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Julie Roberts 

Men & Mascara (Mercury)

"Men and mascara always run," sings South Carolina-born Julie Roberts on the title track of this follow-up to her superb 2004 self-titled debut. One doubts that this 27-year-old stunner has endured many such problems, but she delivers the tune's hard-earned pearl of wisdom with a tone rich, resonant, and resolute enough to convince you otherwise.

Specks of Bonnie Raitt and Shelby Lynne glint in Roberts' bluesy, magnetic voice, which pours all over these mostly overpolished ballads -- built with the usual pedal steel, piano, fiddle, and acoustic guitar -- transforming them from banal to bewitching. Opener "Paint and Pillows" confronts a cheating spouse with a clever metaphor worthy of Trading Spaces ("It's gonna take more than paint and pillows/New curtains on these windows/To cover up all the trash that you drug in"), while "Lonely Alone" poignantly comes to terms with romance gone sour: "I refuse to be with you and be forgotten/So this afternoon I thought why not just go/After all, I'm already lonely/I might as well be lonely alone."

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