Album: Port of Morrow (Columbia)
Why we care: Shins navel-gazer James Mercer is a hero to lost 38-year-olds the world over, a heart-sleeved saddoe who thrives on alienation — never mind that his loner hunk status could land him any model he wanted.
Why we like it: When Mercer hooked up with Danger Mouse for side project Broken Bells, his wanderlusty persona was a fine match for Mr. Mouse's low-key trippy soundscapes. On the first Shins LP in five years, Mercer and retro-loving producer Greg Kurstin follow the same '70s-ish space-folk formula, although songs such as Bait and Switch ditch the acoustic for swingin' '60s shag rock.
Reminds us of: For all you Generation Yers who worshiped 2004's Garden State soundtrack, this head trip is for you.
Download this: For a Fool
Album: Slipstream (Redwing)
Why we care: Britney Spears? Janet Jackson? Prince? Nope, the sexiest concert I've ever seen was slide-guitar sorceress Bonnie Raitt at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. Her randy lyrics and slinky blues were hot stuff, and she punctuated her songs with purrs, winks and related innuendo.
Why we like it: It's been seven years since the 62-year-old Raitt released new product, and this one finds her whiskeyed voice and lovesick guitar in fine, familiar form. Look for a few cool covers: Gerry Rafferty's Right Down the Line plus two Dylan takes, Million Miles and Standing in the Doorway.
Reminds us of: Ex-hubby Michael "Noonan!" O'Keefe contributes lyrics to, appropriately enough, Marriage Made in Hollywood.
Download this: Right Down the Line
The Ting Tings
Album: Sounds From Nowheresville (Columbia)
Why we care: The Junior Dalys — a.k.a. my wee rapscallion daughters — absolutely flip for the Ting Tings, and why not: This British guy-girl duo excels at overt guitars, sassy chants and colorful, Lego-like musical parts that snap together easily.
Why we like it: Jules de Martino and Katie White provide a flirtier version of the Kills, danceable punk-pop that means no harm. The Tings first hit, 2008's oh-no-you-didn't That's Not My Name, started tough but ended with a sweet coda. The vibe is a bit edgier this time around, with in-your-facers Give It Back and Hang It Up relentless in their finger-snapping 'tude. That said, this one will be on heavy rotation in the Family Truckster.
Reminds us of: Blondie in a bad mood
Download this: Give It Back
Album: Family Man (Black Country Rock)
Why we care: Waylon's kid is still trying find his country comfort zone. Is he a Southern-rock rabble-rouser? Metal-edged hellbilly? Conceptual y'alternative outcast? He's tried 'em all. On his latest — and best since 2005 debut Put the 'O' Back in Country — Shooter's back to hard-drinkin', big-tokin' outlaw blues, the 32-year-old prodigal son with the volume cranked.
Why we like it: Shooter (a nickname his dad gave him) always has a rippin' band backing him, and here they follow him through soft balladry (first single The Deed and the Dollar) and '70s brawl (Southern Family Anthem).
Reminds us of: Nothing beats Shooter's first big hit 4th of July, one of the great rock songs of the 21st century. Seriously.
Download this: Southern Family Anthem