COLT FORD

"Declaration of Independence"

Producers: various

Average Joe's Entertainment

Release Date: Aug. 7

This Athens, Ga.-based songwriter got a huge boost last year when two songs he co-wrote topped Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart: "Country Must Be Country Wide" by Brantley Gilbert and "Dirt Road Anthem" by Jason Aldean, the latter of which also hit No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. Colt Ford capitalizes on that industry buzz on his fourth studio album, "Declaration of Independence," calling in guest appearances by a huge assortment of high-profile pals, including Darius Rucker, Kix Brooks and Laura Bell Bundy. Even Boyz II Men's Wanya Morris turns up in the dramatic "Happy in Hell." As that cameo suggests, "Declaration of Independence" draws as much from R&B and hip-hop as it does from traditional country sounds. Ford uses his guests to deliver the singsong hooks on such cuts as "All In" and "Back" while he raps his verses like a rougher-hewn Bubba Sparxxx. Sometimes the effect is appealingly odd, as when Aldean does the Auto-Tune robo-soul thing in "Drivin' Around Song." At other points it simply sounds like a natural representation of the South. - Mikael Wood

Joss Stone

"The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2"

Producers: Steve Greenwell, Joss Stone, Steve Greenberg

Stone'd/S-Curve Records

Release Date: July 31

Joss Stone's 2003 album "The Soul Sessions" was a jaw-dropping debut that established the British singer as both an ace interpreter and an original force to be reckoned with. There are remakes of a couple of R&B classics on her welcomed return - including Sylvia's "Pillow Talk" and the Casinos' "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" - but Stone mostly digs deep for more obscure fare. The singer also surprises with her girl group-styled treatment of Broken Bells' "The High Road." Backed by a crack band that includes lead guitarist Ernie Isley, with cameos from Delbert McClinton and Betty Wright, Stone emotes mightily on the Dells' "The Love We Had (Stays on My Mind)" and a gospel-flavored take of Toussaint McCall's "Nothing Takes the Place of You." And she's got plenty of vocal moxie to propel muscular renditions of the Chi-Lites' "Stoned out of My Mind," Eddie Floyd's "I Don't Want to Be With Nobody but You," Womack & Womack's "Teardrops" and Willie Tee's defiant "First Taste of Hurt." Stone's certainly got soul, and she definitely gives as good as she gets on The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2. - Gary Graff

Sixpence None The Richer

"Lost in Transition"

Producer: Jim Scott

Tyger Jim Records

Release Date: Aug. 7

It's been nearly 10 years since we've heard a proper album from Sixpence None the Richer, following the duo's breakup in 2004 and subsequent reunion four years later for Christmas collection "The Dawn of Grace." No one seems more apologetic for that absence than lead singer Leigh Nash about returning to the pop/rock sound that made some of its songs such inescapable radio hits in the late '90s and early '00s. On "My Dear Machine," the opening track for "Lost in Transition," Nash sings, "I broke your trust/And let you rust/So sorry my dear machine." It appears to be addressed more to Sixpence None the Richer's dedicated fans than any particular automobile. Picking up where 2002's "Divine Discontent" left off, the new set finds the act returning comfortably to its melodic, country-tinged roots on songs like "Radio" and "Go Your Way." The group also channels 10,000 Maniacs on "Should Not Be This Hard" and turns somber on cuts like "Failure" and "Sooner Than Later." There may be fewer radio formats playing this type of singer/songwriter pop these days, but patient Sixpence fans will be comforted to find some of the band's sturdiest melodies and more insightful lyrics. - Andrew Hampp