The doom titans’ first recording in more than 20 years is even more monstrously throbbing than their genre-defining early work.

Oh sure, it’s easy to look back on the early ’90s and get all nostalgic about rock ’n’ roll—especially if you were into shirtless dudes in cargo shorts yarling into a wireless mic about how hard it was to be a middle-class kid in Seattle. But if grunge wasn't your cup of tea, you had to look harder to find the real deal.

Luckily for San Jose, California, Cameron Crowe never considered shooting his 1992 film Singles there. If you lived in or around the South Bay Area at that time, the band Sleep was a best-kept secret. Before the seminal power-trio recorded its ’92 magnum opus, Holy Mountain, nobody else was turning Black Sabbath into a genre. Or a lifestyle. Back then, if you caught a Sleep show at the Cactus Club, beautiful longhaired girls in denim and corduroy bellbottoms gathered in front of the stage. There was even a stoner-rock store named after Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan”—and this was before the phrase “stoner rock” was even coined.

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To celebrate a lifetime of music, the Boston folk-blues luminary recruits like-minded friends to help out with two volumes featuring new versions of old favorites.

It would be weird for Boston folk-blues luminary Chris Smither to put out a greatest-hits compilation, because anyone familiar with the man’s breadth of solo recordings—which go all the way back to 1970’s I’m a Stranger Too!—understands that his music is too good for commercial radio. Even his best-known songs, “I Feel the Same” and “Love You Like a Man,” are best known because Bonnie Raitt covered them. But Smither’s new album, Still on the Levee, is nothing like a best-of compilation: Rather than make a mix of past recordings, he gathered some of his favorite musicians and friends to accompany him while re-recording gems from his back pages.

Having cut his teeth in New Orleans before relocating to Massachusetts, Smither naturally recruited got Allen Toussaint to tickle the ivories on “Train Home” and a noticeably more bouncy version of “No Love Today.” And Amherst trio Rusty Belle also joins in on the fun, most noticeably on a take of “Link of Chain” that’s rife with the festive vibe of friends playing a front-porch jam somewhere in the Deep South—Smither even sets the song’s tempo with the heel of his boot.

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When you hear Uta Plotkin’s soulful wail, you’ll wish more doom metal bands had female singers.

Anyone who questions a doom-metal band with a female singer should shut up and listen to Witch Mountain. Uta Plotkin gives the plodding Portland, Oregon, quartet something that most male frontmen of the genre lack—soul. And we’re not talking about the affected vocal gymnastics of estrogen-charged R&B: Whether she’s hitting high, wailing notes or pained primal growls, Plotkin belts it out with raw, palpable feeling—but she never overdoes it. Alongside Rob Wrong’s titanic guitar sludge and a thunderous rhythm section, she often sounds like another instrument. Plotkin knows when to lay back and when to detonate.

Since joining in 2009, Plotkin and Witch Mountain have played with doom gods like Pentagram, High on Fire, Spirit Caravan, Electric Wizard, YOB, Weedeater, Eyehategod, and Blue Öyster Cult. The band’s sophomore album, South of Salem, was awarded the “#4 Best Metal Album of 2011” by NPR. What does National Public Radio know about metal? Let’s just say that you’ve never truly partied until doing knife-hits and whippits with Terry Gross backstage at a Saint Vitus show. Seriously though, NPR aptly described Wrong’s guitar playing: “…[His] riffs want to bore into your skull, crack open a beer and make you a lifer.”

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The Bay Area’s go-to pedal-steel man cuts smoldering, J.J. Cale-style grooves on his new pawnshop-gear-powered album.

If you’ve seen any number of rootsy San Francisco bands since the late ’90s, there’s a good chance Tom Heyman was in one of them. He’s usually the first on the go-to list when anyone in Northern California needs accompaniment from a top-shelf pedal-steel player—or if you need someone to help arrange your sprawling soul review. He’ll even bring his guitar along and play the rhythm and lead parts of two guys. Heyman has played and/or recorded with folks like John Doe, Paula Frazer, John Vanderslice, Girls, Bart Davenport, David Dondero, Mojo Nixon, Chuck Prophet, the Court & Spark and Penelope Houston (to name a few).

Heyman’s own material resonates with the rich tones of a guy who knows what sounds best in front of a microphone. His bourbon baritone voice is weathered, sometimes breaking up with the angst of a brewing bar fight, other times whisper-singing with the weary hiss of a guy who won the very brawl he tried to stop in the first place. Heyman’s knack for penning arresting narratives is shoehorned somewhere between the darker corners of Gordon Lightfoot and the boiler room of Mark Lanegan. His 2005 album, Deliver Me, was championed in British music magazines MOJO and Uncut, landing a handful of his songs on soundtracks to television shows such as True Blood, Justified, and Damages.

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