Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Various

  • Boy Meets Girl [Stax, 1969] B+
  • Super Black Blues [BluesTime, 1969] B+
  • The Naked Carmen [Mercury, 1970] C
  • Super Black Blues Volume II [BluesTime, 1970] B+
  • Woodstock [Cotillion, 1970] B
  • The Concert for Bangla Desh [Apple, 1971] B-
  • Woodstock II [Cotillion, 1971] B
  • Jamming With Edward [Rolling Stones, 1972] C
  • Echoes of a Rock Era: The Early Years [Roulette, 1972] A-
  • You Must Remember These: Volume 1 [Bell, 1972] A
  • Africa Dances [Authentic, 1973] A
  • June 1, 1974 [Island, 1974] B+
  • This Is Reggae Music [Island, 1974] C+
  • Beserkley Chartbusters Volume 1 [Beserkley, 1975] A-
  • The Outlaws [RCA Victor, 1976] B+
  • Disco-Trek [Atlantic, 1976] B
  • Get Down and Boogie [Casablanca, 1976] B+
  • Live at CBGB's [Atlantic, 1976] B-
  • Max's Kansas City 1976 [Ram, 1976] C
  • Assalam Aleikoum Africa Volume One (Progressive and Popular Music of West Africa) [Antilles, 1977] B
  • Assalam Aleikoum Africa Volume Two (Traditional and Modern Folk Music of West Africa) [Antilles, 1977] B+
  • Live at the Rat [Rat, 1977] C+
  • No New York [Antilles, 1978] B+
  • Disco Party [Marlin, 1978] B+
  • Steppin' Out: Disco's Greatest Hits [Polydor, 1978] A-
  • Stiffs Live [Stiff, 1978] B+
  • Spitballs [Beserkley, 1978] B-
  • Woodstock Mountains: More Music From Mud Acres [Rounder, 1978] B
  • Living Chicago Blues Volume I [Alligator, 1979] A-
  • Permanent Wave: A Collection of Tomorrow's Favorites by Today's Bands on Yesterday's Vinyl [Epic, 1979] B+
  • Living Chicago Blues Volume II [Alligator, 1979] B
  • Living Chicago Blues Volume III [Alligator, 1979] B-
  • A Night at Studio 54 [Casablanca, 1979] B
  • No Nukes [Asylum, 1979] C+
  • Propaganda [A&M, 1979] C+
  • Club Ska '67 [Mango, 1980] A-
  • Wanna Buy a Bridge? [Rough Trade, 1980] A
  • Oi! -- The Album [EMI, 1980] A-
  • The Great Rap Hits [Sugarhill, 1980] A-
  • More Intensified! Volume 2 Original Ska 1963-1967 [Mango, 1980] A-
  • Fast Product--Mutant Pop [PVC, 1980] B+
  • Declaration of Independents [Stiff, 1980] B+
  • Phases of the Moon: Traditional Chinese Music [Columbia, 1981] A
  • Sound d'Afrique [Mango, 1981] A-
  • Let Them Eat Jellybeans! 17 Extracts from America's Darker Side [Virus, 1981] A-
  • Carry On Oi! [Secret, 1981] B
  • A Christmas Record [ZE, 1981] B+
  • Greatest Rap Hits Vol. 2 [Sugarhill, 1981] A
  • Hicks From the Sticks [Antilles, 1981] C+
  • I.R.S. Greatest Hits Vols. 2 & 3 [I.R.S., 1981] B+
  • The "King" Kong Compilation [Mango, 1981] A-
  • Propeller [Propeller, 1981] B+
  • Urgh! A Music War [A&M, 1981] B
  • San Francisco Blues Festival Vol. 1 [Solid Smoke, 1981] B-
  • Bowling Balls II [Clone, 1981] B+
  • C81 [NME/Rough Tapes, 1981] A-
  • Concerts for the People of Kampuchea [Atlantic, 1981] B+
  • The Secret Policeman's Ball [Island, 1981] B+
  • The Future Looks Bright [Posh Boy, 1981] B+
  • Seize the Beat (Dance Ze Dance) [ZE/Island, 1981] B+
  • Calling Rastafari [Nighthawk, 1982] A-
  • Sound d'Afrique II: Soukous [Mango, 1982] A-
  • Crucial Reggae Driven by Sly & Robbie [Mango, 1982] B+
  • Everything New Is Old . . . Everything Old Is New [Ambient Sound, 1982] A-
  • The Nairobi Sound [Original Music, 1982] B+
  • Peripheral Vision [Zoar, 1982] B
  • Singles: The Great New York Singles Scene [ROIR, 1982] B+
  • Soweto [Rough Trade, 1982] B+
  • Genius of Rap [Island, 1982] B+
  • African Music [Vertigo, 1983] A
  • Black Star Liner: Reggae from Africa [Heartbeat, 1983] B+
  • The Sound of Kinshasa: Guitar Classics From Zaire [Original Music, 1983] A-
  • This Are Two Tone [Chrysalis, 1983] A-
  • Zulu Jive/Umbaqanga [Earthworks, 1983] B+
  • Attack of the Killer B's [Warner Bros., 1983] B
  • Best of Studio One [Heartbeat, 1983] B+
  • Knotty Vision [Nighthawk, 1983] A-
  • Prelude's Greatest Hits [Prelude, 1983] B+
  • Rainy Day [Llama, 1983] B+
  • Viva Zimbabwe! [Earthworks, 1983] A-
  • Wild Style [Animal, 1983] B+
  • That's the Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk [A&M, 1984] A-
  • Beat Street [Atlantic, 1984] B
  • Beat Street Volume 2 [Atlantic, 1984] B
  • Breakin' [Polydor, 1984] B-
  • Desperate Teenage Lovedolls [Gasatanka, 1984] C+
  • Every Man Has a Woman [Polydor, 1984] B
  • The Gospel at Colonus [Warner Bros., 1984] B+
  • The Official Music of the XXIIIrd Olympiad Los Angeles 1984 [Columbia, 1984] D+
  • Reggae Greats: Strictly for Lovers [Mango, 1984] B+
  • Go Go Crankin' [4th & Broadway, 1985] A-
  • Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill [A&M, 1985] A
  • Phezulu Eqhudeni [Carthage, 1985] A-
  • A Diamond Hidden in the Mouth of a Corpse [Giorno Poetry Systems, 1985] B
  • Television's Greatest Hits [TVT, 1985] B+
  • Tribute to Steve Goodman [Red Pajamas, 1985] B+
  • Rap 1 [Profile, 1985] B
  • Soweto Never Sleeps [Shanachie, 1986] A-
  • The Indestructible Beat of Soweto [Shanachie, 1986] A+
  • Dance Traxx [Atlantic, 1986] A-
  • Good to Go [Island, 1986] B+
  • Iscathamiya: Zulu Worker Choirs in South Africa [Heritage, 1986] A-
  • Mr. Magic's Rap Attack, Vol. 2 [Profile, 1986] B-
  • Rap's Greatest Hits [Priority, 1986] A-
  • Red Wave: 4 Underground Bands from the USSR [Big Time, 1986] B-
  • Remember Soweto 76-86: Bullets Won't Stop Us Now [Mordam, 1986] B
  • Tango Argentino [Atlantic, 1986] A-
  • You Can Tell the World About This: Classic Ethnic Recordings from the 1920's [Morning Star, 1986] B
  • Reggae Dance Hall Classics [Sleeping Bag, 1987] A-
  • The Tanzania Sound [Original Music, 1987] A-
  • Back to the Beach [Columbia, 1987] C+
  • Christmas Rap [Profile, 1987] B+
  • Out of Our Idiot [Demon, 1987] B-
  • Homeland [Rounder, 1987] B+
  • Mbube! Zulu Men's Singing Competition [Rounder, 1987] B+
  • Reggae Dance Party [RAS, 1987] B+
  • Sounds of Soweto [Capitol, 1987] B+
  • South African Trade Union Worker Choirs [Rounder, 1987] B+
  • Take Cover [Shanachie, 1987] B+
  • A Very Special Christmas [A&M, 1987] A-
  • The Wailing Ultimate [Homestead, 1987] B+
  • Thunder Before Dawn--The Indestructible Beat of Soweto Volume Two [Earthworks/Virgin, 1988] A-
  • African Connection, Vol. 1: Zaire Choc! [Celluloid, 1988] A+
  • African Connection, Vol. 2: West Africa [Celluloid, 1988] B+
  • Folkways: A Vision Shared -- A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly [Columbia, 1988] A-
  • Heartbeat Soukous [Earthworks/Virgin, 1988] A-
  • Hurricane Zouk [Earthworks/Virgin, 1988] A-
  • Mr. Magic's Rap Attack, Vol. 4 [Profile, 1988] A-
  • Rai Rebels [Virgin, 1988] B+
  • The Heartbeat of Soweto [Shanachie, 1988] A
  • Zimbabwe Frontline [Earthworks, 1988] A-
  • African Acoustic Vol. 2: Kenya Dry [Original Music, 1988] B+
  • Best of House Music [Profile, 1988] B
  • Go Go Live at the Capital Centre [I Hear Ya EP, 1988] B+
  • The Go Go Posse [I Hear Ya, 1988] B+
  • Stay Awake [A&M, 1988] C+
  • Sheshwe: The Sound of the Mines [Rounder, 1988] B-
  • Hard as Hell [Profile, 1988] B
  • The African Typic Collection [Earthworks, 1989] A-
  • Black Havana [Capitol, 1989] A-
  • Brazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical [Sire, 1989] B+
  • The Kampala Sound [Original Music, 1989] A
  • Yo! MTV Raps: The Album [Jive, 1989] A-
  • Zetrospective: Dancing in the Face of Adversity [ZE, 1989] A-
  • The Bridge: A Tribute to Neil Young [Caroline, 1989] B
  • Fresh Reggae Hits [Pow Wow, 1989] B
  • Fresh Reggae Hits -- Vol. 2 [Pow Wow, 1989] B-
  • Hip House [DJ International, 1989] B+
  • House Hallucinates: Pump Up the World Volume One [Vendetta, 1989] C
  • Konbit!: Burning Rhythms of Haiti [A&M, 1989] A-
  • The Nairobi Beat (Kenyan Pop Music Today) [Rounder, 1989] B+
  • Nuestras Mejores Cumbias [Globo, 1989] A-
  • Ram Dancehall [Mango, 1989] B
  • Scandal Ska [Mango, 1989] B+
  • Zetrospective: Hope Springs Eternal [ZE, 1989] B+
  • Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits (1955-Present) [Rhino, 1989] A
  • The Carl Stalling Project: Music from Warner Bros. Cartoons 1936-1958 [Warner Bros., 1990] ***
  • Dancehall Stylee: The Best of Reggae Dancehall Music Vol. 1 [Profile, 1990] A-
  • Cuban Dance Party: Routes of Rhythm, Volume 2 [Rounder, 1990] A-
  • Hi-Jivin' [Kijima, 1990] A-
  • Hip Hop Greats: Classic Raps [Rhino, 1990] A
  • Pop-Rai and Rachid Style [Earthworks, 1990] ***
  • Red Hot + Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter [Chrysalis, 1990] A
  • Singing in an Open Space: Zulu Rhythm and Harmony [Rounder, 1990] *
  • Ska Beats, Vol. 1 [ROIR, 1990] A-
  • The Civil War [Elektra/Nonesuch, 1990] A-
  • The Disco Years, Vol. 1: Turn the Beat Around (1974-1978) [Rhino, 1990] A
  • The Disco Years, Vol. 2: On the Beat (1978-1981) [Rhino, 1990] A-
  • Freedom Fire--The Indestructible Beat of Soweto Volume Three [Earthworks, 1990] A-
  • Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson [Sire/Warner Bros., 1990] *
  • Yalla: Hit List Egypt [Mango, 1990] A-
  • Spirit of the Eagle: Zimbabwe Frontline (Vol. 2) [Earthworks, 1990] A-
  • Groove 'n Grind: '50s and '60s Dance Hits [Rhino, 1990] A
  • Guitar Player Presents Legends of Guitar -- Electric Blues, Vol. 1 [Rhino, 1990] A
  • Christmas Party With Eddie G. [Strikin' It Rich/Columbia, 1990] *
  • Gnawa Music of Marrakesh: Night Spirit Masters [Axiom, 1990] Neither
  • ¡Sabroso! [Earthworks/Virgin, 1990] ***
  • Just in Time for Christmas [I.R.S., 1990] Choice Cuts
  • Dancehall Stylee: The Best of Reggae Dancehall Music Vol. 2 [Profile, 1990] Choice Cuts
  • One Voice: Pride [Enigma/Ruffhouse, 1990] Choice Cuts
  • Holy Ground: Alvin Ranglin's GG Records [Heartbeat, 1990] Choice Cuts
  • Homeland 2 [Rounder, 1990] Choice Cuts
  • A Creole Christmas [Epic Associated, 1990] Choice Cuts
  • Towering Dub Inferno [Rykodisc, 1990] Choice Cuts
  • Cumbia Cumbia: A Selection of Colombian Cumbia Recordings [World Circuit, 1991] A-
  • Azagas and Archibogs [Original Music, 1991] A-
  • Cole Porter: A Centennial Celebration [RCA, 1991] B-
  • Dangerhouse, Vol. 1 [Frontier, 1991] **
  • Guitar Paradise of East Africa [Earthworks, 1991] A+
  • Jit -- The Movie [Earthworks, 1991] A-
  • Kenya Dance Mania [Earthworks, 1991] A-
  • Music of Indonesia 2: Indonesian Popular Music: Kroncong, Dangdut, and Janggam Jawa [Smithsonian/Folkways, 1991] *
  • Music of Indonesia 3: Music from the Outskirts of Jakarta: Gambang Kromong [Smithsonian/Folkways, 1991] ***
  • Risqué Rhythm: Nasty 50's R&B [Rhino, 1991] A
  • The Jazz Age: New York in the Twenties [RCA, 1991] A
  • The Kings and Queens of Township Jive: Modern Roots of the Indestructible Beat of Soweto [Earthworks, 1991] A
  • The Most Beautiful Christmas Carols [Milan, 1991] A-
  • Wild About My Lovin': Beale Street Blues 1928-1930 [RCA, 1991] A
  • Gabba Gabba Hey [Triple X, 1991] C+
  • Two Rooms -- Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin [Polydor, 1991] B-
  • Rock This Town: Rockabilly Hits Vol. 1 [Rhino, 1991] A
  • Cuba Classics 2: Dancing With the Enemy [Luaka Bop/Warner Bros., 1991] Neither
  • Wind Your Waist [Shanachie, 1991] Neither
  • Deadicated [Arista, 1991] Dud
  • Rock This Town: Rockabilly Hits Vol. 2 [Rhino, 1991] *
  • H.E.A.L.: Civilization Vs. Technology [Elektra, 1991] Choice Cuts
  • Tom's Album [A&M, 1991] Choice Cuts
  • Africolor 2 [Celluloid, 1991] Choice Cuts
  • Deep Blues [Atlantic, 1992] *
  • Antone's Women: Bringing You the Best in Blues [Antone's, 1992] B+
  • Buddhist Liturgy of Tibet [World Music Library, 1992] B+
  • Kickin Mental Detergent [Kickin', 1992] A-
  • MTV Party to Go, Vol. 2 [Tommy Boy, 1992] ***
  • Only for the Headstrong: The Ultimate Rave Compilation [FFRR, 1992] A-
  • Reggae for Kids [RAS, 1992] *
  • Billboard Top Hits--1984 [Rhino, 1992] A
  • The Disco Years, Vol. 4: Lost in Music [Rhino, 1992] A-
  • Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Rain Forest [Smithsonian/Folkways, 1992] A-
  • A*F*R*I*C*A*N E*L*E*G*A*N*T [Original Sound, 1992] Neither
  • Cuba: Fully Charged [Earthworks/Caroline, 1992] Neither
  • Pimps, Players and Private Eyes [Sire/Warner Bros., 1992] Neither
  • Zouk Attack [Rounder, 1992] Neither
  • Honkers & Bar Walkers Volume One [Delmark, 1992] ***
  • Rig Rock Jukebox: A Collection of Diesel Only Records [First Warning, 1992] Choice Cuts
  • Dancehall Stylee: The Best of Reggae Dancehall Music Vol. 3 [Profile, 1992] Choice Cuts
  • Berlin 1992--A Tresor Compilation--The Techno Sound of Berlin [NovaMute, 1992] Choice Cuts
  • Zoo Rave 1 [Zoo, 1992] Choice Cuts
  • Duke-Peacock's Greatest Hits [MCA, 1992] **
  • Street Music of Java [Original Music, 1993] ***
  • Jive Soweto--The Indestructible Beat of Soweto Volume Four [Earthworks, 1993] A-
  • Aural Ecstasy: The Best of Techno [Relativity, 1993] ***
  • Before Benga 2: The Nairobi Sound [Original, 1993] A
  • Born to Choose [Rykodisc, 1993] A-
  • Dancehall Stylee: The Best of Reggae Dancehall Music Vol. 4 [Profile, 1993] A-
  • Ethnotechno (Sonic Anthropology), Vol. 1 [TVT, 1993] ***
  • Future House: Best of House Music, Vol. 4 [Profile, 1993] **
  • Futurhythms [Medicine, 1993] **
  • Heart of the Forest [Hannibal, 1993] A-
  • I've Found My Love: 1960's Guitar Band Highlife of Ghana [Original Music, 1993] *
  • Journeys by DJ: Billy Nasty Mix [Moonshine Music, 1993] A-
  • Lipstick Traces [Rough Trade, 1993] *
  • Mbuki Mvuki [Original Music, 1993] A
  • MTV Party to Go, Vol. 4 [Tommy Boy, 1993] A-
  • Putumayo Presents the Best of World Music, Vol. 1: World Vocal [Putumayo World Music, 1993] *
  • Tougher Than Tough: The Story of Jamaican Music [Mango, 1993] A
  • Welcome to the Future [Epic, 1993] **
  • Putumayo Presents the Best of World Music, Vol. 2: Instrumental [Putumayo World Music, 1993] C-
  • The Best of Ace Records--The R&B Hits [Scotti Bros., 1993] A
  • Funky Stuff: The Best of Funk Essentials [Mercury, 1993] A-
  • Technosonic Volume 3 [Sonic, 1993] A-
  • Sweet Relief: A Tribute to Victoria Williams [Thirsty Ear/Chaos, 1993] Neither
  • Excursions in Ambience [Caroline, 1993] Neither
  • Méringue [Corason, 1993] Neither
  • The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience [Geffen, 1993] Dud
  • DJ Red Alert's Propmaster Dancehall Show [Epic Street, 1993] Dud
  • Tresor II: Berlin-Detroit . . . A Techno Alliance [NovaMute, 1993] Dud
  • Uptown MTV Unplugged [Uptown/MCA, 1993] Dud
  • Calypso Calaloo [Rounder, 1993] *
  • Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix [Reprise, 1993] Choice Cuts
  • Kickin Mental Detergent Vol. 2 [Instinct, 1993] Choice Cuts
  • Bosnia: Music from an Endangered World [Smithsonian/Folkways, 1993] Choice Cuts
  • Cream of Tomato [Moonshine Music, 1993] Choice Cuts
  • No Alternative [Arista, 1993] Choice Cuts
  • Rap Rhymes! Mother Goose on the Loose [Epic, 1993] Choice Cuts
  • Stars of the Apollo [Columbia/Legacy, 1993] Choice Cuts
  • Incredibly Strange Music, Vol. 1 [Caroline, 1994] C
  • White Country Blues (1926-1938): A Lighter Shade of Blue [Columbia/Legacy, 1994] A-
  • 1-800-NEW-FUNK [NPG, 1994] *
  • A Taste of the Indestructible Beat of Soweto [Earthworks, 1994] A
  • A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield [Warner Bros., 1994] **
  • Beat the Retreat: Songs by Richard Thompson [Capitol, 1994] A-
  • Cumbia Cumbia 2 [World Circuit, 1994] A-
  • Dance Hits U.K. [Moonshine Music, 1994] A-
  • Diggin' in the Crates, Vol. 1: Profile Rap Classics [Profile, 1994] **
  • Great Divorce Songs for Her [Warner Bros., 1994] **
  • Handraizer [Moonshine, 1994] A
  • Kwanzaa Music: A Celebration of Black Cultures in Song [Rounder, 1994] A-
  • MTV Party to Go, Vol. 6 [Tommy Boy, 1994] **
  • Oujda-Casablanca Introspections, Vol. 1 [Barbarity, 1994] A-
  • Street Jams: Hip-Hop from the Top, Vol. 4 [Rhino, 1994] **
  • Turntable Tastemakers Issue No. 1: The Sound of Cleveland City Recordings [Moonshine, 1994] A-
  • The Flintstones: Music from Bedrock [MCA, 1994] ***
  • A History of Our World Part 1: Breakbeat & Jungle Ultramix by DJ DB [Profile, 1994] Neither
  • Vibrant Zimbabwe [Zimbob, 1994] Neither
  • Woodstock 94 [A&M, 1994] Neither
  • The Glory of Gershwin [Mercury, 1994] Neither
  • Punk-O-Rama [Epitaph, 1994] Neither
  • Concept in Dance: The Digital Alchemy of Goa Trance Dance [Moonshine Music, 1994] Dud
  • No Prima Donna: The Songs of Van Morrison [Polydor, 1994] Dud
  • Rock Stars Kill [Kill Rock Stars, 1994] Dud
  • Kickin Hardcore Leaders [Instinct, 1994] Dud
  • Lethal Riddims [Relativity, 1994] Dud
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents: The Fire of the Fundamentals [Columbia, 1994] ***
  • What Is Bhangra? [I.R.S., 1994] Choice Cuts
  • Journeys by DJ: DJ Duke [Moonshine Music, 1994] Choice Cuts
  • Start the Party! Volume 1 [Big Beat, 1994] Choice Cuts
  • Rhythm Country and Blues [MCA, 1994] Choice Cuts
  • Max Mix U.S.A. [Max, 1994] Choice Cuts
  • Red Hot + Country [Mercury, 1994] Choice Cuts
  • Adventures in Afropea 3: Telling Stories to the Sea [Luaka Bop/Warner Bros., 1995] A-
  • Afro-Peruvian Classics: The Soul of Black Peru [Luaka Bop/Warner Bros., 1995] ***
  • Big Phat Ones of Hip-Hop, Vol. 1 [Boxtunes, 1995] ***
  • Dada Kidawa/Sister Kidawa [Original Music, 1995] **
  • For the Love of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson [Musicmasters, 1995] B+
  • Kerestina: Guitar Songs of Southern Mozambique 1955-1957 [Original Music, 1995] **
  • Kneelin' Down Inside the Gate: The Great Rhythming Singers of the Bahamas [Rounder, 1995] *
  • Muziki Wa Dansi [Africasette, 1995] A-
  • Only the Poorman Feel It: South Africa [Hemisphere, 1995] A-
  • Phat Rap Flava '95 [Cold Front, 1995] **
  • Sif Safaa: New Music from the Middle East [Hemisphere, 1995] ***
  • Telephone Lobi/Telephone Love [Original Music, 1995] ***
  • The Best Punk Album in the World . . . Ever! [Virgin, 1995] A
  • Jive Nation--The Indestructible Beat of Soweto Volume Five [Earthworks, 1995] A-
  • The Secret Museum of Mankind, Vol. 1 [Yazoo, 1995] ***
  • Trance 2 [Ellipsis Arts, 1995] **
  • URBMix Vol. 1: Flammable Liquid [Planet Earth, 1995] **
  • Move to Groove: The Best of 1970s Jazz-Funk [Verve, 1995] C
  • Hillbilly Fever!: Vol. I: Legends of Western Swing [Rhino, 1995] A
  • Joe Franklin Presents . . . The Roaring '20s Roar Again [Legacy, 1995] A
  • Money No Be Sand [Original Music, 1995] Neither
  • Ain't Nuthin but a She Thing [London, 1995] Dud
  • Help: A Charity Project for the Children of Bosnia [London, 1995] Dud
  • Hempilation [Capricorn, 1995] Dud
  • Tapestry Revisited [Lava/Atlantic, 1995] Dud
  • Macro Dub Infection Volume One [Caroline, 1995] Choice Cuts
  • Spirit of '73: Rock for Choice [550 Music/Epic, 1995] Choice Cuts
  • Mash Up the Place! The Best of Reggae Dancehall [Rhino, 1995] Choice Cuts
  • Journeys by DJ: Coldcut [JDJ, 1995] Choice Cuts
  • Love Punany Bad [Priority, 1995] Choice Cuts
  • The D&D Project [Arista, 1995] Choice Cuts
  • It Came from Memphis [Upstart, 1995] Choice Cuts
  • Trance 1 [Ellipsis Arts, 1995] Choice Cuts
  • Christine Lavin Presents Laugh Tracks Volume 1 [Shanachie, 1996] *
  • A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan [Epic, 1996] ***
  • Divas of Mali [Shanachie, 1996] ***
  • Hot Luv: The Ultimate Dance Songs Collection [EMI, 1996] A
  • Jazz Satellites, Vol. 1: Electrification [Virgin, 1996] A-
  • Kwanzaa Party [Rounder, 1996] A-
  • La Iguana: Sones Jarochos [Corason, 1996] *
  • Live at the Social, Vol. 1 [Heavenly, 1996] ***
  • Make 'Em Mokum Crazy [Mokum, 1996] A-
  • Nova Bossa: Red Hot on Verve [Verve, 1996] *
  • Ocean of Sound [Virgin, 1996] A
  • Pass the Mic: The Posse Album [Priority, 1996] A-
  • Pop Fiction [Quango, 1996] A-
  • Red Hot + Rio [Antilles, 1996] **
  • Sugar and Poison [Virgin, 1996] A
  • Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation [Columbia, 1996] **
  • The Night Shift [C&S, 1996] ***
  • The Secret Museum of Mankind, Vol. 2 [Yazoo, 1996] B+
  • The Secret Museum of Mankind, Vol. 3 [Yazoo, 1996] *
  • Tokyo Invasion, Volume I: Cosmic Kurushi Monsters [Virgin, 1996] A-
  • What a Bam Bam! Dancehall Queens [Shanachie, 1996] **
  • Wipeout XL [Astralwerks, 1996] ***
  • El Caimán: Sones Huastecos [Corason, 1996] A-
  • Tricky Presents Grassroots [FFRR, 1996] ***
  • Dance Floor Divas: The '70s [Rhino, 1996] A
  • Masters of Jazz: Bebop's Greatest Hits [Rhino, 1996] A
  • Roller Disco: Boogie from the Skating Rinks [K-Tel, 1996] A
  • Detroit: Beyond the Third Wave [Astralwerks, 1996] Neither
  • Incursions in Illbient [Asphodel, 1996] Neither
  • Abstrakt Workshop 2 [Shadow, 1996] Neither
  • Best of Straker's: Ah Feel to Party [Rounder, 1996] Neither
  • Dancehall Queens [Blunt/TVT, 1996] Neither
  • A Journey into Ambient Groove 3 [Quango, 1996] Neither
  • Badawi Presents Bedouin Sound Clash [ROIR, 1996] Neither
  • Lach's Antihoot: Live from the Fort at Sidewalk Cafe [Shanachie, 1996] Dud
  • Monsters, Robots and Bug Men [Virgin, 1996] Dud
  • Hit Mix 96 Volume Two [Cold Front, 1996] Dud
  • A Journey into Ambient Groove [Quango, 1996] Dud
  • The Montuno Sessions--Live from Studio A [Mr. Bongo, 1996] *
  • Jungle: The Sound of the Underground [Sour/Columbia, 1996] Choice Cuts
  • Spin Control [Imix, 1996] Choice Cuts
  • Just Say Noël [DGC, 1996] Choice Cuts
  • More Noize Please [Shadow, 1996] Choice Cuts
  • America Is Dying Slowly [Red Hot, 1996] Choice Cuts
  • Club Mix 96--Volume 2 [Cold Front, 1996] Choice Cuts
  • Macarena Club Cutz [RCA, 1996] Choice Cuts
  • Silencio = Muerte: Red Hot + Latin [Red Hot, 1996] Choice Cuts
  • Gravikords Whirlies and Pyrophones [Ellipsis Arts, 1996] Choice Cuts
  • Christine Lavin Presents Laugh Tracks Volume 2 [Shanachie, 1996] Choice Cuts
  • Anthology of American Folk Music [Smithsonian/Folkways, 1997] A+
  • Beats & Rhymes: Hip Hop of the '90s, Part III [Rhino, 1997] A-
  • Beats & Rhymes: Hip Hop of the '90s, Part II [Rhino, 1997] A-
  • Beats & Rhymes: Hip Hop of the '90s, Part I [Rhino, 1997] B+
  • Bergville Stories [Sony International, 1997] A-
  • Big Rock'n Beats [TVT, 1997] A-
  • Closer Than a Kiss: Crooner Classics [Rhino, 1997] A
  • ESPN Presents Slam Jams, Vol. 1 [Tommy Boy, 1997] A+
  • History of House Music, Vol. 2: New York Garage Style [Cold Front, 1997] A-
  • Holding Up Half the Sky: Voices of African Women [Shanachie, 1997] **
  • Kings of African Music [Music Club, 1997] A-
  • Lesbian Favorites: Women Like Us [Rhino, 1997] **
  • MTV's AMP [Astralwerks, 1997] A-
  • Queens of African Music [Music Club, 1997] *
  • Soundbombing [Rawkus, 1997] A-
  • Real: The Tom T. Hall Project [Delmore, 1997] **
  • Strip Jointz [Robbins, 1997] A-
  • The Mystic Fiddle of the Proto-Gypsies: Masters of Trance Music [Shanachie, 1997] ***
  • The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Tribute [Columbia/Egyptian, 1997] A
  • This Is Ska! [Music Club, 1997] A
  • Township Jazz 'n' Jive [Music Club, 1997] A
  • Yo! MTV Raps [Def Jam, 1997] **
  • Muggs Presents . . . The Soul Assassins, Chapter 1 [Columbia, 1997] A-
  • Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Underground [Quango, 1997] C+
  • Heritage [Six Degrees/Island, 1997] C-
  • Roots of Jazz Funk Volume One [MVP, 1997] A+
  • Dancing at the Nick at Niteclub [Nick at Nite/550 Music, 1997] A-
  • Roots of Jazz Funk Volume Two [MVP, 1997] A
  • The Power of the Trinity: Great Moments in Reggae Harmony [Shanachie, 1997] A-
  • Nuyorican Soul [Giant Step/Blue Thumb, 1997] Dud
  • In Tha Beginning . . . There Was Rap [Priority, 1997] Choice Cuts
  • And Then There Was Bass [Mercedes/LaFace, 1997] Choice Cuts
  • September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill [Sony Classics, 1997] Choice Cuts
  • Drop Acid . . . Listen to This!! [Knitting Factory Works, 1997] Choice Cuts
  • Éthiopiques 1 [Buda, 1998] ***
  • '80s Underground Rap: Can I Kick It? [Rhino, 1998] **
  • '80s Underground Rap: Can You Feel It? [Rhino, 1998] ***
  • Afro-Latino [Putamayo, 1998] A-
  • American Pop: An Audio History from Minstrel to Mojo on Record, 1893-1946 [West Hill, 1998] A
  • Baby Sounds: Happy Sounds to Delight Baby [Kid Rhino, 1998] ***
  • Big Beat Conspiracy: BBC 1 [Pagan, 1998] ***
  • Cuba Now [Hemisphere, 1998] A-
  • Éthiopiques 2 [Buda Musique, 1998] *
  • Éthiopiques 3 [Buda Musique, 1998] B+
  • Éthiopiques 4 [Buda Musique, 1998] *
  • Fat Beats & Bra Straps: Battle Rhymes & Posse Cuts [Rhino, 1998] *
  • Fat Beats & Bra Straps: Classics [Rhino, 1998] A-
  • Hard Rock Cafe: Party Rock [Hard Rock/Rhino, 1998] A
  • Hound Dog Taylor: A Tribute [Alligator, 1998] A-
  • Lyricist Lounge, Vol. 1 [Priority, 1998] *
  • Mama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here [Yazoo, 1998] A-
  • Millennium Funk Party [Rhino, 1998] A
  • MTV's AMP 2 [MTV/Astralwerks, 1998] A-
  • No Easy Walk to Freedom [Music Club, 1998] *
  • Over in Glory: Favorites From Classic Gospel Groups [MCA, 1998] A
  • Red Hot + Rhapsody: The Gershwin Groove [Antilles, 1998] A-
  • The Gospel According to Earthworks [Sterns/Earthworks, 1998] *
  • The King's Record Collection, Volume 1 [Hip-O, 1998] A-
  • The Music in My Head [Sterns, 1998] A+
  • The Secret Museum of Mankind: Music of East Africa [Yazoo, 1998] *
  • Ultimate Christmas [Arista, 1998] ***
  • United Kingdom of Punk, Vol. 2 [Music Club, 1998] *
  • African Salsa [Sterns/Earthworks, 1998] ***
  • United Kingdom of Punk: The Hardcore Years [Music Club, 1998] A-
  • Hot Latin Hits/Exitos Latinos Calientes: The '90s [Rhino, 1998] D+
  • James Brown's Original Funky Divas [Polydor, 1998] ***
  • Fat Beats & Brastraps: New MC's [Rhino, 1998] **
  • Bad Boy Greatest Hits Volume 1 [Bad Boy, 1998] Neither
  • Brother's Gonna Work It Out: A DJ Mix Album by the Chemical Brothers [Astralwerks, 1998] Neither
  • '80s Underground Rap: Don't Believe the Hype [Rhino, 1998] Neither
  • Return of the D.J. Vol. II [Bomb, 1998] Choice Cuts
  • Chef Aid: The South Park Album [American, 1998] Choice Cuts
  • Motown Sings Motown Treasures [Motown, 1998] Choice Cuts
  • Lucky 13 [Oh Boy, 1998] Choice Cuts
  • The Harry Smith Connection: A Live Tribute [Smithsonian/Folkways, 1998] Choice Cuts
  • Essential DanceHall Reggae [Music Club, 1998] Choice Cuts
  • The Real Bahamas, Volumes I & II [Nonesuch, 1998] A
  • African Ambience: The Ultimate African Dance Party [Shanachie, 1999] A
  • The Spirit of Cape Verde [Tinder, 1999] B+
  • Cape Verde [Putumayo World Music, 1999] A-
  • Casa de la Trova [Detour, 1999] A-
  • Chuck D Presents: Louder Than a Bomb [Rhino, 1999] ***
  • Knitting on the Roof [Knitting Factory, 1999] *
  • Lightning Over the River: The Congolese Soukous Guitar Sound [Music Club, 1999] A-
  • M-Boogie: Laid in Full [Blackberry, 1999] *
  • Millennium Hip-Hop Party [Rhino, 1999] A-
  • MTV: The First 1000 Years: R&B [Rhino, 1999] A
  • New Groove 3: Déconstruire le groove esoterique [REV, 1999] **
  • No More Prisons [Raptivism, 1999] ***
  • Pop Music: The Early Years 1890-1950 [Columbia/Legacy, 1999] A
  • Profilin': The Hits, Vol. 1 [Arista, 1999] *
  • Quannum Spectrum [Quannum Projects, 1999] **
  • Rawkus Presents Soundbombing II [Rawkus, 1999] A-
  • Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons [Almo, 1999] A-
  • Ruffhouse Records Greatest Hits [Ruffhouse, 1999] A-
  • Streets of Dakar: Generation Bool Falé [Sterns, 1999] A-
  • Strength Magazine Presents Subtext [London/Strength, 1999] *
  • The Funky Precedent [Loosegroove/No Mayo, 1999] *
  • South African Rhythm Riot: The Indestructible Beat of Soweto Vol. 6 [Sterns/Earthworks, 1999] A-
  • The Real Hip-Hop: The Best of D&D, Vol. 1 [Coldfront, 1999] A-
  • Totally Hits [Arista, 1999] A-
  • Tropicália Essentials [Hip-O, 1999] A-
  • Uptown Lounge [The Right Stuff, 1999] A-
  • Y2K: Beat the Clock Version 1.0 [Columbia, 1999] A-
  • Roots Rock Guitar Party: Zimbabwe Frontline Vol. 3 [Sterns/Earthworks, 1999] A-
  • The RZA Hits [Razor Sharp/Epic, 1999] A-
  • The Blackbook Sessions [Galapagos4, 1999] *
  • Prodigy Present the Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One [XL/Beggars Banquet, 1999] Neither
  • Every Road I Take: The Best of Acoustic Blues [Shanachie, 1999] Neither
  • Wu-Chronicles [Wu-Tang, 1999] Neither
  • AP Presents Industrial Strength Machine Music [Rhino, 1999] Neither
  • Dublin to Dakar: A Celtic Odyssey [Putumayo World Music, 1999] Dud
  • Éthiopiques 5 [Buda Musique, 1999] Choice Cuts
  • No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees [Epic, 1999] Choice Cuts
  • Suck It and See [Palm Pictures, 1999] Choice Cuts
  • Burning London: The Clash Tribute [Epic, 1999] Choice Cuts
  • Nowcore!: The Punk Rock Evolution [K-Tel, 1999] Choice Cuts
  • The Sidewalks of New York [Winter & Winter, 1999] A-
  • Men Are Like Streetcars . . . Women Blues Singers 1928-1969 [MCA, 1999] A-
