ELVIS COSTELLO North (Deutsche Grammophon)
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Elvis Costello trades in his guitar for a piano, a quartet, and a 48-piece ensemble (all conducted and arranged by the man himself) to produce 11 soft and delicate ballads. Costello’s baritone vocals — the true instrumental standout — take on classical crooning qualities in numbers like “You Turned to Me” and “When It Sings.”

SOUTH With the Tides (Kinetic)
On the follow-up to 2001’s critically acclaimed debut, From Here On In, this talented trio from the U.K. is defying the dreaded sophomore slump. Whisper-quiet vocals and smooth grooves take the Brit popsters’ proven formula a little farther, well, South.

R.E.M. In Time: Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 (Warner Bros.)
While R.E.M. has been honored with compilations before, this official best-of release covers the band’s major-label years, from 1988’s Green to 2001’s Reveal and beyond. Check out the real gems on this 18-track collection, like the brand-new, circa late-1980s sounding “Bad Day” and “Animal.”