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Dwight Yoakam
Reprise Please Baby: The Warner Bros. Years
(Reprise/Rhino)
Dwight Yoakam pulled Nashville out of its '80s Urban Cowboy doldrums with his infectious cover of Johnny Horton's "Honky Tonk Man," which kicks off this highly satisfying four-CD collection. Influenced by such West Coast renegades as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, Yoakam produced one solid album after another for Reprise, and most of the highlights from those discs are here, along with a number of obscure or unreleased tracks. (His version of Warren Zevon's south-of-the-border drug tale "Carmelita," from Flaco Jimenez's 1992 Partners album, is magnificent.) The ten cuts from his unissued 1981 demo album make it clear that Yoakam's crystal-clear vision of country music was firmly in place right from the start. -- Hill

Warren Zevon
Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon
(Elektra/Rhino)
Warren Zevon's got one foot in the grave, and the other one's slipping; he's been diagnosed with terminal cancer. In recent interviews, however, Zevon has treated his impending demise with tough-guy resolve, dark-toned humor and indelible grace -- qualities that his finest songs sport in abundance. The long-players he made between 1976 and 1981 (Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy, Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School and Stand in the Fire) are unimpeachable and well worth owning. But Genius does as respectable a job as any single disc could of capturing Zevon's essence, with the possible exception of omitting the suddenly apropos "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead." A genius? Of mayhem, definitely. And he's not going quietly into the night. -- Roberts

COMPILATIONS

Various Artists
Dancehall 101 Vol. 3: The Ultimate Collection of Essential Dancehall Classics
Dancehall 101 Vol. 4: The Ultimate Collection of Essential Dancehall Classics
(VP)
Compiled by the Jamaica, Queens-based label VP Records, this series of club classics from the '80s and '90s is an outstanding survey course for the dancehall novice. The VP staff designed the lesson plans by carefully examining playlists used by popular dancehall-, urban- and Latin-format DJs. The resulting collection features mainstream classics (Mad Cobra's "Flex (Time to Have Sex)"), familiar riddims (Tenor Saw's "Ring the Alarm"), underground hits (Half Pint's "Crazy") and more traditional roots-reggae fare (Dennis Brown's "Revolution"). If your familiarity with Jamaican music begins and ends with Robert Nesta Marley -- or if you just want to reminisce about the good old days -- this is the class to sit in on. -- Mayo

Various Artists
Latin Jazz: La Combinación Perfecta
(Smithsonian Folkways)
Tracks by Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Machito and the Afro-Cubans and other classic Latin jazz masters surface on the pleasing Combinación Perfecta alongside interpretations by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Some of the recordings have the canned quality of vintage television and film scores, lending the music an old-school feeling that would delight Ricky Ricardo. More contemporary artists include Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez and tenor saxman David Sanchez of Puerto Rico. Perfecta, indeed. -- Hutchinson

Various Artists
The Silk Road: A Musical Journey
(Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)
On the beautifully packaged two-CD Silk Road, the vast musical landscape of inner Asia is revealed by way of Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Mongolia, Tajikistan and other far-flung and exotic points in what used to be known as the Orient. The first disc focuses on Masters and Traditions, while disc two features Minstrels and Lovers. From the insistent and ethereal strains of the santur (Iranian hammered dulcimer), the percussive pluckings of the Jew's harp or the bizarre-sounding throat singing of the Turkish Khakas, the vocals and instrumentation on this document are as diverse as the nations spanned by the Silk Road. Prepare to embrace your inner Marco Polo. -- Hutchinson

Various Artists
Soundbombing III
(Rawkus)
More than simply a rap roundup, Soundbombing III is a model for 21st-century hip-hop. The album destroys the fiction that this music is one-dimensional by drawing upon artists as different as Styles P. and Pharoahe Monch, who share "The Life," and Zap Mama, a multi-culti ensemble joined by Common and Talib Kweli on "Yelling Away." But the disc also establishes commonality between generations by pairing Kweli with DJ Quik on "Put It in the Air" and teaming Monche and Kool G Rap on Jonell's "Round & Round Remix." Blending so many elements into a cohesive whole isn't easy, but mixers Mr. Choc and Cipha Sounds make it work, emerging with a CD that's smart and incendiary. -- Roberts

Various Artists
60: Capitol Records Sixtieth Anniversary, 1942-2002
(Capitol)
This six-CD boxed set is not only a repository of great songcraft, but it also serves as an absorbing chronicle of an important label and, by extension, the music business as a whole. Anniversary documents the post-big band and swing of the '40s, the vocal sophistication of Frank Sinatra in the '50s, the parallel innovations of the Beatles and the Beach Boys during the '60s, the contrast between art rock and pop disco that marked the '70s, the corporate-rock invasion that dominated the '80s, and the scattershot market fragmentation that occurred between 1990 and the present, exemplified by the juxtaposition of Garth Brooks and Radiohead. It's not a coherent story, but every word of it is true. Or close, anyway. -- Roberts

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