Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba, Segu Blue (Out Here). Taj Mahal calls Bassekou Kouyate — who plays the ancient West African lute seen here — a genius. And listening to Segu Blue, it's clear that the statement has some validity. Kouyate, who's collaborated with U2 and Carlos Santana, approaches African blues in a fashion similar to that of legendary African bluesman Ali Farka Touré. — Jon Solomon
Bill Dixon With Exploding Star Orchestra, Bill Dixon With Exploding Star Orchestra (Thrill Jockey). Many jazz aficionados look upon the collective improvisations associated with the '60s-vintage abstract period as a creative dead end. Yet the approach is still mighty exciting, especially when it's rendered by players as fearless as trumpeter Bill Dixon and cornetist/co-conspirator Rob Mazurek. The three extended opuses here erupt with energy, passion and a splash of madness. Let freedom ring. — Roberts
Eels, Useless Trinkets: B-sides, Soundtracks, Rarities, and Unreleased 1996-2006 (Geffen Records). Most collections of unreleased material cater to the diehards. Useless Trinkets, however, is as good an introduction to Mr. E's music as any Eels album. Often delicately self-deprecating and optimistic within the confines of a single song, Eels mostly evoke the sunny side of life on these fifty tracks, particularly when employing Beck-like funk rhythms. — Nick Schreiber
The Rosewood Thieves, Lonesome (Self-released). With a world-weary rasp that belies his youth, singer-songwriter Erick Jordan returns with his band of Thieves for another disappointingly brief and beautifully executed set of honest alt-country gems. The quartet's simple, spare interpretations of Jordan's heartbreaking yet understated songs will leave you feeling lonesome — and begging for more. — Eryc Eyl
The Rumble Strips, Alarm Clock (Kanine Records). The U.K.'s latest Libertines followers find equal inspiration in Dexy's Midnight Runners and Thin Lizzy. Injecting soulful, energetic and wistful rock with trumpet, saxophone and lots of sassy swagger, the foursome hits the snooze button on "today," choosing to remain blissfully in a sleepier, simpler time. — Eyl
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Alice Smith, For Lovers, Dreamers & Me (Epic). Rather than stick to the R&B rudiments, Alice Smith blends in classic pop, cabaret, Broadway tuneage and more. She sometimes seems to care more about bending her voice into obscure shapes than simply singing, but at least her affectations are eccentric as opposed to merely flashy — and on the likes of "Do I," she's capable of stopping any show. — Roberts