The year 2001 produced its share of catastrophes: major terrorist campaigns in D.C. and New York, a widespread anthrax scare -- and J. Lo's solo debut. Fortunately, there's plenty worth remembering about the first official year of the new millennium, as artists of every genre proved that music still matters, maybe now more than ever. Despite something a young Bob Dylan once said, sometimes you should look back.


Norman Blake
Flower From the Fields of Alabama (Shanachie)
Another gem from the great singer and guitarist Norman Blake, whose career received a well-deserved boost when he appeared on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Flower is a typically eclectic collection of such Southern musical delights as "Salty Dog," "Sitting on Top of the World" and "If We Never Meet Again (This Side of Heaven)." The 63-year-old Blake sings them all in his plaintive, out-of-the-past voice. This is American roots music at its best. -- David Hill

Rodney Crowell
The Houston Kid
(Sugar Hill)
For many years, Rodney Crowell was among the most literate singer-songwriters working in the Nashville idiom. But because literacy is no longer in vogue at the major labels that control commercial C&W, he's now plying his trade on an independent level. This shift in status has done nothing to undermine his skills, however. The Houston Kid is among Crowell's most moving and finely detailed pieces. -- Michael Roberts

Bob Dylan
Love and Theft
Time Out of Mind, which earned a Grammy as 1997's best album, is one of the most overrated platters in the Dylan library; in the wake of a serious illness that threatened to silence the Voice of His Generation, the long-player's exhaustion was interpreted as profundity. But its reception has clearly energized Dylan, who sounds livelier on Love and Theft than he has in ages. In comparison with Mind, the new CD's language is sharper, its observations keener, its music more varied. Ol' Bob still has a lot of life left in him. -- Roberts

Robbie Fulks
13 Hillbilly Giants
A beer-soaked, tear-stained tour through Fulks's record collection, 13 Hillbilly Giants finds the Texas troubador covering songs by some of his favorite country singers, including Bill Anderson ("Cocktails"), Wynn Stewart ("Donna on My Mind"), Jean Shepard ("Act Like a Married Man") and Hylo Brown ("Bury the Bottle With Me"). As Fulks opines in the liner notes, "Their songs don't flinch before despair, self-loathing, God, sex and its discontents, insane happiness, or plain insanity." If you think Garth Brooks is a pansy, 13 Hillbilly Giants is for you. -- Hill

Merle Haggard
Roots Volume 1
Recorded live in Haggard's living room with the singer's crack band, Roots is a quirky but heartfelt tribute to country music's last great era, before rock and roll changed things forever. The Hag, his buttery voice in fine form, sings five songs written by his hero Lefty Frizzell, who in 1953 invited a sixteen-year-old Haggard on stage to sing a song at the Rainbow Gardens in Bakersfield, California. With additional numbers by Hank Thompson, Hank Williams and Haggard himself, Roots is a retro-country delight. -- Hill

Joni Harms
After All
(Real West)
Western swing is tough to pull off in this day and age: Acts attempting to catch its innocence and naiveté can easily miss the mark and wind up sounding either too coy or overly campy. Joni Harms avoids both of these traps through simple sincerity and the lightest of touches. On ditties such as "Weakness for Cowboys" and "Ay Yi Yi Yi," with its merry mariachi horns, her crooning is as airy and refreshing as a cool breeze on a humid summer night. -- Roberts

Kelly Hogan
Because It Feels Good
Kelly Hogan calls her album "a tender bummer makeout record," and that just about captures it. The songs are an eclectic lot, having been penned by tunesmiths ranging from Charlie Rich to Smog's Will Callahan, but Hogan and a gaggle of cohorts including Andrew Bird give them a cohesive feel. And then there's Hogan's throaty voice, which is capable of evoking heartbreak at the drop of a note. Spin this when you're in the doldrums -- because it feels good. -- Roberts

Patty Loveless
Mountain Soul
A superb collection of traditional and contemporary bluegrass songs, Mountain Soul soars above the blander-than-bland "product" coming out of Nashville these days. The Kentucky-born Loveless sings with a chill-inducing purity that's all but disappeared from country music. No wonder bluegrass is enjoying a renaissance these days: Where else can you still hear honest, sometimes scary songs about love and loneliness, sin and redemption -- and drinking? -- Hill

Buddy and Julie Miller
Buddy and Julie Miller
On their first official album as a couple, the shamefully overlooked Buddy and Julie Miller take us down love's lost highway, where trouble's always waiting around the bend. It's a ride worth taking, though. Buddy, who plays guitar for Emmylou Harris, has released three critically acclaimed albums, all of them masterpieces of country soul. (Think Hank Williams meets Otis Redding.) His wife, Julie, is a top-notch songwriter whose girlish voice is an acquired taste. Together they sound like George and Tammy gone alt-country. -- Hill

Chad Rex & the Victorstands
Songs to Fix Angels
(Mars Motors)
Steve Earle meets Hüsker Dü? That's a fair description of this stunning debut from Chad Rex and his Kansas City mates. On its softer side, Songs to Fix Angels sports acoustic country rockers as good as any from the No Depression camp. But the disc reaches heaven on its blistering rural raveups. Rex's tight corn-crunchers are highlighted by his Bob Mould guitar tone, 200-proof solos and lyrics rife with fresh images and flair. -- Marty Jones

(Lost Highway)

Ryan Adams
(Lost Highway)
hiskeytown, the North Carolina-based alt-country band, had long since broken up by the time Pneumonia finally appeared, three years after it was recorded. It's a solid final effort, with gorgeous, pop-oriented songs by frontman Ryan Adams, who went solo last year with the critically acclaimed Heartbreaker. The rock-driven Gold is even better. Adams wears his '70s musical influences proudly: "Answering Bell" evokes "Moondance"-era Van Morrison; "The Rescue Blues," with its Keith Richards-style guitar licks and church-choir background vocals, channels Exile on Main Street. But Adams is no slavish imitator; he's a gifted singer-songwriter with a flair for hook-driven material. Hey, someone's gotta fill Neil Young's shoes. -- Hill

Redd Volkaert
No Stranger to a Tele
(Hightone Records)
The Hightone label is among the last defenders of the true country flame, and the class of albums it puts out is first-rate, which makes singling out one of its artists for praise a difficult proposition. But the nod goes to Volkaert, a guitarist who's supported the likes of Merle Haggard. The Tele of the title is a Telecaster, and Volkaert strokes his with flair on stinging instrumentals and vocal numbers such as "Before She Made Me Crawl." -- Roberts


R.L. Burnside
Burnside on Burnside
R.L. Burnside sings and rocks the body electric, rolling into a couple of makeshift juke joints in Portland and San Francisco and proceeding to knock them on their asses. This live gem finds the Yoda of the South conjuring some sweet voodoo, accompanied only by guitarist Kenny Brown and grandson/drummer Cedric. "Snake Drive" alone has enough primordial juice to induce fans to start speaking in tongues. Burnside even stops to tell the same three-minute joke he tells at every show. It's still funny, and he's still the man. -- Laura Bond

Debbie Davies
Love the Game
Good-time blues sounds like a contradiction in terms, and it can easily devolve into music for tourists that's got only the most tenuous connection to its heritage. But when it's done right, the form is entertaining enough to overcome such reservations -- and on Love the Game, Debbie Davies's fiery leads and tough-and-tender belting, properly presented by producer Duke Robillard, are done right. This Game's a winner. -- Roberts

The Holmes Brothers
Speaking in Tongues
When word leaked out that vocalist Joan Osborne would be producing a CD for the Brothers Holmes, blues purists panicked, and when they discovered that the first track on Speaking in Tongues was penned by Ben Harper, their anxiety only increased. But the Harper tune, "Homeless Child," is brilliantly rendered, and the dozen bluesy, soulful spirituals that follow are equally persuasive. Kudos to Osborne for doing justice to this treasured trio. -- Roberts

Robert Pete Williams
Robert Pete Williams
(Fat Possum)
The Fat Possum imprint specializes in spare, gutbucket blues, and the music made by Robert Pete Williams, who died in 1980, fits that description like the late Earl Anthony's fingers fit a bowling ball. This robust disc, cut in 1971, is as rural as it can be: A rooster can be heard crowing in the background of "Farm Blues," and it's a good bet that the bird in question didn't have to make an appointment to overdub his part. -- Roberts


Various Artists
Avalon Blues: A Tribute to the Music of Mississippi John Hurt
The stellar Avalon Blues collection finds the luminaries of blues and alt-country covering one of the most influential, innovative bluesmen of the second half of the century. Hurt's warm, friendly blues shine through in these adoring performances. Refreshingly, the artists (including Beck, an unlikely blues coverer) manage to make the songs sound like their own. -- Kurt Brighton

Various Artists
Better Than the Beatles: A Tribute to the Shaggs
(Animal World)
On Better Than the Beatles, Denver label Animal World helps teach the world about the Shaggs, a technically terrible band of sisters who recorded one album in 1969 before retreating into the elusive world of cult iconography. Obscure and familiar indie artists contribute their own readings of songs by the sisters Wiggins, who transcended their own skill limitations to create music with an almost accidental insight. Ida, Optiganally Yours and Thinking Fellers Union 282 are among those who join in the fun. -- Bond

Various Artists
Caf Del Mar, Volume Eight
This CD is the latest release in a growing line of recordings celebrating the softer side of dance culture. Volume Eight isn't the showiest item on this particular Café's menu, but it may be the most supple and silky, swaddling the listener in the most luxuriant sounds a studio can make. -- Roberts

Various Artists
The Ebb Records Story, Vol. 1: The Group Era, 1957-1959
The Ebb Records Story, Vol. 2: Blues N Rhythm & Rock N Roll, 1957-1959

