Album: In Concert: Brandeis University 1963 (Columbia)
In stores: Now
Why we care: There was a time when Robert Zimmerman wanted to be understood. He sang clearly, with smirkish joy, and his poetry was not yet a twisted, albeit mesmerizing, bramble of words that pushed listeners from their true meaning. On this recently unearthed and remarkably clear recording, which gathered 46 years worth of dust and history while lost and buried in the house of music critic Ralph J. Gleason, the 21-year-old singer-songwriter is on the cusp of becoming the Voice of His Generation. Here, though, he is merely a fresh-faced opening act who goes on to steal the show.
Why we like it: Dylan has never exactly been Sinatra when it comes to holding a tune. But his young voice was once smooth, syrupy and downright chirpy compared to the frog-gargling-razors croak it would later become. This live gig occurred between his self-titled debut album and the world-changing Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, but instead of highlighting songs from those albums, most of the cuts he performed would never be officially released (Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues, Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues). That said, Masters of War is here, and it's already fully formed and jarring. This is a Dylan freak's dream, but such is the clarity of the recording, and the verve of the performance, casual fans will dig it, too.
Reminds us of: How legends are born.
Download these: Ballad of Hollis Brown and Masters of War
Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi
Album: Rome (Capitol)
In stores: Tuesday
Why we care: Lush, mellow and sexy as all get-out, this curious pairing of American producer Danger Mouse (he of Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells) and Italian composer Daniele Luppi (he of Sex and the City) could have been tedious. But Mr. Mouse's track record of mesmerizing collaborations — no matter how out-there the premise — remains peerless, as this tribute to iconic Italian film music drips with '60s cool. The material is original; the project was five years in the making. But Ennio Morricone's influence (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West) is robust.
Why we like it: In order to replicate the retro sound, Danger Mouse and Luppi recorded as if it were 50 years ago, which means no computer trickery. They also brought in musicians who worked with Morricone on those classic spaghetti-Western scores. And to give it all a little commercial polish (but still retain that hip sheen), Jack White and Norah Jones were brought in to contribute vocals, each one steamier than the next. Jack White plays a sorta gunslinger, especially on The World, which sounds like dusty dueling music. And Jones is pure femme fatale, luring people into her tricky web on such deceptive jaunts as Black.
Reminds us of: Clint Eastwood in a serape — and Wayfarers.
Download these: The Rose With a Broken Neck and Black
Album: Move Like This (Hear)
In stores: Now
Why we care: Sometimes evolution is overrated. Sometimes change stinks. Case in point: New Wave geeks the Cars, who will always make music for the summer of 1985 — even if it's 2011. On their first new album in 24 years, the Boston boys see no use in sounding current, so they don't: Greg Hawkes' keyboards still burble like randy computer sighs, Ric Ocasek still sings as if he's a snotty sales clerk at Chess King. The Cars may never get the call from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but there aren't too many bands more in tune with who they're supposed to be.
Why we like it: There's nothing like a good ol' synthesized handclap: tight, silly, irresistible. The Cars agree, and on new single Sad Song, they unload all the handclaps left over from the recording sessions for My Best Friend's Girl. Ocasek always sounded like a bored Goth kid, and that hasn't changed. But once again, it's Elliot Easton's guitar that gives the classically icy songs a streak of rock heat and authentic texture. If you're a fan of such careful Cars ballads as Since You're Gone and Drive, check out Soon, which has all the hope of a teenage dream.
Reminds us of: Missy Hansek, pool party, 1984, long story.
Download these: Blue Tip and Sad Song
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.