Martha Redbone Roots Project, The Garden of Love (Blackfeet Productions)

You probably think you know whether or not youre the type whod appreciate a whole album of William Blake poems set to Appalachian roots music but if youre already saying Meh, not for me, you also may be wrong. At least if the album in question is The Garden of Love, a thick, satisfying stew of twangy Americana and chugging harmonies sent soaring by Martha Redbones earthy, gospel-infused vocals.

Redbone has got charisma and sincerity to spare, and clearly feels Blakes poetry in her skin and bones, from its naturalistic splendor to its melancholic but ultimately celebratory take on the human experience. In fact, the only track that seems extraneous is Why Should I Care for the Men of Thames, with Blakes poetry recited by John Spottiswoode by that point Redbone herself has more than made the verse come to vibrant life.

MUST HAVE: I Rose Up At the Dawn of Day, a gospel stomper

Ben Folds Five, The Sound of the Life of the Mind (ImaVeePee Records)

Ben Folds seems to understand the Spinal Tap truism that theres a fine line between clever and stupid, and on the occasions where he happens to step over it, Id venture he knows exactly what hes doing. Case in point is Draw a Crowd, which goes from the juvenile recommendation that if you cant draw a crowd you should draw d-cks on the wall (hint: not ducks) to beautifully describing a hipster as so smooth you can hear the beard.

The album the groups first since Folds went solo in 1999 similarly goes back and forth from the silly to the sublime, but mostly sticks to the latter, buoyed as always by Folds galloping piano, melodic arrangements and oddly endearing if affectedly nerdy vocals. Folds shows here that hes still an adept and clever chronicler of fractured lovers, social anxiety and lifes random occurrences. Even when hes being stupid.

MUST HAVE: Do It Anyway, a rollicking ode to, well, doing it anyway

Kendra Morris, Banshee (Wax Poetics Inc.)

If youre still looking for the next Amy Winehouse and Adele is just a little too torchy for your tastes, you could do a lot worse than putting your money on Kendra Morris. If anything shes almost too derivative of Winehouse, backing her retro-soul delivery with familiar hip-hop beats but she does it with such sultry verve you can tell theres an original artist in there bursting to get out.

And for now, theres still plenty to enjoy on Banshee, which drips with minor-key sexiness, soulful harmonies and acerbic lyrics. Its one more bite till Im out of snakes, Morris sings on Right Now, and she more than makes you want to get bit.

MUST HAVE: Today, a dark, organ-driven slice of hip-hop soul

Peter Chianca blogs for Gatehouse Medias Blogness on the Edge of Town and is author of Glory Days: Springsteens Greatest Albums. Email him at