While the music of R&B and rock greats from the late '50s is still available, efforts by obscure acts have been buried in the sands of time. The Ebb Records Story unearths songs by combos in the latter category, including largely forgotten doo-woppers and gospel harmonizers such as the Hollywood Flames and the Zion Travelers. You'll dig them. -- Roberts

Various Artists
Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture Songcatcher
Songcatcher made hardly a ripple at America's multiplexes, but this companion disc doesn't deserve the same fate. With contributions from Rosanne Cash, Iris DeMent, Julie Miller, Gillian Welch, Deana Carter and more, the album is a wonderful way to catch up with the finest female vocalists on today's roots scene. -- Roberts

Various Artists
Nude Dimensions III
(Astralwerks/Naked Music)
Since 1999, Naked Music has specialized in sensual chill-out music drawn from a wide range of dance subgenres: dub, electro, house and so on. Nude Dimensions III, the first project released under the imprint's new distribution agreement with Astralwerks, is typically gorgeous, with music from acts such as Deep Sensation and Satin Souls combining to create a wonderfully tasty blend. -- Roberts

Various Artists
Reggae Anthology: Music Works Classics
Reggae Anthology: Penthouse Classics

(VP Records)
Poor souls who think reggae begins and ends with Bob Marley will find plenty to chew on here. Music Works Classics comprises tracks recorded by producer Gussie Clarke, including the Mighty Diamonds' "Pass the Kutchie"; Penthouse Classics visits the dancehall and the bedroom in the company of Mad Cobra and more. Skank on. -- Roberts


The Anubian Lights
Naz Bar
(Crippled Dick Hot Wax!)
A musical lark, Naz Bar uses sampling and assorted gadgetry in a bid to prove that dancing and smiling aren't mutually exclusive activities. Provocateurs Tommy Grenas and Len del Rio aren't averse to parody, but their nods to lounge music and exotica betray affection, not contempt. Moreover, the production acumen they exhibit on "Smoothing Out of the Curve" and elsewhere demonstrates that while the album is a laughing matter, it's also something more. -- Roberts

Daft Punk
On Discovery, Paris's Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter are almost ridiculously eager to please: "One More Time," a well-deserved commercial breakthrough, is gleefully hedonistic, and "Superheroes" uses a Barry Manilow sample with tongue completely out of cheek. A good time will be had by you. -- Roberts

(Incidental Music)
Proof that techno and punk are siblings under the skin: Seiichi Yamamoto of the Boredoms is one of the experimentalists behind Rovo, a conglomeration that aims to move electronic music beyond the quest for more beats per minute. The rhythms on Imago are prevalent and insistent, but they refuse to stay in one place, swooping and looping amid beeps, blips and synthesizer washes intended to be performed live, not just in the studio. What a concept. -- Roberts

Sylk 130
Re-Members Only
(Six Degrees/Ovum)
Ruler of mixology King Britt is the sovereign behind the turntable for the star-studded expedition that is Re-Members Only. Debts are paid to veteran divas female (Alison Moyet) and male (ABC's Martin Fry), as well as to hip-hop old-schoolers (Pos and Trugoy of De La Soul turn up on "Cobbs Creek," as does Jazzy Jeff). But the King looks forward, too, capping the proceedings by showing off the "Beauty of Machines." The future's coming sooner than you think. -- Roberts

Various Artists
Dublab Presents: Freeways
(Emperor Norton)
Dublab.com is a cluster of Los Angeles DJs who have presented their work to Web surfers since 1999. Freeways, the first volume in a proposed series of CDs culled from this forum, moves from the ambience of Daedelus's "A Mashnote" to the hip-hop-house of Divine Styler's "Shen" and back again. More, please. -- Roberts


Aesop Rock
Labor Days
((Def Jux)
Aesop Rock's tightly constructed fables have helped him become a figurehead of hip-hop's intellectual backpacker contingent. The New York rapper provides notes from the underground, waxing metaphorical on the life and struggles of the artist who stays true to his own vision. Rapid-fire wordplay and claustrophobic beats make this album initially seem impenetrable, but there is a payoff if you put in the work. -- James Mayo

The Coup
Party Music
(75 Ark)
The Bay Area's Coup mixes the street swagger of Too $hort with the agitprop of the Black Panthers, all set to a P-Funk backbeat. Tracks like "Ghetto Manifesto" and "5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO" draw up plans for an urban insurrection designed to scare the pants off the Jerry Browns of the world. -- Mayo

The Great Depression
(Def Jam/Ruff Ryders)
On The Great Depression, Dark Man X brings his trademark straight-out-of-the-kennel shout-along anthems, injects some heavy riffage reminiscent of early Def Jam and gives you a taste of radio-friendly soul. The tracks that really bark are those in which X steps outside his gruff persona to allow a glimpse into his religion ("A Minute for Your Son") and love for his family ("I Miss You," with Faith Evans). -- Mayo

Dungeon Family
...even in darkness...
This Family has royal blood: Its members include many of the men behind OutKast and the Goodie Mob. As a whole, ...even in darkness... is far more offhand than OutKast's Stankonia, which is why some reviewers have given it short shrift. But the album succeeds on its own terms as a wildly entertaining, furiously psychedelic groove workout that infuses the sensibility of vintage Parliament/ Funkadelic with 21st-century hip-hop. -- Roberts

Working with a diverse set of artists that includes the usual accomplices -- Common, Mos Def and Talib Kweli -- as well as some surprises, like the R&B/street collabo of Jonell and Cormega, Hi-Tek displays his prowess in crafting a deeply grooving, baroque sound. As a solo debut from an alum of Black Star and Reflection Eternal, Teknology should make him more in demand as a DJ and producer. -- Mayo

Ja Rule
Rule 3:36
(Def Jam)
Ja Rule finds the formula for triple-platinum success by allowing a little sensitivity to creep into his thug persona. Lil' Mo adds a woman's touch to "I Cry," while newcomer Vita does the same on "Put It on Me," a song whose emotional verses are the perfect accompaniment to Ja Rule's deep, raspy voice. The song's video -- which depicts Ja behind bars pleading devotion to the woman who holds down their home -- struck a chord with many. -- Mayo

The Blueprint
(Roc-A-Fella)It's easy to see why Jay gets as much love from the projects as he does from MTV. His plan for The Blueprint includes a few commercial cuts, some songs for the streets and some of the most autobiographical joints since his Reasonable Doubt debut. Who else could sample the Doors' "Five to One" and KRS-One's "Sound of Da Police" in one song ("The Takeover") while firing (in the direction of Prodigy and Nas) some of the most incendiary disses in rap since LL battled Kane in the '80s? -- Mayo

Cuts for luck and scars for freedom
Mixing introspective, softly sung choruses with pointed raps, Oakland's Mystic bares her soul, reflects on the tragic allure of street life and offers words of empowerment on her uplifting debut. With ace production by Hieroglyphics charter member A+, "The Life" is a refreshing take on transcending the everyday struggles of the inner city. -- Mayo

Tha Liks
X.O. Experience
Tha Liks, formerly Tha Alkaholiks, are a throwback to a time when drinking to excess was seen as delightfully comic, not pathetic and disgusting. But whether you're an enthusiastic drunk or a dyed-in-the-wool teetotaler, the 100-proof antics of E-Swift, Tash and J-Ro are likely to hit the spot. X.O. Experience is a party on plastic that's got plenty of kick -- and as an added bonus, listening to it won't leave you feeling hung over the next morning. -- Roberts

Embrace the Chaos
As musically and ethnically diverse as the city from which it hails, this Los Angeles collective makes festive music for people who like to party. Ozomatli incorporates a wide range of influences -- as evidenced by the African kora on "Los Ozos," the samba of "Sueños en Realidad" and the hip-hop of "1234," featuring De La Soul. The disc subscribes to the idea that if a revolution can't dance, it has no place in this group's version of a Chaos Theory. -- Mayo

Beanie Siegel
The Reason
Jay-Z had an impressive 2001, but protegé Beanie Siegel matched the master step for step. No single person is responsible for The Reason's crisp, forceful sonics, but the disc seems unified anyway, thanks to loads of giant, economy-sized hooks and Siegel's muscular, vigorous flow. As a bonus, occasional instances of lyrical consciousness of the sort found in "Nothing Like It," the lead track, keep company with the usual parade of playas and bitches. -- Roberts

Bubba Sparxxx
Dark Days, Bright Nights
(Beat Club/Interscope)
There's no telling if Sparxxx will be able to enlarge upon his Southern-white-boy-does-rap shtick; this album could very well be a one-shot. But he gets a lot of mileage out of his routines, and he benefits immeasurably from the production by Timbaland, who launched his new Beat Club imprint with Sparxxx's debut. The former Tim Mosley has had another stellar year, but Dark Days is his 2001 peak, worth spinning simply for his behind-the-boards wizardry. -- Roberts

Wu-Tang Clan
Iron Flag
With Ol' Dirty Bastard lingering in stir and Method Man and Redman bidding to become the Cheech and Chong of the new millennium, no one would have been surprised if the Clan had petered out. But, no -- Iron Flag is as fiercely aggressive as its cover, which pictures the rappers as soldiers planting the Wu banner in sandy soil. The disc makes ample room for the usual lyrical pimpin', but many of the rhymes feel startlingly up to date: "Rules" features the couplet "Mr. Bush, sit down/I'm in charge of the war." -- Roberts


Jane Bunnett
Alma de Santiago
(Blue Note)
Ever since Dizzy Gillespie first explored Afro-Cuban sounds, jazzers have been drawn to a certain island near Florida, and flutist/soprano saxophonist June Bunnett is no exception. Still, Alma de Santiago isn't simply another bid to borrow Cuba's mojo. The Cuban pros Bunnett has assembled are spectacular, and she gets the most out of them, regularly pushing them beyond their comfort zones. -- Roberts

