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QUICK SPINS: July 2010

Mark Olson, The Constellations, The Blue Shadows and more

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* Mark Olson -- Many Colored Kite (Rykodisc)

Jayhawks founder Mark Olson is in a mellow mood throughout his latest solo album, Many Colored Kite (due July 27). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the stripped-down disc eventually falls into a sleepy rut. Kite does have its standout moments, though, most notably "Little Bird of Freedom" and "Scholastica."

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* The ConstellationsSouthern Gothic (Virgin)

Hats off to Constellations leader Elijah Jones, who not only piloted a cohesive, accessible album featuring myriad styles and influences but managed a small army of musicians in the process. Southern Gothic, the Atlanta collective’s debut, covers a lot of ground: Imagine a broader-sounding Beck album. Cee-Lo makes a guest appearance on "Love Is a Murder."

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* The Blue Shadows -- On the Floor of Heaven (Bumstead)

Featuring a vocal blend reminiscent of prime The Everly Brothers, an instrumental approach like that of Foster and Lloyd and songs that either act would proudly call their own, Canada's The Blue Shadows certainly deserved a better fate back in the day. Hopefully the reissued On the Floor of Heaven (out now), a pairing of the Billy Cowsill-co-fronted band's 1993 album and 12 previously unreleased songs also recorded in the '90s, finds a belated audience. Highlights include "Coming on Strong," "The Fool Is the Last One to Know" and "A Thousand Times."

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* We Are Scientists -- Barbara (Masterswan Recordings)

Don't let the nerdy, prog-rock-ish name fool you: We Are Scientists actually make crafty, commercial, pop-rock music that’s suitable for the masses (and that’s a compliment, not a dig). Not quite as good as the New York band’s debut album, 2006's With Love and Squalor, but better than the 2008 follow-up, Brain Thrust Mastery, Barbara (out now) features its share of hooky singalongs, particularly the opening one-two punch of "Rules Don't Stop" and "I Don't Bite."

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Gwyneth and Monko -- Good Old Horse (self-released)

Yes, Gwyneth and Monko is a male/female act, and yes, there have been plenty of them popping up in recent years. The folky pair's charming five-song EP (due July 20) is sensitive and sparse, with the youthful-sounding Gwyneth Moreland leading the way as both singer and songwriter.

-- All reviews by Chris M. Junior

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