Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale, "Buddy and Jim" (New West)
Based on their respective bodies of work, you'd have to think this was a dream pairing even before you heard a note. And that's what it turns out to be. Miller is an in-demand guitarist and producer best known for his work with Robert Plant and Emmylou Harris, while Lauderdale is an exceedingly prolific songwriter who excels at country and bluegrass.
They begin in a country and folk vein, with Lauderdale taking the lead on their own "I Lost My Job of Loving You" and a recharged version of the traditional "The Train That Took My Gal From Town." But they don't stay there. Miller steps up on the sublime, soul-tinged ballad "That's Not Even Why I Love You," co-written by the duo and Miller's wife, Julie, and Lauderdale charges through the rock-fueled atmospherics of "Vampire Girl" before the set concludes with a couple of R&B chestnuts. Nothing underscores the duo's compatibility quite like their vocal harmonies, which are showcased throughout the album but perhaps to no better effect than on the penultimate number, a strutting take on Joe Tex's "I Want to Do Everything for You."
NICK CRISTIANO, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
"Crazy World," Boys Like Girls (Columbia)
"Crazy World" is crazy like a fox. This manipulative marvel puts the Massachusetts band in the middle of the mainstream, maximizing its odds with three broad genres: rock, pop and country. The men are nothing if not predictable. Singer/guitarist/producer Martin Johnson establishes his cadence early, delivering an inevitable stream of vocal arcs with almost every chorus. Refrains are built on easily digestible platitudes. Strings indicate melancholy, the piano is paired with tender moments, the electric guitar represents feisty rebellion, and when the rhythm acts up, it's a party song.
This is cookie-cutter music with all the nutritional value of ... cookies. Nevertheless, it's tasty and often hard to resist. There's something comforting about knowing in advance where every track is going, about being able to sing along to a song the first time you hear it. "Crazy World" starts and ends with the same message: Life is short, so live it up. Pulsing opener "The First Time" is about the fast passage of time, while piano-based closer "Hey You" is about making a bold move on a stranger, "Hey, you, feel like falling in love on a subway train?"
Most of the in-between cuts are solidly executed, such as the up-tempo, Americana-flavored "Life of the Party," which asks, "Who are we if we ain't with our friends?" Mopier songs also prove serviceable, from the heartbreaker "Cheated" ("Fool me once and I let you come home/ Fool me twice, now I'm letting you go") to the "broken dreams" malaise of "Leaving California." The thing about cookies is each one tends to be less enjoyable than the one before it. Overindulging in "Crazy World" could leave you with a stomachache.
CHUCK CAMPBELL, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE