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Originally published Sunday, January 8, 2012 at 5:30 AM

Four overlooked albums of 2011

We look back at four gems — overlooked albums from 2011: music by Robert Ellis, rock quartet Explosions in the Sky, Deep Purple and London-raised singer Livan.

quotes Mr. Ellis, "Bombast" by Phantanima is one to add to your list. Read more

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When you cover entertainment, the music never stops. The albums come in by mail every day but Sunday and pile up in the inbox. And despite good intentions, certain albums get pushed aside, and by the time you've listened, the release date has long since passed.

Most times, you're not missing that much. But every so often, there's an album that makes your heart simultaneously skip and sink upon hearing it — it skips at how amazing the music is, and sinks when you realize that you ignored something so great for so long.

So now, we look back at a few gems — overlooked diamonds left among the zirconia piled about the desk in 2011.

Robert Ellis, "Photographs" (New West): We caught the last 10 minutes of a spirited Robert Ellis show in Nashville recently and that left us wondering how we missed it on our first spin of "Photographs"? The quiet perfection of each song. The knockout songwriting. The curator's knowledge. And the timeless voice.

All that adds up to what might be our favorite album of the 2011.

While most of his peers are honky-tonkin' and rock 'n' rollin', Ellis, a 23-year-old from Houston, steeps second album "Photographs" in a long-gone era of traditional country music. He shows an uncommon patience and displays an ageless wisdom as he earnestly reflects on the nature of loss ("Bamboo"), friendship ("Friends Like Those") and relationships ("Two Cans of Paint," "Westbound Train").

He shows subtlety in songs like the rollicking "Comin' Home," which reads as both a simple back-to-my-baby road song and a refutation of his folkie past as he puts Austin in the rearview mirror and heads back home to his roots.

Chris Talbott, AP Entertainment Writer

Explosions in the Sky, "Take Care, Take Care, Take Care" (Temporary Residence): It would have been easy to ignore Explosions in the Sky at first. The Austin, Texas-based rock quartet puts out epic stargazing instrumentals — long past the time when those kinds of things were hip. It had been four years since the group's last album and some wondered if there'd be a seventh.

Give "Take Care, Take Care, Take Care" a listen, though, and you'll find more real emotion in the wordless universe the band creates over these six songs than in much of the music you've listened to in 2011.

From the soaring opener "Last Known Surroundings" — rolling guitars over a marching drum beat does convey a sense of euphoric wandering — to the playfulness of "Be Comfortable, Creature" and the impressionistic "Let Me Back In," Explosions in the Sky create a playground for the imagination.

Chris Talbott, AP Entertainment Writer

Deep Purple with Orchestra "Live at Montreaux 2011" (Eagle Rock): It was 27 years ago that former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore brought a symphony orchestra out on tour with his successor band, Rainbow. Now, the Blackmore-less Deep Purple does likewise.

For the most part, it works well. The strings and brass give new heft to FM staples like "Knocking At Your Back Door" and "Woman From Tokyo."

They also sound fine on my favorite Purple song of all time, "Highway Star," but the track is ruined here by singer Ian Gillian's inability or unwillingness after all these decades to hit the screaming high notes of the chorus, "I LOVE it, I NEED it!" Instead, he opts for a flaccid falsetto that kills the whole buzz on what is a legendary classic rock anthem.

The orchestra lends a tender, emotional feel to a more obscure track, "When A Blind Man Cries" that shows the full potential of wedding symphonic style to classic rock bombast. Guitarist Steve Morse (previously of Kansas and The Dixie Dregs) brings his own touches and flourishes to songs Blackmore made famous, and deserves kudos for bringing something new to the party.

The concert, from the closing night of the Montreaux festival on July 16, is sold separately as a CD and a DVD.

Wayne Parry, Associated Press

Livan "Off The Grid" (Pumpkin Music): This guy is going to be huge someday.

The Greek-born, London-raised singer Livan defies easy categorization. His voice has the snarl of Johnny Rotten and the exaggerated bass of Iggy Pop. His shaved head evokes Rob Halford, and his stage presence evokes Freddie Mercury, clad one night in hot pink spandex and combat boots, the next in a leather fringed kilt.

And he rocks.

Livan's songs run the gamut from post-punk slashing guitars to the dissonant power chords of classic 1970s rock, with just enough melody and harmony thrown in to make it commercially appealing. "Meet Me On The Other Side" is built around a two-chord riff reminiscent of Black Sabbath's self-titled track "Black Sabbath," and guitarist Will Crewdson's solo has the type of frenzied crescendo that Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen used early in his career.

The album's best track, the ferocious "Undead" pairs menacing bass and guitar lines with a seething, barely controlled rage that would have made Livan a perfect villain in a Batman movie.

Little known in this country, Livan has been wowing audiences and making a name for himself since the summer as the opening act for Alice Cooper. With those shows, he proved himself to be a breath of fresh air in a hard rock music scene desperately in need of some new excitement and a new Rock God.

Wayne Parry, Associated Press

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