Miles Davis
Live at the Fillmore East (March 7, 1970): Its About That Time
Recorded after the seminal Bitches Brew, these two blistering sets find the legendary trumpeter with saxophonist Wayne Shorter, keyboardist Chick Corea, bassist Dave Holland, percussionist Airto Moreira and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Davis, allegedly clean after years of substance abuse, eschews his trademark laconic style for a frenetic exploration of all the right spaces. -- Mayo

Scott Fields Ensemble
Playwright David Mamet's works inspire the music here -- hence the presence of tunes called "American Buffalo" and "Oleanna." But precisely what motivated Fields is less important than the work itself -- and what work it is. With bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Michael Zerang, he constructs open-ended, freeform soundscapes filled with noises that are alternately weird, discomfiting and stimulating. -- Roberts

Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell With Dave Holland and Elvin Jones

Dave Holland
Not for Nothin
Bassist Dave Holland didn't just fall off the turnip truck: He's among the recruits who contributed to Miles Davis's In a Silent Way, which was brought to life over thirty years ago. But he's maintained a level of quality throughout his career, and his current work is no exception. The date with guitarist Frisell and drummer Jones is casual but inspired, while Not for Nothin' finds Holland and cohorts in a more compositional setting that produces solid enjoyment throughout. -- Roberts

Charlie Haden and Gonzalo Rubalcaba
The thoughtful American bassist Charlie Haden and the busy, dexterous Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who combines Cuban traditions and classical training with jazz harmonies, collaborate on an exhilarating collection of Latin tunes on Nocturne, including Martin Rojas's "En la Orilla del Mundo" and Marta Valdes's dark "No Te Empeñes." Visitors to the set include drummer Ignacio Berroa, forward-looking saxophonists Joe Lovano and David Sanchez (from neighboring Puerto Rico) and guitarist Pat Metheny. Here is complex, multi-rhythmic jazz that's as satisfying as a good Havana cigar. -- Bill Gallo

Greg Osby
Symbols of Light (A Solution)
(Blue Note)
Saxophonist Greg Osby is a rarity -- a jazz performer on a sizable label who's more interested in growing creatively than in coddling increasingly conservative audiences. People who like endless regurgitation of post-bop formulas more than music that explores new ground will probably be riled by Symbols of Light, since the violins, violas and cellos heard on the disc are used not to sweeten or soften the tracks, but to color them in unexpected ways. More daring sorts will be elated. -- Roberts

Leon Parker
The Simple Life
(Label M)
Restless as ever, minimalist drummer and outspoken social critic Leon Parker recently moved to France, but not before recording a bracing collection of ten originals and three standards that blur the old distinctions between jazz, world music and groove. Elizabeth Konotamanou's haunting vocal on "Caravan" transforms the tune, and Parker's sonic explorations on his own "Ray of Light (Revisited)" underscore the paradox of his one-of-a-kind style: How does he coax such rhythmic variety from his understated approach to percussion? The international cast of collaborators on The Simple Life -- including Ugonna Okegwo on bass and saxophonists Sam Newsome and Steve Wilson -- is uniformly superb. -- Gallo

Psyco on Da Bus
Psyco on Da Bus, Featuring Tony Allen
(PGI/Platform Recordings)
With the help of the Afrobeat 2000 squad, head Psycos Tony Allen, who co-founded Africa 70, and drummer/programmer Doctor L construct growling, grumbling rhythms over which they layer eccentric vocals and chants, jazzy solos (check out Eric "Ricco" Gaultheir's flute on "Many Questions") and a recurrent disdain for the tried and true. Lunacy never sounded so good. -- Roberts

Sex Mob
Sex Mob Does Bond
A humorous and genuine-feeling soundtrack to a nonexistent James Bond flick lovingly constructed by New York slide-trumpet player Steven Bernstein, Sex Mob Does Bond finds the works of John Barry bouncing around an avant-garde house of mirrors. The playful interpretation is both exacting and irreverent. John Medeski guests on organ, filling out an already exceptional and clever band. -- Bond

Antoine Silverman
Blue Moods
A French/American violinist with a penchant for melancholy ballads, New York's Antoine Silverman surveys "In a Sentimental Mood," "Bewitched," "Come Rain or Come Shine" and other chestnuts with heartbreaking fluency, aided by Swedish pianist Stefan Karlson (once a Denver resident), bassist Roger Spencer, guitarist Pat Bergeson and drummer Chris Brown. Suddenly, the fine Regina Carter has a worthy rival in the jazz-violin ranks. -- Gallo


Atomic Bitchwax
Atomic Bitchwax II
(Tee Pee Records)
A stoner supergroup of sorts, Atomic Bitchwax finds Monster Magnet guitarist Ed Mundell, Godspeed bassist Chris Kosnick and drummer Keith Ackerman combining to create an unholy racket of the most agreeable sort. The CD's raison d'être is neatly encapsulated by the handle slapped on the instrumental "Dishing Out a Heavy Dose of Tough Love." One-stop shopping for ten-ton chords, sludgy rhythms and all-purpose mania. -- Roberts

Beautiful Creatures
Beautiful Creatures
(Warner Bros.)
There's nothing new under the sun, or on this album, either: Joe LeSte's yowling is pure Bon Scott, the guitars of DJ Ashba and Anthony Focx go where Mick Mars's ax has been many times before, and the anthemic choruses of ditties such as "Kick Out" recall those ol' glam days when no rocker worth his codpiece would leave the house without a can of Aqua Net. And that is precisely what's good about it. -- Roberts

Butthole Surfers
Weird Revolution
Butthole diehards cried foul when this retooled version of the unreleased After the Astronaut hit the shelves, but Weird Revolution demonstrates the Surfers' remarkable ability to reinvent themselves after a very long, very strange trip. The latest incarnation verges on skewed electronica, with demented strands of psychedelia, rap and metal. More polished than the group's norm (whether that's a good or bad thing is open to debate), Weird deserves credit for pushing listeners to "out-freak the normal man." -- Eric Peterson

Monster Magnet
God Says No
Monster Magnet's Dave Wyndorf may act like a dope at times, but he's only pretending. God Says No finds him attempting to expand upon the insanely loud, obsessively extreme palette perfected by the aforementioned Ed Mundell and the rest of his team. These tests are only intermittently successful, but there's enough of Wyndorf's trademark mayhem on hand to make this Magnet as attractive as ever. -- Roberts

Rage Against the Machine
Who'da thunk that the best album Zack and company would commit to the ages would be their last -- and full of nothing but blistering cover tunes? Angry metal rap finally finds its righteous foster home on Maggie's Farm! Kick out the jams, motherfuckers! Pistol-grip pumps aimed at the ghost of Tom Joad! Revolutionary toddlers in need of a new wet nurse! The end of an era! -- John La Briola

System of a Down
In a society that seems to have taken a sharp turn to the right over the past several months, voices representing alternate points of view are more valuable than ever -- and the decidedly left-wing Toxicity certainly has the alternate-point-of-view base covered. But the disc is worthy for far more than its quasi-radicalism. System of a Down's polemics can be one-dimensional at times, but the act's sound is fabulously multifaceted, with elements as disparate as metal and world music working in union to create songs that hit hard, fast and often. -- Roberts

Supergroups tend to deliver ego-driven dreck, but Tomahawk's debut is a rare exception. With ex-Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison tempering former Faith No More frontman Mike Patton's creative volatility, Tomahawk consists of the most accessible songs the latter has recorded since FNM's demise. Also featuring onetime members of Helmet and the Melvins, the band is more than capable of launching tight blasts of eclectic post-punk, namely "God Hates a Coward" and "Jockstrap." -- Peterson

Art rock has generated more pretentious swill than it has envelope-ripping revelations over the years, so Tool's double-footed leap into this territory signaled danger. But damn it if Maynard James Keenan and company didn't manage to wind up on the positive side of the equation. Lateralus is jammed to bursting with wonderfully complex compositions that the band plays with a precision bordering on the clinical. It's the rare album that's as good for using your head as it is for banging it. -- Roberts


Bitch and Animal
Eternally Hard
(Righteous Babe)
Over the years, some of the roughness has been sanded off Ani DiFranco's aggressive folk diatribes. Not so Bitch and Animal, who clearly strike a chord with Ms. Ani; she signed the female duo to her label and produced half of their debut. "Best Cock on the Block," about the handiness of dildos, is typical of the pair's joyously reckless music. -- Roberts

Olu Dara
As a sideman, Dara is a trumpeter who built his reputation alongside jazz risk-takers like Henry Threadgill. But as a frontman, he writes songs abundant with blues, world and funk influences; he sings them in a voice that's beautiful and homely at the same time. Neighborhoods is a great place to visit, and you might want to live there. -- Roberts

Drums & Tuba
Vinyl Killer
(Righteous Babe)
Drums & Tuba's orchestral executions make a tasty addition to folk-punker Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe label. In the spirit of Isotope 217 or Tortoise, this groove-happy, instrumental trio explores post-rock experimentation with boisterously funky results. Steeped in the patios of free-jazz, the New York-by-way-of-Austin group also mates the unlikely hybrid of marching band and mamba. Oompah-licious! -- La Briola

Steve Fisk
999 Levels of Undo
(Sub Pop)
Eight curious photographs (different renderings of a frog reclining in a human skull) accompany 999 Levels of Undo, Fisk's white-noise-and-dub opus. It's a busy-bodied but languorous display of slow-melting, electronic showmanship; ambient sleight of hand completes his tribute to daydreaming, amphibious life and Mark Sandman. Fisk and friends (notably, Heather Duby) commit to the strata between the strata. -- La Briola

