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Sean Daly's CD picks: Taylor Swift, Travis, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, John Williams

Taylor Swift

Album: Fearless (Big Machine)

In stores: Now

Why we care: There's never been a more cynical time in pop music, at least from a critic's viewpoint. Not only do we assume most Top 40 tartlets aren't doing their own singing — we've accepted it, grading on cultural impact, art be damned. The 18-year-old Swift's pop-country pirouettes have all the weight of a dandelion crown, but she can sing and write and flash a genuine smile. She's the hottest thing in music more for what she's not.

Why we like it: With feet-on-dashboard beats and innocent strums, Swift details the kind of drama and heartbreak that can devastate a kid . . . at least until after recess. Catchy fluff.

Reminds us of: The star pupil at Faith Hill's Camp for Exceptional Blonds.

Download these: Love Story and Fearless

Grade: B

Travis

Album: Ode to J. Smith (Fontana)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Time was, a Brit-pop boy could be proud of his mopey, heart-splattered ways. But hark, there's a change a-brewin'! First Coldplay went muscular with Viva la Vida. Then Keane got New Wavey. And now Travis, who once lamented Why Does It Always Rain on Me?, has plugged in the fuzzbox. What gives, guys?

Why we like it: Scottish frontman Fran Healy is a fabu hook-writer, but no matter the material, his voice always sounded like he was holding back epic sobs. Healy's not entirely over the weepies, but his upper register often curdles with Dylanesque venom. At one point, an overdramatic Latin chorus even rages forth!

Reminds us of: Oasis' Champagne Supernova

Download these: J. Smith, Long Way Down

Grade: C+

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan

Album: Sunday at Devil Dirt (Fontana)

In stores: Now

Why we care: She's the model-pretty Glaswegian wisp from Belle & Sebastian. He's the chain-smoking American growler from Screaming Trees. They've described their union as "the young virgin being fed to Satan." This stuff will blow you away . . . or send you running.

Why we like it: Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan first teamed up in 2006, and this reunion follows the theme of prowling noirish heat and unrequited lust. Campbell has written most of the string-soaked songs, which range from sea shanties to jazzy gun-moll laments. It's a spellbinding, under-the-radar gem.

Reminds us of: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' Raising Sand, one of the best of '07

Download this: Come on Over (Turn Me On)

Grade: A-

SONG OF THE WEEK

John Williams

Song: Marion's Theme

Album: Indiana Jones: The Complete Soundtracks Collection (Concord)

In stores: Now

Why we care: The most menacing movie music of the 20th century? That's easy: John Williams' Imperial March, the ominous storm-trooper cha-cha from The Empire Strikes Back. The now-76-year-old composer is peerless in getting our hearts pumping. And yet, with Marion's Theme, a swoony travelogue of lovelorn violins from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Williams managed to make one of the most romantic movie pieces of the last century, as well.

Why we like it: This five-disc set holds every lick of music from Indy's four flicks, including the life-affirming Raiders March. It's beautifully remastered and presented, the perfect accompaniment for armchair adventurers everywhere.

Reminds us of: "It's not the years, honey . . ."

Grade: A

Sean Daly's CD picks: Taylor Swift, Travis, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, John Williams 11/22/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 10:08am]
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