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Records are rated on a scale of one (awful) to four (classic) stars:

Rock

Daft Punk 'Random Access Memories'

Daft Punk has moved on from EDM to a sound it has described as more warm and organic from the 1970s and early '80s; in particular, the disco part of that era.

The duo has replaced its electronic gadgets with live instruments and retro synthesizers. While the '70s-'80s disco scene has always flowed in Daft Punk's veins, with "Discovery" especially being somewhat of a tribute to it by sampling songs from the period and bringing them back to the modern day, "Random Access Memories" takes it a step further and wants to be the real deal rather than just a tribute.

Daft Punk has drafted legends of the era like Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder into the studio and utilized instruments of the period to craft its music. It's two disco fanatics fulfilling their wild desires and ambitions, ignoring what everyone else is doing or saying.

-- Lauri Hiltunen, popmatters.com

Rock

The National 'Trouble Will Find Me' (4ad)

On the one hand, "Trouble" is a God-in-the-detail effort that features some of The National's most intricate, meticulously crafted work to date, standing out with a deliberate stillness that makes you notice the barely made gestures and the small touches all the better.

On the other hand, there's a trade-off between an ever-increasing level of attention and the workmanlike ambition that sweeps you off your feet when The National is at its best, when they have that intangible quality that has enabled the quintet to create grand-statement anthems that don't begin as grand statements or anthems.

-- Arnold Pan, popmatters.com

Country

Pistol Annies 'Annie Up' (RCA)


3 1/2 stars = Very good
Ratings explained

"Hell on Heels," the Pistol Annies' 2011 debut, was one of the year's best country albums. The voices and songwriting of Miranda Lambert, blended flawlessly with singer-songwriters Angeleena Presley and Ashley Monroe. With an enthusiastic reception making a follow-up inevitable, "Annie Up" builds on the sass, blue-collar angst and attitude of their debut, tilting a bit more to the dark side.

The dozen tunes, penned by various combinations of the trio, revisit previously addressed issues including pain, frustration, booze, pills, rehab and bad relationships. "Unhappily Married" thoroughly explores marital discord as "Dear Sobriety" provides a haunting, deadly serious look at battling alcohol. They offer an acerbic, witty take on the downside of cosmetic style on "Being Pretty Ain't Pretty." Framing it as a costly nuisance ("You spend all your money to just wipe it off") is ironic, given Nashville's Hollywood-like fixation on glamour.

No pill or booze can alleviate the sadness explored in the thoughtful "Blues, You're a Buzzkill," invoking the sort of blunt imagery Loretta Lynn pioneered in her compositions more than 50 years ago. Raw sass and attitude drive "Damn Thing," similar to "Bad Example" on the previous album. "Don't Talk About Him, Tina" offers sage barroom advice to a girlfriend on the rebound. Not everything is dark or harsh. "Loved by a Workin' Man" and "I Hope You're the End of My Story" both offer more optimistic views of romance.

While questionable mixing surfaces on "Workin' Man" and "I Feel a Sin Comin' on" (the roaring band nearly overwhelms the vocals in spots) "Annie Up" is a worthy follow-up to "Hell on Heels." On "Girls Like Us," when they sing, "We don't tie you up just to let you down/Don't girls like us make the world go around," there's nothing to interpret. They know what they mean. So does the listener.

-- Rich Kienzle, for the Post-Gazette

Jazz

Eliane Elias 'I Thought About You: A Tribute to Chet Baker' (Concord Jazz)


4 stars = Outstanding
Ratings explained

Brazilian-born vocalist-pianist Eliane Elias has paid homage previously, honoring both Brazilian jazz fountainhead Antonio Carlos Jobim and piano great Bill Evans with tribute albums. This time, she turns her attention to the late trumpet virtuoso Chet Baker. An icon of the '50s West Coast jazz scene, Baker's trumpet prowess and sweetly understated vocals earned him international fame before his untimely death in 1988.

Ms. Elias applies her vocal and piano virtuosity (her solos are nearly as rewarding as her vocals) to 14 romantic standards Baker sang during his life. While "There Will Never Be Another You" gets a bossa nova turn, with guitar from Oscar Castro-Neves, Brazilian rhythms are generally rare. With Randy Brecker's incomparable trumpet, the rhythm section of bassist Marc Johnson, Mr. Elias' husband, guitarist Steve Cardenas and drummers Victor Lewis and Rafael Barata provides a light, swinging foundation.

Her bluesy run at "I Thought About You" stands out from Baker's. Elsewhere, she loosely echoes his versions of "That Old Feeling" and "I Get Along Without You Very Well," attacking "Just in Time," at the same frantic pace he did. She radiates Baker-like vulnerability on a stark and intense exploration of "You Don't Know What Love Is." Yet she's not afraid to break form. He sang "I've Never Been in Love Before" as a ballad; she swings it. On occasion she sets percussion aside; only Mr. Johnson accompanies her on "Blue Room."

Ms. Elias' sensual vocals sustain the album, but Mr. Brecker's virtuosity offers perspectives that not only complement her voice but do Baker justice. The sum total not only honors Chet Baker's enduring genius, but places it solidly in the here and now.

-- Rich Kienzle, for the Post-Gazette

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