The death knell for the album tolls, but the Kings of Leon can't hear it.

Maybe it's because the Followills - brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared, and their cousin Matthew - are playing their old Black Oak Arkansas LPs too loud.

Or maybe it's just that Because of the Times (RCA ***½), which comes out today, required a singular focus on the part of the Followills, who named their third and best CD after a Southern minister's confab they attended as kids while traveling with their Pentecostal preacher father (whose first name is, yes, Leon).

Whatever the motivation, Because of the Times is the kind of record you just don't hear much anymore. It plays out more as a cohesive piece of '70s rock-inspired work than as a collection of would-be hit-single mp3s.

Not that the Kings are nostalgists: Sure, their backwoods Southern roots mean that echoes of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and, for that matter, ZZ Top course through their moonshine boogie. But there's a back-alley, punk-rock edge to the band's jagged attack that leaped to attention on Aha Shake Heartbreak in 2005 and stretches out most satisfyingly here.

The album starts with the seven-minute tale of a shotgun romance whose title, "Knocked Up," gets straight to the point, even though the song takes its sweet time thumping and yelping its way to peak intensity. Caleb Followill is a sui generis singer whose nobody-but-myself-to-blame women woes lead him to scream convulsively on "Charmer" and burst into fits of ecstasy on "Camaro," as the band pulls off the difficult task of achieving its near-experimental ambitions without sacrificing raw power.

The Kings of Leon play the Electric Factory on June 7. That seems like a long time to wait.

nolead begins Hilary Duff
nolead ends nolead begins Dignity
nolead ends nolead begins (Hollywood ***)

nolead ends Hearing a tween-pop shill like Duff shouting about dignity may seem as oxymoronic as . . . well, actually, that may be just outside the irony box. All singing celebutantes - Paris, Lindsay - are devoid of decorum. But give Duff credit. The ex-Lizzie McGuire not only made credible kid-pop fare prior to Dignity. Duff has also found a way to set the dizzy diaries of this 20-year-old girl to thumping, melodic electro-pop (you can thank collaborator Kara DioGuardi for everything from Erasure references to sweet tunes like "Never Stop") without sounding old beyond her years.

Sure, she's gossip-fodder - bad bust-ups with Good Charlotte's Joel Madden, ruined friendships with the Cat Pack (Britney, et al.). But Duff manages to get inside whiny emotionalism without sounding too ditzy.

Duff sets a groovy stage for post-romance sadness and disgust with the Bollywood slink of "Stranger," and the robo-disco clink of "Danger." But on the icy "Dignity" she spits oh-snap!-style venom at self-important buds. "It's not news when you're looking your best /

C'mon, c'mon give it a rest," she sings, through a spidery guitar-fueled sound.

Duff's take on the Hollywood Hills isn't as arch, dark or literate as Bruce Wagner. But, hey, give her time.

- A.D. Amorosi

nolead begins Fountains of Wayne
nolead ends nolead begins Traffic and Weather
nolead ends nolead begins (Virgin **½)

nolead ends There's no question that Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood remain two of the canniest craftsmen in pop, but on Traffic and Weather the Fountains of Wayne songwriters fall short on inspiration and fall back too frequently on cleverness and name-brand name-dropping. It's not just that there's nothing as truly fabulous as the giddy Cars rip-off "Stacey's Mom." There's also nothing as offhandedly profound as "All Kinds of Time" (both from their 2003 breakout Welcome Interstate Managers).

This time around, the suburban storytellers sound listless on the cute "Revolving Dora" and brain-addled on "Planet of Weed," which is, like, totally lame. These guys are so skilled at what they do that even when they're not hitting the bull's-eye, they can be engaging. And that's the case with the country-road song "Fire in the Canyon" and the romances "Traffic and Weather" and "Yolanda Hayes," which take place on a TV news set and in line at the DMV, respectively. But for lovers of deliciously witty power pop, this is a letdown.

nolead begins Anthony Hamilton
nolead ends nolead begins Southern Comfort
nolead ends nolead begins (Merovingian ***)

nolead ends North Carolina's Anthony Hamilton sings adult love songs, cherishes family, and discusses politics rather than duplicating today's popular radio-rotating tales of lust, sex and adultery. Technically speaking, Southern Comfort is the platinum-selling soul singer's fifth album on as many record labels.

With his latest effort, the former backup singer for D'Angelo, Tupac and Eve tackles the sweetness of being smitten on "Fallin in Love Again" while channeling his church roots on the gospel-inflected "Please." "Magnolia's Room" delivers the good-time nostalgia of anticipating the arrival of an old friend. Comparisons to Bobby Womack, Bill Withers and Marvin Gaye aside, Hamilton holds court in a messy musical climate with a grace and presence that are definitely a thing of the past.

- Ainé Ardron-Doley