  • Dancehall 101, Vol. 1 [VP, 2000] A-
  • Dancehall 101, Vol. 2 [VP, 2000] **
  • Ego Trip's The Big Playback [Rawkus, 2000] **
  • Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Volume 4 [Revenant, 2000] A
  • Hip Hop 101 [Tommy Boy, 2000] A-
  • In Griot Time: String Music from Mali [Sterns, 2000] B+
  • Kwaito: South African Hip Hop [Sterns/Earthworks, 2000] A-
  • Latino Blue [Blue Note, 2000] ***
  • Loud Rocks [Loud, 2000] A-
  • Motown: The Classic Years [UTV, 2000] A+
  • Puerto Rico [Putumayo World Music, 2000] A-
  • Ragga Essentials: In a Dancehall Style [Hip-O, 2000] A-
  • Republica Dominicana [Putumayo World Music, 2000] ***
  • Select Cuts from Blood and Fire [Select Cuts, 2000] A-
  • Smooth Grooves: The Essential Collection [Rhino, 2000] A
  • Take a Bite Outta Rhyme: A Rock Tribute to Rap [Republic, 2000] *
  • The Funk Box [Hip-O, 2000] A
  • 'Til We Outnumber Them [Righteous Babe, 2000] Choice Cuts
  • The Rough Guide to Cumbia [World Music Network, 2000] A-
  • Afrobeat . . . No Go Die! [Shanachie, 2000] ***
  • Mozambique Relief [Naxos World, 2000] **
  • Twilo Volume 1: Junior Vasquez [Virgin, 2000] **
  • Taquachito Nights: Conjunto Music from South Texas [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2000] **
  • Lyricist Lounge Vol. 2 [Rawkus, 2000] A-
  • Rebirth of the Loud [Priority, 2000] D
  • Haiku D'Etat [Pure Hip Hop, Inc., 2000] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Bhangra [World Music Network, 2000] A-
  • Grammy Rap Nominees 2000 [RCA/Grammy, 2000] Neither
  • The Unbound Project Volume 1 [Realized/Ground Control, 2000] Neither
  • God Bless Africa [Music Club, 2000] Neither
  • Rebirth of the Loud [Priority, 2000] Dud
  • Best of Trance Volume One [Robbins, 2000] Dud
  • Platinum Christmas [Arista/RCA/Jive, 2000] Dud
  • Solesides Greatest Bumps [Quannum Projects, 2000] ***
  • Music from the Tea Lands [Putumayo World Music, 2000] **
  • Down to the Promised Land: 5 Years of Bloodshot Records [Bloodshot, 2000] Choice Cuts
  • Dance Hall Liberation [Heartbeat, 2000] Choice Cuts
  • Planet Reggae 2000 [VP, 2000] Choice Cuts
  • Salsa Clasica [Music Club, 2000] A-
  • Badlands [Sub Pop, 2000] Choice Cuts
  • Free the West Memphis 3 [Koch, 2000] B+
  • The Best of International Hip-Hop [Hip-O, 2000] A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Central America [World Music Network, 2000] **
  • The Prestige Legacy, Vol. 1: The High Priests [Prestige, 2000] A-
  • Not the Same Old Blues Crap II [Fat Possum, 2001] Choice Cuts
  • Chitlin Circuit Soul [Rhino, 2001] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Cuban Son [World Music Network, 2001] A-
  • Desert Roses and Arabian Rhythms [Mondo Melodia, 2001] B+
  • Keep It Rollin': The Blues Piano Collection [Rounder, 2001] A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Indonesia [World Music Network, 2001] A-
  • Avalon Blues: A Tribute to the Music of Mississippi John Hurt [Vanguard, 2001] Choice Cuts
  • Gimme Indie Rock V. 1 [K-Tel, 2001] A-
  • A Nod to Bob: An Artists' Tribute to Bob Dylan on His 60th Birthday [Red House, 2001] Dud
  • A Break from the Norm [Restless, 2001] **
  • El Son No Ha Muerto [Rhino, 2001] *
  • Crossfaderz: Roc Raida of the X-Ecutioners [Moonshine Music, 2001] *
  • The Rough Guide to Merengue and Bachata [World Music Network, 2001] **
  • Brand New Boots and Panties: A Tribute to Ian Dury [Gold Circle, 2001] ***
  • Bombay 2: Electric Vindaloo [Motel, 2001] ***
  • Wild Pitch Classics [Wild Pitch, 2001] *
  • Vital 2-Step [V2, 2001] **
  • Mush Filmstrip (Frame 1) [Shadow, 2001] A-
  • Tea in Marrakech [Sterns/Earthworks, 2001] A
  • Tommy Boy Essentials: Hip Hop Vol. 1 [Tommy Boy, 2001] ***
  • The Beat: Go-Go's Fusion of Funk and Hip Hop [Liaison, 2001] A-
  • Classical Hits [Sony Classical, 2001] C-
  • Wayne Kramer Presents Beyond Cyberpunk [Music Blitz, 2001] Choice Cuts
  • Boy George, Essential Mix [FFRR, 2001] Choice Cuts
  • Arabic Groove [Putumayo World Music, 2001] Choice Cuts
  • Girl Group Greats [Rhino, 2001] A+
  • Select Cuts From Blood & Fire Chapter Two [Select Cuts, 2001] A-
  • Alligator Records 30th Anniversary Collection [Alligator, 2001] **
  • Blind Pig Records 25th Anniversary Collection [Blind Pig, 2001] Choice Cuts
  • Spirit of Africa [RealWorld, 2001] **
  • Farewell Fondle 'Em [Def Jux, 2001] *
  • Classic Reggae: The DeeJays [Music Club, 2001] ***
  • Hank Williams: Timeless [Lost Highway, 2001] **
  • Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records [Sire, 2001] Choice Cuts
  • Mondo Soukous [Mondo Melodia, 2001] A-
  • Colombia [Putumayo World Music, 2001] A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Greece [World Music Network, 2001] Choice Cuts
  • Bosavi: Rainforest Music From Papua New Guinea [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2001] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Sufi Music [World Music Network, 2001] **
  • Shango, Shouter and Obeah: Supernatural Calypso From Trinidad 1934-1940 [Rounder, 2001] B+
  • Novelty Songs: 1914-1946: Crazy and Obscure [Trikont, 2001] A
  • Definitive Jux Presents II [Def Jux, 2002] Choice Cuts
  • Africa Raps [Trikont, 2002] A-
  • The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever [no label, 2002] A
  • Desert Roses -2- [Mondo Melodia, 2002] Choice Cuts
  • South African Freedom Songs [Making Music, 2002] A-
  • Now That's What I Call Music! 9 [UMG, 2002] Choice Cuts
  • The History of Township Music [Wrasse, 2002] A-
  • Constant Elevation [Astralwerks, 2002] Choice Cuts
  • Soundbombing III [Rawkus, 2002] Choice Cuts
  • American Polka [Trikont, 2002] B+
  • Red Hot + Riot [MCA, 2002] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Paris Café Music [World Music Network, 2002] B+
  • Defining Tech [Orbisonic, 2002] C-
  • Cuisine Non-Stop [Luaka Bop, 2002] *
  • Badenya: Manden Jaliya in New York City [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2002] *
  • This Is Tech-Pop [Ministry of Sound, 2002] Choice Cuts
  • Electric Highlife: Sessions From the Bokoor Studios [Naxos World, 2002] A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Nigeria and Ghana [World Music Network, 2002] A
  • This Is Where I Belong: The Songs of Ray Davies & the Kinks [Rykodisc, 2002] ***
  • Antifolk, Vol. 1 [Rough Trade, 2002] ***
  • Call It What You Want This Is Antifolk [Olive Juice, 2002] Choice Cuts
  • Cash Money Records: Platinum Hits [Cash Money/Universal, 2002] A-
  • The Music in My Head 2 [Sterns Africa, 2002] A-
  • Blazin' Hip Hop & R&B [Columbia, 2002] **
  • Off the Hook [Columbia, 2002] Dud
  • The Rough Guide to Raï [World Music Network, 2002] A-
  • The High & Mighty Present: Eastern Conference All Stars III [Eastern Conference, 2002] ***
  • Raï Superstars [Mondo Melodia, 2002] ***
  • Wish You Were Here: Love Songs to New York [Village Voice, 2002] A-
  • Extra Yard [Big Dada, 2002] A-
  • Big Beach Boutique II [Southern Fried, 2002] **
  • Fat Beats Compilation Volume Two [Fat Beats, 2002] **
  • Wow Hits 2003 [Sparrow, 2002] E+
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Turkey [World Music Network, 2002] **
  • Ghana Soundz: Afro-Beat, Funk and Fusion in 70's Ghana [Soundway, 2002] Choice Cuts
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Haiti [World Music Network, 2002] **
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of the Indian Ocean [World Music Network, 2002] **
  • The Rough Guide to Afro-Peru [World Music Network, 2002] ***
  • The Sound of the City: Memphis [EMI, 2002]
  • Finger Poppin' and Stompin' Feet [EMI/Capitol, 2002] A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of the Alps [World Music Network, 2002] Choice Cuts
  • The Best There Ever Was [Yazoo, 2003] A
  • The Rough Guide to Highlife [World Music Network, 2003] A-
  • The Bug Vs The Rootsman Feat. Daddy Freddy/Dj/Rupture [Tigerbeat6, 2003] Dud
  • Arabesque Tlata 3 [React, 2003] A-
  • The Kings of Highlife [Wrasse, 2003] A-
  • Anthology of World Music: The Music of Afghanistan [Rounder, 2003] ***
  • Jit Jive: Zimbabwean Street Party [Sheer Sound, 2003] Choice Cuts
  • Ragga Ragga Ragga! 2003 [Greensleeves, 2003] A-
  • Rasta Jamz [Razor & Tie, 2003] **
  • The Rough Guide to South African Gospel [World Music Network, 2003] A-
  • The Neptunes Present . . . Clones [Star Trak, 2003] **
  • Festival in the Desert [World Village, 2003] A-
  • Mali Lolo!: Stars of Mali [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2003] ***
  • Tulear Never Sleeps [Sterns/Earthworks, 2003] **
  • Yes New York [Wolfgang Morden, 2003] Choice Cuts
  • New York City Rock N Roll [Radical, 2003] Dud
  • Postwar Jazz: An Arbitrary Roadmap [no label/Weatherbird, 2003] A+
  • Somewhere Over the Rainbow: The Golden Age of Hollywood Musicals [Rhino, 2003] ***
  • Down in the Basement [Old Hat, 2003] A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Egypt [World Music Network, 2003] A-
  • Stomp and Swerve: American Music Gets Hot [Archeophone, 2003] B+
  • Hot Women [Kein & Aber, 2003] **
  • Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: Warming by the Devil's Fire [Columbia/Legacy, 2003] Choice Cuts
  • The Guitar and Gun [Sterns/Earthworks, 2003] A-
  • Compilasian: The World of Indipop [Narada World, 2003] Dud
  • Piano Blues: A Film by Clint Eastwood [Columbia/Legacy, 2003] A
  • Masters of the Boogie Piano [Delmark, 2003] A-
  • For Jumpers Only! [Delmark, 2003]
  • When the Sun Goes Down: Poor Man's Heaven [Bluebird, 2003] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Salsa Colombia [World Music Network, 2003] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Salsa de Puerto Rico [World Music Network, 2003] **
  • Salsa Around the World [Putumayo World Music, 2003] *
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Venezuela [World Music Network, 2003] **
  • Now That's Chicago [Legacy, 2003]
  • Saucy Calypsos Volume One [Ice, 2003] ***
  • African Groove [Putumayo World Music, 2003] *
  • Urban Brazil [Sterns/Earthworks, 2003] ***
  • Sampa Nova [Sterns Brasil, 2003] **
  • The Rough Guide to Brazilian Electronica [World Music Network, 2003] Choice Cuts
  • The Sound of the City: New Orleans [EMI, 2003] A
  • Power of Soul: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix [Experience Hendrix, 2003]
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Morocco [World Music Network, 2004] A-
  • The Rough Guide to African Rap [World Music Network, 2004] ***
  • The Hip Hop Box [Hip-O, 2004]
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Ethiopia [World Music Network, 2004] A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Kenya [World Music Network, 2004] A-
  • Women of Africa [Putumayo World Music, 2004] Dud
  • The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip Hop 1979-1983 [Stones Throw, 2004] A-
  • Not in Our Name [Broken Arrow, 2004] Choice Cuts
  • Nuevo Latino [Putumayo World Music, 2004] Choice Cuts
  • Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster [Emergent, 2004] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Gypsy Swing [World Music Network, 2004] B+
  • Cafe Mundo [Sunnyside, 2004] *
  • Patriotic Country [BMG/Music for a Cause, 2004] Choice Cuts
  • Paris City Coffee [Sunnyside, 2004] Dud
  • Songs and Artists That Inspired Fahrenheit 9/11 [Epic, 2004] **
  • Tell Us the Truth: The Live Concert Recording [Artemis, 2004] Choice Cuts
  • Patriotic Country [BMG/Music for a Cause, 2004] C-
  • Ultimate Worship Music [BMG Strategic Marketing Group, 2004] E
  • The Roots of Rock 'n' Roll 1946-1954 [Hip-O, 2004] A
  • Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: Big Ol' Box of New Orleans [Shout! Factory, 2004]
  • Unity: The Official ATHENS Olymphic Games Album [EMI, 2004]
  • Rock Against Bush Vol. 1 [Fat Wreck Chords, 2004]
  • Rock Against Bush Vol. 2 [Fat Wreck Chords, 2004]
  • Black Power: Music of a Revolution [Shout! Factory, 2004]
  • Future Soundtrack for America [Barsuk, 2004]
  • African Underground Vol 1: Hip-Hop Senegal [Nomadic Wax, 2004] A-
  • Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon [Artemis, 2004] ***
  • Lif Up Yuh Leg an Trample [Honest Jon's, 2004] **
  • The Rough Guide to Brazilian Hip-Hop [World Music Network, 2004] A-
  • Zambush Vol. 1 [SWP, 2004] B+
  • The Rough Guide to Mediterranean Café Music [World Music Network, 2004] ***
  • Tribal Bahia: The Best of Timbalada [Universal, 2004] **
  • Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Beats [Essay, 2004] **
  • War (If It Feels Good, Do It!) [Hiphop Slam, 2004] ***
  • The Rough Guide to Rebétika [World Music Network, 2004] **
  • Bats'i Son [Latitude, 2004] *
  • World 2004 [Wrasse, 2004] **
  • Sí, Soy Llanero: Joropo Music From the Orinoco Plains of Colombia [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2004] **
  • Classic Folk Music [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2004] Dud
  • Ultra Lounge: Cocktails With Cole Porter [Capitol, 2004] *
  • Oxfam Arabia [World Music Network, 2004] **
  • Caroline, or Change [Hollywood, 2004] *
  • Memphis Celebrates 50 Years of Rock 'n' Roll [BMG Strategic Marketing Group, 2004]
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of the Balkans [World Music Network, 2004] ***
  • The Rough Guide to Boogaloo [World Music Network, 2005] A-
  • Run the Road [Vice/Atlantic, 2005] A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Central Asia [World Music Network, 2005] **
  • World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love's a Real Thing [Luaka Bop, 2005] A-
  • Mali [Putumayo World Music, 2005] Dud
  • Nouvelle Vague [Luaka Bop, 2005] *
  • New York Rocks [Koch, 2005]
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara [World Music Network, 2005] A
  • North African Groove [Putumayo World Music, 2005] *
  • Global Hip Hop [Manteca, 2005] A-
  • Bar Bhangra [Escondida, 2005] ***
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of the Balkan Gypsies [World Music Network, 2005] A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Sudan [World Music Network, 2005] ***
  • Italian Café [Putumayo World Music, 2005] *
  • Mehanata: New York Gypsymania [Mehanata, 2005] *
  • Cameo Parkway 1957-1967 [Abkco, 2005]
  • Hustle and Flow [Atlantic, 2005] ***
  • Son Cubano NYC [Honest Jon's, 2005] ***
  • Our New Orleans 2005 [Nonesuch, 2005] A
  • Another World Is Possible [Uncivilized World/UWe North America, 2005] **
