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And the Winners Are ...

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Van Morrison
Veedon Fleece

Polydor recently put out a slew of Morrison's Seventies platters, nearly all of them superb; you wouldn't want to live without 1972's St. Dominic's Preview or 1974's It's Too Late to Stop Now. But the one I was the most glad to see back was Veedon Fleece, Morrison's stab at eclipsing Astral Weeks, one of the greatest albums ever. He doesn't accomplish that mission, but his struggle to do so is riveting.

Townes Van Zandt
Rear View Mirror
(Sugar Hill)

Van Zandt's recent death robbed country music of one of its most talented, most tragic personages. This live album, cut in 1993 and bequeathed four years later by Sugar Hill, brings the loss home. The original cover states that Van Zandt "continues to tour, playing a night or two in a town, then moving on to the next with just a glance at the rear view mirror." If only that were so.


New Transistor Heroes
(Grand Royal)

Despite their claims to the contrary, Manda Rin, John Disco and Sci-Fi Steven, aka Bis, don't have much of an agenda: As manifestos go, "Young people are swell" isn't likely to start a revolution. But their infectious melodies, ringing guitars, new-wave rhythms and general exuberance cut the legs out from under such complaints. Pure, undistilled fun.

The Devlins

Gorgeousness isn't easy to pull off--and if an artist shooting for it misses the mark, his failure can be excruciating. So credit Colin and Peter Devlin (supplemented by Sean Devitt) for creating tunes that take the work of weak-hitting combos like the Rembrandts into new musical and emotional territory.

The Delta 72
The Soul of a New Machine
(Touch and Go)

These four Philly white kids makes soulful rock that would be at home in both a nightclub and a garage. They worship black culture, but they do so without reducing themselves to mimics. Like the members of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, they give vintage rock a jolt of pure punk--and it's all the better for it.

Patti Smith
Peace and Noise

On Gone Again, her 1996 comeback album, Smith was so driven to create a masterpiece that listening to it was a bit of a chore. Because of its comparative humility, Peace and Noise has been less ballyhooed, but I prefer it. Smith has one of rock's most monumental voices, and this time around, her music gives her something to do with it.

The Verve
Urban Hymns

Forget the controversy over the tune "Bittersweet Symphony," which is currently adding even more money to the bank accounts of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Bottom line, this is a stirring recording that more than stands on its own. The songs are moody but not difficult, hallucinogenic but incisive. If this is the future, I'm looking forward to it.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts