Grieves -- The Confessions of Mr. Modest: Some more vibraphone on this understated, soul-flavored, hip-hop record. It's on the Rhymesayers label, which I've been told will mean a lot to some people -- just not me. Grieves sounds desperate when he sings, "It feels like I'm drowning" on the song "Ghost Ship."
Winnie Cooper -- Winnie Cooper: These pop-rockers are way too young to have watched The Wonder Years (from which they undoubtedly got their band name) when it originally aired on TV. But if The Wonder Years were a new show (on ABC Family, of course), it's not difficult to imagine this blandly catchy band, with their angular haircuts and low-slung guitars, appearing in an episode, playing at the local hangout ("Hey, guys, Winnie Cooper is playing tonight!") and maybe ruffling the feathers of the jocks as the band chats up their cute GFs.
You Me at Six -- Hold Me Down: These scruffy Brits make Warped Tour-certified pop-rock only slight less bland (but also slightly less catchy) than the aforementioned Winnie Cooper. Sorta angsty, sorta rockin', the music of You Me at Six got the major-label (Virgin/EMI) treatment on Hold Me Down, rendering all but toothless. Spend that five-figure advance wisely, boys.
Ruth Gerson -- This Can't Be My Life: Confessional, piano-driven singer-songwriter stuff sounds like a cross between Jewel and Fiona Apple. Where was Gerson in 1996? She might've made a splash back then? Gerson's strong, soulful voice belies angry lyrics like "You and your fresh air should be happy together." Sadly, track four, "Stay With Me," is not a cover of the awesome Dictators song with the same title.
Shelby Lynne -- Tears, Lies, & Alibis: The former Grammy-winning country star put her new record out on her own label, which means she's either outgrown the cynical hit-making machine of Nashville or Nashville is finished with her. Regardless, she's making music on her own terms this time around. Tears is a quiet, moody collection of not-quite-country, acoustic-guitar based songs that rightfully let Lynne's big, bold voice steal the show. Mature audiences only.