Chris Cain, Somewhere Along the Way
Cain is a new-breed bluesman--the type of guy who doesn't feel uncomfortable donning a suit and tie. But he's also a brawny arranger with a supple guitar style, a strange, singular voice and an ability to instill his soloing with natural soulfulness.

CeDell Davis, The Best of CeDell Davis
(Fat Possum/Capricorn)

You learn everything you need to know about Davis from the titles of his songs: "My Dog Won't Stay Home," "Keep Your Mouth Closed, Baby," "Broke and Hungry." In short, Davis delves into the elemental nature of the blues without prettifying it. He believes that the blues don't need any gussying up--and he's absolutely right.

Junior Kimbrough, All Night Long
Blues archivist/journalist Robert Palmer was behind the boards for All Night Long, and he knew what he wanted: a spare, ominous backdrop against which Kimbrough could holler and lament. His singlemindedness helps infuse Night with a backwoods aura that's become all too rare.

BOXED SETS John Coltrane, The Heavyweight Champion, John Coltrane: The Complete Atlantic Recordings

Coltrane has been among the non-living for nearly three decades now, but his work for Atlantic continues to hold sway over jazz as we know it. The young lions may be able to ape his playing, but they can't match the spirit of Coltrane's dynamic tone.

Miles Davis, The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel, 1965
At first this seems like overkill: seven sets from the same engagement, featuring the same general repertoire and the same band. But the band is exceptional (Davis is joined by Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams), the song list stellar, and the improvisational skills that mark the performances anything but redundant.

Marvin Gaye, The Master, 1961-1984
With Stevie Wonder, Gaye was Motown's most idiosyncratic talent, and after dipping into these four discs, you'll be astounded at the breadth of his oeuvre. All the familiar favorites are on display, but what thrill most are the surprises, such as a rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" (from the 1983 NBA All-Star game) that turns the nation's anthem into sensual makeout music.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Playback
When Petty first emerged from the Everglades, he came across more as imitator than inventor, but as the years have passed, he's proven himself to be a performer whose traditionalism is tempered by wit and rough-hewn savoir faire. This astute career overview sports three discs of hits and favorites supplemented by three more that feature early demos, live tracks and colorful bric-a-brac.

Various Artists, Blues, Boogie, & Bop: The 1940s Mercury Sessions
The packaging here is an effective come-on: The seven Sessions discs are enclosed within a plastic container shaped like a vintage radio. But even better than the cleverness of the art design is the music--effervescent intoxicants from Albert Ammons, Helen Humes, Jay McShann, Eddie Vinson, Roy Byrd and other practitioners of the sound that fomented rock and roll.

Various Artists, Def Jam Music Group 10th Year Anniversary
Flash back with us now to the days when hip-hop was still fresh and Def Jam was among the few places to find it. A thrilling covey of classics and obscurities by acts that first broke the ground (LL Cool J, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys) and those that followed in their footsteps (Warren G, Method Man).

Various Artists, Hi Times: The Hi Records R&B Years
If the Hi imprint had given us no one other than Al Green, it would have been an important soul force. But in addition to Green's most glorious creations, Hi put out pieces by Ann Peebles, O.V. Wright and other estimable artists and became associated with a spare sound that can't be duplicated. Three discs full of love and happiness.

Various Artists, That's Entertainment! The Ultimate Anthology of MGM Musicals
This set's subtitle is no idle boast. The six platters collect the cream of the MGM archives, all carefully mastered to obtain maximum clarity of sound. Over ninety films (from An American in Paris to Ziegfeld Girl) are represented, making Entertainment! a movie buff's dream come true.

Various Artists, The Wizard of Oz: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Deluxe Edition

Another sensation from the MGM vaults, this soundtrack is the most complete edition of tunes from Oz yet assembled: It includes background orchestration and songs that didn't make the pic's final cut. Add to that a booklet chockablock with vintage photos and behind-the-scenes chatter and you've got something every bit as prizeworthy as ruby slippers.

The Velvet Underground, Peel Slowly and See
Sure, this music has been influential; perhaps only the Beatles spawned as many copycats as the Velvets. But the five CDs' worth of wonders that make up Peel Slowly succeed because their capacity to incite, persuade and motivate is as potent now as it was at the time of their late-Sixties birth.

The Band, Live at Watkins Glen
Recorded at a massive but practically forgotten 1973 festival in New York state, Live catches the Band as it really was; there's none of the self-consciousness that marked 1972's Rock of Ages and 1976's The Last Waltz. Relaxed and real, "Endless Highway," "Back to Memphis" and "Don't Ya Tell Henry" are a blast from the past.

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