Raul Malo -- After Hours (New Door/Universal) Raul Malo pushed conventional country music boundaries when he rose to prominence in the early 1990s as leader of the Mavericks, and the Miami native has since traded on a variety of styles, including elements of his Cuban heritage. He nudges country in a fresh direction once again with After Hours, reimagining some of the genre's finest songs from a jazz platform that gives the tunes a fresh sound while remaining true to their fundamental charms. He is at his most stirring on "For the Good Times" atop supple pedal steel guitar.
Rooney -- Calling the World (Geffen) It's taken Rooney four years to record the follow-up to its 2003 self-titled debut, and in that time, a lot has changed. For one thing, The O.C., the TV show that helped break the band, is off the air. Girls who were once 14 and 15 are now packing for college, and some are invariably discovering their older siblings' Arcade Fire records. Calling the World stands a good chance of winning over a new generation of teenage music downloaders. Programmers for the CW network could certainly do worse than to score their shows with sugary sounds such as "When Did Your Heart Go Missing?" a tune expertly engineered to sound like Maroon 5 covering David Bowie's "Modern Love."