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Our critics' picks in new releases

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In addition to being a gathering of deftly executed duets and hand-in-glove harmonies, the Nashville-recorded Begonias is the sound of good ideas. The first smart move was, of course, the decision to make the record, an effort that Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell have been warming up for over the last four years. After teaming up to cover Buck Owens' "Together Again" for Cockrell's 2001 debut Stack of Dreams, they cowrote and co-sung the Tom Petty-ish rocker "Thick Walls Down" for Cary's first full-length, While You Weren't Looking, and later provided harmonies on each other's follow-ups.

Kicking off the album with "Two Different Things" was the next wise move. It's a gem both musically and lyrically, with a relationship's death rattle made to sound beautiful courtesy of a vaguely Tex-Mex guitar, organ swells that hint at country soul, and, above all else, two voices that seem custom-made to swap verses. A focus on Cary's country side, which clearly plays to Cockrell's strengths, also pays dividends. There are torchy moments, most notably the striking "Please Break My Heart," but the emphasis is on twangy. "Don't Make It Better" and "Party Time" are both first-rate honky-tonk tunes, rippled with pedal steel and driven by vocals that aren't afraid to show where it hurts.

Next, whoever suggested a cover of "Warm and Tender Love," best known as a mid-'60s hit for Percy Sledge, deserves a raise. The hushed opening of the Cary-Cockrell version reveals the song to be more of a plea than a simple request. Even when things crank up, the mood holds.

Finally, there's "Conversations About a Friend (Who's in Love with Katie)," all seven-plus minutes of it. As it rolls along, you can imagine the darting, dueling voices of Richard Manuel and Rick Danko, and praise doesn't get much higher than that when you're talking roots-soul.

"Conversations About a Friend" also contains the line that gives the album its title. Begonias is the coming together of two artists with musical green thumbs, and they do wonders with a garden of good--strike that, great--ideas.

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