Italian Love Songs, Anna Leese, soprano, Stephen De Pledge, piano (Champs Hill Records). Soprano Anna Leese, a New Zealand soprano who won the 2005 Richard Tauber Prize (a title I love) has a clear, lovely voice that displays the charms of these songs by Puccini, Bellini, Tosti and Donizetti. This is high praise: Listening to the disc for the first time took me forever because I wanted to hear each song two or three times. Leese’s voice is so effortless, such a sheer pleasure. She and her pianist, New Zealand’s Stephen de Pledge, are sensitive to the songs, shaping their dynamics and expression with care. The songs themselves, exquisitely crafted, take you back to Italy in the 19th and early 20th centuries better than any Merchant-Ivory movie would ever be able to do. The composers contrast nicely with each other. You have the elegant Tosti and the flights of fancy of Bellini. The Puccini songs are a particular joy with glimpses of his operas. “Storiella D’Amore,” for instance, has “La Boheme” written all over it. Three and a half stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, “Specter at the Feast” (Abstract Dragon/Vagrant). Unquestionably, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has done as much to reinvigorate the public’s interest in primal garage rock and greasy, earthy psychedelia as has Jack White. That the San Francisco trio is nowhere near as well-known nor widely hailed as White is not necessarily anyone’s fault, least of all White’s. But it’s worth noting, if only to underscore the fact that this band has been making vital, invigorating rock music for more than a decade, even if that music has only served to gain the band a cult-level following. Whatever. “Specter at the Feast,” the band’s sixth album, is quite likely its finest. Recorded beneath the lingering shadow of tragedy - guitarist/bassist/co-vocalist Robert Been’s father, former leader of ’80s alternative act the Call (“The Walls Came Down”) and BMRC soundman/auxiliary member Michael Been, died while the band was in the midst of touring behind the “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” album in 2010, and the vacancy Been’s death left in the band’s world is addressed repeatedly throughout “Specter at the Feast.” Like the Jesus and Mary Chain with way better tunes, BMRC does the slow-tempo, richly layered, wall of guitar thing all over this new record, interspersing that primal sonic/melodic attack with songs that wear their (broken) heart proudly on their sleeves in a more subtle, though no less exciting, manner. This dimly lit, urban-bohemian take on psychedelia is riveting, dense, a little dangerous-sounding, and emotionally resonant. “Specter” manages to mourn death while celebrating life, and it’s a profoundly great rock album. Four stars (Jeff Miers)


Palma Violets, “180” (Rough Trade). There were lots of whispers and mumbles about Palma Violets before the release of its debut album “180” in home country Great Britain, and quite rightly so. The quartet really is bringing something fresh to a somewhat stale chart with growling guitars and pounding drums, and there isn’t anything quite like it kicking around at the moment. The album’s opening track “Best of Friends” allows elements to slowly build, first with a carefully plucked chord set, then the pound of a drum, topped off with howling vocals. Lyrics are simplistic. “I wanna be your best friend,” yowl singers Chilli Jesson and Sam Fryer, who have been dubbed 2013’s answer to Carl Barat and Pete Doherty of the Libertines. Highlights of the album include “We Found Love,” again showcasing the simplistic yet optimistic lyrics, and “Three Stars,” which brings a calmer moment to the otherwise raucous record. Three stars (Sian Watson, Associated Press)


Phosphorescent, “Muchacho” (Dead Oceans). Matthew Houck’s quest for a few moments of simplicity has led to his most complex album yet, a lush take on easygoing country flavored with a light ocean breeze. “Muchacho” crystallized as Phosphorescent’s only permanent member retreated to Mexico on a weeklong spur-of-the-moment trip to check out following a difficult period in his life. He returned to Brooklyn, with the beating heart of his most accomplished album yet, full of sprawling arrangements with horns and keys and electronic adornments. Yet Houck never loses his deft touch for the personal moment, like when he narrates a rough patch for the listener before warbling, “I’ll fix myself up, come and be with you” over a dreamy organ line on “Muchacho’s Tune.” There are little wonders all over “Muchacho,” an album that hopefully will take Houck to a wider audience. Three stars (Chris Talbot, Associated Press)


Kacey Musgraves, “Same Trailer Different Park” (Mercury Nashville). It’s a long way from nowhere Texas to the bright lights of Nashville, Tenn. Well, country music can thank Kacey Musgraves for finding her way, through smart lyrics, arrangements free of bluster and a tone that’s all her own on her debut major label release, “Same Trailer Different Park.”

You don’t have to like country music to love Musgraves’ sound. It’s light and folksy with a glint of Nashville tinsel. And her lyrics, delivered without too many tricks of the trade, easily win over the ear. “Blowin’ Smoke” and “Step off” have a salty swagger, but mostly we get a seasoned Musgraves here, as on “Silver Lining,” polished as she sings of personal bravery in an uncertain world. I like my country stars with a few emotional scars and Musgraves sounds like she knows something about that. Taylor Swift’s cross-over country sound is musical dessert, but this is a real meal. Three and a half stars (Ron Harris, Associated Press)