Album: The Hazards of Love (Capitol)
In stores: Now
Why we care: Perhaps the most ambitious, gruesome, confusing and pretty-so-pretty album of 2009, The Hazards of Love is a 17-track conceptual homage to '60s British folk and fantasy, a story of death, rakish demons and one seriously unlucky young lass.
Why we like it: For all the ridiculous talk of shape-shifters ravaging maidens, the Portland, Ore., sextet is aware of its over-the-topness, as it head-snaps from Renaissance Faire lute-downs to a smirky salute to Van Halen's Runnin' With the Devil. It's mostly the work of singer-songwriter Colin Meloy, a nebbish with a warbly croon and too many ideas in his head.
Reminds us of: Why we don't take acid (or maybe why we should)
Download this: Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)
Album: Quiet Nights (Verve)
In stores: Now
Why we care: My mom will disown me for saying this, but jazz pianist Diana Krall has always struck me as aloof, chilly, not nearly the warm blond lounging on her album covers. (Krall's hubby, Elvis Costello, will also disagree with me . . . hopefully.)
Why we like it: But hey, even Leona Helmsley could get me all het up with the smooth-talkers in the bossa nova canon. Here Krall works with arranger Claus Ogerman, who also worked with Antonio Carlos Jobim, whose Brazilian influence coats this fizzy after-dinner affair. This includes a winking Boy From Ipanema.
Reminds us of: Krall lets the rhythms guide her instead of the other way around. It's respectful, if not always exhilarating. Now go make out.
Download this: Quiet Nights
Mastodon, Black Keys & more
Album: Covered: A Revolution in Sound (Warner Bros.)
In stores: Now
Why we care: Warner Bros. wanted to celebrate its 50th anniversary in the music biz with a celebratory album. But instead of having label gods Madonna, Tom Petty and Neil Young do new stuff, they had new bands do old stuff by Madonna, Petty, Young and more. The Flaming Lips covering the Material Girl's Borderline?!
Why we like it: This sucker is tailor-made for cherry-picking. Go get Mastodon's stampeding take on ZZ Top's Just Got Paid. Avenged Sevenfold infuses Black Sabbath's Paranoid with edgy blood. And as it turns out, the Lips' lost-in-spacey Borderline is loopy but kind of fun, too.
Reminds us of: Adam Sandler's cover of Like a Hurricane is worth a spin — if not 99 cents.
Download this: The Lips' Borderline
SONG OF THE WEEK
Song: Home Sweet Home
In stores: On iTunes
Why we care: I dig Motley Crue. I also like Carrie Underwood, especially as a cover artist, and especially when she gets all dirrrty and hair-metallic. Trust me, the country star's version of GN'R's Paradise City, which she recently uncorked at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, will rip your face off, man. So yes, this earnest cover of the Crue ballad was a fine idea, especially as a "farewell theme" for contestants doinked from American Idol. Plus proceeds go to charity.
Why we like it: All that said, I'm just not feeling it. Maybe it's those syrupy strings. Or the lack of Mick Mars' grimy guitar. Or maybe it's just too sterile, too disease-free. I dunno. But I'm sure Tommy Lee loooves it . . . for all sorts of reasons.
Reminds us of: A good girl longing to be bad. Let yourself go, Carrie. Come to the dark side.