By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
The Beatles, Live at the BBC (Capitol/Apple). Yeah, the publicity for this sucker has been off-putting. But the relaxed, spontaneous, exuberant performances by these four young lads live up to much of the hyperbole.
Esquivel!, Esquivel! (Bar/None). In the land where Martin Denny is king, Esquivel! is a prince. His unusual swinging sounds, embraced by today's cocktail wannabes, are so dated that they're actually timeless.
John Fahey, The Return of the Repressed: The John Fahey Anthology (Rhino). An idiosyncratic talent, Fahey pioneered a droning, hypnotic guitar style that makes the most of every note, every strum. A downbeat triumph.
Jimi Hendrix, Blues (MCA). Practically every Hendrix album issued since the guitarist's death has been a ripoff. So imagine our surprise at the appearance of this disc, a thoughtful spotlight on Hendrix's blues playing.
Spike Jones, Musical Depreciation Revue: The Spike Jones Anthology (RCA/Rhino). Jones was an avant-gardist from the lapels of his checkered suits to the soles of his spats. Provocative comedy for the ages.
Various Artists, Brace Yourself: A Tribute to Otis Blackwell (Shanachie). Long-overdue recognition for a man whose songwriting provides much of rock's language. Guests range from Ronnie Spector to Frank Black.
Various Artists, If I Were a Carpenter (A&M). When Carpenter was conceived, it probably seemed like a pretty good joke. The surprise, then, is how intriguing many of these alternative versions of Seventies shlock are.
Various Artists, Out on the Rolling Sea: A Tribute to the Music of Joseph Spence (Green Linnet). Few sounds are as moving as those made by Spence, but this material (cut by Van Dyke Parks and others) comes close.
Various Artists, What Is Bhangra? (IRS). A worthy introduction to Bhangra, a division of dance music born in India and transformed in Britain. Thirteen songs filled with mystery and brimming with big beats.
Johnny Cash, American Recordings (American). It's hard to think of Cash as country anymore: His music is a genre all its own. "Delia's Gone" is as perverse as anything you've ever heard come out of a senior citizen.
Michael Hall, Adequate Desire (DEJADISC). Hall's wit is tinted with doom and splashed on tunes that owe as much to Neil Young as they do to Hank Williams Sr. As good a performer as he is a writer--which is very good, indeed.
The Mavericks, What a Crying Shame (MCA). The band's third album hit big at country radio, in part because compromise is part of Shame's bargain. But Raul Malo continues to live up to his own high standards.
Barry and Holly Tashian, Straw Into Gold (Rounder). A throwback to the days when duets were country's hottest commodities, the Tashians gently render thirteen lovely, and loving, C&W compositions.
Townes Van Zandt, No Deeper Blue (Sugar Hill). Van Zandt's work strikes some as too primitive, too bare--and that's exactly why it's great. No Deeper Blue finds his pen and his wisdom at their sharpest.
The Fireman, Strawberries, Oceans, Ships, Forest (Capitol). A well-disguised Paul McCartney one-off that sounds nothing like Paul McCartney. The Fireman's excursion in ambient-dance music works startlingly well.
The Grassy Knoll, The Grassy Knoll (Nettwerk). The Knoll resides in the zone between dance and ambient musics--and it's an interesting place to be. A panoply of synthesized elements fired like shots from Oswald's rifle.
Vapourspace, Themes From Vapourspace (ffrr). Patience is required to get the most out of these deliberate sonic washes, but your time will be rewarded. Like new-age music without the anti-intellectual aftertaste.
Various Artists, Platinum on Black (ffrr). Boom! Thwack! Boom! State-of-the-art boogie fodder from acts such as Utah Saints and New Order, sequenced by David Morales for your nonstop dancing pleasure.
Peter Case, Sings Like Hell (Vanguard). Like many retired new-wavers, Case was always a folkie at heart. His trek through a handful of familiar blues and folk numbers is rough-edged and heartfelt.
Iris DeMent, My Life (Warner Bros.). Indexing DeMent here rather than placing her under the C&W banner makes sense because her sensibility stretches beyond it. She has the voice--and the honesty--of a backwoods angel.
Ted Hawkins, The Next 100 Years (Geffen). You don't have to know about Hawkins's personal tales of woe: He wears them on every word he sings. Better yet, he alters them into thrilling nuggets of boardwalk art.
Ingrid Karklins, Anima Mundi (Green Linnet). Karklins is not content to simply yoke herself to the musical past. Her version of folk encompasses odd studio noises, prominent drums and a fierce inventiveness.
The Tannahill Weavers, Capernaum (Green Linnet). There's something inexplicably haunting about Celtic music when it's done right. On Capernaum, the Weavers find the style's essence and render it perfectly.
HARD ROCK/METAL Biohazard, State of the World Address (Warner Bros.). The move to a major label has done nothing to muzzle these pissed-off New Yorkers. Their synthesis of metal, rap, politics and madness is as impressive as ever.