Drive-By TruckersEnglish Oceans/ATO

The often-prolific roots rockers Drive-By Truckers took a four-year break from the studio before recording "English Oceans," and the stockpile of songs pays off throughout the band's 12th album.

Stripping away the R&B influences and musical explorations of their last few albums, DBT focuses on guitars and a garage-band stomp on the latest, which also adds to the collection's consistency.

The band has always shared songwriting chores between singer-guitarists Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, usually augmented by contributions by other band members (most notably onetime band mate Jason Isbell in the early 2000s). This time out, Cooley is an equal partner, and he and Hood are the only songwriters, another beneficial change.

The album's opening guitar chords recall an old Replacements riff and would've fit nicely on the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street." It's a strong kickoff to the rawest rocking Truckers album since their early days. But it's the storytelling that gives the band a special dimension. The colorful twists of "Till He's Dead or Rises" and "Primer Coat," the desperation of "Hanging On" and the poignant "Grand Canyon" show that this veteran band can still equal the high points of its past.

By Michael McCall, Associated Press

BeckMorning Phase/Capitol

It's hard to put a finger on Beck. He can steer into many moods, as he has in the two decades since he had a breakthrough with "Mellow Gold."

On "Morning Phase," his first studio album in six years, Beck takes us to an intimate, gray landscape that is haunting and beautiful.

The 13 songs are complex tapestries, woven from the same hue. They are slow, mostly, and touched with melancholy. Even when simple, such as on "Turn Away," they are rich. Spare guitar work is spun into vocal layers and orchestration that mixes the sounds into blurs. The effect is gorgeous.

Beck's straightforward vocals speak of separation and isolation. The melodies and harmonic pairings quietly stir up deep swirls of darkness and light. The musical combinations are brilliant, such as on "Say Goodbye," where even the normally plucky banjo becomes quiet and moody, or on "Waking Light," with its ethereal stretches that take one floating up before diving into a quiet collapse.

By Michelle Morgante, Associated Press

Mike GordonOverstep/ATO Records

When Mike Gordon steps away from his day job playing bass for mega jam band Phish, he tends to get even more experimental and weird than normal, which is saying a lot.

But on "Overstep," his fourth solo album, Gordon creates a much more accessible and radio-friendly record. That's not to say it's boring, because it's not, or predictable, because it isn't.

But what it does have is a more solid rock base, perhaps thanks to the increased role of longtime collaborator and lead guitarist Scott Murawski and producer Paul Q. Kolderie, who previously worked with Radiohead.

What Gordon may have given up in control, he gains by creating a more unified and satisfying sound. Don't worry, Gordon lovers. There's still plenty of his off-the-wall lyrics.

"Yarmouth Road" is the best song of the bunch, propelled by a Jamaican-influenced bounce, Murawski's wah-wahing guitar and Gordon's plea to "come on home and hang with the bees and buzz with the honeycomb."

By Scott Bauer, Associated Press