Queens of the Stone Age, "Like Clockwork" (Matador)

How many major contemporary rock bands are left in America? A couple dozen, maybe? That's the landscape that Queens of the Stone Age return to with "Like Clockwork," and the effort is everything a good rock record should be — wringing new blood from classic forms and sounding absolutely sexy and a little scary while doing it.

Six years after their last album, "Era Vulgaris," Queens' "Like Clockwork" calls in a lot of friendly favors (cameos come from Trent Reznor, occasional drum-throne lord Dave Grohl and a very unexpected Elton John, among others). But this show is all frontman Joshua Homme's. Singles like "My God Is the Sun" and "If I Had a Tail" have sunburned psychedelia and raw muscle to spare. They're some of the catchiest tunes in his catalog, and are all the more venomous for it.

Homme is one of the few singer/lyricists today who know that rock 'n' roll is built on a mix of menace and dark humor, and almost every track here has a moment that makes you want to drive to Joshua Tree, pound some beers and start fires in the shape of pentagrams. Some cuts like "I Sat by the Ocean" and "The Vampyre of Time and Memory" have glimmers of hazy, Big Star '70s prettiness. But then a drop-tuned guitar bend creeps back in, Grohl's drums beat a death march and one of SoCal's best bands announces it isn't going anywhere.

August Brown, Los Angeles Times


Darius Rucker, "True Believers" (Capitol Nashville)

On his third Nashville CD, Rucker, 47, proves he can do more than create formulaic radio hits: Finding a country voice and sound of his own, he shows he can leave a distinctive mark on 21st-century country music.

With the funk-country rhythms of "Radio," "Shine" and "Lost In You," he combines the beach-music sound of his native South Carolina with the breezy, catchy side of current Nashville hits. With powerful originals like the roots-rocking "Heartbreak Road" and the raw emotions of "Miss You," Rucker uses the expressive capabilities of his baritone voice — which had been so important to the success of his rock band, Hootie & the Blowfish.

Rucker writes 10 of the 12 songs on "True Believers," yet adds momentum to the collection with two well-chosen songs by others. He faithfully covers Old Crow Medicine Show's Americana hit, "Wagon Wheel," and nicely handles a duet with Sheryl Crow on "Love Without You."

Michael McCall, Associated Press