Some things get better with age: The Mekons' latest (in stores Tuesday) features acoustic, pub-ready stompers such as "Give Me Wine or Money" and "Dickie Chalkie and Nobby." Lest you think these veteran British punks are permanently obsessed with the past, check out the blues-skronk number "Zeroes and Ones," a cynical ode to the digital world.
-- Kevin O'Donnell
"Ear Drum" (Blacksmith/Warner Bros)
This Brooklyn rapper counts 50 Cent and Jay-Z among his biggest supporters, and for good reason. Kweli's commanding delivery and the well-executed songs on his sixth album (due Tuesday) consistently provide pointed commentary ("Country Cousins," "Eat to Live") and masterful production ("Hostile Gospel," "In the Mood").
-- Soren Baker
The Section Quartet
Despite endearingly billing itself as "the loudest string quartet on the planet," this L.A. foursome can't match the visceral punch of the rock acts whose music they cover here, including Queens of the Stone Age, Led Zeppelin, the Strokes and David Bowie. Yet on "Fuzzbox" (due Tuesday), these four string players, with help from producer Linda Perry, succeed magnificently in translating the alienation, loneliness, wit and rage contained in the originals.
-- Randy Lewis
"We Sing of Only Blood or Love" (Fat Possum)
He does sing of blood, and love, but in the Louisiana-based performer, who made a name for himself fronting deadboy and the Elephantmen, is fixated primarily on death. Riggs' supple wail and mix of rural tradition and rock crunch recall Chris Cornell in his Temple of the Dog days, but he asserts his own voice in this swampy saga of spiritual torment and redemption. His range as a writer is narrow, but he opens things up with a rousing version of Richard Thompson's (you guessed it) "Wall of Death."
-- Richard Cromelin