The Langley Schools Music Project
Innocence & Despair
Twenty-five years after it was recorded in a British Columbian middle-school gymnasium, Innocence & Despair was unearthed for mass distribution. Thank goodness. Led by a visionary music teacher named Hans Fenger, who instructed his students on modern masters rather than the academic cannon, a chorus of sixty untrained young singers breathe quizzical, sometimes haunting, life into songs by the Beach Boys, David Bowie and other pop perfectionists of the day. Life-affirming, funny and strange, the Langley Schools Music Project is one of the year's unexpected delights. -- Bond

Tara Jane ONeil
In the Sun Lines
From a Louisville-based ballroom in the bluegrass state of Kentucky, songwriter Tara Jane ONeil takes the abstract and intuitive route with her second, acoustic-oriented solo effort -- something not quite folk, not quite rock, but imbued with unmistakable artistry. On In the Sun Lines, guitar, cello, Rhodes piano, found sound and simple space construct a melancholic but beautiful noise. -- La Briola

Dubbing his music "audio piracy as a compositional prerogative," Canadian John Oswald presents two hyper-dense discs of recreational savagery on this retrospective release: sixty tracks from some of the world's most recognizable music morphed into the confounding artistry of Sinéad O'Connick Jr., Dally Proton and Bing Stingspreen, among many others. "Borrowed" and made available by San Francisco fair-use defender and Seeland operator Negativland, this challenging work spans 24 years of commercial sonic manipulation from a true, sound-grafting warhorse. -- La Briola

Roots Manuva
Run Come Save Me
(Big Dada)
Through an inimitable low-key baritone and minimal beats, south Londoner Roots Manuva (Rodney Smith) brings a distinctively fresh voice to contemporary trip-hop with Run Come Save Me. Setting the controls for the heart and the mind, he sidesteps tales of braggadocio for the spooky folklore of his own invention. Intricate, textured and atmospheric -- and all told from the belly of the beast -- Manuva's hypnotics fight for crumbs, stems, seeds and justice. -- La Briola

Ursula Rucker
Supa Sista
This poet/vocalist's jazzy phrasings and intelligent but caustic words connect the dots between Philly-based kindred spirits Sonia Sanchez and the Roots, whose fans will recognize Rucker's voice from her previous contributions to their records. On Supa Sista's standout track, the drum-and-bass inflected "What???," Rucker calls out all the "playas, haters and hustlers," whose "bad examples could kill my children's futures." -- Mayo

Seor Coconut
El Gran Baile
(Emperor Norton)
With as many alter egos as Lon Chaney, Uwe Schmidt is getting plenty of run as Señor Coconut, a Chilean bandleader who fronts a virtual Third World outfit that worships Kraftwerk. On El Gran Baile, his second stateside release -- another computer-derived amalgam of the fake and hyperreal -- El Señor blends everything from neo-cha cha and mambo sentimental to supertropical futuro. Ist frenético! -- La Briola

Shinju Gumi
Mixing a Ghost
The term "trip-hop" has been so used and abused that it's unclear precisely what it means these days -- but it may still be the best way to label Mixing a Ghost. Shinju Gumi, a French DJ with better ears than Dumbo, takes keyboards and strings, adds a smidgen of sampling, and mixes well -- very well -- to create a delectable aural confection. -- Roberts

Richard Lair
Thai Elephant Orchestra
Composer/neuroscientist Dave Soldier and conservationist John Lair are credited as the humans behind this release, but the real stars are Phrathida, JoJo and the other pachyderms that soulfully played the custom instruments on this disc. While the finished product might be too childlike for some tastes, the beasts prove to be adept musicians, working drums, gongs, harmonicas and synthesizers with a haunting beauty that transcends species. -- Peterson

Tenacious D
Tenacious D
Jack Black and Kyle Gass climb upon their graceful steed and move into the studio with Dave Grohl and Phish's Page McConnell to produce a debut album that does the Greatest Band in the World justice, both musically and comically. Black, a fine singer, leads the band through songs about getting high, getting laid and getting into fights with Gass, occasionally pausing for scripted and extemporaneous skits about erections and fast food. Tenacious D is offensive, disgusting, adolescent, ridiculous and petty. It's also hilarious, and it rocks. -- Bond

Moris Tepper
Moth to Mouth
When Frankenstein's daughter uses tears of love and a Magic 8 Ball to coax blood from the Skullclown, it's probably time for sweet cherry pie. In the case of Captain Beefheart apostle Moris Tepper (the Cap's ace guitarist from 1976 to 1982), such unconscious decision-making depends mostly on rifling a cluttered attic without benefit of hindsight. Both eerie and warm, the resulting story-songs on this homemade release capture one man's inventive soul at its most primal, instant and pure. -- La Briola

(Thrill Jockey)
Numerous reviewers have described Standards as Tortoise's most straightforward recording to date, and maybe it is. But the music is still marked by a complexity that makes it as interesting on the thirtieth spin as the first. The album's not a compromise, but a logical progression that should lead to even more interesting destinations down the line. -- Roberts

Various Artists
Cinemaphonic, Volume 2: Soul Punch
(Motel Records)
These fourteen tracks were recorded during the '70s by little-known studio musicians for use as background music by TV producers without the dough to hire composers for specific projects. But compiler/onetime actor David Hollander sees them as found art, and Cinemaphonic, Volume 2 proves his point. It's like a time machine capable of transporting listeners directly into a vintage episode of Starsky and Hutch. -- Roberts


Andrew Birds Bowl of Fire
The Swimming Hour
With 1999's Oh! The Grandeur, Andrew Bird proved he was the premier -- and perhaps only -- modern performer of pre-WWII music to meet with some popular acceptance, even if it was on the tattered coattails of the faded swing movement. Swimming Hour blossoms out of the forms of early jazz and Eastern European music into an explosion of color and energy. Bird's classical and jazz roots once again show through; this time, though, there are sharp and unexpected forays into rock that are reminiscent of the early '70s. But any type of music Bird chooses to assimilate somehow becomes his own, even when the roots of the tree poke up out of the ground. -- Brighton

The Coast Is Never Clear
Miles Kurosky and his San Francisco mates in Beulah make melancholy seem fun on their blissful and thickly instrumented third release. Sharp as a tack and unabashedly sad, the band tempers its brooding with delicious pop bombast that includes harmonic arrangements, dulcimer, violins and horns aplenty. The former Elephant 6-ers host John Vanderslice on Moog synth, which makes this nearly perfect record shimmer that much more. -- Bond

Betty Blowtorch
Are You Man Enough?
Less than two weeks ago, the woman known to her parents as Bianca Halstead died in a speeding Corvette on Interstate 10 outside New Orleans. Better known to rock fans as Bianca Butthole, the leather-lunged frontwoman/bassist for L.A.'s Betty Blowtorch (and former hardcore outfit Butt Trumpet), the 36-year-old left behind a scorching debut of lethally catchy bombast: honest, ballsy, raw, and with enough sleazoid humor to make Doris Day catatonic. The driving force behind tunes like "Hell on Wheels" and "Shut Up and Fuck," Butthole not only wrote the manual for Backseat 101, but, along with the surviving Betties, held up a circus mirror to scads of Britney imitators with a welcome blast of potty-mouthed dragster rawk. -- La Briola

The first few spins of "Hidden Place," Vespertine's opening track, can cause heart palpitations. It is so intricate and soaring and lovely, such an attention-getter, that you may not want to listen to it while driving. Björk leaves the usual screechiness behind in favor of introspection, marked by the latest innovations in European electronica. -- Melanie Haupt

Built to Spill
Ancient Melodies of the Future
(Warner Bros.)
Idaho weirdo Doug Martsch is back, with peculiar and oddly stirring nasal vocals and random, almost babbling lyrics. Somehow, it all works: As Ancient Melodies of the Future demonstrates, Martsch's guitar work has continued to grow, and he and his friends still explore odd rhythms and song structures while remaining true to their self-invented, esoteric but highly personal sound. -- Brighton

Devils Slide
(Amazing Grease)
Carlos is an unremarkable-looking foursome of San Francisco-area slackers, who resemble record-store clerks or gas-station attendants, but with a fresh take on solid rock and roll, à la Big Star. With creative flourishes that show musical imagination ranging far beyond traditional 4/4 rock, these lads make much more interesting music -- and without the hype -- than the Strokes, a similar band of retro rockers. -- Brighton

The Causey Way
Causey vs. Everything
(Alternative Tentacles)
While the Causey Way swears it's not a cult, many have been brainwashed by its slick hybrid of punk, synth and surf that, on Causey vs. Everything, ranges from delicate to apocalyptic. Koresh look-alike and Biafra sound-alike Causey mans the pulpit and the guitar, dispensing a moral code that makes more sense than most established religions, in spite (or possibly because) of its satirical bent. -- Peterson

Nick Cave
No More Shall We Part
Nick Cave is still kicking, enjoying a multi-year revival of sorts. The King of Gloom continues to mine his morose vein of dark, piano-based anti-ballads of grim lost love. Musically, lyrically and thematically, this is one of his most complete albums ever. -- Brighton

Vic Chesnutt
Left to His Own Devices
On Left to His Own Devices, the king of alt-alt-country returns from some ambitious large-band adventures to being good ol' Vic, recording by himself on a cranky old Fostex four-track in his Athens house. The tunes swing from delightful, almost childlike romps to the dark, prophetic incursions into bleakness Chesnutt is better known for. The result is a cohesive tapestry of his musical roadside art. -- Brighton

Kraut rock is the touchstone on Profane, and not just because Couch members Stefanie Böam and Jürgen Söder use umlauts in their names. But the intriguing instrumentals in which Böam and Söder specialize have a flavor all their own, fusing the heaviness of prog with a postmodern vibe that's laid-back without becoming superficially mellow. -- Roberts

