Norah Jones - Feels Like Home (Blue Note): A few years ago we met Miss Jones and we liked her, we really liked her. Now she offers up her sophomore disc, a more assured and unified album than her Grammy-winning debut but severely lacking in memorable songs. The song credits indicate that most were co-written by Jones and other group members, committee-style, and perhaps therein lies the rub. Her voice is a wonder, though, like warm honey, and her band feels as homey as a worn pair of Hush Puppies. Despite the lackluster material, Jones is truly the anti-Britney - an original, gifted artist and real woman. - John Kehe

Ani DiFranco - Educated Guess (Righteous Babe): "Life knocked me off my platforms/ So I pulled out my first pair of boots.... / And I suited up for the long walk back to myself...." The poem that begins DiFranco's 16th solo album is fitting for her first foray without a band in more than a decade. But though she played, sang, mixed, and recorded the album herself, it's hardly a return to her folk singer days. Her sound has become rawer and more dissonant. The fiery guitar playing is mostly gone, replaced by spare, jazz-inspired riffs. It's an album that feels older, wiser, and a little sadder than others, but her songwriting has never been sharper. - Amanda Paulson

hip hop

Floetry - Floacism "Live" (Dreamworks): Floetry singer Marsha Ambrosius (aka Songstress) and emcee Natalie Stewart (aka Floacist) have got to be the hippest women in hip-hop today. This 16-track live disc, released just one year after the British duo's debut, "Floetic," comes replete with staccato raps, luscious vibrato, and powerful interludes. "You ready?" Floacist asks the crowd before launching into "Sunshine," her voice earnest. "You ready? I need you to sing like you're in your shower. No fear. God is too good for us to have fear." The crowd erupts, the beat kicks in, and the women howl with penetrating energy and irresistible grace. From start to finish, expect goose bumps. - Elizabeth Armstrong


Kenny Chesney - When the Sun Goes Down (BNA Records): Beach cowboy Kenny Chesney's latest collection picks up where his highly successful 2002 CD, "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem," leaves off. The music is sure to please his fans, who by now are quite familiar with Chesney's fixation with the Caribbean. The bouncy title track, a duet with pop artist Uncle Kracker, as well as "Outta Here" carry the same island feel as any Jimmy Buffett song. Chesney mixes in catchy mid-tempo songs that delve into unexpected pregnancy ("There Goes My Life") and the value of a loving relationship over a career ("The Woman in You") - a nice mix, but no surprises here. - Vic Roberts


Anonymous 4 - American Angels: Songs of Hope, Redemption, & Glory (Harmonia Mundi): This remarkable a cappella women's quartet, now on a farewell tour, is known for exquisite renderings of medieval European music. This recording of American hymns and gospel tunes from rural 18th and 19th century New England and the South is a sweet parting gift. Some of the hymns ("Shall We Gather at the River") are familiar. Less well-known delights include "Wondrous Love" (1811) and "Holy Manna" (1819), which plaintively reminds that "All is vain, unless the Spirit/ Of the Holy One comes down;/ Brethren, pray, and holy manna/ Will be shower'd all around." "Angels" traces in song the spiritual path from hope to glory with soul-stirring purity. - Gregory M. Lamb

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