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That's a Wrap-Up

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Southern Hummingbird
Collaborating with Missy Elliott and Timbaland, the Atlanta-based Tweet dropped one of the most seductive odes to self-pleasure ever with the club hit "Oops (Oh My)." On the track, Timbaland's trademark computer bleeps accent Tweet and Missy's doo-wop choruses, creating space-age music for a modern girl's bachelorette pad. This songbird soars high above the rest of the formulaic R&B crowd. -- Mayo

W.C. Clark
From Austin With Soul
"The Godfather of Austin blues" does his home town proud with this wallop of honeyed blues and soul that's more upbeat than sullen (especially on its funkiest numbers, "I Keep Hangin' On" and "Bitchy Men"). Driven by Clark's nimble guitar and bolstered by the dense sounds of the Texas Horns, From Austin With Soul glides, jumps and kicks, plumbing the depths of romance gone wrong in unexpectedly groovy fashion. -- Peterson

Corey Harris
Downhome Sophisticate
Some may suspect that Corey Harris was included on this list because he spent many of his formative years in Denver. But in truth, he'd be here if he'd grown up in Des Moines or Tijuana or Beirut. Downhome Sophisticate is well-named, in that Harris's music embraces the primitive side of the blues even as it displays a lyrical and thematic erudition that would seem contradictory if it weren't so natural and effortless. The slide guitar work on "Don't Let the Devil Ride" and elsewhere is utterly combustible, and songs like "Santoro" manage to address contemporary issues in the context of the folk tradition. It's a neat trick that no one does better than Harris. -- Roberts

Alvin Youngblood Hart
Down in the Alley
(Memphis International)
Veering from his normally progressive bent, Hart pares away the excess on this acoustic outing, using only a haunting guitar and an elemental voice to conjure the spirit of past masters. The bare-bones arrangement illuminates such traditional numbers as "Motherless Child" and Leadbelly's "Alberta." Down in the Alley is an unfiltered look at a vital living bluesman, as well as an ageless tribute to those who paved his way. -- Peterson

Juslisen (Just Listen)
(Def Soul)
At its best, neo-soul doesn't simply give R&B conventions the high-tone gloss a modern studio can provide; it also infuses them with a contemporary sensibility that makes their trademark musical flourishes and emotional scenarios resonate with listeners who wouldn't know Mustang Sally from a Ford Focus. Musiq accomplishes these goals largely because of his ambidextrous voice, which is equally effective on deliberately paced romantic opuses like "Dontchange" and the cool but funky "Caughtup." But his lyrics have deepened, too, making "Halfcrazy," in which platonic affection turns into horizontal action with complicated results, much more than a straight-forward sequel to "Just Friends," one of Musiq's first hits. Don't take my word for it: Just listen. -- Roberts

Asie Payton
Just Do Me Right
(Fat Possum)
The phrase "an untimely death" is among the English language's hoariest cliches, since only a bare handful of demises can be said to have happened at the ideal moment. (One could argue that even Hitler's death wasn't timely; the world wouldn't have missed him had he keeled over twenty years before he did.) Still, Payton's timing was particularly bad, since a fatal heart attack in 1997 prevented him from taking full advantage of his discovery by Fat Possum. But at least the label went to the trouble of assembling Just Do Me Right, a collection of rough, sometimes homemade recordings whose lack of polish actually adds to their impact. For blues lovers, this disc has arrived right on time. -- Roberts

Joe Louis Walker
In the Morning
Featuring guitar work by former Saturday Night Live axman G.E. Smith, Joe Louis Walker's latest brings the blues back home. Born to migrant workers on Christmas in 1949, Walker has led a storied existence that includes a time living with legendary blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield as part of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury scene. Walker blends electric and acoustic, soul, gospel and funk to create an album that should appeal to blues purists and progressives alike. -- Hutchinson

Various Artists
Standing in the Shadows of Motown
It took a whole lot of souls to create Motown. As director Paul Justman posited in his documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown, studio musicians of the era were as important as the songwriters who sculpted the music and the singers who performed it. This live recording serves to further Justman's argument by pairing the oft-overlooked but ubiquitous backing band, the Funk Brothers, with contemporary arbiters of R&B. The experiment is largely a success (though Ben Harper's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" sounds more like karaoke than Gaye pride). Meshell Ndegeocello's outrageously sensual reading of Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got a Hold on Me" makes us wish, for a moment, that she would stop making mixed tapes and play with the Brothers permanently. And though the spotlight often defers to the singer in question, the band is tight, explosive and more familiar than we initially realize. -- Bond

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