Noteworthy new music

We review albums by Wilco, Gretchen Wilson, Miranda Lambert, and Pink Martini.

Miranda Lambert – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

(Sony/BMG Nashville): Blending old-school Loretta Lynn with Gretchen Wilson's sass, Miranda Lambert roars down small-town gravel roads with all the subtlety of Dale Earnhardt Jr. On lead track "Gunpowder & Lead," she picks up where the Dixie Chicks left off with "Goodbye Earl," combining revenge and dark humor with aplomb. But instead of eschewing humor for righteousness, Lambert retains a refreshing wit. The album sags on a couple of by-the-book ballads, but Lambert redeems herself with the chugging kiss-off stomper "Down," one of eight tracks she wrote or co-wrote. The fact that she's beautiful should pose little career hindrance, either. In other words, if you don't know Miranda Lambert now, you will soon. Grade: B
– Erik Spanberg

Pink Martini – Hey Eugene!

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(Heinz Records): Chanteuse China Forbes and the rest of Pink Martini have carved a career out of toying with genre. On "Hey Eugene!," its third album, the multicultural group (lyrics in Japanese and Arabic as well as French, Spanish, and Portuguese) pushes new musical limits. String, brass, and percussion sections add up to far more than the dozen members. The sound is big-band one minute, intimate the next, Latin-raucous or Hollywood-lush the next. High points here are the best trombone player this side of Tommy Dorsey (Robert Taylor) and a heartbreaking duet on "Tea for Two" with jazz legend Jimmy Scott. "Hey Eugene!" reveals more soul on each listening. Grade: B+
– Brad Knickerbocker

Wilco – Blue Sky Blue

(Nonesuch Records): The clicks, ticks, and experimentation of Wilco's two previous records have vanished as the Chicago band straightens out – and mellows out – on its sixth studio record. But straight doesn't always mean boring, and, in many ways, "Sky Blue Sky" is the band's most approachable record in years. While Wilco delivers a no-nonsense album that dips into R&B and Southern rock, the record still has the Wilco hallmarks that make the band one of today's most interesting and innovative. As always, frontman Jeff Tweedy delivers heartfelt songs and smart lyrics over seductive melodies. And while the studio manipulations have quieted, this record will satisfy rock purists as well as those who want their music to push beyond staid constructs. Grade: B
– Michael B. Farrell

Gretchen Wilson – One of the Boys

(Sony/BMG Nashville): Country music's "redneck woman" describes her latest CD as her "diary set to music," and this collection of 11 songs (all but one written by her) certainly fits her persona. In "Heaven Help Me," Wilson deftly completes the phrase with " 'cause I can't help myself." In "Pain Killer," she yearns for a rebound relationship lamenting, "I need a pain killer, before the pain kills me." But life is not all bad: Wilson also cranks out several Southern rockers reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Grade: B+
– Vic Roberts

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