  • Motown Classics Gold [Motown, 2005] A+
  • Crunk Hits [TVT, 2005] A-
  • Golden Afrique Vol. 1 [Network, 2005] A
  • Sound of the World [Wrasse, 2005] *
  • Think Differently Music: Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture [Babygrande, 2005] B+
  • Good for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows--1926-1937 [Old Hat, 2005] ***
  • Big Boi Presents . . . Got Purp? Vol. II [Virgin, 2005] Dud
  • Together Again: Legends of Bulgarian Wedding Music [Traditional Crossroads, 2005] *
  • One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost & Found [Rhino, 2005]
  • Golden Afrique Vol. 2 [Network, 2005] A-
  • Africa Remix: Ah Freak Iya [Milan, 2005] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Dub [World Music Network, 2005] A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Brazil: Rio de Janeiro [World Music Network, 2005] *
  • Classic Rock Gold [Hip-O, 2005] A-
  • Run the Road 2 [Vice, 2006] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Bhangra Dance [World Music Network, 2006] A-
  • Turkish Groove [Putumayo World Music, 2006] **
  • The Rough Guide to Urban Latino [World Music Network, 2006] *
  • Congotronics 2 [Crammed Discs, 2006] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Planet Rock [World Music Network, 2006] A-
  • Re-Bop: The Savoy Remixes [Savoy Jazz Worldwide, 2006] Choice Cuts
  • From Bakabush: The First Ten Years of Stonetree [Ba Da Bing!, 2006] A-
  • Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story [Rhino, 2006] A-
  • Tropicália: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound [Soul Jazz, 2006] A-
  • From Dakar to Johannesburg [Playasound, 2006] Choice Cuts
  • Crunk Hits, Vol. 2 [TVT, 2006] A
  • Elton John's Christmas Party [Hear Music, 2006] Choice Cuts
  • The Rough Guide to West African Gold [World Music Network, 2006] ***
  • American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1986 [Rhino, 2006] *
  • Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, & Chanteys [Anti-, 2006] Choice Cuts
  • Jewface [Reboot Stereophonic, 2006] A-
  • Paris Presents: Hard Truth Soldiers: Volume 1 [Guerrilla Funk, 2006] ***
  • Why the Hell Not . . . : The Songs of Kinky Friedman [Sustain, 2006] ***
  • African Pearls, Vol. 1: Rumba on the River [Syllart, 2006] A-
  • Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers [Atlantic/Rhino, 2006] Choice Cuts
  • Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Sisters [Atlantic/Rhino, 2006] Choice Cuts
  • Mama's Got a Bag of Her Own [Stateside, 2006] Choice Cuts
  • Panama! [Soundway, 2006] Choice Cuts
  • Eminem Presents: The Re-Up [Interscope, 2006]
  • Plague Songs [4AD, 2006]
  • What's Happening in Pernambuco? [Luaka Bop, 2007] **
  • Authenticité: The Syliphone Years [Sterns Africa, 2007] A-
  • Bokoor Beats [Otrabanda, 2007] A-
  • Urban Africa Club [Out Here, 2007] A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of South Africa [World Music Network, 2007] **
  • Singing for Life: Songs of Hope, Healing, and HIV/AIDS in Uganda [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2007] **
  • Hyphy Hitz [TVT, 2007] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Latin Arabia [World Music Network, 2007] ***
  • North Africa: The Greatest Songs Ever [Petrol, 2007] **
  • Gypsy Caravan: Music in and Inspired by the Film [World Village, 2007] **
  • The Rough Guide to North African Café [World Music Network, 2007] *
  • Hairspray [Soundtrack] [New Line, 2007] Dud
  • Motel Lovers [Trikont, 2007] A-
  • The Roots of Chicha [Barbès, 2007] A-
  • Tropicalia: A Revolutionary Movement of Sound [Universal Latino, 2007] Choice Cuts
  • Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino [Vanguard, 2007] ***
  • The Rough Guide to African Blues [World Music Network, 2007] Choice Cuts
  • The Rough Guide to Bellydance Café [World Music Network, 2007] **
  • Downtown 81 [Recall, 2007] **
  • Think Global: Bellydance [World Music Network, 2007] *
  • Seriously Good Music: Gypsy Beats [Petrol, 2007] *
  • Crunk Hits Vol. 4 [TVT, 2007] *
  • The Sandinista! Project [00:02:59, 2007] Dud
  • After Dark [Feow!, 2007] Dud
  • Look Directly Into the Sun: China Pop 2007 [UFO, 2007] A-
  • I'm Not There [Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax, 2007] Choice Cuts
  • Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur [Warner Bros., 2007] Choice Cuts
  • The Rough Guide to World Music: Africa & Middle East [World Music Network, 2007] Choice Cuts
  • New York City Salsa [Fania, 2007] A-
  • Think Global: Women of Africa [World Music Network, 2007] B+
  • Bachata Roja: Acoustic Bachata From the Cabaret Era [iASO, 2007] ***
  • The Rough Guide to Salsa Dura NYC [World Music Network, 2007] **
  • The Rough Guide to Salsa [World Music Network, 2007] **
  • The Rough Guide to Latin Funk [World Music Network, 2007] *
  • The Greatest Songs Ever--West Africa [Petrol, 2007] *
  • Think Global: Salsa [World Music Network, 2007] Choice Cuts
  • Si, Para Usted: The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba: Volume 1 [Waxing Deep, 2007] Choice Cuts
  • The Bad Boogaloo: Nu Yorican Sounds 1966-1970 [Fania, 2007] Choice Cuts
  • The Rough Guide to Salsa Clandestino [World Music Network, 2007] Choice Cuts
  • African Party [Putumayo World Music, 2007] Dud
  • The Best of the Johnny Cash Show 1969-1971 [Columbia/Legacy, 2007] **
  • Belly Bar [CIA/Bellydance Superstars, 2007] **
  • Now That's What I Call Party Hits! [Capitol, 2007] A-
  • Think Global: Tango [Riverboat, 2007] **
  • Tango Around the World [Putumayo World Music, 2007] Dud
  • Gypsy Groove [Putamayo, 2007] Dud
  • Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection [Shout! Factory, 2007]
  • Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump: Original Heavyweight Afrobeat, Highlife & Afro-Funk [Strut, 2008] A-
  • Body of War: Songs That Inspired an Iraq War Veteran [Sire, 2008] **
  • The Rough Guide to African Street Party [World Music Network, 2008] Choice Cuts
  • Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock & Fuzz Funk in 1970s Nigeria [Soundway, 2008] Dud
  • Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues [Soundway, 2008] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Congo Gold [World Music Network, 2008] A
  • Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project [Cumbancha, 2008] A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of the Hungarian Gypsies [World Music Network, 2008] **
  • Latin Reggae [Putumayo World Music, 2008] C-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Romanian Gypsies [World Music Network, 2008] A-
  • Princes Amongst Men: Journeys With Gypsy Musicians [Asphalt Tango, 2008] ***
  • Love, Peace & Poetry: Chilean Psychedelic Music [Tee Pee, 2008] Choice Cuts
  • Disturbia Remixes [Def Jam, 2008] Choice Cuts
  • The Rough Guide to Klezmer Revolution [World Music Network, 2008] **
  • The Rough Guide to Klezmer Revival [World Music Network, 2008] **
  • The Jewish Songbook [Shout! Factory, 2008] Choice Cuts
  • The Rough Guide to Calypso Gold [World Music Network, 2008] ***
  • A Jazz & Blues Christmas [Putumayo World Music, 2008] **
  • Arriba la Cumbia! [Crammed Discs, 2008] A-
  • Rich Man's War [Ruf, 2008] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Colombian Street Party [World Music Network, 2008] A-
  • Delmark: 55 Years of Blues [Delmark, 2008] **
  • The Rough Guide to Cuban Street Party [World Music Network, 2008] ***
  • The Rough Guide to Latin Street Party [World Music Network, 2008] *
  • The Rough Guide to Turkish Café [World Music Network, 2008] Choice Cuts
  • Whiskey in the Jar: Essential Irish Drinking Songs & Sing Alongs [Legacy, 2008] ***
  • Black Stars: Ghanas Hiplife Generation [Out Here, 2008] A-
  • ZZK Sound Vol. 1--Cumbia Digital [ZZK, 2008] B+
  • African Pearls: Senegal 70: Musical Effervescence [Syllart, 2009] A-
  • The Home Run EP [Yep Roc EP, 2009] Choice Cuts
  • War Child Presents Heroes: An Album to Benefit Children Affected by War [Astralwerks/War Child, 2009] ***
  • Dark Was the Night [4AD, 2009] A-
  • Johnny Cash Remixed [Compadre, 2009] Dud
  • The Rough Guide to Afrobeat Revival [World Music Network, 2009] **
  • Panama! 2 [Soundway, 2009] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Latin Lounge [World Music Network, 2009] Choice Cuts
  • The Panic Is On [Shanachie, 2009] A-
  • In the Pines: Tar Heel Folk Songs & Fiddle Tunes [Old Hat, 2009] ***
  • The Rough Guide to Merengue Dance [World Music Network, 2009] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Afrobeat Revolution [World Music Network, 2009] *
  • The Rough Guide to Tango Revival [World Music Network, 2009] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Tango [World Music Network, 2009] *
  • The Rough Guide to Gypsy Revival [World Music Network, 2009] B+
  • The Rough Guide to Gypsy Music [World Music Network, 2009] Choice Cuts
  • Dr. Boogie Presents Heavy Jelly: Essential Instrumentals 8 [Sub Rosa, 2009] **
  • Ghana Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Ghanaian Blues [Soundway, 2009] *
  • Beatles Beginnings [Rhythmand Blues, 2009] A-
  • Ouaga Affair: Hard Won Sound of the Upper Volta 1974-78 [Savannaphone, 2009] B+
  • Preservation [Preservation Hall, 2009] *
  • BalkanBeats: A Night in Berlin [Piranha, 2010] **
  • Next Stop . . . Soweto [Strut, 2010] *
  • Project Ahimsa Presents Global Lingo [Project Ahimsa, 2010] ***
  • Snoop Dogg Presents the West Coast Blueprint [Priority, 2010] *
  • African Pearls: Congo: Pont Sur le Congo [Syllart, 2010] A
  • Egypt Noir: Nubian Soul Treasures [Piranha, 2010] ***
  • Lagos Disco Inferno [Academy LPs/Voodoo Funk, 2010] **
  • African Pearls: Côte d'Ivoire: West African Crossroads [Syllart, 2010] **
  • African Pearls: Sénégal--Echo Musical [Syllart, 2010] ***
  • Eccentric Breaks & Beats [Numero Group, 2010] **
  • Raise Hope for Congo [Mercer Street, 2010] *
  • Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine [Oh Boy, 2010] Choice Cuts
  • Tribute to a Reggae Legend [Putumayo World Music, 2010] Dud
  • Angola Soundtrack [Analog Africa, 2010] B+
  • Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa [Honest Jon's, 2010] A-
  • Scion CD Sampler v. 28--Dub Police [Scion AV, 2010] B+
  • Blow Your Head: Diplo Presents Dubstep [Downtown/Mad Decent, 2010] A-
  • Now That's What I Call Club Hits 2 [EMI, 2010] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Desert Blues [World Music Network, 2010] A-
  • Radioclit Presents: The Sound of Club Secousse Vol. 1 [Crammed Discs, 2010] B+
  • Yes We Can: Songs About Leaving Africa [Out Here, 2010] ***
  • Afro-Beat Airways [Analog Africa, 2010] ***
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Afghanistan [World Music Network, 2010] **
  • The Lost Cuban Trios of Casa Marina [Ahi-Nama, 2010] **
  • The Rough Guide to Arabic Lounge [World Music Network, 2010] **
  • Afro Latin Via Dakar [Syllart Productions/Discograph, 2011] A-
  • Generation Bass Presents: Transnational Dubstep [Six Degrees, 2011] A-
  • Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector 1961-1966 [Phil Spector/Legacy, 2011] A
  • Afro Latin Via Kinshasa [Syllart Productions/Discograph, 2011] A-
  • Fania Records 1964-1980: The Original Sound of Latin New York [Strut, 2011] B+
  • Nigeria 70: Sweet Times: Afro-Funk, Highlife & Juju From 1970s Lagos [Strut, 2011] A-
  • Rave On Buddy Holly [Fantasy, 2011] A-
  • Note of Hope [429, 2011] A-
  • BLNRB: Welcome to the Madhouse [Out Here, 2011] A-
  • Our Dreams Are Our Weapons: From the Kasbah/Tunis to Tahrir Square/Cairo and Back [Network, 2011] B+
  • The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams [Egyptian/CMF/Columbia, 2011] B+
  • Sofrito: Tropical Discotheque [Strut, 2011] A-
  • Bachata Roja: Amor y Amargue [iASO, 2011] A-
  • 19 Classic Blues Songs From the 1920's: Vol. 9 [Blues Images, 2011] A-
  • The Rough Guide to African Guitar Legends [World Music Network, 2011] ***
  • The Original Sound of Cumbia [Soundway, 2011] A-
  • Blow Your Head Vol. 2: Dave Nada Presents Moombahton [Downtown/Mad Decent, 2011] ***
  • I Have My Liberty!: Gospel Sounds From Accra, Ghana [Dust-to-Digital, 2011] *
  • The Rough Guide to Bellydance [World Music Network, 2011] ***
  • This One's for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark [Icehouse, 2011] ***
  • Listen . . . Oka! [Oka Productions, 2012] A
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Morocco [World Music Network, 2012] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Highlife [World Music Network, 2012] A
  • Dabke: Sounds of the Syrian Houran [Sham Palace, 2012] A-
  • The Rough Guide to African Roots Revival [World Music Network, 2012] ***
  • Songs for Desert Refugees [Glitterhouse, 2012] A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Ethiopia [World Music Network, 2012] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Undiscovered World [World Music Network, 2012] B+
  • Lowe Country: The Songs of Nick Lowe [Fiesta Red, 2012] *
  • Sofrito: International Soundclash [Strut, 2012] **
  • African Blues [Putumayo World Music, 2012] *
  • Diablos Del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot 1960-85 [Analog Africa, 2012] A-
  • The Man With the Iron Fists [Soul Temple, 2012] **
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Hungary [World Music Network, 2012] A-
  • Future Sounds of Buenos Aires [ZZK/Waxploitation, 2012] **
  • Fac. Dance 02: 12" Mixes & Rarities 1980-1987 [Strut, 2012] *
  • Nuggets [Rhino, 2012] A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Senegal [World Music Network, 2013] B+
  • Live From Festival Au Desert Timbuktu [Clermont Music, 2013] A-
  • Kenya Special [Soundway, 2013] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Acoustic Africa [World Music Network, 2013] A-
  • Ethnic Minority Music of Southern Asia [Sublime Frequencies, 2013] B+
  • The Rough Guide to African Disco [World Music Network, 2013] A-
  • Sing Me the Songs: Celebrating the Works of Kate McGarrigle [Nonesuch, 2013] A-
  • ZZK Sound Vol. 3 [ZZK/Waxploitation, 2013] A-
  • 121212: The Concert for Sandy Relief [Columbia, 2013] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Boy Meets Girl [Stax, 1969]
All the Stax singers duoing; like most two-record sets has some waste cuts but they don't really matter. B+