Kevin Salem
(Future Farmer Recordings)
Despite being named 1994's best songwriter by Rolling Stone, Kevin Salem remains an unknown quantity to most music fans, and more's the pity. Ecstatic, his first album in half a decade, is a terrific return -- eleven songs full of astute lyrics, superb playing, clever arrangements and so on. That so few have heard it proves yet again that life ain't fair. -- Roberts

(Palm Pictures)
Ah, those slinky horns, that luscious baritone, that musical version of bedroom eyes. Cousteau's self-titled debut is beautiful, beautiful. Davey Ray Moor's sensitive songwriting snuggles up to Liam McKahey's buttery vocals to create a potent cocktail that's sure to go straight to your head and your loins. Who knew Britons could be so sexy? -- Haupt

Cowboy Junkies
With distortion pedals set on "stun," Toronto's Junkies make hash of their formerly lilting selves (save a piano tinkler or two) on Open, extracting dark and gutsy tidings from the land of the blues vignette. Margo Timmins's pipes still deserve protection from Lloyd's of London. And no matter how pretty that Venus flytrap may look, it still bites. -- La Briola

Death Cab for Cutie
The Photo Album
On The Photo Album, Seattle's winsome-boy quartet picks up where it left off in the wake of last year's We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, rocking you oh-so gently with the loping loveliness of "A Movie Script Ending," the moody, piano-driven "Information Travels Faster" and the fuzzy nostalgia of "Coney Island." It's a rare talent that can express emotions so concisely; even more rare is the ability to deliver them in a near-whisper rather than a scream. -- Haupt

The Dirtbombs
Ultraglide in Black
(In the Red)
After shedding their singles-only manifesto with their 1997 LP, Horndog Fest, the Detroit-based Dirtbombs have released their second full-length. Ultraglide in Black is frontman Mick Collins's ode to R&B. Made up almost entirely of covers (including Stevie Wonder's "Livin' for the City" and Curtis Mayfield's "Kung Fu"), this slab of fuzzed-out garage soul is at once heartfelt, upbeat and edgy -- and a sure cure for a fading party. -- Peterson

Ester Drang
Golden West
(Burnt Toast Vinyl)
Ester Drang hails from Oklahoma, but its music sure doesn't sound like the wind sweeping down the plains. The combo makes dense, introspective, free-flowing rock with echoey vocals and a psychedelic edge. Golden West begs to be listened to through a pair of headphones at ear-splitting volume. -- Roberts

Echo and the Bunnymen
Flowers is an unexpected comeback and a remarkably fresh and optimistic offering from a band that seemed to have choked on its own hubris in the '80s. Ian McCullogh, his voice roughened and lowered by the years -- but in a friendly way, like a lowrider Caddy -- channels Leonard Cohen, while Will Sargeant's shimmering guitar work has grown into something radiant and current. The band itself has blossomed into something altogether new -- and almost unrecognizable. -- Brighton

Alejandro Escovedo
A Man Under the Influence
Thankfully, Alejandro Escovedo is no longer a man under the influence of anything but his muse. The longtime Austin icon adds some Latin flair to his jangly, No-Depression sound on a record that deals with love, border crossings, love, and long-distance love. You won't hear Escovedo's Velvet Underground influences here, but you won't miss them as you sing along to the sneering "Castanets." -- Haupt

Perry Farrell
Song Yet to Be Sung
On Song Yet to Be Sung, the godfather of Lollapalooza turned born-again Jew ditches the dusty dinosaur riffs and attempts to cleanse himself in electronica, the music industry's current fountain of youth. Replacing his scowl with a smile, Farrell blissfully croons over pedestrian breakbeats with such unassuming, pixie-like charm that he transforms a potential trend-hopping embarrassment into one of the most endearing discs of his career. -- Patrick Casey

The Four Corners
Say Youre a Scream
This disc's opening track, "Untitled Instrumental Theme #1," is an organ-drenched instrumental that suggests an unflinching devotion to garage rock, and so, too, does the decision to provide listeners with the songs in both stereo and mono. But because the Four Corners are actually pop players on holiday from acts such as Ladybug Transistor, Scream's grunginess is cut with a gratifying melodicism that's as rare as it is appealing. -- Roberts

Paula Frazer
Indoor Universe
Punk-rooted Paula Frazer feels as much at home in a Bulgarian women's choir as she does loping through the Western plains under dark, steel-pedaled clouds. Tarnation's missing angel, the minister's daughter keeps waltzing with the devil through Phil Specter's living room. -- La Briola

The Frogs
Hopscotch Lollipop Sunday Surprise
Championing gay pride as incestuous "brothers," Jimmy and Dennis Flemion remain Milwaukee's reigning underground, one-take acoustic perverts. Their first venture into the squinting light of anything beyond basement recording, the symphonic and strum-happy Hopscotch takes the pair's seasoned brand of chicanery to new, polished heights. Willfully absurd, it doubles as a liberation manifesto backed by muted drums and toy pianos. -- La Briola

Gorillaz is the world's first animated band, and it's getting the shaft all over. Commercial radio only plays "Clint Eastwood," and indie stations like KVCU/1190 have banned Gorillaz from their snooty airwaves for getting any commercial play at all. Meanwhile, the public is missing out on one of the most innovative and exciting projects around. Dan the Automator, Damon Albarn and Del tha Funky Homosapien follow up last year's groundbreaking Deltron 3030 with this foray into filthy bass lines, cheeky lyrics and vocals by Albarn and Miho Hatori (Cibo Matto). Get this record -- now. -- Haupt

Guided by Voices
Isolation Drills
Barflies blather to anyone who'll listen. But Robert Pollard usually makes it count -- especially when he's tossing off zingers like so much verse, as he's wont to do throughout Isolation Drills. Besides reminding you precisely why the Who was so great thirty years ago, stalwarts like drunk Bob help re-coronet rock and roll -- and knight a few founding fathers along the way. -- La Briola

Ben Harper
Live From Mars
Deftly moving from Marvin Gaye to Led Zep, Ben Harper shamelessly borrows from many of his heroes while managing to bring hard rock -- minus the misogyny -- back for the first time since grunge. But Harper is an artist rather than an imitator: Along with the long list of influences on his sleeve, Harper also wears his heart. -- Casey

Kristin Hersh
Sunny Border Blue
After throwing a few Muses aside, husky-voiced Kristin Hersh turned to her own personal demons for inspiration -- something her bipolar disorder conjures up in spades. But rather than wallow in self-pity, Hersch (who could sleep through her own kidnapping) offers up acoustic ballads on Sunny Border Blue that are as cathartic as they are caustic, as fragile as they are visceral. -- La Briola

I Am the World Trade Center
Out of the Loop
Finding a new band name tops Amy Dykes and Dan Geller's to-do list for obvious reasons. But when was the last time you heard a decent laptop-accompanied chanteuse commit datacide with such dance-happy charm? As electronic candy-bop goes, this pair of New Yorkers pulled off an exceptionally memorable debut. Lousy timing? Sure. Just ask the Coup. -- La Briola

Daniel Johnston
Rejected Unknown
After languishing for five years following a misguided outing with Atlantic Records, Daniel Johnston's fullest studio recording finally saw release on New York indie Gammon. Johnston's prodigal songwriting is given a musical boost by producer Brian Beattie, who camped out in the singer's parents' home in Walker, Texas, during the recording process. Though it lacks some of the endearingly from-the-hip elements of Johnston's self-recorded early works, Rejected Unknown still sounds like nothing else, full of the artful absurdity and spontaneity that marks him as a true, if troubled, talent. -- Bond

Mark Kozelek
Whats Next to the Moon
Angus and Bon might furrow their foreheads to learn that Mark Kozelek is such a rabidly soft-spoken AC/DC fan. But deep down beats the heart of a Red House Painter turned a lighter shade of "Riff Raff." Sparkly fretwork with stripped-down introspection, Moon finds the reliable balladeer (and Stillwater bassist!) up to his neck in misery...again. -- La Briola

Things We Lost in the Fire
Is Low really Yo La Tengo in disguise? Indie-rock trio led by a husband and wife? Check. Wife's the drummer? Check. Third guy's kinda quiet? Yup. This record should help you tell the difference between the two, though, as it's a sweet, soft, meditative piece with unexpectedly edgy lyrics and captivating harmonies. But the real clincher is the closing track, "In Metal." Mimi Parker sings this love song to baby son Hollis (whom you can hear squalling in the background) so tenderly, you'll need to have some hankies nearby. -- Haupt

Nick Lowe
The Convincer
(Yep Roc)
The Basher's grown into a musical cocktail lounge host and master observer on love, loss and longing. Lowe is as sharp as ever on The Convincer, stretching from the stalking "Homewrecker" and the Charlie Rich-styled "Bygones (Won't Go)" to the Johnny Cash-like "Has She Got a Friend?" To prove he's concerned with universal as well as personal strife, Lowe includes a bonus mini-disc that holds the extremely timely, "There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God Is Seated at the Conference Table)." Youth is the creative prime for rock and rollers? Not for Nick. -- Jones

Stephen Malkmus
Stephen Malkmus
The poster boy for the carefully mussed, grad-school smart-aleck is back after the demise of Pavement with a new band, the Jicks. Song subjects range from Yul Brynner to aging cover-band guitarist/waiters who date eighteen-year-olds to eulogies for old friends. Malkmus's pointed pen is on target, and the music continues the legacy of the venerable Pavement without milking it or cheapening it. -- Brighton

Math and Science
Math and Science
(Brick Red Records)
A one-man band that sounds like anything but, Math and Science allows producer/ multi-instrumentalist John Wolf to indulge in pop of a conspicuously powerful type. His melodies are as catchy as the Hong Kong flu, his words easily bridge the gap between irony and melancholy, and his guitar speaks up when the need arises. In these subjects and others, Wolf earns straight A's. -- Roberts

