Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop

"Love Letter for Fire"

As soon as it was announced that Iron & Wine's very own Sam Beam was to team up with Sub Pop label mate Jesca Hoop for a collaborative album, expectations were high, and after the first single, "Every Songbird Says," was released, anticipation grew even more.

It makes sense, since Iron & Wine is at the forefront of modern folk music while Jesca Hoop is a guitar virtuoso who has worked with everyone from Peter Gabriel to Mark Knopfler. Their musical tastes overlap, as their former collaboration on Hoop's "Hunting My Dress" song from her last album showed, so there was no reason to doubt that a full-length album between them would be nothing short of excellent. However, not only do Beam and Hoop meet those high expectations, they shatter them on "Love Letter for Fire" by crafting some of their best songs to date.

The opener, "Welcome to Feeling," sets the tone for the album. Riding underneath Hoop's harmonious vocals is Beam's voice echoing every line of Hoop's. As the short introduction continues, the soft acoustic guitar that began the song passes the baton to a heavy, rolling violin that ends the intro beautifully. The only complaint about this track is that it feels more undeveloped than the rest of the album; even though it was meant to be an introduction, Beam and Hoop could have fleshed it out into a three- or four-minute track, since it had so many fantastic musical qualities already embedded in its framework.


The entire album retains the simple, rustic instrumental sound of the introduction. The acoustic guitar is always prominent, either strumming or gently fingerpicking, while light keys, a violin and a cello move in the background to add weight to the music and also enhance the guitar and vocals. Although this may feel sleepy to some, it's actually quite a shift musically for both Hoop and Beam. For Hoop, the instruments on this album are just a tad softer than some of her solo efforts, while the violin and cello make "Love Letter for Fire" as full and layered as some of Iron & Wine's most recent albums like "The Shepherd's Boy" and "Kiss Each Other Clean." Neither Hoop nor Beam is out of their comfort zones with this instrumentation, but they also aren't simply rehashing old ideas from their earlier solo projects.

Mr. Lif

"Don't Look Down"

In Boston, there is no greater emcee than Mr. Lif, and for good reason. His topical lyrics make him a hit in his East Coast hometown, and has garnered him praise from big names like Jedi Mind Tricks and El-P. Even with this fame, though, Mr. Lif has been out of the musical spotlight ever since his last album, "I Heard It Today" was released, and many wondered when he was going to return with a project. Now, however, Mr. Lif is finally making his comeback with "Don't Look Down," an album that shows the famed Bostonian improving not only as a lyricist but as a songwriter as well.

—Emmanuel Elone,

Keb' Mo'

"That Hot Pink Blues Album (Kind of Blue)"

"That Hot Pink Blues Album" is a snapshot of Keb' Mo's 2015 tour, featuring performances of 16 songs from stops in nine different cities over the course of two discs. The stages range from Sturgis, S.D., all the way to Kent, Ohio. The structure is devoid of clutter — the only thing backing him is his typically terrific touring trio that features Michael B. Hicks on keys, Casey Wasner on drums and Stan Sargeant on bass. And the crowds, predictably, fill in the space between the notes where silence might sit on any studio recording.

—Colin McGuire,

Other notable releases:

John Carpenter, "Lost Themes II"

J Dilla, "The Diary"

PJ Harvey, "The Hope Six Demolition Project"

Cate Le Bon, "Crab Day"

Kevin Morby, "Singing Saw"

Royce 5'9, "Layers"

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, "PersonA"

Sturgill Simpson, "A Sailor's Guide to Earth"

Xiu Xiu, "The Music of Twin Peaks"