the mid-2000’s and toured a good bit. The enjoyed some mild success, but decided to take a break in 2008. Nate Ruess, one of the founders of The Format, moved from Arizona to New York to form a new band, appropriately called fun. They released their first album in 2009 called Aim and Ignite and just recently put out there sophomore effort Some Nights. Their latest release has already grabbed some ears due to the anthemic “We Are Young” which features Janelle Monae. But as captivating as that song is, Some Nights is in many ways the album Ruess have been aiming to make his whole career.

Heartless Bastards front woman and founder Erika Wennerstrom has that indefinable appeal where when she sings, you listen. Sure, her voice is rather interesting. She sings with unapologetic power, an almost roar that prefers whiskey to wine (or so you’d imagine). Since 2003 she’s fronted the now four piece rock outfit that originated in Cincinnati and now calls home to Austin, Texas where the band recorded their new album Arrow. The band has evolved since 2003 with Wennerstrom pursuing as the lone original member, but perhaps with Arrow she’s finally captured the intended vision for what the Heartless Bastards have aspired to be.

They may qualify as newcomers, but the Minneapolis band Polica has already captured some keen ears as interest intensifies surrounding their first album, Give You The Ghost. An official release of their debut is slated for Valentine’s Day, yet their songs have been making the rounds on the internet since late last year. Some of the interest stems from Polica’s relation to the indie soft rock outfit Gayngs. Ryan Olson, founder of Gayngs, produced Give You The Ghost, and vocalist Channy Leaneagh was rotating member of Gayngs as well. Other notable touch points on the album include a guest appearance by Mike Noyce of Bon Iver (another member of Gayngs) and Jim Eno of Spoon who also helped produced the album.

It seems that whoever crosses the path of Sharon Van Etten eventually falls under the spell of her songwriting and subtle magnetism. In addition to a growing fan base and critical appeal, fellow musicians have taken notice of the once independent singer-songwriter. Perhaps there’s no better example of such admiration than on Sharon’s new album Tramp. In addition to producer Aaron Dessner, a legion of notable indie-rockers helped make Tramp, one of the more confident and surprisingly engaging early releases of the year.

Welcome back Dr. Dog, it’s almost as if you never left. Listening to Be the Void, the 7th album from Philadelphia’s favorite indie-rockers is a quick reminder as to how likeable and captivating they can be. In some ways Be the Void picks up where the last Dr. Dog album, Shame, Shame left off. But add to that tuneful collection of songs an energy that’s indicative of their live shows and you have an album that will keep attracting new fans plus reignite their already faithful following.

The latest in our series of recordings from World Cafe interviews with some of our favorie artists of the past year is available now. Pick up your copy of Live at the World Cafe, Volume 33 CD when you Pledge Now!!

Since her debut, Failer, in 2003 it's hard to be critical of the work of Kathleen Edwards. As a songwriter, as an artist she's never really taken a step backwards. As listeners we can argue over our favorites, but it's a fair to say that each album has matched a certain level of expectations if not surpassed them. And with that the Canadian songstress continues a career trajectory on the rise with her new album, Voyageur, but at the same time broadens our expectations.

It often goes without saying, but discovering young bands and new music can be thrilling. It could be youthful exuberance or sheer talent, but that potential of what could emerge is a captivating emotion. Not surprising, what often takes a little time to develop or carve out is a sense of identity. Some bands hone in on it quicker than others, while some never truly find it. That’s what makes Days, the second album from the band Real Estate so compelling. The trio from New Jersey knows exactly what type of band they are and executes it in a beautifully cohesive collection of songs.

There are plenty of albums to get excited for in 2012, whether it’s a band like The Shins, local favorite’s ala Dr. Dog or new voices that have begun to buzz like Lana Del Rey. However, towards the end of 2011 there’s another name we couldn’t resist and after spending a little time with his two EPs, it’s hard not to become a believer in Michael Kiwanuka. At just 24 years old, the British soul singer possesses that rare blend of talent, artistic integrity and natural charm. So as we begin the year, we’ll spotlight both EP’s Michael has recently released; I’m Getting Ready and Tell Me A Tale.

As we draw the curtains on 2011 we’d be regretful if not to showcase one of the more exciting bands to emerge from the local music community here in Philadelphia. This year was an important and prolific one for the dreamy Philly band Work Drugs. Every few weeks it seemed a new song would surface online, and often accompanied by artful music video. What rolled out as a series of singles would ultimately culminate by year’s end as the bands proper first release, Aurora Lies.

This week we have a holiday treat from the ‘girl next door.’ As we know, Zooey Deschanel has found success in featured films and more recently television. But her partnership with M. Ward as the musical outfit She & Him continues to be a passion. In time for the holidays, Matt & Zooey personalize a collection of seasonal favorites in the album A Very She & Him Christmas. They don’t stray too far from the familiar, handling classics like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Little Saint Nick” and “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” with their signature She & Him playfulness.