Super Black Blues [BluesTime, 1969]
I don't often comment on blues, hardly my field of expertise, but this is an extraordinarily mellow jam, with old masters--Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker, Otis Spann--wailing away. B+

The Naked Carmen [Mercury, 1970]
The aptest instance of overpretension in the history of rock-is-art. It makes more sense to do a rock/pop take-off on a vulgar work in a vulgar genre than to collaborate on derivative moderne with Zubin Mehta (the Mothers) or stick your amps in front of a notoriously venal symphony orchestra (Deep Purple). The c&w version of "The Toreador Song" is perfect. Great package, too. I may even keep it. C

Super Black Blues Volume II [BluesTime, 1970]
On the first volume T-Bone Walker, Joe Turner, and Otis Spann joined an extraordinarily mellow studio jam that found all three in good humor and good voice--an unique document. This live sequel is a solid sampler, blues one step closer to jazz than Muddy Waters or B.B. King (who emcees). Turner and Cleanhead Vinson do their standards with a one-man horn section; Walker and Leon Thomas work with a combo that includes congas and bongos. Thomas is something of a ringer, but he certainly sounds a lot more earthbound here than with Pharoah Sanders. Recommended to blues fanatics, blues novices, and anyone lucky enough to find it in a bargain bin. B+

Woodstock [Cotillion, 1970]
"I left one thing out of my Woodstock article," says Tom Smucker, author of a good one. "I left out how boring it was." And though you can be sure it's not like being there, this three-record set does capture that. As is inevitable in a live album featuring stage announcements, crowd noises, and sixteen different artists, not one side is enjoyable straight through: CSNY are stiff and atrociously flat in their second gig, Paul Butterfield sounds wasted, Sha Na Na should never record, Joan Baez should never record, and so forth. But a substantial proportion of this music sounds pretty good, and three performances belong to history: Ten Years After's "I'm Going Home" (speed kills), Joe Cocker's "With a Little Help From My Friends" (mad Englishman), and Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" (wotta ham). Also, the stage announcements and crowd noises are better than most. B

The Concert for Bangla Desh [Apple, 1971]
The five rock sides--not counting 22:35 of Ravi Shankar, who has one-fourth of the music in this piece of rock history--average about thirteen minutes. They offer exactly what I heard at the Garden: five clear, straightforward, moving protest-era oldies from Bob Dylan, two clear, strong rock and roll oldies from Leon Russell, and Ringo singing "It Don't Come Easy." Plus eight songs by George Harrison and one by Billy Preston. And if you mail your check to the United Nations Children's Fund for Relief to Refugee Children of Bangla Desh you can avoid the middleman. B-

Woodstock II [Cotillion, 1971]
I don't understand why, but Butterfield, Baez, and especially CSNY all sound more together on these selections than they did last time. I do understand why there's a whole side of Hendrix, and it's not the amazing ritual repetitions of "Jam Back at the House," but I'll settle--he makes what would be an engaging but dispensable piece of history into something more. B

Jamming With Edward [Rolling Stones, 1972]
Given OK playing, lousy vocal mix, and all but nonexistent composition, the only virtue bestowed upon this circa-1970 Jagger/Hopkins/Cooder/Wyman/Watts jam by the attendant supergroup is a discount list price. Which only a collector would be fool enough to pay. C

Echoes of a Rock Era: The Early Years [Roulette, 1972]
[Along with You Must Remember These: Volume One, a] basic collection for connoisseurs of long-playing grease. [This one] is "all top 10" and is as conventional as that claim implies. It includes a couple of Chuck Berry songs that any self-respecting nostalgic already owns and a couple of entries from old Roulette artist Jimmy Rodgers that really don't belong at all, but will probably please the casual reminiscer. Statistics: 20 songs on two discs for $5.98. A-

You Must Remember These: Volume 1 [Bell, 1972]
[Along with Echoes of a Rock Era: The Early Years, a] basic collection for connoisseurs of long-playing grease. I prefer the Bell; in fact, I think it is the best oldies package to reach the market in years. It includes a couple of acceptable sleepers I'd never even heard and some long-lost esoterica by the Turbans and Lee Allen, not to mention the Five Satins, the Channels, and the Nutmegs. Statistics: 16 songs on one disc for $4.98. A

Africa Dances [Authentic, 1973]
What The Harder They Come does for reggae this sampler attempts to do for the American-influenced urban music of Africa. Its scope is necessarily broad, but only once does an alien-sounding rhythm (Arabic tarabu) interfere with its remarkable listenability. The mood might be described as folk music with brass, for although the horn techniques are familiar from big-band jazz, r&b, and especially salsa, the overall effect is much less biting than that would imply. There's something penetratingly decent, humorous, and even civil about this music, as if the equanimity of tribal cultures at peace at least with themselves has not yet been overwhelmed by media-nourished crosscultural complexities. If this is my misapprehension, perhaps it is reinforced by the fact that the lyrics aren't in English, although I don't get anything similar from salsa. Anyway, a find. A

June 1, 1974 [Island, 1974]
The highlights of a concert organized by genial eccentric Kevin Ayers (ex-Soft Machine, but he got out when the getting was good), this offers one side of Ayers's genially eccentric songs and one of Eno singing Eno songs at full volume (note demonic cackle) and John Cale singing an Elvis Presley song at full volume (note lupine howl). And also, oh well, Nico singing "The End." But if there's gotta be art-rock, Lord, let it be like this. B+

This Is Reggae Music [Island, 1974]
Unlike The Harder They Come, which collected the best songs of artists whose music was either unavailable or not rich enough to fill an LP, this sampler serves no function. The two cuts from the Wailers are not their top work, and a Maytals album that includes both should be available here soon. Some of the rest (Heptones, Joe Higgs) is pretty good; some of it (Lorna Bennett, Zap Pow) is pretty discouraging. C+

Beserkley Chartbusters Volume 1 [Beserkley, 1975]
The Berkeley rock underground? Featuring Earth Quake, a failed heavy boogie band from A&M and Jonathan Richman, reputed to have squandered numerous Warner Comm bucks studioing with the Modern Lovers yet here sounding as if he prefers to record in the WC? I played this sampler twice and shelved it. But a more sympathetic listening suggests that maybe rock and roll undergrounds are the same everywhere--tough-minded, spare and loud, and committed to an eloquent simplicity of form no matter what the embroidering tastemakers in the biz consider art. This shared commitment makes the four artists exhibited here sound as if they're all on one album, instead of a bunch of cuts, and the album is a good one. A-

The Outlaws [RCA Victor, 1976]
No truth-in-packaging awards here--you'd never know from the label that most of this has been heard before in other configurations--but how about a cheer-and-a-half for the programming? Me, I often find Waylon and Willie (and Tompall and Jessi) a little tedious over a whole side. This never gets boring. B+

Disco-Trek [Atlantic, 1976]
You can't deny that disco gets more music out there. If it weren't for this remixed collection of eight mostly rare "disco hits" I might never have heard Sister Sledge's "Mama Never Told Me" or the Valentinos' "I Can Understand It." And since the music isn't brand new, its tone is more soulish than is the current norm, making this a more attractive sampler than any of Motown's Disco-Tech collections. I'm not always crazy about its hyped-up, spliced-in feel and instrumental riff-raff, but I have to admit that they actually improve Jackie Moore's "Time," so who knows. Social note: Boers overrunning South Africa were history's most prominent trekkers. How about retitling this Disco Tracks? B

Get Down and Boogie [Casablanca, 1976]
Though the claim on the jacket is excessive--it's not "38 minutes and 47 seconds of continuous play" unless one of your eunuchs turns it over for you--this disco-oriented and -segued compilation from the premier disco label is long overdue. Two Donna Summers, two Parliaments (which way do they disco?), and good filler. Finds: Jeannie Reynolds's "The Fruit Song" (she likes bananas) and Giorgio's "I Wanna Funk With You Tonight" (a/k/a "What'd He Say?"). B+

Live at CBGB's [Atlantic, 1976]
I know these are Our Bands (all eight of them?), and that none of them has ever recorded before. This collection still ain't Beserkley Chartbusters. It's still a live double-LP: the arrangements and recording still tend toward the half-assed; the programming is still so erratic that only side one is wholly tolerable; the groups are still so erratic that only Tuff Darts can advance to Studio without pausing at Stop and paying dues well in excess of $200. B-

Max's Kansas City 1976 [Ram, 1976]
If the musicians at CBGB like to pose as punks, then those at Max's wish they smelled like flowers of evil. This smells like week-old all-you-can-eat instead. Emcee Wayne County begins by naming seven mythic (or at least recognizable) New York bands on the title cut, but they're not the seven who follow. In ascending order: Cherry Vanilla (pickles and ice milk), Harry Toledo (Bert Cincinnati), Suicide (the two stooges), the John Collins Band (terrific name), Wayne County (cute lisp), the Fast (good for a laugh), and Pere Ubu. Pere Ubu actually evoke the Velvets, and I'd like to see them sometime. Unfortunately, they live in Cleveland. C

Assalam Aleikoum Africa Volume One (Progressive and Popular Music of West Africa) [Antilles, 1977]
Unlike John Storm Roberts's Africa Dances anthology, this LP and its companion come from one location--Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Thus, they're a little limited. On this one, the same musicians tend to reappear in different permutations, and their interests are more specifically "progressive" than "popular" (which can mean almost anything in a place where folk culture still thrives). That is, they like horns--great sax break on the catchy "Dogbo Zo N'Wene"--and are fascinated by electric guitars. Something called "Ode to Hendrix" is pretty remarkable, as is the title cut and much of Charles Atagana's bass playing, but the same cannot be said of "Live in Peace," which clocks in at a progressive 11:39 and supports neither its length nor its English lyric. B

Assalam Aleikoum Africa Volume Two (Traditional and Modern Folk Music of West Africa) [Antilles, 1977]
Once again there's a key word in parentheses--"modern." A lot of this would seem to be popularized folk music in the manner of the Weavers if not the Kingston Trio, which might bother an ethnomusicologist or a tribal loyalist but needn't concern ignorant people like you and me. Basically, this is a selection of time-tested melodies translated into our (musical) language--and translated roughly enough to convey authenticity, since what passes for slick in Abidjan wouldn't last a hairdresser on Lenox Avenue till coffee break. B+

Live at the Rat [Rat, 1977]
Boston's answer to Live at CBGB's continues the traditionalism of a folkie bastion whose hit rock acts--Geils, Aerosmith, Eponym--have been positively proud of their unoriginality. From Susan and Thundertrain, ready to go heavy if somebody'll buy them the amps, to the British-invasion tributes of Sass, the Boize, and (the sassiest boize in the bunch) the Real Kids, this wave isn't new. And nobody's gonna catch it. Faves: Willie Alexander's "Pop Tune," Third Rail's "Bad Ass Bruce," and two two-minute ravers by DMZ that ought to be covered by the Radiators from Space. C+

No New York [Antilles, 1978]
Especially with Adele Bertei on organ, the Contortions can be a great band, extending Ornette Coleman's Dancing in Your Head into real rock and roll territory, and it's exciting to be able to hear them minus James Chance's stupid stage shtick. (Maybe they'll become a studio group, like Steely Dan.) But the rest of this four-band compilation has the taint of marginal avant-gardism: interesting in occasional doses, but not as significant as it pretends to be. Arto Lindsay's hysterical blooze singing holds DNA together--wish they were on side one with the Contortions. I like the relentless music of Mars's "Helen Fordsdale" (the words are incomprehensible even with a lyric sheet, which if the lyric sheet is any indication is just as well) and the paranoid poetry of "Puerto Rican Ghost." And although in the wake of Chance's theme song, "I Can't Stand Myself," I've begun to tolerate Lydia Lunch droning "The leaves are always dead" etc., she credits herself with too much maturity by publishing as Infantunes. Abortunes would be more like it. B+

Disco Party [Marlin, 1978]
A Miami-goes-disco compilation, and why not--those Sunshine Band rhythms are a source of the style. And when a pure disco act like Eli's Second Coming fits right in with the best of George McCrae, Peter Brown, and K.C. himself, you think it may all be worth it. Though when Betty Wright wastes herself on a Gloria Gaynor imitation you wonder. B+

Steppin' Out: Disco's Greatest Hits [Polydor, 1978]
Compiled by Vince Aletti and Ritchie Rivera, this deejay-blended disco-mix double-LP surpasses even such compilations as Casablanca's eclectic Get Down and Boogie and Marlin's funky Disco Party. Although local talent (Joe Simon, the Fatback Band) is represented, I find the spacey, lush-but-cool Euro-disco that predominates even more enticing, no doubt because the filler in which such music is usually swamped has been eliminated. New discoveries include the Chakachas' legendary "Jungle Fever" and "Running Away" by Roy Ayers, ordinarily the emptiest of "jazz" pianists. This is disco the way it should be heard--as pure dance music, complete with risky changes. A-

Stiffs Live [Stiff, 1978]
Elvis the C provides a brand new existentialist pronunciamento, "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself," but the real threat there is Nick Lowe's "Let's Eat," which garnishes a hot-and-greasy Mitch Ryder organ pump with lyrics like "I wanna move move move move move my teeth" and "Let's buy two and get one for free." Filling out the good side are "I Knew the Bride" (Lowe's answer to "You Never Can Tell"), Larry Wallis's "Police Car" (grand theft automatic), and two cuts by Wreckless Eric that seem unlikely to be eclipsed by their studio versions. Unfortunately, Costello's live "Miracle Man" and the three Ian Dury performances were eclipsed before they came out. B+

Spitballs [Beserkley, 1978]
I assume the title is a takeoff on Nuggets, and I approve of the concept--14 musicians playing all at once while trading lead vocals on beloved oldies both famed and anonymous. I find most of the remakes amusing and one or two amazing. But inevitably, the music is ragged. Anyway, I've never been impressed with cover versions by Earth Quake or the Rubinoos before, and I miss the pure dumb inspiration of the originals. B-

Woodstock Mountains: More Music From Mud Acres [Rounder, 1978]
This superhoot features such upstate notables as John Herald, John Sebastian, Eric Andersen, the Traums, etc. The problem with such collaborations is that--unless the audience is autohyped, as is often the case--no group of 15 or 20 performers can touch any individual listener uniformly. It was love at first chorus between me and Herald's "Bluegrass Boy", and I suspect the song is irresistible. But is everyone else going to enjoy Artie Traum's arch "Cold Front" or John Sebastian's take on "Morning Blues"? Does Eric Andersen make everyone else's teeth hurt? Do harmonica duets put everyone else to sleep? Eventually the boredom is bound to even out. I'll play the first side again for sure, but that's me. For folk tokies only. B

Living Chicago Blues Volume I [Alligator, 1979]
A problem with the three-artists-per-disc, four-cuts-per-artist format of this estimable series is that it splits one artist per disc between two sides, requiring him to meld with both of the others. Fortunately, the great dirty mean of Eddie Shaw seems made for such journeywork, linking the gutbucket soul of Jimmy Johnson, certainly the most exciting singer of the nine, and Left-Hand Frank's right-hand-in-the-Delta primitivism. Which suggests that the distance between Johnson's pop ambitions (Bette Midler beat him to one of these songs) and Frank's rural idiosyncrasy isn't as great as might appear, because both are irreducibly sexual and Southern. An advantage of the format is that you can buy one disc at a time. Get my drift? A-

Permanent Wave: A Collection of Tomorrow's Favorites by Today's Bands on Yesterday's Vinyl [Epic, 1979]
"Television Generation" and "Just Another Teenage Anthem" never really got me as singles, and neither the Kursaal Flyers nor New Hearts proved deep enough to make good albums, but on this pop punk compilation they sound absolutely ace. Masterswitch's "Action Replay," the Cortinas' "Heartache," and the Vibrators' "Judy Says" also fit in. The Diodes' "Red Rubber Ball" is as useless as every other piece of Toronto punk I've heard. Since they also lead off the group's new collection on domestic Epic, the two nice cuts by the Only Ones are redundant. The teaser by the Spikes is good enough to make me hope they record an album. And the teaser by After the Fall is so good that I won't mind owning it twice when their album comes out. Quite snazzy, recommended to dabblers and discophiles alike. B+

Living Chicago Blues Volume II [Alligator, 1979]
Sad to say, the music that gets split up here is the sharp spillover guitar and tongue-twisted projection of double-threat Magic Slim. Carey Bell may be a fine harp player (with harp players I find it difficult to care), but vocally he's even more undistinguished than his mentor, Little Walter. And none of the rowdy hyperactivity of Big Moose Walker's piano carries over to his singing. B

Living Chicago Blues Volume III [Alligator, 1979]
Since Alligator has just released a whole album of Lonnie Brooks, I'm sure the volumes aren't supposed to be numbered in order to quality. But they might as well be. Brooks does a lot less for Texas-Louisiana than Jimmy Johnson does for Memphis, Pinetop Perkins is a Muddy Waters sideman for good reason, and despite "Berlin Wall" I'll wait a year or two on the Sons of the Blues. B-

A Night at Studio 54 [Casablanca, 1979]
The ultimate disco sampler--all the AM crossovers plus major floor hits. Only sometimes AM can be gross (Cher) and sometimes floor hits are bland (or worse) away from the floor (not to mention on it) (Love and Kisses, Musique, the unspeakable Patrick Juvet). I find even the two usable sides resistible, and miss the Three Degrees' "Steve Rubell Medley": "Walk Right In," "Cocaine Blues," and "Jailhouse Rock." B

