Stace England's concept album about his Illinois hometown, Greetings from Cairo, represents, along with similar efforts by Sufjan Stevens, a new twist--the geopolitical concept album. England, who formerly led outfits like House Afire and Tecumseh, gets to the heart of the civil war and other horrors, and darned if his "Grant Slept Here," a profile of the war hero-cum-president, doesn't rock the rafters. "War was hell, but good for business," England sings. Others, like "Equal Opportunity Lynch Mob," shine plenty of light on graft and racism's blight, while "Jesse's Comin' to Town," about Rev. Jackson's Cairo 1969 visit in support of blacks' boycott of downtown business' racist hiring practices, drags the story into modern times. Jason Ringenberg pitches in on a stomping, storming Guthrie-esque rocker, "Prosperity Train" (as in "the prosperity train ain't stopping here anymore"). All in all, think Johnny Horton's 1959 classic Johnny Horton Makes History, gussied up for postmodern times, and retooled for the 21st century.

--Luke Torn