Noteworthy

POP/ROCK

David Bowie - Reality (Columbia): Here's a challenge: Try getting past the opening track on Bowie's new album without hitting the repeat button. Yet further delights do await, among them the feisty title track and the jazzy "Bring Me the Disco King." Granted, "Reality" isn't quite as special as last year's "Heathen," a must have for even casual fans. But if that album was a main course, this neo-glam rock follow-up is a fine dessert. - Stephen Humphries

John Mayer - Heavier Things (Columbia): Mayer follows up his multiplatnium debut, "Room for Squares," with a more mature sound. Appropriately titled "Heavier Things," Mayer's sophomore effort focuses on loneliness, searching for a home life, and love gone wrong. This time around, he sprinkles in the horn and saxophone to accompany his breathy vocals and acoustic guitar. The album starts out lively and energetic, including the first single, "Bigger than My Body," a song about being grounded and having high aspirations. But after the first two songs, the energy level sags. - Lisa Leigh Connors

My Morning Jacket - It Still Moves (ATO): Give The Strokes a goodbye kiss. Remind The Vines to send a postcard. The garage-rock trend was fun while it lasted, but it's a revival of Southern rock that's suddenly the most hip thing going, thanks to The Kings of Leon, The Drive-By Truckers, and this five-piece band from Kentucky. The soulful vocals are reminiscent of Neil Young, and My Morning Jacket's two guitarists have enough firepower to take on both the Lynyrds and Allmans in a guitar duel. But what gives their sound a fresh twist is a production that utilizes more reverb than a Doves album. You'll want to treat your stereo to this epic. - S.H.

Sting - Sacred Love (A&M): There's plenty of stubble on Sting on the cover of "Sacred Love." The album, however, is too clean-shaven for its own good. Although this is the songwriter's strongest collection of melodies since "Ten Summoner's Tales" a decade ago, it's smothered by a studio sheen that is so smooth, so urbane, so bloodless that this record is destined to be piped into Pottery Barn stores everywhere. Several glorious tunes do manage to rise above the gloss: Sting's meditations on love - in both the personal and global realm - shine brightest on "Never Coming Home" and "Send Your Love." - S.H.

Warren Zevon - The Wind (Artemis Records): Released just before Zevon's death earlier this month, "The Wind" will sound familiar to his fans. But unlike earlier recordings in which the singer mocked his checkered past, the self-deprecation has a more emotional than humorous pull. Throughout, Zevon is backed by brand-name artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Emmylou Harris. While it doesn't approach the songwriting genius of his best work, the CD is full of heartfelt emotion. It's a fitting swan song for a man who was arguably one of rock's most sharp-witted songwriters. - April Austin

COUNTRY

Sara Evans - Restless (RCA): The first single off Sara Evans latest release has received plenty of airplay. In "Perfect," she sings, "every single piece of the puzzle doesn't always fit." But after listening to the entire CD, you get the idea that the sultry singer is trying very hard to force everything into place. The follow-up to her breakthrough "Born to Fly," follows a basic formula: Most songs begin with an unplugged instrument - mandolin, harmonica, or guitar - followed by a lead vocal and then a wave of violins. Sadly, lost somewhere in this wall of sound is the melody. - Vic Roberts

FOLK

HEM - Rabbit Songs (Dreamworks): A true labor of love by an unsigned, unknown group of musicians from Brooklyn, N.Y., "Rabbit Songs" sounds like the beautiful child of a marriage between Aaron Copland and Joni Mitchell. Melancholy lullabies, elegant waltzes, and timeless, country-tinged folk tunes are deftly arranged with strings, woodwinds, mandolin, pedal steel guitar, piano - even French horn. Composer Dan Messe's tales of pastoral Americana, like "Half Acre" and the bittersweet "Sailor," are worn like a comfortable old sweater by vocalist Sally Ellyson. Originally recorded three years ago, it has just been rereleased by Dreamworks to find the larger audience it richly deserves. - John Kehe

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