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Picks and Pans Main: Music

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THE ‘PONTOON’ GROUP!

Little Big Town

Tornado |

COUNTRY

They’ve been around longer than other coed country groups like Sugarland, Lady Antebellum and Gloriana. Still, it took 10 years after their self-titled debut for Little Big Town to finally score their first No. 1 country single: “Pontoon.” Riding a slinky groove, it’s a smooth-cruising ode to their favorite mode of nautical transport. Hopefully “Pontoon” has made just the splash this quartet needs to get listeners onboard for their fifth studio album, because there are better songs here. Just check out “Sober,” about wanting to die high on love, or “Your Side of the Bed,” which examines a married couple drifting apart even while sleeping together. Although all four members-Jimi Westbrook, Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman and Phillip Sweet-trade off on lead vocals, it’s their harmonies and vocal interplay that are showcased on wistful tunes like “Can’t Go Back” and “Night Owl.” In that sense, they are true team players.

Dave Matthews Band

Away from the World |

ROCK

As demonstrated by this year’s American Idol champ Phillip Phillips, you shouldn’t underestimate the influence of Dave Matthews on a generation of Hacky Sack-playing music men. While he and his band may not be the hippest act around as they hit middle age, they remain loved by loyal fans and respected by peers (2009’s Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King earned their first Album of the Year Grammy nod). Matthews settles into his role as the new Sting on Away from the World, smoothly moving from jazzy workouts (“Broken Things”) and funky jams (“Belly Belly Nice”) to folk-inflected ballads (the ukulele-laced “Sweet”). Even if the music doesn’t exactly surprise, his socially conscious statements on “Mercy” and “Gaucho” (which could have done without the children’s choir) show he still believes in making change.

Bob Dylan

Tempest |

HAPPY 50th ANNIVERSARY!

ROOTS-ROCK

Bob Dylan’s 35th studio album essentially marks the 50th anniversary of his self-titled debut, which was released March 19, 1962. And while it will not go down as a Dylan classic, Tempest shows that, at 71, he’s not ready to go gently anywhere. This is the odd, ornery work of an elder statesman who has earned every right to be odd and ornery. Continuing down the gritty, rootsy road of 2009’s Together Through Life, it’s a dark, sometimes murky journey. Kicking off with the New Orleans shuffle of “Duquesne Whistle,” it winds into the rolling reflection of “Long and Wasted Years” and “Pay in Blood,” on which Dylan, his voice more grizzled than ever, sinisterly sings, “I pay in blood, but not my own.” But at 68-plus minutes, the album loses steam, particularly on the title track, a nearly 14-minute epic about the Titanic that feels as long as watching the film.