The Minders
Golden Street
Denver's loss is Portland's gain on the latest and best batch of retro cool by Martyn Leaper and company. Taking cues from the pre-microdot innocence of the Zombies/Beatles/Kinks contingent, the Minders offer plenty of pastoral charm with this piano-driven mix of chiming guitars, confident singing and slightly psychedelic powdered sugar. This is melodic, concise and exceptional popcraft. -- La Briola

Scout Niblett
Sweet Heart Fever
(Secretly Canadian)
Scout Niblett doesn't hide behind her instrumentation. For the most part, she's alone with her guitar and her songs, which are pensive and exceedingly personal. Chan Marshall is one of the few current performers to use this approach, and for good reason: It takes an extraordinary amount of bravery. Fortunately, Niblett has this quality in spades. -- Roberts

Nortec Collective
Tijuana Sessions
(Palm Pictures)
This innovative group of dance DJs from Tijuana initially wanted to blend traditional electronica with the sounds of norteo (norteo + techno = Nortec). What they came up with was enchanting dance music accentuated with deep bass tuba honks, ranchero horns and rat-a-tat snares normally associated with border music. Its new, its different, and it gets two thumbs up. -- Haupt

Grant Lee Phillips
Mobilize is full of multi-layered, golden-tinged Americana songs that will be comfortingly familiar to Grant Lee Buffalo fans. Phillips's sweet, rich voice is liquid cerulean blue, sliding smoothly over everything in sight. Also, his words are as important and casually poetic as always. The music shows a rejuvenated experimental spirit not always apparent in Buffalo's later years. -- Brighton

The Sword of God
(Touch & Go)
Divorce has been good for drummer Janet Weiss and multi-instrumentalist songwriter Sam Coomes, whose marriage dissolved as their musical relationship blossomed in exciting new ways. And what may initially seem aimless about The Sword of God, an album that moves from dramatic and down-spirited to brash and rebellious, is actually derived from the combined dexterous skills and playful sensibilities of these two. This is aggressive indie pop with panache -- smart and straight-shooting. -- Bond

Iconoclastic oddballs Radiohead made many best-of lists with Kid A, but fewer people really penetrated the icier realms of Amnesiac. The band somehow manages to incorporate a human warmth -- or at least, a human despair passing for warmth -- into its computer-generated soundscapes: Though seemingly bleak at first listen, the songs hypnotize and eventually become comforting, like a substitute mother made from silicon chips, chicken-wire and terry cloth. -- Brighton

I Might Be Wrong
Current anointed musical messiahs Radiohead continue to save rock and roll by declaring it dead. In a live setting, such as the one captured in I Might Be Wrong, the band's experimental electronic musical masturbation is a spine-tingling experience. It also exposes it as a one-dimensional band, intent on making melancholy a beautiful and disturbing new art form. The second coming? Of Syd Barrett, perhaps. -- Casey

(The Real) Tuesday Weld
Where Psyche Meets Cupid
Stephen Coates, who to all appearances is (The Real) Tuesday Weld, has built the strangest of beasts. His latest meditation on love and loss mates modern technology with antique sounds: "Am I in Love?" and "I Love the Rain" include samples that recall the golden age of vaudeville and Broadway. Curiously morbid but undeniably beguiling, Where Psyche Meets Cupid represents the singular vision of a true pop oddball. -- Roberts

Red House Painters
Old Ramon
Rainy day mope-folkers the Red House Painters are probably the only band capable of making Radiohead sound like frat boys in need of Ritalin. Mark Kozeleck does allow for an upbeat ode to his cat, but the bulk of Old Ramon finds the Painters sticking to their strengths and coloring inside the lines. The disc wistfully ebbs and flows in the bittersweet, introspective tradition of the band's stellar past efforts. -- Casey

The Reindeer Section
Yall Get Scared Now, Ya Hear?
A convention of Scottish rockers from bands like Belle & Sebastian, Arab Strap and Mogwai defies convention by throwing a whole bunch of influences together and seeing what comes out on the other side. What they ended up with is a searing conglomeration of quiet, lovelorn musings and full-on guitar freakouts. Good food, especially if you're a Brit-pop fan. -- Haupt

Rain on Lens
(Thrill Jockey)
It seems that Bill Callahan can't stop making records, having put out one excellent release after another since 1997's Red Apple Falls. On Rain on Lens, the singer, guitarist and compulsive minimalist focuses on tone, rhythm and metaphor to create stone-cold mantras for the manically depressed. Callahan keeps listeners at a distance, focusing instead on the rich but mangled interior of a fractured psyche. But there's a glimmer of light in his black comedy, and plenty of sad-eyed beauty in his craft. -- Bond

Let It Come Down
Let It Come Down has it all: horns, a gospel choir, snotty lyrics and a nod to singer Jason Pierce's former psychedelic band, Spaceman 3. Pierce wrote and arranged this Brit-rock opus himself; he sang the melodies into a tape recorder and transposed the tunes by picking them out, note by note, on the piano. The recordings were then translated onto paper for the orchestra, a process that took more than two years to complete. It was well worth the wait. -- Haupt

The Strokes
Is This It?
Love 'em or hate 'em, there's little denying the Strokes' ability to craft a damned fine song, even if they do so by carefully retreading the paths cut by bands like the Velvet Underground and the Stooges. Derided for good genes and good fortune, the Strokes nonetheless made a record that will still sound good when the hype finally fades. In the end, it's the songs that matter, and the eleven the Strokes serve up here are airtight. -- Bond

Jenny Toomey
Jenny Toomey was one of the guiding forces behind Tsunami, a band that deserved a far larger cult than the one it attracted. For Antidote, her declaration of independence, she shoots the works, offering up two full discs of ambitious, tough-to-categorize pop titled "Chicago" and "Nashville," for the cities in which the sessions took place. Bold and brainy, Antidote is the cure for the common CD. -- Roberts

John Vanderslice
Time Travel Is Lonely
Ambitiously conceptual, the second full-length solo album from the man behind San Fran's Tiny Telephone drifts through a somnambulist's confession of historical proxy and international intrigue. Brutally honest in his poetic clarity, Vanderslice spins together tales of Lee Harvey Oswald lost in Antarctica, Tiananmen Square surviving times of martial law, and a quirky love for spy satellites. -- La Briola

Loudon Wainwright III
The Last Man on Earth
(Red House)
Where is home when lovers leave and parents die? When you find yourself alone on the back end of middle age? This is the terrain Loudon Wainwright III crosses on this record, and it's a heartbreaker. The music itself is simple -- there are only a few chords at play here -- but the lyrics themselves deal primarily with the loss of Wainwright's mother. It's a gentle and wrenching reminder that while our parents are often our biggest fans, we're ultimately going to have to go it alone -- which, Wainwright concludes, doesn't have to be a bad thing. -- Haupt

The Waterboys
Rock in the Weary Land
(Razor & Tie)
The Waterboys' Mike Scott has said a number of the songs on Rock in the Weary Land were locked up in his head for years. His patience resulted in one of the band's best Waterboys records in perhaps a decade, rife with dark visions and Emerald Isle-tinted songcraft. Scott is worthy of being enshrined alongside the finest Irish songwriters -- as well as the greats in the wider world of rock. -- Brighton

(The Green Album)
Everyone's favorite cult geeks are back with their first record since 1996's Pinkerton. Gone is the moody weirdness, replaced by roughly thirty minutes of hooky pop goodness. Rivers Cuomo may be the most disturbed, reclusive motherfucker on the charts these days, but you wouldn't know it from the cheerful "doot-doots" on a fun track like "Island in the Sun." -- Haupt

Jim White
No Such Place
(Luaka Bop)
With the twinkle of a raconteur, White seems to have misplaced his Trans Am -- but that's likely just another far-fetched cab-driver story. Then he pulls on your sleeve about having nightmares of stigmata, or about how sticking his hand in an electric saw made him a better guitar picker, and it gets downright...revelatory. As the lone hillbilly wildcard on a label reserved for worldbeat acts, this recovering Pentacostal and hick-pop sensation turns the rural South into the most surreal place under the sun. -- La Briola

The White Stripes
White Blood Cells
(Sympathy for the Record Industry)
Jack White has been pretending to be a minimalist, but White Blood Cells proves he doesn't have to keep it overly simple to keep it real. On their third release, Jack and drummer Meg move from incendiary garage rock to country and blues to Beatles-y love ditties, kicking up dust and adulation with each blast. Though slightly sleeker than previous recordings, the album is still raw enough to ooze plasma. This Detroit duo may, in fact, be our great White hope. -- Bond

Lucinda Williams
(Lost Highway)
How do you follow an incredible album like Car Wheels on a Gravel Road? Wisely, Williams didn't try to repeat herself with Essence. The songs are more subtle, more revealing, and she sings them in a soft, quivering voice that begs you to listen closely. (You feel as if you're overhearing a private conversation.) Recorded with guitarist Charlie Sexton (who co-produced) and bassist Tony Garnier, both from Bob Dylan's great touring band, along with drummer Jim Keltner, guitarist Bo Ramsey and organist Reese Wynans, Essence takes a few listens to sink in, but it resonates long after the music has stopped. -- Hill

Zero Zero
AM Gold
(Jade Tree)
Dwellers of the underground will recognize Ari Katz and Dave Idea as parts of Lifetime, a punk act whose magnum opus was 1995's Hello Bastards. But AM Gold is something else entirely -- a finger-snapping excursion into electro-pop, with occasional side trips to the lounge, the garage and the malt shop. It's a screwy combination, but thanks to hookfests such as "True Zero" and "AM Gold," Katz and Idea more than pull it off. -- Roberts


