Local Licks 

Wayward Sway, On a Broken Machine (self-released). Sufjan Stevens, eat your heart out: These folks know how to rock a banjo the way it was meant to be rocked. Mandolin and violin, too. Wayward Sway's bluegrass rock is refreshingly authentic, original, and full of life.

The May Fire, La Victoria EP (Rock Whores Recordings). This San Francisco group's second EP of '07 — part of a plan to keep fresh product in the marketplace — is a mixed bag of six punky alt-rock tunes. Opener "Make It Right" takes the cake with a fuzzed-out pop jam straight from Weezer's early days.

Tracy Johnson, Dreams in Cold Weather (Snowfire Records). Mega-polished pop-rock from an ex-Minnesotan. That said, it's an impressive debut. Johnson wrote or co-wrote every song, sings like a mainstream Natalie Merchant, and actually has something to say. Single "The Good Life" is a huge hit in Turkey.

Nedelle, The Locksmith Cometh (Tangram 7s). Folk music this quiet should be extraordinarily pretty or powerful, and The Locksmith Cometh is neither. It's just there: Nedelle's preciously thin voice; scant guitar, violin, and keyboard accompaniments; and short, nevertheless meandering songs.


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