After taking a long break from performing, Mark Freeman made his way back to the music scene to deliver a folk-rock album that delves into American history. Backed by a tremendous band called the Devil's Herd, Freeman unveils stories of love, sorrow and adventure. Whether he's singing about Pancho Villa in "Senorita" or a poor farmer's life in "Daniel Wilkes," it's clear that the husky-voiced Freeman has a knack for writing (as a former journalist should). "In the Heartland" has a certain "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" vibe to it, since the verses are more spoken than sung, while "Red House" sounds a bit like a folksy version of Merle Haggard's "The Seashores of Old Mexico" (most recently covered by George Strait in 2005). - Lauren Yusko
Tragedy & Recover (self-released)
On its debut album, Tragedy & Recovery, Asphalt Juke pokes fun at so-called "whiny" bands in a spoken-word track called "Dear Diary," which consists of someone in a nasally voice saying, "Dear Diary, I messed up a song. Wah." After listening to the Mentor band's album, though, you have to wonder where it got the nerve to call anyone's music whiny. Although the group's members - singer Dave Novakovich, singer-guitarist Bob Kapis, bassist Willie Tharp and drummer Ed Small - aren't a bunch of skinny guys in girl pants with acoustic guitars, their music isn't as tough as it sounds. At times, they combine metal riffs and emotional lyrics to make songs that are both heartfelt and intense. However, other times the band tries to be too hardcore and ends up sounding like another moany rock group with harsh guitar parts. - Brittany Moseley
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