Reviews of the latest releases from Kellie Pickler, Nada Surf, and more

By EW Staff
January 20, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST

Kellie Pickler, 100 Proof
Three albums in, the Idol alum trades in her ”Small Town Girl” shtick for gratifyingly raw off-Nashville grit. Pickler evokes the ghost of ”honky-tonk angel” Tammy Wynette more in name than in spirit, but Proof is her meatiest, most adventurous output yet. B+Ray Rahman

Rodrigo y Gabriela, Area 52
Riding high after their work with Hans Zimmer on last year’s Pirates of the Caribbean flick, the Mexican folk-metal duo recruit a 13-piece Cuban orchestra for percolating big-band renditions of some of their finest tunes. Call it Buena Vista Shredding Club. B+Mikael Wood

Nada Surf, The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy
”It’s never too late for teenage dreams,” Matthew Caws sings on this Brooklyn indie-pop trio’s seventh studio disc. And with its ringing guitar hooks and winsome nostalgia, Stars suggests he might just be right. BMW

Craig Finn, Clear Heart Full Eyes
Finn’s solo debut could use the bar-band heroics that infuse the choruses of the best songs by his revered fivesome, the Hold Steady; these windy beach narratives tend to lie back in the hammock when they should be shooting the curl. BKyle Anderson