Alkaline Trio
From Here to Infirmary
The Alkaline Trio lurked about in the punk underworld for years, tinkering with its sound and trying to find just the right balance between pop punk's spark and emo's earnest honesty, but it couldn't find the right ratio of heart to hooks. From Here to Infirmary turns that all around. While its tone is that of a meaty pop-punk album, singers Matt Skiba and Daniel Andriano spit up tales of broken spirits salved by gallons of cocktails. These boys are probably therapy-bound, but theirs is a great-sounding breakdown. -- Matt Schild

American Steel
Jagged Thoughts
The problem with having nearly 25 years' worth of vinyl in the punk-rock vaults is that it can cause serious musical tunnel vision: A strict diet of punk leads to boring predictability. Luckily, there are bands like American Steel, who yank in bits of everything from folk to mod to classic rock. Jagged Thoughts sounds more like classic Clash or Jam than anything modern. It's not punk enough to piss your parents off, but that's precisely the point. -- Schild

The Dismemberment Plan
They've been called everything from emo to art rock to post-punk, though no broad term could ever do the Dismemberment Plan justice. With Change, the Plan ratchets down its hyperactive mix of influences -- from hip-hop and punk to classic rock and Top 40 pop -- into a tight album that challenges conventions while worshiping them. Change gets away with breaking all the rules in the pop pantheon because it's such a devotee of everything that came before it. -- Schild

The Faint
Danse Macbre
(Saddle Creek)
Some things from the '80s -- say, feathered hair and trickle-down economics -- are best left in the wreckage of the Me Decade, but those new-wave synthesizers shouldn't be thrown in the pop-cultural landfill just yet. The Faint depends on them to get a sound that blends the quirky dance-floor grooves of acts like Devo with the smarmy discontent of punk. The resulting songs, all heavy in synths though backed up by live drums and guitar, blast with nightclub-ready grooves, though they carry a dismal air that's decidedly modern. -- Schild

Jimmy Eat World
Bleed American
After it parted ways with Capitol Records in 1999, Jimmy Eat World put its time out of the spotlight to good use, chucking the predictable emo-pop tunes on which its major-label reputation was based. On Bleed American, the band's guitars blast white-hot without ever losing their edges in distortion, while tempos breeze along merrily, never dipping into the emo blues. This time, Jimmy's not focused on fitting into a scene, but on simply letting loose and rocking -- a lesson many indie bands would be wise to study. -- Schild

Pleasure Forever
Pleasure Forever
(Sub Pop)
Marilyn Manson may have made dark rock a permanent part of the suburbs, but Pleasure Forever won't let the form rest in mediocrity. The trio mix the chops of a classically trained keyboardist with gin-soaked guitar to get a sound that's one part bad trip and one part Heart of Darkness. Keeping its hedonism in check, this band pulls dark rock out of the adolescent slump it's been in for quite a while. -- Schild

Saves the Day
Stay What You Are
Somewhere along the way, pop-punk music turned into a live-action cartoon, with each new MTV fave seeming goofier than the last. But Saves the Day proves that the music will support more than the sonic mugging of Sum 41. The themes are often moody, as titles like "At Your Funeral" and "Certain Tragedy" indicate, the lyrics overflow with striking imagery, and frontman Chris Conley wins points for refusing to play dumb. -- Roberts

The Streetwalkin Cheetahs
Waiting for the Death of My Generation
(Triple X)
The Cheetahs clearly worship at the feet of Iggy Pop, but unlike so many combos with a Stooges jones, they're crazy enough to make their homages stick. Generation is an overamped adrenaline overdose in which every song comes across like a last stand: The title of "Future Lost" wasn't chosen at random. Profound it's not, but it doesn't feel as secondhand as it might because these guys mean it, man. -- Roberts


1st Born Second
This Philly soulquarian's auspicious debut blends a street vibe with an aesthetic that owes as much to Curtis Mayfield as it does to the falsetto "do me, baby"-isms of Prince. The Dre-produced club cut "Fast Lane" and the sensual "Soul Sista" (which the WNBA picked up for their promo spots) are two of the year's best under-the-radar singles. -- Mayo

Mary J. Blige
No More Drama
In a decidedly more upbeat effort, the queen of hip-hop soul seems comfortable just being herself. In place of bitter songs about deceitful men are club-friendly cuts with name producers (Dr. Dre, Rockwilder, the Neptunes) and love songs ("Never Been") that show the singer having a good time, minus the theatrics. -- Mayo

Craig David
Born to Do It
Craig David is just twenty years old, but he's managed to escape the teen-sensation ghetto. How? By exhibiting the assurance of a soul veteran and by wisely refusing to go for the sort of cheap effects that enthrall the Christina Aguilera crowd. Born to Do It is built upon solid songs written or co-written by its star, and the production, mostly by Mark Hill, is almost preternaturally smooth, allowing David's appealing voice to tease, coax and captivate. -- Roberts

City High
City High
(Booga Basement/Interscope)
The ubiquitous Wyclef Jean is spreading himself pretty thin these days; he's even in the cast of the new (and overpraised) Mick Jagger CD. But he scores with City High, a threesome notable for good songs, the entrancing singing of Claudette Ortiz and, yes, the production of the once and future Fugee. -- Roberts

The Life
Ginuwine's given name is (no kidding) Elgin Lumpkin -- possibly the worst handle imaginable for a soul smooch king. But on The Life, his third salvo, he shows no lingering signs of trauma from a childhood spent sounding uncool. "Why Not Me" and his other erotic adventures are thrilling for the way they merge old-fashioned romance with street-smart seductiveness. A soundtrack for love that's apt to get a rise out of anyone. -- Roberts

Alicia Keys
Songs in A Minor
One of the year's most pleasant surprises was the mass adulation that followed Alicia Keys's debut single, "Fallin'." With a soulfulness that spoke a wisdom way beyond her years, the twenty-year-old's gospel-tinged phrasings announced a major young talent. From Chopin to Prince, the classically trained keyboardist displays an impressive array of influences that, coupled with the street-smart sensibility she brings to tracks like "A Woman's Worth," makes her a coup for Clive Davis's new label. -- Mayo

On occasion, Maxwell tries too hard to prove that he's the new Marvin Gaye. But even when the strain shows, his ambition is worthy of admiration, as is the regularity with which he reaches his lofty goals. Now is a sumptuous package that peaks with "This Woman's Work," a Kate Bush cover on which he essentially sings a duet with himself. -- Roberts

Ultra Nat
Stranger Than Fiction
(Strictly Rhythm)
Naté is a club star, but on Stranger Than Fiction, she does far more than occupy the upper register while synthesized drums thump beneath her. Dance tunes such as "Get It Up (The Feeling)" are present and accounted for, but the title song, a slinky, mid-tempo piece co-written by Nona Hendryx, is emblematic of a talent that shouldn't be straitjacketed. -- Roberts


Buffalo Springfield
Box Set
Buffalo Springfield produced just three albums in a little more than two years, but the band's impact on American pop music was long-lasting. The fine Box Set contains all the familiar songs, including "For What It's Worth," "Mr. Soul," "Expecting to Fly," "Bluebird," "Rock & Roll Woman," "Broken Arrow" and "Kind Woman." But what makes the collection so compelling is the large number of outstanding unreleased demo recordings, many of them written and performed by Neil Young, who was never quite able to stretch his wings while a member of the group. (And how could he, with talented bandmates like Stephen Stills and Richie Furay?) -- Hill

Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two
Roads Less Travelled: The Rare and Unissued Sun Recordings
(Varese Sarabande)
Cash's best-known Sun recordings can be found on Rhino's excellent Sun Years disc, but Roads Less Travelled is no less appealing. Many of its eighteen tracks were overdubbed with inappropriate background vocals in the '60s, so it's nice to hear them in their original, unadorned versions. Cash, accompanied by Luther Perkins on electric guitar and Marshall Grant on bass, sings ballads ("Born to Lose"), folk songs ("Goodnight Irene"), hymns ("I Was There When It Happened") and originals ("Leave That Junk Alone"), all in his unmistakable rough-hewned baritone. -- Hill

Bootsy Collins
Glory B Da Funks on Me!: The Bootsy Collins Anthology
(Warner Archives/Rhino)
Although Collins has received ample credit for his work in assorted George Clinton collectives, his frequently excellent solo work tends to be overlooked. But Anthology places the man in the starry spectacles front and center. A well-chosen roundup, it's highlighted by the 1980 shoulda-been-a-smash single "Mug Push" and packaging that sports a pop-up of Bootsy garbed in all his freaky splendor. -- RobertsIn a Silent Way, released in 1969, is the equal of Davis benchmarks such as Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew in virtually every respect, but it's often pigeonholed as a transitional recording. Complete rights that wrong over the course of three discs that show Davis and his masterful collaborators -- among them Dave Holland, who appears elsewhere on this year's list -- refining the sound that would quietly flower on vinyl. -- Roberts

Miles Davis
The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions
In a Silent Way, released in 1969, is the equal of Davis benchmarks such as Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew in virtually every respect, but its often pigeonholed as a transitional recording. Complete rights that wrong over the course of three discs that show Davis and his masterful collaborators among them Dave Holland, who appears elsewhere on this years list refining the sound that would quietly flower on vinyl. -- Roberts

Progressive History X: Ten Years of Fluke
Jonathan Fugler, Michael Bryant and Michael Tourner have been enticing European tastemakers onto the dance floor for over a decade now, and Progressive History X illustrates why. The Flukesters are expert gear manipulators, but they also have a keen pop sensibility that infuses 1990's "Philly," with its faux strings, big guitars and vocoders, not to mention "Thumper," a new track that's every bit as good as their previous efforts. -- Roberts

Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead: The Golden Road (1965-1973)
The Grateful Dead were nothing if not excessive, and so, too, is The Golden Road, a massive boxed set containing all nine of the group's Warner Bros. recordings, an additional nine hours of previously unreleased material -- including a two-disc set of the band's earliest known studio tracks, from 1965 -- and some stellar live cuts from 1966. The collection documents the Dead in their acid-drenched heyday and debunks the myth that they were better live than in the studio. -- Hill

Billie Holiday
Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia (1933-1944)
(Columbia Legacy)
Here is the greatest of all jazz singers in her glorious prime, 230 tracks' worth of classic music on ten CDs. Completists will be well satisfied by this definitive body of work (eighty cuts are rarities; 35 are previously unreleased in the U.S.), but any jazz listener must be overwhelmed by the sheer artistry of the voice. Holiday's attendant gods here include Teddy Wilson, Roy Eldridge, Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster and Lester Young, among others. While some prefer the tragic, ruined Lady Day of the '50s, her earlier work is the peak of invention. -- Gallo

Joy Division
Heart and Soul
(Warner Archives/Rhino)
Lead singer Ian Curtis's 1980 suicide not only killed him and his band (it eventually re-emerged as New Order), but also guaranteed that the songs he left behind would be viewed through the prism of his last act. But by assembling the vast majority of the combo's recorded work on its four discs, Heart and Soul gives music lovers an opportunity to judge Joy Division more objectively, and the group stands up well to the scrutiny. -- Roberts

Big Daddy Kane
The Very Best of Big Daddy Kane
(Warner Archives/Rhino)
Big Daddy Kane may never have made a huge cultural impact, but he was a rap trendsetter for the way he shifted between boasts aimed at the fellas and sweaty love rhymes meant for the ladies in the house. Very Best shrewdly amasses all of Kane's must-haves on a single disc. -- Roberts

Fela Kuti
Open & Close/Afrodisiac
Around the time MCA signed Fela Kuti's son, Femi Kuti, to an international contract, the company embarked on a stunningly ambitious campaign to reinvigorate the catalogue of the Afro-pop pioneer himself. The resulting flood of forty albums on twenty CDs issued during just over a year's span is an embarrassment of riches likely to exhaust even the most dedicated Fela-head. So why start with Open & Close/Afrodisiac? Groovy cover, dude. -- Roberts

Peggy Lee
Sugar N Spice
Lee is spicier than she is sugary on this 1962 album, supplemented by bonus tracks such as the punchy "Loads of Love" and "Amazing," which is. Benny Carter, Billy May and Shorty Rogers are the arrangers here, and their big, brassy settings help explain the snarl in so many of Lee's vocals. She'll give you fever. -- Roberts

The Lemon Pipers
The Best of the Lemon Pipers: Green Tambourine
Nearly half of the songs on The Best of the Lemon Pipers should qualify as overlooked, oversweetened "hits" -- something of a mother lode by bubblegum's factory standards. Once in a while, even the pinkest tar pits can hide a few dazzling diamonds. As Cupid's bowstrings melt, a playful frolic ensues: lemon-scented calliopes with lollipop wheels and candy-pipe organs. Put this in your Elephant 6 shooter and smoke it. -- La Briola

Joe Maphis
Fire on the Strings
Country music hasn't produced many guitar heroes, which is probably why the late Joe Maphis was as well known for the songs he sang with his wife, Rose Maphis, as for his six-string acumen. But the new version of 1957's Fire, which is a glorious seven songs longer than the original, is an instrumental workout to die for. Unplug your smoke detector, because this sucker burns. -- Roberts

Eugene McDaniels
Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse
(Label M)
Who knew that Eugene McDaniels, the man who wrote "Feel Like Making Love" for Roberta Flack, was such a boundary pusher? Headless Heroes has become a favorite among the hip-hop intelligentsia for its driving fusion of jazz, funk, revolutionary politics and righteous indignation. Spin it and find out why. -- Roberts

Gram Parsonss
Sacred Hearts & Fallen Angels
So much of Gram Parsons's work is vital that winnowing it down for easy inspection is hardly a snap. But Sacred Hearts is as effective a career summary as can be squeezed onto two discs, featuring generous scoops from his work with the International Submarine Band, the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers and his fertile solo years. -- Roberts

The Soft Boys
Underwater Moonlight...and How It Got There
The stature of Underwater Moonlight, which was first racked in 1980 and contributed mightily to the reputation of the head Boy, Robyn Hitchcock, grows with each passing year, thoroughly justifying Matador's lavish treatment. With nine bonus tracks and a second disc crowded with outtakes, work tapes and assorted curiosities, it's a windfall for lovers of rockin' Robyn. -- Roberts

Leave Home
Rocket to Russia Road to Ruin

Just because Joey Ramone passed away over Easter weekend, there's no reason to lose hope for the glue-sniffing youth of America. Headbangers can bury their regal cretin with full honors and an 89-gun salute -- one bullet for every one of the garage-rock classics the band pressed during the height of the Carter administration. They go by fast and furious, so don't blink -- you might miss something. Gabba Gabba hey. -- La Briola

DJ Smash
Recollection, Vol. 1
Recollection is both a compilation of tracks constructed by renowned New York turntable jockey DJ Smash during the first half of the '90s and a reimagining of them. Smash brings his acid-jazz innovations up to date even as he freshens his grooves for a new generation of pleasure-seekers. -- Roberts

Wynn Stewart
The Very Best of Wynn Stewart, 1958-1962
(Varese Sarabande)
Back in the late '50s, Wynn Stewart helped invent the Bakersfield Sound: hard-edged, Fender-guitar-driven country music that was miles from the pop-oriented recordings then coming out of Nashville. But Stewart never got his due: Buck Owens had a huge hit with his great song "Wishful Thinking," and Merle Haggard, who played bass for Stewart, scored with his "Sing a Sad Song." Stewart collected the royalties, but he didn't receive the fame he deserved (though he finally had a No. 1 hit, "It's Such a Pretty World Today," in 1967). No fan of hard country should be without this stellar collection of eighteen prime Stewart tracks. -- Hill

Various Artists
Can You Dig It?: The 70s Soul Experience
For Can You Dig It?, Rhino's art designers have come up with what might be their most fabulous package to date: Its six discs are encased in what appears to be an eight-track carrying case loaded with cartridges by the likes of the Stylistics and Sly and the Family Stone. Inside, things get even better, with an overview of the genre that's closer to complete than anything issued to date -- even by Rhino. -- Roberts

Various Artists
Nuggets II: Original Artfacts From the British Empire and Beyond, 1964-1969
Back in 1998, Rhino used Nuggets, a 1972 double LP of American garage-rock standard-setters, as the basis for a box that was almost too much of a good thing. But rather than attempting to prove that more can be less for a second time, the company wisely shifted the emphasis of the stellar Nuggets II, focusing on the garagey pop made in England and beyond between the first blush of the British Invasion and the sonic sea shift caused by Woodstock. -- Roberts

The Velvet Underground
Bootleg Series, Vol. 1, The Quine Tapes
Robert Quine was no ace engineer, but he was a friend to both Lou Reed and a late-era Velvet incarnation, who granted him stageside access to a series of the band's Bay Area performances in 1969. Non-polished but totally listenable, The Quine Tapes does much to sate those of us who can only imagine what it might have been like to stand in front of Sterling Morrison during now-classics like "Sunday Morning" and "Heroin." A fine addition to the archive of VU live material. -- Bond


Buju Banton
Ultimate Collection
With gruff, spitfire toasting, Banton changed the sex-and-gun imagery of Jamaica dancehall with a return-to-roots rasta. Potent sinsemilla persecution makes men of ragamuffins and rude boys alike. But in Buju's possession ("give I strength!"), it sounds classic. Timeless. Somewhere, Bob Marley smiles. -- La Briola

Manu Chao
...prxima estacin...Esperanza
Chao is a world unto himself. Born in Paris of Spanish parents, he makes music that jumps from language to language, and culture to culture, like a cricket on a hot griddle. Reggae, sounds of the Caribbean and even Western pop are just some of the influences on Esperanza, and Chao pulls them together with the cheeky charisma of a born star. Prepare to be charmed. -- Roberts

Susan McKeown
(Green Linnet)
Including Lowlands in this roster is a bit of a reach; it arrived in most stores in late 2000. But the album is so resonant and rewarding that it deserves the exception. Instead of simply mimicking the Irish folk tradition, McKeown inhabits it, using her sturdy but ethereal pipes to channel its passion and emotion. -- Roberts

Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe and His Nigerian Soundmakers
Sound Time
Like Fela Kuti, Osadebe comes from Nigeria. But whereas Kuti's music is hard-charging and jazzy, the Chief's is lighter, friendlier and less confrontational. These seven tracks, cut between 1970 and 1985, rely primarily upon Western instrumentation: guitars, trumpets, saxophones. But the grooves the players produce are as African as the Nile River and every bit as deep. -- Roberts

June Tabor
Rosa Mundi
(Green Linnet)
June Tabor is herself an English rose, so it's appropriate that her latest album is dedicated to the most beautiful of nature's blooms. Tabor lavishes her vocal attentions on a globe's worth of folk traditionals and assorted curios ("The Crown of Roses" sports music by Tchaikovsky) rendered austerely on piano and strings. The album is lovely, but with a notable streak of sadness -- an appropriate corollary to 2001. -- Roberts

Temple of Sound & Bizwan-Muazzam Qawwali
Peoples Colony No. 1
(Real World)
A timely bit of cross-cultural cooperation. With the assistance of formidable vocalists such as Rizwan Mujahid Ali Khan, Neil Sparkes and Count Dubulah, who cut their teeth in the aptly named British outfit Transglobal Underground, dive headlong into Qawwali, the popular music of Pakistan. The intermingling of high-tech beats and ancient melodies probably won't excite purists, but they'll be the only ones left unmoved by this intoxicating brew. See -- we can all get along. -- Roberts


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