& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & aine's Ellis Paul is a songwriter who can capture a scene or a character with just a few sparse words wrapped around musical heartbreak. His songs are tiny stories, nuggets of essential emotion and bits of wisdom. This two-CD set collects highlights from 10 previous albums, starting with 1993's "Conversations With a Ghost," with Patty Griffin (another Mainer) on backup, and adds in a handful of new songs and new recordings of older songs. Paul's reedy tenor isn't a classically beautiful instrument, but the guy knows how to put a song across -- and how to tell a story. A highlight is the live version of "God's Promise," a song that Paul adapted from an unpublished lyric written by his hero Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital. Longtime fans will want this for the new material, and it makes a great introduction to Paul's artistry for those unfamiliar with his work.
-- ANN M. COLFORD
DOWNLOAD: "Angel in Manhattan"
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & D & lt;/span & ismissing the postured sloppiness and super grooves of past efforts, these Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based musicians hit their Southern-rock stride with their third full-length offering. Showing more maturity and sophistication in this set of songs that range from patient nostalgia for simpler times ("Neil Armstrong") to hard-luck dirges ("What Money Means"), the band ought to draw more critical, if not popular, acclaim.
Fans of the Quadrajets or the Immortal Lee County Killers -- even the Drive-By Truckers, for that matter -- may easily immerse themselves in Elliott McPherson's righteous guitar fuzz-buzz and infectious nasal-twang vocal delivery. But the band best describes their own sound: "3 guitars being cooked in a 4 x 12 skillet." At times raucous and exuberantly loud, at others hauntingly sweet and vulnerable, the album establishes enough musical peaks and valleys to allow the listener time to pause and wipe away the sweat before starting the process over again.
-- CAREY MURPHY
DOWNLOAD: "Naked Ground"