1. Lo Borges: Lo Borges (world/Brazil). Singer/songwriter Lo Borges’s solo debut offers upbeat, quintessentially Brazilian melodies that soar majestically over pop and funk backbeats. With its brief songs and tremendous diversity, this album resembles George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass.
2. Vic Chesnutt: Is the Actor Happy? (rock). Vic Chesnutt’s wry, bracing songs observe life in slow motion – they’re the inner thoughts of dejected souls and social misfits. Yet somehow, even on such despairing anthems as “Free of Hope,” there are hints of the heroic peeking through.
3. Karen Dalton: It’s So Hard To Know Who’s Going To Love You The Best (folk). This debut shows why Bob Dylan and others on the Greenwich Village folk scene in the ‘60s were transfixed: Dalton is an intense singer, with an alluringly smoky voice that recalls Billie Holiday and a knack for terse, devastating phrases that are never more than a step or two from the blues.
4. Baby Huey: The Living Legend (R&B). Baby Huey had a steamroller of a voice, a powerhouse band behind him, and a high-profile producer—Curtis Mayfield. During the making of his debut record, Huey died. He left behind this unfinished set, which includes several completed studio selections and blistering live tracks.
5. Leos Janacek: Piano Works (classical). Not quite as romantic as Ravel or as spacey as Satie, Moravian composer Leos Janacek developed a singular style, and made important (if often overlooked) contributions to classical music. Among his most significant works are these contemplative, slightly mystical theme-and-variations suites for piano.
6. Oum Kalthoum: Legend of Arab Music (world/Egypt). Dispensing wriggling and keening phrases that defy notation, Oum Kalthoum brings listeners into her marathon quest for ecstasy/ecstatic bliss. This recording shows why she’s regarded among the great vocal improvisers of the 20th century.
7. Albert King: Born Under a Bad Sign (blues). Talk about a match made in heaven: On this earthy, gritty gem, blues guitarist Albert King – one of the three “kings” of the blues along with B.B. King and Freddie King – fronts the screaming hot-house band from Stax Records in Memphis.
8. Booker Little: Out Front (jazz). The jazz trumpet maverick Booker Little wrote intricate, demanding pieces that split the difference between hard bop and free jazz. Here, he plays them with a fiery exuberance that inspires the musicians around him to reach higher.
9. Hugh Mundell: Africa Must Be Free by 1983 (World/Jamaica). On this, his debut, reggae singer and songwriter Hugh Mundell laments conditions in Africa, calls for compassion among his brothers in Jamaica, and creates one of the most rousing, unexpectedly galvanizing records from reggae’s heyday in the mid ’70s.
10. Townes Van Zandt: Live at the Old Quarter (country, folk). The rueful Texas singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt had a special knack for mining the past – many of his best songs find him looking back at romances just before they imploded, times when life seemed full of promise. This live set provides an excellent introduction to his astounding songbook. — TOM MOON
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