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2007

On an album that will please long-time fans and new converts alike, the Texas band Spoon sound comfortable, confident, and on top of their game. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is short and sweet (10 songs, 36 minutes), and its relative brevity only serves to accentuate front man Britt Daniels' and co.'s craftsmanship.

We figured we'd see it sometime... Suzanne Vega has delivered her "New York City album", a collection of 11 tunes that revolve around life in "The Big Apple" where Vega was raised and has lived ever since. It's not a new idea. Lots of artists (Lou Reed, for example on his 1989 New York album) have used this muse before. Vega has done it with a tremendous amount of style, and her first new release in six years is clearly one of her best.

Mark Ronson is a London-born, New York City-raised artist, producer and DJ. His new album Version is - true to its title - a collection of versions of other artists' tunes. This is, of course, an oft-used idea, but few can match the ideas, personnel, and deft production touch that Ronson possesses.

For their third album - and their first for a major label - Interpol certainly stretches out musically. Known and beloved for their various, somewhat gloomy Joy Division-esque atmospherics, the New York-based band made an effort to change things around this time, and they have achieved that.

For their second album on the Hollywood label, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals certainly spent a fair amount of time concentrating on their craft. Although This Is Somewhere contains many of the same funky characteristics of the XPN hit 2005 album Nothing But The Water, there's a noticable shift in the songwriting. These new songs have way more to offer than groove. The Vermont-based band has a lot to be proud of this go 'round.

Matt Nathanson's heartfelt pop songs and choirboy-with-an-attitude persona has already meant a healthy fan base, and his new album Some Mad Hope will most certainly satisfy the believers and should attract a few more. The 34 year-old Massachusetts native and San Francisco resident has a knack for tugging at the ol' heartstrings through his songs, and his ability to do that has never been sharper.

Josh Ritter is a prime example of an artist getting better and better as he goes along. We all knew he was super-talented, but even that didn't prepare me for the genius of this new album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. It's a bona fide best of '07 contender, and a completely rewarding listening experience, whether you hear the album from start to finish or hear it a song at a time. Ritter's got it goin' on...

On Lifeline, Ben Harper has gone back to his roots in a major way. Already the king of effortless groove, this album sounds like it was conceived, written and produced in a few weeks... which it was (the whole recording process took just a week, start to finish). That's a very good thing in this instance, because the spontaneity is absolutely refreshing. The songcraft on Lifeline rivals any other Harper release, and Ben and the Innocent Crimminals play the tunes with an uplifting sense of discovery.

For his first album for Lost Highway, Lyle Lovett has refueled his Large Band (36 different members contributed to this album) with some pretty satisfying results. It's Not Big It's Large sounds like classic early Lovett: country, pop, gospel, jazz, rock all fused together with the help of some crafty tunes.

This album has my vote for best debut album of 2007. Englishman Scott Matthews has put together a very strong, emotional set of tunes for his album Passing Stranger. He's got it all: a great voice, interesting ideas, passion to burn. There's nothing, really, not to like about this album.

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