And the Winners Are ...

Handing out the trophies for 1997's best albums.

MISCELLANEOUS

Cornershop
When I Was Born for the 7th Time
(Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)

Tjinder Singh is a musical Mixmaster: He blends rock, pop, electronica and traditional Indian sounds into a concoction that's smooth yet exhilarating. In a live setting, Cornershop has yet to find its feet, but in the studio, Singh has few peers. 7th Time is eloquent, natural and completely captivating.

Cottonmouth, Texas
Anti-Social Butterfly
(Virgin)

Butterfly is a spoken-word epic that uses modern rhythms and an undeniable restlessness to shatter the guidelines that have for so long governed poetry in performance. In a sense, Jeffrey Liles and the Decadent Dub Team are throwbacks to the beatnik era, but their accute viewpoints and dry sensibilities are utterly modern.

Lutefisk
Burn in Hell Fuckers
(Bong Load Custom Records)

In a world where most of us humans walk the straight and narrow, the lovable lugs of Lutefisk adore anarchy Yber alles. Pop, punk, art rock, psychedelia and God knows what else is skewered throughout, but Burn is not a novelty. Rather, it's proof that dangerous music can be the most entertaining kind.

Stereolab
Dots and Loops
(Elektra)

Last year's Emperor Tomato Ketchup was Stereolab's peak moment, and Dots and Loops can't top it. But in its hip, subtle way, the act's newest full-length worms its way into your brain, then lingers in the most gratifying way conceivable. Equally engaging for your heart and your head.

Jim White
Wrong-Eyed Jesus!
(Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)

Not quite country, not quite rock, Wrong-Eyed Jesus! is a dollop of musical folk art from a singer-songwriter whose eccentricities allow him to see clearly an America that most others miss. As he travels from "Book of Angels" to "The Road That Leads to Heaven," White tells tall, creepy tales that exude an offhand authority.

R&B/SOUL

Erykah Badu
Baduism
(Universal)

Badu has such an individualistic look that some people can't see past her headwrap to the artist within. That's a pity, because she is one of the true sensations of 1997, a performer who has a slinky way with a song, a beguiling vision, and a set of pipes for the ages. The antidote to the Whitney and Mariah blues.

God's Property
God's Property, From Kirk Franklin's Nu Nation
(B-Rite Music)

The blandness of the contemporary-Christian genre in general only makes God's Property seem like that much more of an achievement by comparison. Franklin's use of hip-hop and soul elements is so canny that both fellow disciples and unrepentant sinners will enjoy walking with him on the road to heaven.

The Holmes Brothers
Promised Land
(Rounder)

It's no insult to say that Promised Land sounds as if it could have been made during the Sixties. Like the vintage shouters who no doubt inspired them, Sherman and Wendell Holmes, along with Popsy Dixon, get to the meat of every song with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of unadulterated soul power.

Kyle Jason
Generations
(Columbia)

Jason has a sure knowledge of rhythm and blues and funk; his collaborations with Bootsy Collins offer confirmation of that. But instead of pouring this wisdom into smooch songs, as do many of his colleagues, he's whipped up a musical suite that takes the pulse of the city without collapsing under the usual stereotypes.

Mark Morrison
Return of the Mack
(Atlantic)

There's plenty of posturing on Return of the Mack, but Morrison pulls it off. Since he's a man who obviously thinks with his pelvis, he concentrates on seduction, and his one-dimensionality pays dividends: "Let's Get Down," "Moan and Groan" and "Horny" could probably inspire even Tipper Gore to make a booty call.

REGGAE/WORLDBEAT

Susana Baca
Susana Baca
(Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)

Recorded in Peru, Baca's songs are very much a product of South America. But her poetic lyrics travel well: The opener, whose title translates to "Pretentious Black Girl," embodies the tricky balance she strikes between the cosmopolitan and the eternal.

Vinicius Cantuaria
Sol Na Cara
(Gramavision)

Brazilian music can be extremely raucous or it can be as tender as a mother's kiss. Cantuaria takes the latter tack, wrapping sambas and the like in pristine guitar strums. His gentle vocalizing is so spellbindingly voluptuous that you don't need the English translations the CD jacket provides to understand what he means.

Susu Bilibi
Dziwo Nefa
(CrossCurrents Music)

This group hails from the West African nation of Togo, but its sound exhibits enough European influence to make it immediately accessible to virtually anyone. The sextet specializes in sunny melodies, bottomless harmonies and percussion that will shoo away every dark spirit in your life.

Alfredo Rodriguez
Cuba Linda
(Hannibal/Root Jazz)

The vigorous musical traits that echo through the aforementioned I Am Time box can also be found in smaller packages--like, for instance, this brassy rouser. Rodriguez is a Cuban exile who returned to his homeland for the first time in many years to make Cuba Linda, and his joy at doing so can be heard in every note.

Michael Rose
Dance Wicked
(Heartbeat)

Rose has had difficulty making music on his own that's as indelible as his work with Black Uhuru, but he's been getting closer over the past several years. Dance Wicked is a big step in the right direction; it recalls his Black Uhuru days without aping them. A companion disc, Dub Wicked, pairs up nicely with it.

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