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Originally published Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 5:30 AM

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James Mercer of the Shins in fine form on 'Port of Morrow'

Fans of the Shins who fretted that the band's personnel shake-up might negatively affect his new album needn't worry. "Port of Morrow" is an extraordinary new collection, says Seattle Times music blogger Gene Stout. Other new releases this week of Tuesday, March 20, include jazz pianist Brad Mehldau's "Ode"; Portland bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding's "Radio Music Society"; and a collection of music from the upcoming film of the futuristic trilogy "The Hunger Games."

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The Shins, 'Port Of Morrow' (Columbia)

Fans of the Shins, the Portland-based alternative-rock band led by James Mercer, often use superlatives when discussing the band's beautifully textured, intensely introspective music. If you had any fears that Mercer lost his mojo in the five years since "Wincing the Night Away," they should evaporate after listening to "Port of Morrow," an extraordinary new collection of songs.

There were reasons for concern. Mercer had bid adieu to his original bandmates and assembled a new lineup for the album. And life had changed in another dramatic way for Mercer: he now has two young daughters with wife Marisa Kula, a former music writer.

Perhaps family life has had a calming effect. "Port of Morrow" exudes less angst and more loving vibes than "Wincing the Night Away."

The album should thrill longtime fans yearning for the classic sound of the 2003 album "Chutes Too Narrow" (check out "September" and the gorgeous "40 Mark Strasse"), as well as those ready for something different.

In the latter department, "The Rifle's Spiral" features dense layers of sound (some weird and otherworldly) that make you want to get up and dance.

Gene Stout,

Special to The Seattle Times

Other new releases

Brad Mehldau, "Ode" (Nonesuch)

Esperanza Spalding, "Radio Music Society" (Heads Up)

Various Artists, "The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 and Beyond" (Republic)

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