The Hillmen, The Hillmen: Chris Hillman, Vern Gosdin, Rex Gosdin, Don Parmley
Before he was a member of the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers or the Desert Rose Band, Chris Hillman was part of the Hillmen, which also featured future country star Vern Gosdin. But this gathering of recordings from the early Sixties isn't only of historical curiosity: These country and bluegrass dollops, later echoed by country rockers, brim with a California innocence that's now long gone.

Ennio Morricone, The Ennio Morricone Anthology: A Fistful of Film Music
Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns made a star of Clint Eastwood, but they wouldn't be nearly so memorable were it not for Morricone, whose creepy rock-hybrid scores create a mood just as effectively as does Leone's camera. A lot of Morricone's other soundtrack efforts are excerpted on Anthology as well, but his earliest accomplishments are the ones that will linger in your skull.

The Stanley Brothers, Angel Band: The Classic Mercury Recordings
Bluegrass neophytes who stopped exploring the style after discovering Bill Monroe are hereby advised to lend an ear to the Stanleys, Ralph and Carter--Virginia natives whose songs simultaneously elicit bottomless grief and tremendous endurance. Eighteen sparkling airs that never go sour.

The Treniers, They Rock! They Roll! They Swing! The Best of the Treniers
Insanity on a platter. The Treniers, fronted by a set of twins, worked in the Fifties, when their wild pre-rock and obsession with the horizontal mambo packed a considerable punch. But their outrageousness has an eternal quality about it, too. They emit enough energy to keep you going until the dawn's early light.

Various Artists, Afro Peruvian Classics: The Soul of Black Peru
It was a mistake for co-compiler David Byrne to include his sashay through the song "Maria Lando" here; Susana Baca's variation, which kicks off Black Peru, is infinitely more erotic and indelible. But this choice was Byrne's only misstep. The remainder of the album is a tantalizing joy--an invitation to dance, to embrace, to sing, to smile.

Various Artists, Dead Presidents: Music From the Motion Picture
The movie didn't last long, but its soundtrack holds up very well. A groovy flock of ditties from the Superfly era, Dead Presidents gathers Sly & the Family Stone, James Brown, Barry White, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the Dramatics, the O'Jays and, of course, Curtis Mayfield to remind us of the heights soul/R&B can reach.

Various Artists, Desperado: The Soundtrack
On the surface, this is just another souvenir from a cinematic stiff. But Desperado, like the companion disc to Pulp Fiction before it, isn't satisfied with merely separating ticket-buyers from more of their cash. The songs, by Los Lobos, Link Wray, the Latin Playboys, Carlos Santana and others, evoke an atmosphere of sultry menace enhanced by dialogue snippets that work whether you've seen the flick or not.

Various Artists, Harthouse--Axis of Vision
Trance/dance is a particularly fertile realm right now, and Harthouse rounds up two discs of prime specimens. You may not have heard of these artists--Marco Zaffarano, Spicelab, Curare, Progressive Attack, Cybordelics--but as illustrated by these ditties, they're hanging ten on the leading edge of electronic music.

Various Artists, The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead
As is obvious from its moniker, Roots is directed at mourning Deadheads. But a fondness for "Shakedown Street" isn't a requirement to relish this bevy of selections by mainly American artists. Any CD that features Marty Robbins, Charlie Patton, Buddy Holly and Joseph Spense has loads going for it.

Guy Clark, Dublin Blues
Clark has always earned well-deserved plaudits for his songwriting; on Dublin Blues, his tunes--like "Baby Took a Limo to Memphis" and "The Randall Knife"--sneak up on you when you least expect it. But he's also a striking, reliable singer with a knack for knowing just how much or how little ornamentation the pieces need.

Michael Fracasso,When I Lived in the Wild
Denver-based Bohemia Beat gets more mileage out of Jimmy LaFave, but Fracasso is just as nice a find; he's an Austin performer with a lilting tenor and an aptitude for penning vivid, chiming melodies. Just as impressive, he shades his vocals with a poignancy that's both haunting and deeply felt.

Jim Lauderdale, Every Second Counts
The type of artist perpetually doomed to be overlooked, Lauderdale nevertheless is a sharp, literate songwriter whose forays into rock enhance his twangy sensibilities. He's not doctrinaire, which hurts him financially, but "Always on the Outside," penned with Nick Lowe, shows that country is a bigger tent than most people assume.

Moonshine Willy, Pecadores
The signee of a small Chicago company, Moonshine Willy consists of five young people who see C&W as a potent form watered down by commercial considerations and the popularity of The Nashville Network. But Pecadores is not just a response to this sad situation; it's also a jaunty listen, replete with a Louvin Brothers cover and tart originals like "Lucy & Jack" and "Case of the Flu."

John Prine, Lost Dogs + Mixed Blessings
Although he's long since transcended this label (and any other one you care to name), Prine writes songs that exhibit old-time country virtues: a love of narrative and characterization, and a wry viewpoint that can slip into sadness with the shortest notice. Lost Dogs isn't Prine's pre-eminent album, but it's another grade-A fling--and when you're talking about an artist of this quality, that's good enough.

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