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New recordings: Dan Auerbach, Shakira, Saint Etienne [The Philadelphia Inquirer :: BC-MUS-ALBUMS:PH]

Dan Auerbach

"Waiting on a Song"

(Warner Bros. (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK))

Even though they're a garage-blues duo, the Black Keys got big enough to sell out arenas because Dan Auerbach turned out to have a far greater facility and comfort level with pop hooks than your typical would-be blues guitar hero. The song craftsman aspect of his musical personality was emphasized to a certain extent with his 2015 side project the Arcs, but it really flourishes on this charming throwback pop record, for which Auerbach's Nashville pals John Prine and Pat McLaughlin cowrote the title track and legit guitar hero Duane Eddy dropped by for two cameos.

Some of the boppier numbers, such as the jingle-jangling "Shine on Me" and equally optimistic "Show Me" recall the casual 1980s master craftsmanship of the Traveling Wilburys and Dire Straits. (Mark Knopfler also was a guest.)

Since moving to Nashville from Akron, Ohio, in 2010, Auerbach has thrived as a songwriter and producer, with Dr. John, Lana Del Rey, Bombino, and many more. As long-time-in-coming solo albums go (Auerbach's last was "Keep It Hid" in 2009), "Waiting on a Song" doesn't play the usual confessional "this is the real me" card. Except in the sense that it does show the real Dan Auerbach doing what he does best: making pop songs.

_Dan DeLuca

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Shakira

"El Dorado"

(Sony Latin (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK))

For her first (mostly) Spanish-language album since "Sale el Sol" (2010) and first studio release since her eponymous album of 2014, Shakira sticks with the rattling, zesty percussion indigenous to her Colombian upbringing, as well as her slinky signature baritone purr of a voice. That's splendid, as Shakira's name doesn't often get included in the pantheon of top-tier female artists (Bey, Ri Ri, Katy) when clearly she's there.

What makes "El Dorado" different from more experimental works such as "Laundry Service" or loosely conceptual ones like "She Wolf" is that this one feels as though Shakira has matured, as the songs are sultrier, subtler, and usually mid-tempo. The stuttering acoustic romp of "La Bicicleta" with Carlos Vives is cool and breezy, and the electro bump of "Chantaje" costarring the cocksure Maluma simmers to a boil then bubbles over, all allowing Shakira ample room for her vocal tics and yelps, albeit at a less frenzied pace. "Coconut Tree" could be a Stevie Nicks toss off, and "Amarillo" has the click and boom of a Phil Spector girl-group hit, until a clinking piano and several cavalier swishing guitars make a (fabulous) mess of what could've become formulaic and dull.

Never fear. Shakira is never dull.

_A.D. Amorosi

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Saint Etienne

"Home Counties"

(Heavenly (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK))

In England, the home counties form the ring of suburbs around London city proper, and they were home to Sarah Cracknell, Pete Wiggs, and Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne (and many other Britpop stars). "Home Counties," Saint Etienne's ninth album, is their mixed-emotion ode to the suburban life: It plays like a mixtape, with instrumentals and BBC radio voices as interludes between a stylistic grab bag of songs.

More organic than their previous album (2012's electro-pop "Words & Music"), "Home Counties" ranges through bright northern soul with horns, loping string-kissed ballads, cinematic spoken-word reminiscences, perky new-wave synth pop, and thumping house music aimed for the dance floor. Its nostalgic songs of love and longing, ennui, and desperation cohere because of Cracknell's wistful and honeyed vocals and the trio's love for, and expertise in, pop's history.

_Steve Klinge

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