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Tune in to the XPN Morning Show each Monday to hear Host Michaela Majoun with Assistant Music Director Mike Vasilikos review XPN's Featured Album of the Week. This week's album is....

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.

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