Why don't more people listen to Ron Sexsmith? The critically acclaimed singer-songwriter crafts masterful pop songs, records them with topflight producers and sings them in an understated croon. Unless you hate music that makes you smile, what's not to like?
Wanda Jackson may be the queen of rockabilly, but Jack White is king of this collaboration. The roots-obsessed producer takes charge, offering a high-octane reimagination of various '50s styles. But where White's work on Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose (2004) came off as reverent and almost subtle, here 73-year-old Jackson's presence seems like an afterthought.
Vic Chesnutt, who died of an overdose in 2009, was one of the best and most unusual songwriters of his generation. Country-rock veterans Cowboy Junkies are far more conventional. So Chesnutt diehards might not find much to like in this collection of his songs, but the album may provide newcomers a bridge to his work.
Alt-country is typically traced to Uncle Tupelo, but the early '90s Jayhawks made better records. Where Uncle Tupelo found scrappy affinities between traditional Americana and punk, the Jayhawks brought '70s country-rock to the alt-rock '90s.
This new band's sound has roots in the indie-folk scene, with its moody treatments of simple chord progressions and Americana rhythms. But the larger thread here is classic pop, and The Head and the Heart offers the complete feel-good package.