Album: Chief (EMI)
Why we care: When the Country Throwdown tour fist-pumped through Tampa last year, bold-faced stars stuffed the lineup. But the hopalong who made the rowdiest yawp, and drew the most toked-up fans, worked a small sun-baked side stage: Eric Church, all parts Kid Rock, Hank Jr. and Cheech & Chong.
Why we like it: A longtime cult fave, Church is finally getting mainstream love, winning top new solo vocalist at the Academy of Country Music Awards. But rest assured the 34-year-old N.C. native won't be rehabbing his act. Songs such as Jack Daniels, I'm Gettin' Stoned and Hungover & Hard Up tell you he has no interest in subtlety — or sobriety.
Reminds us of: The irascible offspring of Willie Nelson and Tanya Tucker.
Download this: Country Music Jesus
Album: The Concert for Bangladesh: 40th Anniversary (Apple)
Why we care: One of the most influential benefit shows ever, the Concert for Bangladesh — an Aug. 1, 1971, friends of George jam at Madison Square Garden, featuring Bob Dylan and sitar-pickin' Beatles buddy Ravi Shankar — is finally being released digitally.
Why we like it: Harrison's Grammy-winning attempt to salve the pain of the beleaguered Bangladeshis wound up inspiring Bob Geldof's Live Aid and Willie Nelson's Farm Aid. So, yeah, that's cool. But it sounds good, too, especially Leon Russell's cover of Jumpin' Jack Flash, which just … keeps … going.
Reminds us of: ITunes sales will benefit the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.
Download these: Harrison's Here Comes the Sun and Dylan's A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall.
Album: Wicked Will (Krian)
Why we care: It's just a matter of time until Quentin Tarantino plugs the Ettes into one of his groovy retro soundtracks, as the trio's affection for switchblade licks, a neo-gothic buzz and hot chicks with firearms is right up his dark, demented alley. This is garage rock with a dead-sexy twist.
Why we like it: Leather-jacketed Coco, Poni and Jem — two femme fatales and a tough-lookin' hombre — embrace '60s girl groups, no-good paramours and revenge, all of which is drenched in feedback and attitude. Born in L.A. and currently raising a ruckus in Nashville, the band draws on both the vice of Sunset Strip and the outlaw threat of Music Row to make postmodern high-noon noise.
Reminds us of: Kill Bill Vol. 3
Download these: Teeth and Excuse
Album: Drifter (Epitaph)
Why we care: With Slayer speed and Weezer melodies, the girl-guy melange in this San Francisco punk quartet is Blink-182 for indie kids — or maybe the Foo Fighters if they let the ladies into their hairy boys club.
Why we like it: The candy-coated assault of Heartsounds' sophomore album soothes as much as defibrillates. The rambunctious group is an offshoot of death-metalists Light This City, but while defectors Ben Murray and Laura Nichol brought the arrhythmic tempo, they also brought along great gobs of heart. A little goes a long way, but most tracks reliably swell and crescendo like end-credit music for the next angsty Michael Cera dramedy.
Reminds us of: The birth and death of a relationship — in 1,000 beats per minute.
Download this: Everything's Going My Way