It wasn’t the fast lane to success for The Black Keys. In fact, the cover of their new album El Camino is a convenient reminder of that. The old, beat-up van featured on the front of the Akron duo’s latest collection is the actual vehicle that The Keys used as a touring van in their early days. From then until now The Black Keys have earned countless fans through rigorous touring and a strong body of work in the studio. In 2010 the duo had a substantial breakthrough with the album Brothers. It garnered The Keys a couple Grammy nominations and their highest charting single to date “Tighten Up,” which was produced by Brian Burton (aka DangerMouse). El Camino answers Brothers call for a little more punch and the doctor’s order for a good dose of rock n roll.

There’s a new sound in Chicago and it comes in the form of XPN Artist To Watch JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound. Taking their name from Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, this four piece band goes beyond your typical soul revivalists. Following in the footsteps of standouts like Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings or Austin’s Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, Brooks and company cook up their own brand of soul stew. On their second album Want More you’ll hear a band that can produce some pure soul, add a dash of funk, rock with a punk-like attitude and even sweeten the mix with a little R&B.

If you haven’t met Mayer Hawthorne, allow us to introduce you. How Do You Do is the second album from the Michigan born soul man who has one foot fully planted in a nostalgic world of Motown and the other very much in the now. The new album is his first for a major-label. Hawthorne released his independent debut, A Strange Arrangement, back in 2009 to the delight of critics. What we learned then was that along with a playful nature came a sincere desire to recapture the heart of the music he drew inspiration from. On How Do You Do, Hawthorne continues to pay homage to the music he loves, but all the while lending his own style to the equation.

When we use the word ‘anthemic’ to talk about rock and roll, it’s a description that is usually saved for bands like U2, Coldplay and the likes. Yet as we’re about to draw the curtain on this year in music, we have a party-crasher that not only demands to be heard – but needs to be. There is nothing modest about Florence and the Machine. Her debut album of 2009 Lungs was an instant success, both in minds of critics and audiences. Record sales soared and award nominations (Grammys, etc.) followed. So how would she approach her sophomore release? Swing for the fences, naturally.

Like a train set to leave the station, invites listeners along for a ride as the opening notes of the chugging “Chicago” set in and the artist’s customary growl exclaims “all aboard!” to the songs fade. And a ride it is on, Waits new studio album and first in nearly seven years. From spooky to sweet, from growl to falsetto, it’s impossible to turn a corner on this new collection and not find the unexpected. Musically speaking, fans and critics will applaud Wait’s artistic expression and unconventional nature. But Bad as Me does find accessibility within these songs as Waits ponders current affairs and personal reflection.

On her third studio album, Chesapeake, singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata takes things into her own hands. In what’s become a more regular means of producing albums for independent musicians, Rachael went directly to her fans for help funding her new work. Supporters stood up and Rachael settled down at the Eastern Shore in Maryland to record her first album sans record company guidelines.

At just 21 years old Laura Marling has already found significant success at home in Britain. She’s emerged from a revivalist music scene in London rooted in traditional folk that has already spawned massive commercial appeal with bands like Mumford & Sons. For Laura, her first two albums were each nominated for the UK Mercury Music Prize and earlier this year she won Best Female Solo artist at the Brit Awards. Her third release A Creature I Don’t Know aims to cover new ground musically, plus serves as a proper introduction to new audiences here in the U.S.

After the release of their debut in 2009, critics had lots of nice things to say about the San Francisco band Girls. Here’s a band that came with a strong DIY attitude, wore their influences proudly and penned songs that surely connected with audiences. On Father, Son, Holy Ghost the band’s second full album, it’s hard not to echo those praises yet again. Frontman Christopher Owens and band have recorded an album that lives in the present, but brings with it a comfortable feel of the past.

He’s been one of the most prolific songwriters over the past decade; a musical shape-shifter whose ambition and fearless desire to create regardless the genre has made him one of the most admired songwriters in recent memory. For Ryan Adams making music was the only option. So when a near career-ending wrist injury forced him to not just slow down, but halt his music the future was unclear to say the least. The announcement of Ashes & Fire, Ryan’s new release, brought a new kind of excitement but the usual question of what to expect. No it’s not a metal record, nor is it a Cardinals collaboration or trip back to Rock N Roll. Simply stated, it’s Ryan Adams.

Two things immediately come to mind upon the arrival of Feist’s new album Metals. First, where has she been? It’s been roughly four years since her breakthrough album The Reminder was released. And second, how will she respond after the massive success of that album and more specifically her numerical anthem “1,2,3,4”? The first question is easier to answer. After years of touring, some time to decompress and step out of the spotlight seems only fair and appropriate. And as you dive into the new album Metals, the answer to the second question becomes clear.

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