No Nukes [Asylum, 1979]
I prefer the movement to the music, but both share a woozy notion of what constitutes genuine consensus and how much it's likely to achieve. Carefully integrated both racially (Raydio, Chaka Khan, Gil Scott-Heron, Sweet Honey in the Rock, not to mention the Doobies and various backup bands) and culturally (Springsteen and Petty for the low-rent "hard rock" crowd), it's nevertheless limited by the social connections of its stalwarts. And though this three-LP set features attractive music from all but the real dips, even the best of it is almost devoid of bite, rough edges, and main force. Graded leniently for a worthy cause. C+

Propaganda [A&M, 1979]
A new wave (it avoids that term but that doesn't fool me) sampler on which the most exciting cut is Joe Jackson's live Chuck Berry remake (Chuck Berry?). Also commendable are two English singles from Charlie Gillett's Oval label, especially Bobby Henry's "Head Case." Negatives include a live exclusive from the Granati Brothers (who?), less-than-prime cuts from Squeeze and the Reds, and the second version of the Police's "Next to You" featured on an A&M new wave (see first parenthesis) sampler. C+

Club Ska '67 [Mango, 1980]
Intensified Vol. 3 is a little later, hence a little slicker. Like some would-be early reggae sampler, side two begins with four full-fledged songs in a row; the early reggae standard "Shanty Town" blocks side one's all-instrumental flow. But if you've developed a weakness for the style's random inspiration, you won't say no to one more hodgepodge of found masterstrokes and delightful accidents. Strange to think this was all happening simultaneously with Sgt. Pepper. A-

Wanna Buy a Bridge? [Rough Trade, 1980]
Rough Trade has become the biggest British postpunk indie by (or at least while) brooking no compromise politically or aesthetically. Politically this has led to idiot rant like the Pop Group's "We Are All Prostitutes"; aesthetically it's meant rapprochements with incorrigible art-rockers like Mayo Thompson and Robert Wyatt as well as the diddle-prone experiments of Young Marble Giants, the Raincoats, Essential Logic, and Cabaret Voltaire. But it's also provided such classic punk protest as Spizz Energi's "Soldier Soldier" and Stiff Little Fingers' "Alternative Ulster," and none of the above-named diddlers would have been taken aboard without a surefire tune or two in their packet. Hence this superb fourteen-single compilation, Rough Trade's first U.S. LP. Kleenex's "Ain't You" and Delta 5's "Mind Your Own Business," two of the finest postpunk forty-fives anywhere, do help. As do Scritti Politti's arty, political, hypnotic "Skank Bloc Bologna" and "At Last I Am Free," by none other than Robert Wyatt. A

Oi! -- The Album [EMI, 1980]
This precedes and outstrips the notorious Strength Thru Oi!, suspected by cultural determinists of helping to spark the Southall riots. Both albums have been hastily deleted, but a search might be worth it. Though the style tends toward tuneless football-cheer monotony and undiscriminating bully-boy dynamics, the best oi songs (by the Cockney Rejects and the Angelic Upstarts especially) recall the anthemic power of good Slade and early Clash. And though the skinheads who are oi's core audience have always been associated with random racial brutality, the politics of these lyrics is strictly pro-working-class and anti-authoritarian. What's more, the misogyny of El Lay punk is all but absent, if only because these boys hardly sing about girls at all. A-

The Great Rap Hits [Sugarhill, 1980]
Well, not exactly. This expedient collection is why Sugarhill changed over from fabrications like Sequence and the Sugarhill Gang itself to street-dance kids like the Funky Four Plus One, half of whose Enjoy debut, "Rappin and Rocking the House," brings up side one. The slight shift of gears is almost startling--the real party people stay a split second ahead of the beat, while such creatures of the sixteen-track as Super Wolf and Lady B. lag cunningly or uncomprehendingly behind. Still, not a one of these six cuts is without charm--by mining the dozens and God knows what else for boasts, insults, and vernacular imagery, Sylvia Inc. could convince anybody but party people that rap is really about words. A-

More Intensified! Volume 2 Original Ska 1963-1967 [Mango, 1980]
Brit postpunks prefer Jamaican r&b to American r&b for the simple reason that it's punker--despite the horns (nobody comes near a fast tune on trumpet or trombone without years of experience), this stuff is so crude it gets across solely on DIY enthusiasm and the loping pelvis polka of its homegrown groove. Since I wasn't there, I can report without fear of nostalgia that Volume 1's material is no better or worse than this selection. Garveyite special: "Congo War," which makes fun of Kasavubu's name rather than solemnizing his tragedy. By Lord Brynner and the Shieks, spelling in original, wonder if he shaved his head, how punk. A-

Fast Product--Mutant Pop [PVC, 1980]
The Edinburgh indie's compilation is heartily recommended to those who don't own the Gang of Four EP; "Love Like Anthrax" is on the album (soon come from Warners), but "Damaged Goods" and "Armalite Rifle" are just as sharp and the import 45'll cost you half as much as this whole domestic LP. Those who don't own the Mekons' "Where Were You" (an old fave) and Flowers' "After Dark" (a new one) should also invest, because with one exception everything else is at least interesting: a single by 2-3 (they call it pop), another Flower (woman-group), the first Human League single (promising but thin), the first Mekons single (crude but promising), and the only Scars single (I trust). B+

Declaration of Independents [Stiff, 1980]
Released domestically in 1980 on Ambition, this vaguely heartening survey gathers 13 generally well-regarded indie singles, many of which I basically dismissed, into one comparatively listenable album. The mood is revivalist, rockabilly to pop-rock to soul-r&b, and four cuts are specific as hell: Pylon's classically futuristic "Cool," Keven Dunn's futuristically classic "Nadine," Luxury's instant memorabilia "Green Hearts," and Root Boy Slim's "The Meltdown," a dance craze to rival Dr. Hook's "Levitate." B+

Phases of the Moon: Traditional Chinese Music [Columbia, 1981]
Blessed with neither roots nor technical insight, I come to this 58-minute collection of 11 subtle, surprising instrumental pieces--most of folk origin, though three are postrevolutionary and one "a treasure of Chinese classical music"--as a sublime novelty record. That is, I get off on its strangeness, and why not? Though the mood is quiet the total effect is far from ambient, not just because things do get loud at times but because most of these melodies are instantly arresting. They don't repeat as insistently as Western folk tunes do, either. At times I wonder if I'm back in sixth grade memorizing "Minuet in G" and "Hall of the Mountain King" for Mrs. Tully, and I find that the thing can grate if I start playing it two or three times a day. But why do I keep putting it on? What a trip. A

Sound d'Afrique [Mango, 1981]
This unannotated compilation of six hit (I assume) dance (though "Jalo" gets pretty meditative) tracks out of Francophone Africa is a sampler rather than a true album, jumping and skipping style-to-style. From Senegal, Muslim soul; from Côte d'Ivoire, sound-effects guitar; from Upper Volta, underdeveloped structure and rich feeling. From Cameroun, Zaire, and Congo, the continent's dominant beat: Afrorumba over sweetly chattering rhythm guitar, hooked on the opening cut by a refrain so unforgettable Pete Seeger would shit cobalt in the Hudson for it. A-

Let Them Eat Jellybeans! 17 Extracts from America's Darker Side [Virus, 1981]
This anthology of seventeen U.S. indie singles isn't all hardcore, but with Jello Biafra doing the compiling side one will pass, from Flipper's classic-if-a-bit-slow "Ha Ha Ha" to the Subhumans' at-last-it-can-be-told "Slave to My Dick." Postliberal racism from the Offs and "faggot"-baiting from the Feederz is balanced by surprising L.A. anthems from the Circle Jerks (antiwar), Geza X (antinuke), and Christian Lunch (anti). And even San Fran arties like Wounds and (especially) Voice Farm come up with engaging stuff. Plus lyrics, addresses, band lists, and much, much more! A-

Carry On Oi! [Secret, 1981]
I don't claim to get all the words, but between bands like the Partisans and Red Alert and Gary Bushell's compassionate fictionalized notes I think this compilation gives the lie to the liberal Nazi-baiting the style's subjected to. And the way one band after another emits virtually indistinguishable bellows of jolly rage is mutually reinforcing--gives you the sense that all that enthusiasm adds up to a movement. But the songs really are pretty hard to tell apart. And the recitations and pub-sing laffs that tie it all together wear thin even faster than most concept moves. B

A Christmas Record [ZE, 1981]
Most of this oddly ambitious nine-song anthology seems a little off, but that suits its odd ambition, which is seeking the spirit in an audience turned off by seasonal shtick. Was (Not Was) and Alan Vega take on involuntary and semivoluntary poverty, the Waitresses aim for the singles bars, and Davitt Sigerson should by all rights be earning royalties up there with Irving Berlin--or at least Torme-Wells or Davis-Onorati-Simeone. B+

Greatest Rap Hits Vol. 2 [Sugarhill, 1981]
The first volume was a charming concatenation of oddities foreshortened for long-player; this melds six terrific full-length twelve-inches, including two of the greatest singles of this or any year ("Wheels of Steel" with a boisterous new coda), into one all-time classic funk album, unified by the superb Sugarhill house band (Doug Wimbish! Doug Wimbish!) and the pervasive smarts of Grandmaster Flash & Co. In its way, rap's up-and-at-'em sex-and-money optimism is as misleading as the willful down-and-outism of L.A. punk--joke-boast tradition or no, kids who find they can't go at it till the break of dawn may not need a Darby Crash to inspire thoughts of ending it all. But the way these fast talkers put their stamp on a cultural heritage both folk and mass is the most masterful pop move to hit Communications Central since the Ramones. A

Hicks From the Sticks [Antilles, 1981]
I don't think I'm familiar with any of the tunes on this 16-cut compilation, originally released Brit in 1980 by Rockburgh Records. But I might as well be. Here on one convenient A side is everything that has made the Anglophile dance-rock scene so deadly--the synth grooves, the minimelodies, the robot vocals, the confusion of late industrial anomie with the zeitgeist. In short, the new art-rock and the new disco in one conflation, with the boring rhythms of today replacing the boring solos of yesteryear. I mean, when a pop admixture provides the rock and roll, I go home. C+

I.R.S. Greatest Hits Vols. 2 & 3 [I.R.S., 1981]
Miles Copeland's philosophy of new wave is simple--sign it cheap and gimme gimmick. So it's no surprise that the hooky (and not so hooky) samplings on this well-chosen twofer tend toward faddish one-liners. A lot of good ones, though--rule-provers from the Cramps, the Damned, and the Stranglers, one-offs by Fashion and Alternative TV, all you need of the Humans, Skafish, and Patrick D. Martin, good bait for the Fall, the Buzzcocks, and (get hooked) Sector 27, and crowning it all Brian James's "Ain't That A Shame," which may not be heard again until the pop archaeologists get to work. B+

The "King" Kong Compilation [Mango, 1981]
Greil Marcus compares the late Leslie Kong to Sam Phillips, and as the man who turned ska into reggae he deserves the accolade, but it was already 1969 in the global village by then, so it's no surprise that there's a Jerry Wexler (not Berry Gordy) sophistication to his sound. And Impressions/Temptations/Cooke soulfulness pervades these sixteen tunes as well, although their fervor is more innocent and their sheer chops are less brilliant. None of the less familiar tracks is up to those you know (and perhaps own) by the Maytals, Desmond Dekker, and the Melodians, but Tyrone Evans's newly uncanned "Let Them Talk" and the Pioneers' "Samfie Man" come close. A-

Propeller [Propeller, 1981]
This cooperatively produced eighteen-song tape hang together for a simple reason--none of these ten Boston bands was born to rock. Not that they don't try; not that they don't often succeed. But they come to their (often punk-funked) popsongs self-consciously, with an awkwardness that is consistently charming. Only the Neats (healthy minimalists) and CCCP-TV (nervous about sex) come up with two sure-shot bounce-alongs, but only V: is totally engaging. Theme songs: Art Yard's "The Law" ("Language must go on and on and on") and Chinese Girlfriends' "Let's Be Creative" (alternate title: "Let's Be Ironic"). Assured of its grade because it costs only $4 from 21 Parkvale Avenue #1, Allston, Massachusetts 02134. B+

Urgh! A Music War [A&M, 1981]
Yet another special-price double from new-wave compilation kings Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. The gimmick is live (hence previously unreleased) versions of theoretical AOR and actual dance-floor faves by artists from all over, and despite the intrusion of a few A&M contractees the result is quite impressive, with the audience participation adding fire to pop-rock that lacked heat in the studio. For those who find that discos keep them up past their bedtime, here's an encouraging take on what's been happening--not world overthrow, that's for sure, but fun enough in the right doses. B

San Francisco Blues Festival Vol. 1 [Solid Smoke, 1981]
Festival compilations are a bad bet--added to the usual live-album pitfalls (one-take recording, bum mixes, wasteful arrangement, wasted talk) is the statistical unlikelihood of a single weekend affording great shows by the slew. I put my time in on this one because it offered a whole side of Roy Brown, who when he died a few months ago was the most powerful original r&b performer working. But though his sweet, piercing, subtly lubricious voice comes through intact, his command of the stage doesn't translate to stereo (another live album pitfall). And on the B is Lowell Fulson, always the creature of his context even back when he didn't make his living on the revival circuit. B-

Bowling Balls II [Clone, 1981]
How about that--Akron Lives. Farewells from Tin Huey and the Bizarros, remembrances from Chi and Pig, solid rock from Unit 5, blue-plate special from the Waitresses, imported no wave from Totsuzen Danball, and Hammer Damage's "Noise Pollution," which deserves to be covered back to back with "Sonic Reducer," although this version is sly and slick. Executive producer Nick Nicholis has improved his quality control and dispensed with the silly synthesizers--if anything, this is too consistent. Those who'd prefer something weirder might try the wimpy punk of "Various Hoosiers" on Gulcher's Red Snerts. B+

C81 [NME/Rough Tapes, 1981]
This special-price 24-artist sampler, dominated by Rough Trade artists and poppified by the likes of Linx (slick, tough-minded funk), the Beat ("Twist and Crawl" dub), and the Buzzcocks (bye), is proof the Brits ain't been blitzed yet. Although I'm still no fan of noise bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Furious Pig, and the Virgin Prunes, they do provide an appropriately urban-meditative environment when interspersed with more songful material from such unlikely sources as Scritti Politti (slick, tough-minded schlock), Red Crayola (Lora Logic sings), and Subway Sect (hi). A-

Concerts for the People of Kampuchea [Atlantic, 1981]
I'm a permanent skeptic about live albums, compilation albums, and charity albums, so don't call me sucker when I report the sound superb, the arrangements tight, the performances up, and the programming acute (especially on the relentless Pretenders-Costello-Rockpile side). Could do without the Who's "Sister Disco" (they're flaccid in general) and organizer Paul McCartney's 20-member Rockestra (though Wings sounds fine). Graded leniently because with UNESCO in on the deal it seems likely that your bucks will actually buy rice. B+

The Secret Policeman's Ball [Island, 1981]
Who fans who covet the [Concerts for the People of] Kampuchea set should start instead with this concert for Amnesty International, which is to say for all of us. Reason's musical--the three Pete-Townsend-with-acoustic cuts, including a superb "Won't Get Fooled Again," are his best recorded work since Rough Mix. Also: a Neil Innes Nelson Riddle parody, two selections by classical guitarist John Williams, and two by Tom Robinson, a new one and a chilling "Glad To Be Gay." B+

The Future Looks Bright [Posh Boy, 1981]
A much more impressive L.A. sampler than Slash's Decline of Western Civilization, this compiles 25 titles from 10 hardcore bands, all of whom manage to add an extra pinch of meaning or quantum of rush to the basic yowl. Faves: the Minutemen, named for their preferred song length and given to unpunky little guitar squiggles; the Descendents 11-second "Der Weinerschnitzel" (how's that again?); Social Distortion's "Playpen"; and of course Black Flag. List Price $5.98. B+

Seize the Beat (Dance Ze Dance) [ZE/Island, 1981]
Not a boring (or album-available) cut on this welcome nouveau disco compilation. Coati Mundi's bad rapping "Que Pasa/Me No PopI" and Was (Not Was)'s men-in-the-white-coats boomer "Wheel Me Out" have been on and off my turntable as 12-inches for months. The off part is the problem--there's something dilettantishly cerebral in this very Manhattan sensibility that not only makes for novelties, but for novelties you're liable to forget until somebody else puts them on. B+

Calling Rastafari [Nighthawk, 1982]
Produced in three days by a Jewish wheeler-dealer from St. Louis, this fundamentalist compilation--roots reggae as a music of militant religious homily--has an irresistible integrity. Its simple determination matches its singsong melodies and solid rhythms, and the singing is crucial: Culture's Joseph Hill hasn't sounded so impassioned since Two Sevens Clash, the Gladiators' Albert Griffiths outgroans Marley on "Small Axe," and the Itals' Keith Porter does "Herbs Pirate" so nice you'll settle for owning it twice. A-

Sound d'Afrique II: Soukous [Mango, 1982]
"Soukous" is a word understood throughout French-speaking Africa (the source of this album). It simply means: going out, checking the music, dancing and, cool or passionate, having the Best Time." As in juking, say. But also as in the slang term for the Congolese style that dominates the continent's pop--which this features, thus avoiding the eclectic distractions of Mango's first Afropop collection. Salsafied stuff with vocals that sometimes float sweet and high and sometimes twist and shout, none of it by big-name stars. In short, an African disco compilation. Nice. A-

