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The Baltimore Sun

Brad Paisley -- 5th Gear (Arista Nashville) His first four albums (plus a Christmas set) deservedly established Brad Paisley as one of Nashville's leading young lights. Maybe that's why his new one is a bit of a disappointment.

5th Gear is a pleasant enough affair, and it serves up plenty more hot guitar from this gifted picker. The first single, "Ticks," shows Paisley at his clever best: He manages to deliver the come-on "I'd like to check you for ticks" and still retain his boy-next-door charm. But "Online," "I'm Still a Guy" and "Better Than This" are way too obvious and not nearly as sharp.

"Letter to Me" and "With You, Without You" are stark, moving ballads, but the other serious stuff is subpar, and his duet with Carrie Underwood, "Oh Love," is oh-my-God-awful, the worst song he's ever cut.

The Long Blondes -- Someone To Drive You Home (Rough Trade) With their sharp eye for cutting detail and a deft narrative, Sheffield, England's Long Blondes share more than their hometown with Arctic Monkeys and Pulp. Kate Jackson possesses the sass of a Chrissie Hynde or a Karen O., and Dorian Cox's wiry, buzzing guitars recall the Libertines and Elastica.

"Looks are the first weapon, charm is the second," Jackson sings. The Long Blondes have both, but, best of all, they have killer songs.

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