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It’s that time of year again—the holiday season. There’s a multitude of new Christmas releases, ranging from hit artists like Michael Bublé and Sheryl Crow to the more quirky She & Him and David Chowder Band. However, if you really want the gift that keeps on giving, these two non-Christmas releases are perfect stocking stuffers, or maybe even a holiday treat for yourself. Unless, of course, you’d rather be gifted Justin Bieber’s new Christmas album.

Miranda Lambert – Four the Record
Four the Record by Miranda Lambert is an excellent follow-up to 2009’s Revolution, a record that earned her a lot of notoriety within the music industry. Whether she’s singing about rebellious youth (“Mama’s Broken Heart”) or love (“Safe”), her songs are diverse, some honest and heartfelt while others have earned her the title of country music’s bad girl. This “don’t mess with me” style that came out in singles like “Kerosene” and “Gunpowder and Lead” is represented in “Baggage Claim” and “Fastest Girl In Town.” Brandi Carlile, one of my favorite singer-songwriters, wrote “Same Old You” and provides background vocals. The blend of Lambert and Carlile’s vocals make an excellent song even better. “Better In The Long Run” is the first official duet of Lambert and her husband, country singer Blake Shelton. “Dear Diamond” and “Oklahoma Sky” are more vulnerable, another side of Lambert. Revolution was an important album for Miranda Lambert, cementing her place among country’s leading ladies, and Four the Record proves why she deserves a place there.

Tracks to Download: Mama’s Broken Heart, Same Old You, Dear Diamond

Overall Rating: A+

Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials
Florence and the Machine is more popular in the UK than in the United States, although they have enjoyed moderate success here with their single “Dog Days Are Over.” Some may say Florence Welch’s vocals are more wailing than singing, but the group’s tribal and orchestral sound is nothing like any other band in the music industry at the moment. Ceremonials isn’t extremely different from Lungs, except it feels bigger. The resonance and echo believably sound like the album was recorded in a cathedral rather than a recording studio, complete with choral layering of Welch’s vocals on some tracks. “Only If For A Night,” the first track, includes one of these interesting choral sections. “Shake It Out” was the second single, is especially cathedral-like with an organ base, and absolutely soars. “Seven Devils” would be a great addition to any horror movie’s soundtrack. “Never Let Me Go” and “What The Water Gave Me” are haunting and beautiful at the same time. “Breaking Down” is one of the most interesting songs, as a change of singer could probably make it a pop single. Ceremonials is larger than life and has some of the most interesting instrumentation on any album released this year.

Tracks to Download: Never Let Me Go, Shake It Out, What the Water Gave Me

Overall Rating: A

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