The prototypical tough-chick-with-a-guitar, Joan Jett has always been about straight-ahead rock anthems, sweetened with just enough melody to burn them into your brain. From her teen days with the '70s girl group The Runaways through hits like "I Hate Myself for Lovin' You," Jett has delivered the goods and the attitude, stood back and not cared about what people thought.
I wish there were 100 Joan Jetts, but since there's only one, anytime she makes an album it's worth a serious listen.
E-40, "The Block Brochure: Welcome to the Soil 4, 5 & 6" (Heavy on the Grind Entertainment)
E-40 is one of the most respected rappers in hip-hop. He's carved out a niche with his unique brand of West Coast slang and relatable stories that entail street wisdom, and he continued to showcase his talent in 2013 with the three-disc independent set "The Block Brochure: Welcome to the Soil 4, 5 & 6." It's packed with 45 songs featuring T.I., Chris Brown, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz and Young Jeezy.
The cameos are entertaining, from the Ross and French Montana-assisted "Champagne" to "Put It in the Air," featuring Mac Mall and San Quinn. But when E-40 raps on a track alone, the 46-year-old, who has delivered 20 studio albums, is top-notch. That's certainly apparent on "What Kind of World," where the Bay Area rapper examines a variety of topics from failed marriages to poverty. On "Don't Shoot the Messenger," the hip-hop veteran talks about his childhood, life's troubles and the afterlife.
E-40 is enduring.
Amanda Shires, "Down Fell the Doves" (Lightning Rod)
Amanda Shires was a big part of two albums you shouldn't have missed in 2013. She plays the muse — and a little bit of fiddle to boot — on husband Jason Isbell's "Southeastern," an album inspired by all the changes in his life spurred by his new love.
A few months later, she released her own "Down Fell the Doves," further proving she should be counted among the group of young, female singer-songwriters in Nashville who are making today's most interesting country-influenced music. Like most of those songwriters, Shires isn't getting any attention from country radio, and that's a shame.
She's at her best on songs like "Bulletproof," "Look Like a Bird" and "Wasted and Rollin'," infusing short storylike lyrics with a playful sense of rhythm and experimentation that should make more people take notice.
Eldar Djangirov Trio, "Breakthrough" (Motema)