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Sarah Rodman's top CD picks of 2008

December 14, 2008
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SHE & HIM, "Volume One" (Merge) M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel celebrate a mutual love of vintage pop, soul, and country on this sepia-toned and blissfully irony-free charmer that includes an achingly intimate take on Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got a Hold on Me."

GUNS N' ROSES, "Chinese Democracy" (Geffen) Axl Rose proves that the emperor actually has some sweet threads. Maybe not worth the wait, but worth its weight in screaming guitar solos, pop songcraft, and heavy metal pomp.

THE ROOTS, "Rising Down" (Def Jam) Who else could boast of being "part Mele Mel and part Van Halen" and only be scratching the surface? If the world is burning down, this Philly hip-hop group convincingly offers up its services as the house band for the apocalypse.

SUGARLAND, "Love on the Inside" (Mercury) This winning duo perfected the recipe for success on its third album: a mess of classic country, a heaping helping of smart pop, a dash of mountain music, a soupcon of hair metal, a sprinkle of humor, and a heart on the sleeve.

VAMPIRE WEEKEND, "Vampire Weekend" (XL) Bands become critical darlings for a reason. In the case of this Columbia University-spawned quartet, youthful exuberance and a fresh take on a buoyant, world-beating pop sound certainly helped.

AL GREEN, "Lay It Down" (Blue Note/EMI) The reverend calls upon the heavens and they reply, sending angels in the form of simpatico pals like Anthony Hamilton and Corinne Bailey Rae to help him with this collection of sublime songs that stand alongside the soul legend's best.

JOE JACKSON, "Rain" (Rykodisc) On this fluid, elegant album, Jackson paints pictures with his jazz-pop ruminations. His tales of characters accruing hard lessons and even harder shells are so vivid and poignant they're worthy of a museum.

THE HOLD STEADY, "Stay Positive" (Vagrant) An album for any rock fan who's ever felt like and/or fallen in love with a misfit - and both lamented and gloried in all that it means.

RAPHAEL SAADIQ, "The Way I See It" (Columbia) Saadiq nails the spacious analog sound of classic Motown soul-pop and clutches at the very romantic heart of it. A pointed and tuneful reminder that classic can also mean timeless.

TV ON THE RADIO, "Dear Science" (DGC/Interscope) The Brooklyn hipsters conjure up a barrage of disparate sounds that magically coalesce, resulting in random acts of beauty and noise - from pristine pop harmonies to fuzzy punk shrieks.

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