We've missed the Mavericks a great deal during the group's eight-year recording hiatus, blessedly broken by this sublimely eclectic new 14-song set. The aptly named group started as country but quickly threw out the genre rule books to incorporate a veritable kitchen sink of styles, all to good effect, and those virtues are still there on "In Time" -- and perhaps even expanded due to the members' -- and particularly frontman Raul Malo's -- endeavors during the interim. "Back In Your Arms Again" kicks things off with a joyous statement of both romantic and musical re-dedication, along with noir ambiance and blasts of Mariachi-style horns, and the album continues on a path that blends the pop richness of Roy Orbison with the Anglo-Latin rock stylings perfected by Los Lobos. The quintet shows it can still cook on tracks such as "Lies," "All Over Again," "Dance in the Moonlight" and the particularly fierce "Come Unto Me," while Malo's matchless vocals are spotlighted by the smooth soul strains of "In Another's Arms," the aching melancholy of "Born to Be Blue" and the heartbreaking meander of "(Call Me) When You Get to Heaven." "Forgive Me" and "That's Not My Name," meanwhile, incorporate jazz flavors and "Fall Apart" spends some sonic time in the Caribbean, with "Ven Hacia Mi" closing out the set with a Spanish take on "Come Unto Me." It's characteristically broad and bold, bringing the Mavericks back just "In Time" and certainly well worth waiting for.
Johnny Marr, "The Messenger" (Sire) ****
It should be no surprise Johnny Marr is capable of making a near-perfect rock album. After all, the guy has been part of some excellent bands -- Electronic, The The, Modest Mouse and the Cribs after co-founding the Smiths -- and has been a top-shelf collaborator for Paul McCartney, the Pretenders, Bryan Ferry, Oasis, Pet Shop Boys and more. The biggest surprise may be that he waited this long, till he was 49, to put out an album under his name. The dozen songs on "The Messenger" are steeped in layers of shimmering guitars, sturdy and memorable melodies and post-punk dynamics, from the taut grooves of "Lockdown" to the kinetics of "Generate! Generate!," the garagey punch of "New Town Velocity" and "Sun & Moon," and the full-bodied pop of "Upstarts," "The Crack Up" and the title track. A stellar "debut" from an accomplished veteran.
New & Noteworthy:
Joan Armatrading, "Starlight" (429): The veteran singer and songwriter experiments with new vocal phrasing techniques that accent the jazz-styled arrangements on her latest release.
Atoms For Peace, "Amok" (XL): The first outing from the electronic-leaning all-star team of Radiohead's Thom Yorke, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea, producer Nigel Godrich and others.
Bilal, "A Love Surreal" (eOne): The Philadelphia neo-soul singer's new release was inspired by the work of Salvador Dali and features guest appearances by Robert Glasper and KING.
Michael Bolton, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough: A Tribute to Hitsville U.S.A." (Caroline): The emotive singer is the latest to pay tribute to Motown, including duets with Kelly Rowland and Melanie Fiona.
Jesse Dee, "On My Mind/In My Heart" (Alligator): The debut outing by the soul-influenced singer-songwriter-guitarist from Boston.
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, "Old Yellow Moon" (Nonesuch): Crowell once played in Harris' band, but now they meet as two of Americana's finest writers and musicians, with results that equal more than the sum of their parts.
Justin Hayward, "Spirits of the Western Sky" (Eagle Rock): The Moody Blues guitarist recorded his first solo album in nearly 17 years in Italy and Nashville.
Hillsong, "Zion" (Hillsong Music): The Christian church collective keeps the faith but expands its sonic template on this 13-song set.
The James Hunter Six, "Minute By Minute" (Fantasy): The first album in five years from the British singer-guitarist's band was produced by Daptone founder Gabriel "Bosco Mann" Roth.
KMFDM, "Kunst" (Metropolis/KMFDM): The German industrial rock troupe's 18th studio album features guest contributions from Legion Within's William Wilson and the Swedish group Morlocks.
Phil Lee, "The Fall and Further Decline of the Mighty King of Love" (Palookaville): The idiosyncratic (as if you can't tell from the title) singer-songwriter is joined by heady company here, including pals such as David Olney and Joy Lynn White.
Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran, "Hagar's Song" (ECM): The veteran saxophonist and younger pianist join forces for this jazzy summit meeting.
Marion Meadows, "Whisper" (Shanachie): The smooth jazz saxophonist's latest music was co-produced by longtime collaborators Bob Baldwin and Michael Broening.
Charlie Parr, "Barnswallow" (Tin Angel): The country blues songwriter from Minnesota digs into some recent personal travails to fuel the songs on his latest release.
Plumb, "Need You Now" (Curb): The alt.rock singer-songwriter is joined by Jars of Clay's Dan Haseltine on her sixth studio album.
Shout Out Louds, "Optica" (Merge): The fourth release from the enjoyably raw Swedish indie pop group.
Scott Ramminger, "Advice From a Father to a Son" (Arbor Lane): The Alabama-born singer, songwriter and saxophonist keeps a bluesy New Orleans flavor boiling throughout his sophomore album, which was recorded in the Crescent City, Nashville and Washington, D.C.
Stratovarius, "Nemesis" (Armoury): The Finnish metal group's 14th studio album marks the debut of new drummer Rolf Pilve and features a guest shot by Sonata Arctica guitarist Jani Liimatainen.
Steven Wilson, "Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)" (Kscope): The Porcupine Tree leader's third solo album was engineered by kindred spirit Alan Parsons.
Zucchero, "La Sesion Cubana" (Decca): Detroit native Don Was produced the Italian singer-songwriter's latest, which, as the title indicates, pays tribute to the music of Cuba.