Trombone Shorty

Troy Andrews got his nickname as a child when his namesake musical instrument was taller than he was. Now in his mid-20s, Trombone Shorty, who also plays the trumpet, appears poised to be the next musical star to emerge from New Orleans - more specifically the Treme section. (He even played himself in the HBO series


.) His first major-label album shows what the fuss is about:


builds on the Crescent City's rich traditions of R&B and funk. The venerable Allen Toussaint plays piano on a remake of his ballad "On Your Way Down," the album's only non-original - and they give it a sleek update that doesn't gloss over its essential character. If there's a fault, it's that Shorty, at times, seems a bit restrained. No doubt that will not be an issue at this New Year's Eve show.

- Nick Cristiano

Carrie Underwood

American Idol

promises to focus its 10th year on the contestants when it restarts itself in January. That's fantastic, because the last winner who mattered was Carrie Underwood. And not just in terms of moving units. (Since her Season Four win, Underwood has become the most successful


victor in the United States, with album sales of more than 12 million.) No winners after her have had even the slightest personal signature on what they do. The crowning of


-dom and even the multiplatinum success of

Some Hearts,

Carnival Ride

, and

Play On

couldn't have won her the respect of Nashville's country-music community if Underwood didn't have juice. The Academy of Country Music Awards have given her the ACM Triple Crown Award for being the top new artist, top female vocalist, and entertainer of the year since her start. The only other female to get the Triple Crown was Barbara Mandrell. Dag, girl. The small-town singer with the big, friendly voice has chops. Besides, she cowrites her most memorable songs.

- A.D. Amorosi

Hoots and Hellmouth

With lively guitar- and bass-driven melodies about industry, farming, broken hearts, and the Brandywine River, Philadelphia's Hoots and Hellmouth have spent the last five years trying to reconnect this city with its rural roots. Using acoustic guitars, an upright bass, a mandolin, and stomping boxes, Sean Hoots, Andrew "Hellmouth" Gray, and Rob Berliner weave together melancholic ballads, heartwarming lullabies, and rousing anthems. They released their second album,

The Holy Open Secret,

last year on Drexel's MAD Dragon Records to positive reviews from fans and critics. With heavy Americana and blues influences, their twang-heavy tunes teem with earnest yelps and growls, bringing an innate joy to every song. Their appeal stretches from toddlers to parents, hipsters to old-timers, and shows encourage sing-alongs and dancing, ranging from head bobbing to square-dancing.

- Katherine Silkaitis