Album: Youngblood Hawke (Universal Republic)
Why we care: I'm a sucker for free music on iTunes — even though I almost never go back and actually listen to any of it. But while walking the St. Petersburg waterfront, the single We Come Running by new L.A. quintet Youngblood Hawke shuffled onto my iPod and I instantly started walking faster. Man, that's a really good track: part '80s postpunk, part Neon Trees big sing-along chorus.
Why we like it: Taking its name from a 1962 Herman Wouk novel (cool points there), Youngblood Hawke — led by Simon Katz and Sam Martin — just released a four-song EP, but never mind the brevity: Not many full-length albums pack this much genuine uplift.
Reminds us of: Rootless is a great track, too.
Download this: We Come Running
The Time Jumpers
Album: The Time Jumpers (Rounder)
Why we care: Vince Gill is the big name in this sprawling Western swing supergroup, but fair warning to fans: He's just another picker in this fun-time crew, which started 10 years ago as a bunch of session players looking to cut loose at Nashville's Station Inn. Elvis Costello, Robert Plant and Sheryl Crow are just a few of the notables who have sat in with the Jumpers.
Why we like it: These are some of the finest musicians in the country — including bassist Dennis Crouch, pedal-steel marvel Paul Franklin, fiddler Kenny Sears — and when they catch a groove, like on Texoma Bound, it's hard to stop from do-si-doing. Late, great swinger Bob Wills would be proud!
Reminds us of: Woody's Round Up!
Download this: Texas on a Saturday Night
Album: Hot Cakes (Canary Dwarf)
Why we care: Anybody remember these maniacs? Tight-trousered British glam-rockers who regrettably started to live out their sex-and-mayhem lyrics. Somehow, lead howler Justin Hawkins, he of the four-octave range and cocaine binges, isn't dead.
Why we like it: Behind all of the moronic lyrics, including Every Inch of You's salute to Hawkins' manhood, there's genuinely tight musicianship, from the singing to the shredding. That said, a little Darkness goes a mighty long way. And their best song remains 2003's I Believe in a Thing Called Love.
Reminds us of: The album art — syrup-drenched women lounging on flapjacks – is too stupid to be offensive, much like the band.
Download this: An absolutely Spinal Tappian tweak of Radiohead's Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Album: The Whippoorwill (Southern Ground)
Why we care: Country star Zac Brown, using the clout of his homegrown Southern Ground record label, presents these fellow Atlanta scruffs. Blackberry Smoke (awesome band name, dudes) is led by Charlie Starr, whose vocal delivery growls somewhere between Bob Seger and Dickey Betts.
Why we like it: Blackberry Smoke likes to jam and flail and wail, and if you're looking for the mellow calm of the Zac Brown Band, you've come to the wrong place — and you just may get hit by a beer bottle. Like the Allman Brothers before them, the Smoke gets soulful as well, churning out Southern white-boy blues about holdin' on in strange times.
Reminds us of: The Allmans' Melissa
Download this: Ain't Much Left of Me