The Hold Steady
Album: Stay Positive (Vagrant)
In stores: Tuesday
Why we care: With equal exuberance for Budweiser and Bruce Springsteen, the Hold Steady is an indie band with populist daydreams. Their new album is a speedy mash of anthemic piano, wangy guitar and singer Craig Finn's barfly storytelling. In other words, it's Born in the U.S.A. in double-time.
Why we like it: For all the sing-along muscle and three-cheers raucousness, there are also great swaths of earnest beauty, especially the tumbling bittersweetness of Lord, I'm Discouraged. Plus the Brooklynites adore us here in the Tampa Bay area, especially Ybor City, which they reference in album closer Slapped Actress.
Reminds us of: Seeing the Hold Steady at the Orpheum two years ago. Sweatiest show ever.
Download these: Sequestered in Memphis
Album: Where the Light Is: Live in Los Angeles (Sony)
In stores: Now
Why we care: I'm not sure why I have such knee-jerk revulsion for John Mayer. Maybe because the 30-year-old pop star looks like a Theta Chi pledge but sings like a Mississippi-muddied blues man. Or because he constantly dates the midriffed ephemera of US Weekly, but picks with the Claptonesque dexterity of someone here for the long haul. Or because I really wanted to despise this two-CD live album, but I really don't.
Why we like it: Mayer works in three parts: acoustic (including Tom Petty's Free Fallin'), a set with his trio and a full-band firestorm finale. When the tussled-haired dude plugs in, he'll convert even the most jaded shredder.
Reminds us of: That I still hate him. Sort of.
Download this: Free Fallin' and Why Georgia
Craig Mack, KRS-One
Album: The Wackness: Music From the Motion Picture (Jive)
In stores: Now
Why we care: This must-have soundtrack deals in the fever-dream hip-hop of the '90s, from the Notorious B.I.G.'s slowly percolating The What to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's uber-chill Summertime. The lyrical flow ranges from clean to cutthroat, but the music is head-nod blissful, the best of rap from the genre's most turbulent decade.
Why we like it: Set in 1994 NYC, The Wackness is about a high school senior (Nickelodeon hero Josh Peck, star of Drake & Josh) selling dope to his therapist (Ben Kingsley). This music is their mixtape, and it's a good one.
Reminds us of: The Wackness opens in local theaters on Aug. 1.
Download this: Craig Mack's Flava in Your Ear
SONG OF THE WEEK
Song: 7 Things
Album: Breakout (Hollywood)
In stores: iTunes
Why we care: Miley's first album without any hint of the Hannah Montana tag doesn't hit stores until July 22. But this tempo-tricky slamdance, aimed at her tweens-turning-teens fan base, is already a smash on iTunes.
Why we like it: The chorus is a frenzied but too-familiar checklist of what she hates about her ex: "You make me laugh / You make me cry / I don't know which side to buy. . ." It's unnatural to say this, but Avril actually does it better. Still, the song is not without its charms. Miley's voice is warbly and flawed (her Tennessee twang is showing), but it sounds real. Plus the song's bridge has tingly boardwalk appeal.
Reminds us of: When my 4-year-old heard 7 Things, she said, "Ewww, she said the word 'love'!" That's right, honey. Boys are bad.