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Patti Scialfa 

Play It as It Lays (Columbia)

Patti Scialfa recorded two albums — 1993's Rumble Doll and 2004's 23rd Street Lullaby — before Play It as It Lays. But she's never exuded more soul than she does here. Surrounding herself with girl-group harmonies straight outta the early '60s, Scialfa draws equally from vintage soul, folk rock, and country music. In a dumbed-down climate of Top 40 tunes aimed squarely at the kiddie crowd, Scialfa makes smart music for grown-ups. She gives honest perspective to women wrestling with the ups and downs of long-term relationships.

With excellent support from hubby Bruce Springsteen, guitarist Nils Lofgren, and drummer Steve Jordon, Scialfa — with her scratchy, lived-in voice — delivers these songs with unmistakable relish. (Just listen to the bold, sexy confidence she brings to "Rainy Day Man.") Whether looking at love after 30 in "Town Called Heartbreak" or portraying a strong-willed chick who lays down the law to her man in the languid "Play Around," Scialfa has evolved into a songwriter of considerable depth and maturity. In an era of readily disposable pop, Play It as It Lays sounds like something that's far more enduring.

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