Stats and Brackets
Riffing: His mostly ivory-keyed folk pop sways between somber choruses and semi-happy churches of acoustic and plugged-in guitars, bass and drums, and the occasional train into New Orleans. He can capture sadness.
Reference points: As if he's under your bed singing about the kind of lost innocence you wish you'd had: "Do you remember when you kissed me so hard you chipped my front teeth?" Wow.
If you like: Early evening cocktail buzzes and watching children chase fireflies.
Riffing: The beautifully wrought "Shotguns and Booze" could summon even a bastard's tears ("Time hasn't healed the wounds ..." etc.); "Longtime Running" and "I Think It's Time (You Got Over Yourself)" are perfectly moody anthems for the new narcissism.
Reference Points: Gentle in its power: pop done really stinkin' well by sensitive, well-read white dudes blessed with good mothers. Songs belie the beards!
If you dig: The Stills, Stars, Badfinger, Wilco, Notorious Byrd Brothers, New Pornographers and the very occasional Dylan reference.
Ain't Got No Troubles
Riffing: Mississippi-weaned wonder woman could be that eyeball-melting mom you got wood for in 9th grade — until she opens her mouth and a barrel-voiced woman leaps out, at which point she's an untouchable goddess. Do Aretha and Bessie live in there?
Reference points: Faultless renderings of Mississippi blues, jazz and gospel inform Brent's songwriting. The unmodern-sounding recording and dobros reign.
If you like: Janis Joplin, Dinah Washington, Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone, Fred McDowell.
The Green Album
Riffing: Contemporary stars cuddle up to 12 killer Muppets tunes.
Reference points: Weezer and Paramore's Hayley Williams tackle the beautiful Kermit the Frog (er, Paul Williams) ditty "Rainbow Connection." My Morning Jacket stun, Beach Boys-style, on "Our World." "Halfway Down the Stairs" finds Evanescence's Amy Lee beautifully Björkian — and doing A.A. Milne proud — on "I'm Going to go Back There Someday." The downer: Airborne Toxic Event's misinterpretation of "Wishing Song."
If you like: Paul Williams, Harry Nilsson, baroque pop, spun-out hearts.
Fat Possum (Reissue)
Riffing: Underrated '75 T. Rex album that flopped. Easy to forget how great English rock stars born in the '40s were, weaned on black American blues and jazz, show tunes, gospel and classical. Bolan's glam was deceptive — even a minor T. Rex LP fueled on coke was musical 3-D, full of sexy swing and wonderment, not empty calories.
Reference Points: How many bands unsuccessfully imitated, say, "Girl in the Thunderbolt Suit"?
If you dig: Pre-deconstructionist indie, pop history, etc. ...