The new album from the northeast-Iowa blues duo Joe & Vicki Price is called Night Owls, and the cartoonish cover art (by Vicki) features five literally skeletal figures (including a man and woman each with a guitar and amp).

The title couldn't be more appropriate, as the 10-track collection of originals often has the casual feel of a post-midnight jam - intimate, a little on the sleepy side, wholly devoid of self-consciousness. Just two people performing with their guitars, voices, and feet.

The sound is similarly straightforward, unadorned, and unfussy, and some tunes feel so dusty that they're only missing the pops, crackles, and hisses of neglected vinyl or degraded tape. Even though the album was recorded in Nashville, the production is largely (and intentionally) artless.

Yet despite the cheeky cover illustration and lightly electrified tunes that might as well be 60 years old, there's a real vitality in the duo's songs (written, with the exception of "Bones," separately) - and the recordings. The bare-bones (sorry!) instrumentation and the choices in style and singing are employed with rigor, and the more you listen to the album, the more it's apparent how carefully constructed it is.

Joanne Shaw TaylorThe striking thing initially about Joanne Shaw Taylor's debut record, White Sugar, is a voice that has the soul and wisdom that only experience can provide. Decades of experience.

With an introduction like that, it's not surprising that she's only 23, but even though she lacks the requisite years, she has a startling maturity. Despite the quadruple-novelty appeal of being a (1) young, (2) British, (3) white, and (4) female blues guitarist and singer, Taylor has taken her time getting to this point.

Joe & Vicki Price

The phrase "hornets' nest" is usually employed as a metaphor, and it is in the lead track from Joe Price's new record, Rain Or Shine. But the origin of the song called "Hornet's Nest" is quite literal.

"I realized that it was time to start writing some words to some of these grooves," Price said in a phone interview this week, "so I went out to the shed and ... I started playing a little groove, and the next thing I know I had hornets all around me. And they were buzzing me. ... There were hornets' nests all over the damned shed. It was the slide, the sound of the slide, that made them curious. They never did sting me."

It could have been as simple as the slide guitar, but I'd like to think it might have been something more mystical that stirred up the hornets: the energy of creation after a songwriting and recording layoff of almost a decade.