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“Carly Ritter,” Carly Ritter

The circle of life is a lariat around your heart. Carly Ritter knows this because her grandfather was singing cowboy Tex Ritter and she is the daughter of the late comic actor John Ritter and actress Nancy Morgan.

Her fine debut self-titled album, released last week on Vanguard Records, recalls the pop-folk of Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys. Ronstadt recently announced her retirement from singing due to her battle with Parkinson’s disease. Pay attention to the blues shuffle of “This Place Ain’t Our Home” and the pure pop of the leadoff track “It Don’t Come Easy.” Ry Cooder plays acoustic and electric guitar on the the record--it was co-produced by Cooder’s son Jocahim Cooder, who attended high school in Santa Monica, Ca. with the 31-year-old singer songwriter. This is heartwarming music. ­— Dave Hoekstra

“Hall of Fame,” Big Sean

On his outstanding second album, the Detroit rapper only occasionally stumbles in a smart set of slick club thumpers, tear-jerkers and introspective yarns. Miguel, Nas and Lil Wayne join in as he ponders fame, success and the fear of losing it all. -- Edna Gundersen, Gannett News Service

“Alabama & Friends”

Nowadays, long hair and loud guitars are common in country music. That wasn’t always the case. The new album “Alabama & Friends” pays tribute to a pioneering band that proved decades ago how popular merging country and Southern rock could be.

Forty years after country rockers Alabama formed, the band’s sound no longer carries the shock of the new. But a gang of contemporary country stars, all of whom incorporate rock into their music, celebrate another country music trait: concise, catchy songs survive the ages.

Several 21st-century stars put their stamp on Alabama favorites. Jason Aldean adds arena-guitar crunch to “Tennessee River,” Luke Bryan finds joyous fun in “Love in the First Degree” and Florida Georgia Line brings extra bounce to “I’m in a Hurry (and Don’t Know Why).”

Even better is the intimacy Kenny Chesney instills into “Lady Down on Love” and the Bob Seger-like soul Toby Keith pumps into the underrated “She and I.” Best of all, Jamey Johnson’s performance of “My Home’s in Alabama” fits him like an old denim jacket — the rare tribute that improves on the original.

After a 10-year break from recording, Alabama reunited to cut two new songs, which was at least one too many, as neither carries the nostalgic weight of their more famous songs. Still, there is plenty here to make these old Southern rock pioneers proud. — Michael McCall, AP



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