Crucial Reggae Driven by Sly & Robbie [Mango, 1982]
The second Taxi compilation broadens its base by including other producers' JA hits--with Dunbar & Shakespeare on groove, of course. But it's not enough. Great pop is a tricky commodity, and this isn't quite tricky enough to make up for received melodies and competent-plus vocals--not even in the groove. B+

Everything New Is Old . . . Everything Old Is New [Ambient Sound, 1982]
Like all formalist art, doowop is a cultist's calling. Not only is its view of romance willfully adolescent, its view of adolescence is willfully romantic, inspired in the face of irrefutable evidence by a few freak singles, most of them slow (which is a snap to duplicate) and preternaturally beautiful (which isn't). Even its oft-heralded vocalism serves this vision--doowop tenors are supposed to be mild, as moony as "a teenager in love." But by unerringly selecting the two best cuts from five brand new doowop albums, this sampler escapes cultdom. In the great indie-label tradition, it concentrates on the catchy and programmable, including five ingenious covers, so that most of the slow songs sound beautiful, though rarely preternatural. A-

The Nairobi Sound [Original Music, 1982]
It's not "primitivism" or "simplicity" that makes African pop so exciting--it's the doubly complex interaction of two sophisticated demotic languages, polyrhythm and technomedia, each with its own style of self-consciousness. Unlike his Africa Dances, however, this John Storm Roberts anthology has a folkloric feel. Very local in origin and outreach and not really intended for dancing, these Kenyan tunes, especially those in the acoustic (and rural) "dry guitar" style, have enormous charm and not much impact, except for those always special moments of inspiration that propel folk music out into the great world--like the soprano duo "Chemirocha," which technomedia fans will be pleased to learn is a tribute to Jimmie Rodgers. B+

Peripheral Vision [Zoar, 1982]
Ah, these boho compilations. As a belated and partial convert to No New York, I still don't get Mars, and I bet in 1986 I won't get the Hi-Sheriffs of Blue or the State or I/S/M or (Gawd) Crazy Hearts, certainly not all four, even if I do like Mars by then. Unless they've all improved as much as Mofungo has since 1978, of course. I hope the album V-Effect deserves is better recorded than these two cuts, which are the best-sounding things here in more ways than one nevertheless. Which leaves the Scene Is Now, whose "Finding Someone" should be the single, and the Ordinaires, who combine the nicest parts of Glenn Branca and the Moody Blues and more power to them. Ah, these boho documents. B

Singles: The Great New York Singles Scene [ROIR, 1982]
I'd include Lester Bangs's "Let It Blurt" and Stumblebunny's "Tonight," both in a league with "Piss Factory," "Little Johnny Jewel," and "Blank Generation," which open this tape with a bang it never follows up on. But since neither was by a scene-making band, I understand why compiler Tom Goodkind didn't. And since Goodkind led U.S. Ape, I understand why he chose that one, which in truth sounds better than the Mumps, Speedies, and Student Teachers songs that close the thing. In between we get what sounds in retrospect like a lot of primitive art-rock (Theoretical Girls the savviest) and a lot of primitive pop (Nervus Rex the most polished). Although scenes are often better seen than heard, down beneath the greats this one just about earns its document. But it doesn't make you bewail its wasted genius. And where's "No More Nukes"? B+

Soweto [Rough Trade, 1982]
It's fair to assume that these fourteen crude, tuneful little singles, released six or seven years ago out of a Johannesburg record shop and featuring a writer-producer named Wilbur Dlamini and a backing band of Jo'burg Zulus called the Bamalangabis, are typical of nothing. They're apolitical except by their sheer existence, mostly small-group instrumental, with guitar, sax, and organ leads. Not too clearly recorded, either. And they're delightful. It's possible Dlamini is a lost genius. It's also possible that when I've heard more music from South Africa's hellish black urban work zones I'll find him minor or derivative. But what's certain is that a lot of very talented people are getting lost in black South Africa. Ain't capitalism grand? B+

Genius of Rap [Island, 1982]
Even granting Sugarhill's unavailability, this compilation of six minor hits (plus bonus do-it-yourself 12-inch) could be badder. Why T-Ski Valley rather than Count Coolout or Love Bug Star-Ski? Why so Brother D.? Why the hell no Treacherous Three? Indeed, I filed three of these selections away unremarked simply because they weren't worth four bucks. That said, it's my pleasure to add that two of them--Afrika Bambaataa's "Jazzy Sensation" and Bop Rock & the Rhythm Rebellion's "Searching Rap"--are definitely worth two or three, especially since they flank Grandmaster Flash's "Superprappin'," an absolutely classic James Brown rip that more than makes up for Lenny White's "Twennynine (The Rap)" (why no Mel Brooks?). The Sugarhill best-ofs are still where to catch up. But once you're hooked you'll want this too. B+

African Music [Vertigo, 1983]
It took the Dutch to assemble a decent compilation of Nigerian highlife, the r&b-ish horn-and-guitar music that came over from Kenya with founding father E.T. Mensah in the '50s. Less brassily arranged than Congolese rumba, these four-minute classics from the style's masters skip all over the past decade-plus yet mesh as gentle pop epiphanies for untrained ears. Many feature sax solos almost as laggardly as the gritty, half-conversational singing exemplified by patriarch Dr. Victor Olaiya. Both elements pulling against effervescent guitar hooks and the lift of multiple drums in indigenous patterns I couldn't begin to specify, with the pleasinigly received guitar solos occupying a middle ground where the music resolves. Though such generalizations don't hint at the reggae side trips and rock steals and best-selling vocals also present, they do sum up the music's sky-above-mud-below tension--an animistic charge that doesn't demand a literal belief in anybody's or anything's soul. A

Black Star Liner: Reggae from Africa [Heartbeat, 1983]
Because the great African groove is airborne where the Jamaican is of the earth, bass-and-drums on this seven-artist, eight-cut compilation do little more than follow standard patterns, and the chantlike tunes remind you how much Jamaican melodies owe to English hymns and nursery rhymes. But that's in no way to suggest that this music isn't captivating on its own terms. The vocals bear the same yearning relationship to their more stylized Jamaican inspirations that Jamaican vocals do to the showier models of U.S. soul: the need to reach out to the black diaspora has rarely been more palpable. And the lyrics, all in English, explain some whys and wherefores. B+

The Sound of Kinshasa: Guitar Classics From Zaire [Original Music, 1983]
Much more than his Kenyan and Swahili anthologies, this John Storm Roberts collection makes immediate impact on American ears, first of all because its quarter century of Zairean singles carry a heavy Cuban influence. I prefer the modestly melodic Lingala vocals to their romantic-virtuosic salsa counterparts, and am more than content to follow the music's rhythmic journey across the Atlantic and back again as re-Africanization takes hold in the '70s. But I suspect the main reason I keep listening is that every one of these thirteen cuts began life as a pop dance hit. A-

This Are Two Tone [Chrysalis, 1983]
I recommend this knowledgeably programmed six-artist sampler as a longtime ska skeptic--although I grew to like the best albums of every band here, all of them are a bit narrow, which is one reason the style converts so smoothly to compilation. The other reason is that it was more than a style--it was a true movement, the most likable of all Britain's postpunk stabs in the dark. Only the Specials--six tracks, three from the debut--are overrepresented. And after all, it was their idea--and their label. A-

Zulu Jive/Umbaqanga [Earthworks, 1983]
There's an urban punch and pace here missing from most Afropop, although the singing and rhythms are less power-packed than we're told they can be, and only Aaron Mbambo, whose urgent high shout lifts his two cuts well out of the mix, is well-known in the style. Selected stanzas on the back refer painfully to curfews and pass laws as well as the money worries and familial perfidies of the companion compilation Viva Zimbabwe!, and they gain emotional thrust behind astringent harmonies from South Africa and instrumental colors from assorted ports of call: squeezebox, electric organ, heavy electric bass, oudlike fiddle, everything but horns. Which aren't missed. B+

Attack of the Killer B's [Warner Bros., 1983]
Non-LP B sides are odd tracks out by definition, and while most of these would blend attractively if unobtrusively into albums by their respective auteurs, their proximity is strictly packaging. It's revealing that compiler Bob Merlis has stretched his concept around four ringers, including the German version of "Shock the Monkey," which opens side two for the excellent reason that unlike most of its fellow prisoners it's got a killer hook. Not that any rock-and-roller won't want to hear the Marshall Crenshaw and Gang of Four and T-Bone Burnett rarities included, and that collectors won't covet the rest. But I thought collectors already had them. B

Best of Studio One [Heartbeat, 1983]
Never an aficionado of medium-tempo vocal groups, second-level soul men, or for that matter '60s reggae, I don't find this loving first-U.S.-release compilation of Coxsone Dodd tracks especially transcendent. "Oh Mr. D.C." and "Row Fisherman Row" are the finest Sugar Minott and Wailing Souls ever to come my way, and the Termites "My Last Love" is a sure shot ina one-shot style. But the Heptones ain't the Mighty Diamonds, Dennis Brown ain't Perry Como, and Alton Ellis ain't Tyrone Davis, a second-level soul man if ever there was one. And so it goes. B+

Knotty Vision [Nighthawk, 1983]
Though at first I tagged this as one more choppy multiple-artist compilation, in fact it's as integral and inevitable as death and glory. Beginning with a wailing Burning Spear chant and finishing with a burning Wailing Souls admonition, it's where fundamentalist reggae will convert you if you're destined to feel the spirit at all. Give the first side three or four tries with some time between and you should be able to get to the lyric intensity of six voices possessed by a single song. And eventually the tunes on the B surrender the conviction at their root. A-

Prelude's Greatest Hits [Prelude, 1983]
"Beat the Street," "I Hear Music in the Streets," "Must Be the Music," "Body Music," "Shake It Up (Do the Boogaloo)." Get it? From salad days to dog days, this is bootstraps disco. There's an unplayable Euro side that gets even worse than the bland Quebecois ingenue France Joli, and in general the programming is frustrating--just like dancing in discos, if you're not an adept. But New York dance music has always been rawer than the movie version. These one-shots were made for each other. B+

Rainy Day [Llama, 1983]
Four L.A. neogarage bands collaborate on nine of their '60s faves, and guess what--no Strawberry Alarm Clock. They actually meld the Velvets and Big Star (a ringer, I admit) with the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield, picking fine songs that are rarely obvious--most impressively, the Who's "Soon Be Home." Will Glenn's violin hook on "I'll Keep It With Mine" is the only don't-miss, but with two exceptions everything is flowing. Not surprisingly, the Three O'Clock's insufferable Michael Quercio sings lead on both losers--alone among these otherwise well-meaning young people, he clearly thinks the music calls for condescension, with the coyly inept parody of a Keith Moon drum takeout presaging the meandering eleven-minute pseudo-Hendrix jam that closes things on a flubbed note. B+

Viva Zimbabwe! [Earthworks, 1983]
For all the liner talk about electric dance music, what sets this apart is its roots in thumb piano. With that painfully mastered village instrument the melodic source, the guitar figures are the quickest in Africa--contrapuntal at their best, and always hooky. Vocals are likewise unassuming if not delicate, rhythms distinctly light. Takes a while to hear, will never hit you over the head, and you can dance to it. Call it folk-disco. A-

Wild Style [Animal, 1983]
Great rap records usually begin with killer riffs and add beats from live players, buttinski producer-engineers, scratchers, and rap attackers. On this soundtrack neither musical director Fab 5 Freddy nor big man Chris Stein do much to get things started, but the rhymes themselves, mostly folk-boast rather than commercial-protest and often captured live on the streets in a kind of simulated field recording, carry the music. B+

That's the Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk [A&M, 1984]
At first this ambitious two-disc multiple-artist memorial to the greatest composer of the post-World War II era left me cold--be nice if a few kids got pulled in by Joe Jackson or Todd Rundgren, but I'd been a Monk fan since the '50s. And indeed, I still prefer Monk's Monk to anybody else's, so much so that the discography here has me expanding my collection. But only Donald Fagen's synthesizers and John Zorn's weirdnesses approach the level of desecration jazzbos discern, and more often the extravagantly good-humored (NRBQ) or carnivalesque (Dr. John) or obvious (Chris Spedding) rock interpretations are instructive alongside the subtler, more reverential readings of Steve Lacy, Barry Harris, Sharon Freeman. In short, when I feel like Monk, occasionally I may play this. A-

Beat Street [Atlantic, 1984]
I wish Grandmaster Melle Mel hadn't bothered with the plot summary (I also wish he'd stop saying "Huh!" all the time), and I wish Jake Holmes hadn't bothered with the "love theme" (he can do the sequel, Bleecker Street). But executive producer Arthur Baker (with the help of executive producer Harry Belafonte, I'm sure) has done his best to drown the dreck in electrohop, with Bambaataa and the System fashioning gratifyingly sharp tracks. In addition, Rubén Blades proves that romance isn't dead, just Jake Holmes. And Sharrock returns. B

Beat Street Volume 2 [Atlantic, 1984]
The other half of what might be a great single disc. Jazzy Jay's scratching captures the movie's virtues a lot more eloquently than Melle Mel's words, Tina B divas all over Jenny Burton, and the two novelty raps tell you their producer knows something even if he is David Belafonte. B

Breakin' [Polydor, 1984]
Only students of secondhand black need sample this de facto El Lay hip hop sampler. Ollie and Jerry's title hit can be purchased separately, as can Carol Lynn Townes's "99½" should that strike your fancy. And you'll never notice side two until "Ain't Nobody"--not when Chaka starts singing, but when the keyboard intro comes on. I mean, El Lay hip hop is nothing but keyboard intros. B-

Desperate Teenage Lovedolls [Gasatanka, 1984]
Wish I could report that these thirteen posthardcore toons for amateur Super-8 rock and roll flick constitute a stronger soundtrack than anything the youth marketers over in the pricier part of Hollywood have commissioned. Unfortunately, it sounds like another Rodney Bingenheimer anthology. C+

Every Man Has a Woman [Polydor, 1984]
Like most multiple-artist compilations, this lacks the sense of identity that gives good albums their momentum, which means that while it does vindicate Yoko Ono's songwriting--there's not a clinker in the dozen--it's far from establishing her as the compelling popular artist she'd like to be. Pick hit: Rosanne Cash's penetrating, soulful "Nobody Sees Me Like You Do." And let us not forget: John Lennon's "Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him." B

The Gospel at Colonus [Warner Bros., 1984]
Gospel music without Jesus? Sounds like heaven on earth, doesn't it? Well, though I feel like a sorehead saying so, the formalization of ritual in both Greek drama and choral gospel can be a little distancing in its grandeur, or maybe grand in its distancing. That's probably just what Lee Breuer and Bob Telson want, but I'm greedy enough to prefer my pleasures and my truths a little more direct, as in the Thom Bell rip, or every time Clarence Fountain steps up front--especially on "Stop Do Not Go On," which has a hook. B+

The Official Music of the XXIIIrd Olympiad Los Angeles 1984 [Columbia, 1984]
Though Olympic ideology valorizes what Philip Glass vacuously designates "shared humanity," you'd never guess it from the unprecedented procession of pompous asses (more than 200 Oscar and Grammy nominations among them) Lee Guber and Jon Peters have gathered together for this unprecedented display of El Lay hegemony. Only Herbie Hancock suggests by choice of players or style that the concept of international might extend beyond Giorgio Moroder and Foreigner. And only Hancock-Laswell-Susu-Dieng's "Junku" suggests that games involve play as well as the striving egomania summed up so eloquently in this classic Moroder-Zito-Engemann couplet: "Reach out for the medal/Reach out for the goal" (or is it gold?). The Russians were right, folks, and not just because Guber/Peters don't like balalaikas. D+

Reggae Greats: Strictly for Lovers [Mango, 1984]
Unlike the useful but scattered and redundant toasts on D.J.'s, these eleven lovers' rock tracks, only one pre-1982, play as an album while expanding the genre. The must-hears are Winston Reedy's seductively seductive "Dim the Lights" and sixteen-year-old Junior Tucker's sweetly devastated "Some Guys Have All the Luck." Prereggae stalwarts Ken Boothe and Jimmy Riley prove more timeless than usual. And Aswad and Struggle have the good sense to identify romantic spirituality with the "Roots Rockin'" and "Rocky Music" they're so militant about. B+

Go Go Crankin' [4th & Broadway, 1985]
If one measure of George Clinton is that he's spun off the finest franchises since Colonel Sanders, another is that he's inspired such staunch nonimitators: New York's rappers and the happy feet mob of Chocolate City. This D.C. dance compilation evokes the endless party groove of a P-Funk concert better than any Clinton vinyl, yet it's definitely a go go record--maybe even the go go record, given the style's all-the-way-live commitments. The cowbells and timbales share one rhythmic language, and by gleaning prime cuts from five bands who make a habit of spacing out their peaks, the collection achieves a concentration suitable for the medium--these aren't singles, they're album tracks. A-

Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill [A&M, 1985]
First time I heard this I started muttering, "Kurt Weill invented rock and roll," which I report only to indicate how turned on I was, because it's ridiculous--Weill really only invented rock. Milking abrasive pop for outreach and meaning, he had more in common with Dylan and Newman than with Porter and Berlin, and the rock artistes who take their turns on this sequel to Hal Willner's 1983 Monk tribute sound completely at home. You can imagine improvements on some of Willner's choices--David Jo rather than Sting on "Mack the Knife," the Clash rather than Stanard Ridgeway on "Cannon Song," etc.--but that's a parlor game. With Lou Reed's "September Song" and Marianne Faithfull's "Ballad of the Soldier's Wife" the unmitigated triumphs, every track on this hour-long disc holds its own. Introduce yourself to one of the century's greatest songwriters and composers. Or augment your Weill collection and be glad you did. A

