Year-End Close-Out

We've got 1998's best albums in stock, but they're going fast.

COUNTRY
Vern Gosdin
The Voice
(BTM Records)

During the dog days of the Seventies and Eighties, Gosdin stood in opposition to the Alabamas of the world by singing the truest country songs he could write or find. Nashville's short memory has forced him to take the independent-label route, but on The Voice, produced by Barry Beckett, he still sounds sublime. It's great to hear him again.

The Mavericks
Trampoline
(MCA)

"Dance the Night Away," this album's first song, starts out with a blast of horns and a Tex-Mex melody that's a warning to expect the unexpected. The rest of the recording delivers on this promise, nervily bounding from style to style. Trampoline doesn't play by the rules, and thank goodness for that.

Moonshine Willy
Bastard Child
(Bloodshot)

Had commercial C&W not degenerated so severely, there would have been no need to invent the term "insurgent country" to describe the music of this frisky Chicago band and its Bloodshot brethren. But since it has, be grateful that groups like this one are keeping the spirit of the genre's founders burning so brightly.

Willie Nelson
Teatro
(Island)

By putting himself in the hands of Daniel Lanois, a producer not known for keeping his distance, Nelson left himself open to complaints from longtime fans who want him to keep making the same record until he's in the grave. Fortunately, he ignored such entreaties. Lanois's swampy settings on Teatro are prominent, but they allow enthusiasts to gain a new perspective on an artist who most people probably figured had surprised them for the last time.

Dwight Yoakam
A Long Way Home
(Reprise)

Dismiss this California cowboy and fledgling actor at your peril. A Long Way Home figuratively finds Yoakam back in Bakersfield with a passel of grade-A compositions that fits his high, lonesome pipes like a pair of those shrink-wrapped leather pants he loves to wear. The disc avoids the pitfalls that claim most Nineties hat-wearers by embracing country classicism--and by reveling in twanginess rather than apologizing for it.

DJs
DeeJay Punk-Roc
Chicken Eye
(Independiente)

The secret weapon of the Korn "Family Values" tour, Punk-Roc is a turntable wildman who's more interested in blowing people away than in tantalizing them with discreet charm. While a few of the morsels on Chicken Eye don't quite roar out of the speakers, the primest cuts are relentless beat monsters with a passion for blood. Everybody loves a Punk-Roc party, 'cuz a Punk-Roc party don't stop.

Dimitri From Paris
Sacrebleu
(Atlantic)

Sacrebleu is lounge music with machine-driven beats, cosmopolitan flair and a cheeky attitude that stops just this side of novelty. Songs such as "Reveries" move at a lazy gait that may foil dancers, but wallflowers will revel in the atmosphere, which twins sophistication and silliness. The perfect soundtrack for the modern Francophile.

DJ Spooky
Riddim Warfare
(Outpost)

When he's under the DJ Spooky umbrella, Paul Miller (who subtitles himself "That Subliminal Kid") isn't bound by the physical laws that govern musical mortals. Riddim Warfare uses hip-hop, DJ stunt work and classical constructs to break through genre boundaries that lesser artists have been unable to crack. It's not often that an album actually nudges the art of music forward. This one does.

Mix Master Mike
Anti-Theft Device
(Asphodel)

One of the Invisibl Skratch Picklz, Mike popped up on the mainstream's radar screen this year via his participation in the Beastie Boys' summertime jaunt, but he's too adept on the wheels of steel to be typecast as a supporting player. Anti-Theft Device is a thrilling melange that sounds like pop culture run amok: Selected snippets run the gamut from Dr. Evil to Grandmaster Flash. If there's a better turnta-blist on the scene than Mix Master Mike, let him speak now or forever hold his peace.

Wink
Here Hear
(Columbia)

Josh Wink is a dance-world celeb, in part because he's able to innovate in an extremely accessible way. He's as adept at subtlety of the sort that accents "Back in Tha' Day" as he is with the edgier moods of "Black Bomb (Jerry in the Bag)," which turns on the guest effusiveness of Trent Reznor. Here Hear is both a fine introduction for scene novices and a veritable banquet for vets.

ELECTRONIC
Lord Runningclam
Fun for the Whole Family
(Moonshine/Bottom Heavy)

David de Laski, aka the Lord, is a man who knows his way around a sampler, but what separates him from other knob-twisters are his good ideas--like his decision to borrow the dulcet tones of Ken Nordine for "Faces in the Night" and "Fibberty Jib" and his insertion of a clip from Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex...But Were Afraid to Ask into "Sweet Little Hats." These efforts and others are cool, witty and alluring.

Madonna
Ray of Light
(Maverick/Warner Bros.)

The key to successful trend-hopping is to choose a style that's compatible, not contradictory. Madonna's dalliance with electronica, represented here by co-producer William Orbit, follows this formula to perfection. Orbit's sounds lend gravity to her more serious offerings even as they add bracing beats to dance-floor raveups that are more effective than any she's conceived this decade.

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