Charlie Sexton, and Shannon McNally

Charlie Sexton, having left home at 12 to storm Austin as a guitar prodigy, does not lack in heartland grit. Maybe that's why his latest, Cruel and Gentle Things, harks back to an era before rootsy rock was called "alt-country" and required the prurient use of Dobro and banjo to signal authenticity. The spacious album, full of cyclic, Dylan-inspired meditations, is graced by supple piano instead. Shannon McNally, on the other hand, is from Hempstead, Long Island, home of White Castle and Public Enemy, which could explain the Southern drawl of her own heartland rock. But her voice -- like a rangier Stevie Nicks -- and obvious sincerity go a long way toward making up for the geographical dissonance.


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