Subterranean Finds

The Avett Brothers

The Second Gleam

Yours truly first discovered this North Carolina trio — two brothers and their buddy on bass — in 2006 at the remarkable Telluride Bluegrass Festival and was immediately impressed. A fusion of folk, rock, and, yes, a bit of bluegrass, its high-lonesome sound is effortlessly affecting and distinct from anything else out there. The Second Gleam, a six-song successor to the would-be breakthrough, Emotionalism, is a stripped-down set of beautiful ballads plaintively sung with fragile, forlorn vocals. If "Murder in the City" doesn't break your heart, then possibly you don't have one. (

Kevin Connolly

Still Standing Still

Listening to this Boston-based singer/songwriter will have you wondering why he's yet to attain a bigger following. Treading the line between folk and country, this album, his seventh (!), shows a natural affinity for easy, engaging melodies that would have both James Taylor and Steve Earle nodding their approval. Instantly infectious rockers "Bumpy Road" and "Everything I Wanted" share set time with beautiful ballads like "House on a Hill" and "Undefeated," while Connolly's bluesy swagger molds the moods in-between. (

Kimmie Rhodes

Walls Fall Down

Rhodes leans toward contemporary country, but she's not confined to it either. With breathy vocals that ooze emotion (think a cross between Dolly Parton and Stevie Nicks), she makes Rodney Crowell's timely "Sex & Gasoline" and Townes Van Zandt's heartbreaking "If I Needed You" seethe with sensuality. So too the song "Beautiful" is all its name implies, while the title track provides the album with an emphatic opener. A bold take on the Beatles' "The Fool on the Hill" provides an unexpected diversion, although she saves most of the Beatlesesque turns for her own "Last Seven Seconds." Apparently, you can take the girl out of the country after all. (

Ben Weaver

The Ax in the Oak

Weaver's a hard one to pin down, thanks to a sound that spirals and swirls with a hushed, half-lit perspective. Call it mood music for the somber set, a combination of Lou Reed's darker ruminations, Tom Waits' atmospheric ambiance, and Leonard Cohen's heavy-lidded narratives. Clipped rhythms, alternately sparse and cluttered arrangements, and Weaver's low-slung vocals add to the mystique, making this latest disc one you'll need to revisit to hear everything that's buried in the mix. (

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Lee Zimmerman