Phezulu Eqhudeni [Carthage, 1985]
There's nothing folkloric about the firm yet intricately catchy bass-and-guitar rhythms of the Makgona Tshohle Band--like so many rock-and-rollers before them, these are country people permanently displaced to the city. And if Boer culture has produced a singer with half the intrinsic humor and spirit of Mahlathini, I assume he or she is thinking seriously about exile. A-

A Diamond Hidden in the Mouth of a Corpse [Giorno Poetry Systems, 1985]
I've always felt guilty about ignoring Giorno's self-promotions, which combine name avant-rockers with name artist-artists, so when this one led off with Hüsker Dü and David Jo I listened forthwith. And found myself returning--to hear Giorno and his buddy Bill Burroughs. The bait is perfectly okay. But compilations are usually less than the sum of their parts anyway, and I don't get the feeling Giorno's rock allies save their best songs for him. Giorno himself, on the other hand, is making a pop move. And Burroughs knows he's the star of both shows. B

Television's Greatest Hits [TVT, 1985]
Ignorant of (not altogether uninterested in) television and resistant to (not dead set against) camp, I didn't think this collection of sixty-five TV-show themes would get to me, and I'm happy to report I was wrong. I mean, total immunity to such a document would be counterproductive, like total immunity to Ronald Reagan; you fight the power better if you feel it sometimes. Not that anything so grave is involved here--just corn and cuteness so concentrated they make your teeth hurt. You get plot summaries and program music, jingle singers and cartoon characters, pseudocountry and pseudoclassical. Also great tunes (dja know Gounod wrote the Hitchcock theme?), memories you didn't know you had, memories you didn't have, and Don Pardo for continuity. Love it or leave it. B+

Tribute to Steve Goodman [Red Pajamas, 1985]
Although his friends and coreligionists associate Goodman with all the songs on this live double wake, we don't, which is why it isn't much like the posthumous two-LP summation I still expect from him. But as an unsanctimonious evocation of why Goodman was such a catalyst in folkiedom, it's got more than its share of songs and picking and jokes (and bathos and missed opportunities). B+

Rap 1 [Profile, 1985]
With the serfs fleeing Sugarhill, the honest disco independents at Profile head rap central, but despite four or five good tracks and a consistent electrohop sound, their compilation isn't as convenient as it might seem. The Disco Four's "School Days" was hipper paired with the less didactic "Throwdown," and the unavoidable "Sucker M.C.'s" cuts deeper on both the 12-inch and the estimable Run-D.M.C., where you'll also enjoy "Jam-Master Jay." "Gettin' Money" proves once again that Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde are as crassly conceited as racists and old fools think all rappers are, and Fresh 3 M.C.'s still sound like a novelty act to me. Which leaves Rammelzee vs. K-Rob's laid-out, wacked-back "Beat Bop," so one-of-a-kind it's a single by definition, and Pumpkin's electrohop lesson "King of the Beat," the only track that turns this house into a home. B

Soweto Never Sleeps [Shanachie, 1986]
For all but a tiny minority of its U.S. cult, mbaqanga is a fantasy of resilience and resistance--we hear in it the defiant strength we believe must lurk beneath its surface whatever its ostensible subject. Reflecting its earlier date of origin, the latest collection is less sure-footed than The Indestructible Beat (compare "Wozani Mahipi," a/k/a "Hippes Come to Soweto," to its source, the Meters' "Chicken Strut"). It's also less catchy, with what I assume to be the traditional chant of the midtempo title tune the prize melody. But I suspect the major reason it doesn't connect as powerfully is that it compiles "classic female jive." Even though the idiom's male and female singers both adhere to the conventions of tribal syncretism gone showbiz, those conventions format women more tightly than men. As a result, the men sound more assertive. Which suits our fantasy. A-

The Indestructible Beat of Soweto [Shanachie, 1986]
At once more hectically urban-upbeat and more respectfully tribal-melodic than its jazzy and folky predecessors, marabi and kwela, the mbaqanga this compilation celebrates is an awesome cultural achievement. It confronts rural-urban contradictions far more painful and politically fraught than any Memphis or Chicago migration, and thwarts apartheid's determination to deny blacks not just a reasonable living but a meaningful identity. Like all South African music it emphasizes voices, notably that of the seminal "goat-voiced" "groaner" Mahlathini, who in 1983 took his deep, penetrating sung roar, which seems to filter sound that begins in his diaphragm through a special resonator in his larynx, back to the studio with the original Mahotella Queens and the reconstituted Makgona Tsohle Band. But with Marks Mankwane's sourcebook of guitar riffs hooking each number and Joseph Makwela's unshakable bass leading the groove rather than stirring it up reggae-style, it's also about a beat forthright enough to grab Americans yet more elaborate than the r&b it evokes. The defiantly resilient and unsentimental exuberance of these musicians has to be fully absorbed before it can be believed, much less understood. They couldn't be more into it if they were inventing rock and roll. And as a final benison, there's a hymn from Ladysmith Black Mambazo. A+

Dance Traxx [Atlantic, 1986]
Disco not only lives but goes pop, just like all those bizzers who blew their collateral on it years ago dreamed it would. Not C-Bank or Mantronix--hardcore dance acts today are cult gods just like Barabbas and Don Ray last time. But here on these two discs, cunningly remixed and segued as is only mete, you get the only Phil Collins Isleys rip you need own, the only Laura Branigan Donna Summer rip you need own, and the only Yes Art of Noise rip you need own. Plus the compleat Shannon in two parts. And now that I've clued you in just promise me this--if you like the Steve Arrington you'll take a flier on the album. A-

Good to Go [Island, 1986]
Live albums are one way to finesse go go's refusal to organize itself into discrete, hooky, recordable compositions. Anthologies are the other, and despite soundtrack illustrations of the synthy adaptability of the D.C. groove from Sly & Robbie and Wally Badarou, this one may even steal a beat on Go Go Crankin'. But do you love "Good to Go," "We Need Money," "Drop the Bomb," and "Movin' and Groovin'" enough to buy 'em twice, no matter how hot the remake? For James Brown completists and other rhythm connoisseurs. B+

Iscathamiya: Zulu Worker Choirs in South Africa [Heritage, 1986]
Put off by its ethnographic audio, I shelved this as a field reference until my boundless thirst for knowledge induced me to take it out and turn it up. Whereupon it exploded. Although everything I read says all contemporary South African choruses derive from the "soft" style Joseph Shabalala developed in the '60s, this stuff doesn't come off as cathama ("to walk softly")--sounds like ibombing ("bombing"). It's aggressive where Ladysmith is spiritual, which seems fitting, since its commercial purpose is triumph in all-night hostel competitions. Also worth noting are lyrics that both zero in on broken families, the most galling symptom and symbol of apartheid to black South Africans, and defy the tribalism that's one of its nastiest strategies. A-

Mr. Magic's Rap Attack, Vol. 2 [Profile, 1986]
Run-D.M.C. doth not a rap label make, and that ain't all, 'cause these days rap has a serious one-better problem. Playing the dozens live leaves you some slack, but enter the age of mechanical reproduction and they can check you out against history every time. Inevitably, shock deliquesces into outrage. So Pebblee-Poo's half of the Masterdon Committee's "Get Off My Tip!"--"You're a twenty-dollar nigger in a fifty-dollar world with a hundred-dollar hat and I'm a million-dollar girl"--fails to justify Dana Dane's compulsion to top macho with gynephobia. Nor do junk-culture excavations by the Kartoon Krew, the Showboys, Word of Mouth, and other off-target one-shots yield actual novelty hooks. B-

Rap's Greatest Hits [Priority, 1986]
It sure ain't "the biggest sellers of all time!" because there ain't no Sugarhill on it. But if you appreciate rap as among other things a novelty music, you'll love these titles: "The Show," "Rumors," "Roxanne, Roxanne," "Pee-Wee's Dance," "Friends," "A Fly Girl." Furthermore, not a single one is on an album worthy of the name, and were I not a tasteless fool I could add "Fat Boys" to the list. So buy "King of Rock" twice. Give them "The Roof Is on Fire" by Rockmaster Scott & the Dynamic Three, which I never heard of either. This is that greatest of rap rarities, a bargain. A-

Red Wave: 4 Underground Bands from the USSR [Big Time, 1986]
With glasnost glimmering, four officially unrecognized bands smuggle their tapes out to get them heard here, one side per band. Though their benighted countrymen think they're new-wavers, by Western standards all are pretty tame--the legendary Aquarium play art-rock, Aquarium protégés Kino play pop, Alisa play boogie, and Strange Games play, well, ska. The Russian gutturals are suitably aggressive, and here and there--the first two Aquarium tracks, the guitar (synth?) that cuts against the magic words "rock and roll" repeated again and again in Alisa's "Bad Boy"--you'll hear acerbic harmonies that I assume are Slavic. But the most convincing set overall come from the ska guys, and I know why--the polka connection. B-

Remember Soweto 76-86: Bullets Won't Stop Us Now [Mordam, 1986]
Outsiders seeking politically specific antiapartheid music won't get much satisfaction out of repressed South Africa itself: neither the brave, impotent folk-rock of the End Conscription Campaign's Forces Favourites nor the ANC's docuprop Radio Freedom, both on Rounder, will connect away from home. And Mordam's San Francisco-based Viva Umkhonto! is as subculture-bound as most hardcore comps. But this earlier collection from the Afrikaners' Netherlands fatherland speaks the language of international postfolk protest with a Eurorad accent, war before peace. Pop Afrobeat and avant Afrobeat and reggae and dub poetry and hardcore and plastic-people art-rock, by exiles black and white from South Africa and elsewhere, it puts secondhand talent to firsthand use. Includes propaganda booklet and comic, with all proceeds to Umkhonto We Sizwe, the ANC's military wing. B

Tango Argentino [Atlantic, 1986]
Nurtured by pimps in the teeming suburbs of immigrant Buenos Aires, the tango symbolized salaciousness early in the century--just like the waltz early in the last, I know, but listen to the painstakingly authentic (which sure doesn't mean untheatrical) recreations on this original-cast album and you begin to understand how melodrama can go to the gonads. You can almost see the ebony-haired temptress snake her tongue down her partner's throat as he grinds his thigh into her pubis, both of them hating each other's guts all the while. A-

You Can Tell the World About This: Classic Ethnic Recordings from the 1920's [Morning Star, 1986]
I slapped this world music on the turntable like it was Give 'Em Enough Rope in 1978, and the Ukrainian side-openers kept me coming back to the Welsh hymn and the Jewish cantor and the Turkish itinerant's song and the "masterful Spanish piping." But I remain a savage beast. Even if music is the goddamn universal language, it'll take more than the "commanding dynamics and engaging warmth" adduced in the vague and skimpy notes to put its dialects in meaningful contact. As it happens, the relaxed Puerto Rican Jardineras do jibe with those fiery Ukrainians, and if you believe in expressiveness for its own artistic sake you may enjoy every cut. But universalist humanism to the contrary, what differentiates the secular from the sacred and the Asian from the European is more important and more fun than what unites them. B

Reggae Dance Hall Classics [Sleeping Bag, 1987]
Near as I can tell, dance hall represents a hedonistic rebellion against Rasta religiosity not unlike disco's rejection of rock pomposity, and a lot of it is as forgettable outside its context as disco was. What's crucial about these eight tracks is that they all made themselves in Manhattan discos--downtown, natch, but that's the point. All are naggingly uptempo, most one-shots and/or novelties, many hooked with universal melodies that somehow slipped the collective mind--"5000 Miles," "Frere Jacques," "Dem Bones," "For the Love of Money." You can just imagine how weird they must have sounded twixt Madonna and Fad Gadget. Even up against one another they sound pretty weird. A-

The Tanzania Sound [Original Music, 1987]
These fourteen tracks were cut mostly in neighboring Kenya circa 1960, back when the British colony of Tanganyika was turning into Julius Nyerere's socialist proving ground. Congo rumbas that sing their East African provenance in lithe Arab-tinged melodies and Kinshasa rhythms, they have the same urban-folk directness you hear on John Storm Roberts's Africa Dances anthology. These days Dar Es Salaam's renowned live music scene is documented only in state radio's tape library; Tanzanians have made virtually no records since the early '70s, which wasn't how Nyerere planned it when he closed off the Kenyan border. The socialist in me hopes Tanzania's pressing plant starts up soon--and also hopes the music remains as distinctive and unforced as it used to be. A-

Back to the Beach [Columbia, 1987]
Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Pipeline"? Herbie Hancock's "Wipe Out"? Dave Edmunds's "Wooly Bully"? Pee-wee Herman's "Surfin' Bird"? This soundtrack opens up undreamed vistas of recontextualization, then shuts them down. Unlike Los Lobos claiming Ritchie Valens, the participants find no deep cultural resonance in the ancient texts, and unlike French, Frith, Kaiser & Thompson romping over "Surfin' U.S.A.," they get no kick out of destroying them, either. All they manage is trademarked modernizations consonant with the CHR fodder Mark Goldenberg shovels Aimee Mann and executive culprit David Kahne pours all over Marti Jones. The only winning cuts--and by me this includes even Pee-wee's--come from dodos too simple to aim for anything harder than fun fun fun: Eddie Money, Frankie Avalon, and Annette Funicello. C+

Christmas Rap [Profile, 1987]
First side's rap in the spirit of the season, full of good cheer and unabashedly materialistic from Mrs. McDaniel's macaroni-and-cheese and King Sun-D Moet's realism to all the name-brand shit in Ghetto Santa's bag before it gets stolen--Gucci and Jaguar, Barbie Doll and G.I. Joe, not to mention the gold and the diamonds and the pearls, not to mention the butler and the limo and the chauffeur. Second side's hip hop copping to the season, with the Disco 4's bass-and-jingle balls and the Showboys' cutups fronting for tales and boasts that aren't sucker, just snooze. Pop fans will settle for the Run-D.M.C. on A Very Special Christmas. Rap fans will prefer it to the Surf M.C.'s album, which said M.C.'s suggest you ask Santa for. Modesty wouldn't get them anywhere either. B+

Out of Our Idiot [Demon, 1987]
Credited to "Various Artists" who include Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Elvis Costello & the Confederates, the Coward Brothers, and the Emotional Toothpaste, all of them the musical workaholic who didn't release an LP under any of his own names this year. In other words, Taking Liberties Vol. II. EC and T-Bone's "People's Limousine" has a rep, and well-crafted it is--meaningful, too, I think. But the compelling contemporaneity of our genius's current one-offs (not to mention his current taste in companions) is best conveyed by my own personal favorite: a cover of the Shirelles' "Baby It's You" featuring none other than the Jesus of Cool, Mr. Nick Lowe. B-

Homeland [Rounder, 1987]
Nine of these twelve tracks, all produced by Rounder's man in Azania Clive Risko, clock in within two seconds of 3:00. They all seem to use the same efficiently uninspired rhythm section. So the initial effect is wearing, especially on the hour-long CD version. And in the end the vocal variety up top shines through like a new day coming. B+

Mbube! Zulu Men's Singing Competition [Rounder, 1987]
In which the judge at a Durban singing meet whittles 19 choirs and six hours down to nine choirs and 48 minutes. It's the kind of record that appeals to the converted; I wouldn't have paid so much attention to a similar document from Bahia or the Caucasus or a Pentecostal church in North Carolina. But I swear the notes and song summaries are lively enough to hook the curious, and anybody whose knowledge of Zulu chorale stops at Ladysmith should check out these hymnful shouts, stomps, whistles, yodels, and ululations. The deep, muscular harmonies of the Easy Walkers get my blue ribbon, but every rock and roller ought to hear the Greytown Evening Birds, who sing about their hunger like the Beach Boys. B+

Reggae Dance Party [RAS, 1987]
Not the promo sampler you might expect from the foremost U.S. reggae label. Only four of the eleven artists have RAS albums, and only Black Uhuru's Arthur Baker remix boosts LP product with any oomph. That's because the foremost U.S. reggae label had damn well better know its twelve-inches. The side-openers are Natural Beauty's "Nice Up Dancee," cravenly omitted from the Something Wild soundtrack, and Paul Blake & Bloodfire Posse's ten-minute dub-included "Get Flat," custom-designed for JA's gun wars. Oldtimer Horace Andy's venture into computerese is also worth committing to memory. The rest will OK up dancee. B+

Sounds of Soweto [Capitol, 1987]
If mbaqanga admirers find this contemporary compilation techno, that's their prejudice. At any acceptable level of economic development, electronic instruments are people-friendly, and music that mediates between South African blacks and the cities apartheid bars them from has its progressive function. Of course, quality can still vary. Condry Ziqubu and Lumumba burn; Lionel Petersen and the Winners kowtow. Some lyrics avoid the censors while sticking to the grit--corn, coal, crime in the streets. Others lie--if Petersen feels so damn "free to sing a song," that's another reason to suspect it doesn't mean shit. First side never lets that upwardly suave beat quit, and none of the others gets so smarmy you'll push reject. B+

South African Trade Union Worker Choirs [Rounder, 1987]
These groups have an aura of officialdom, as if organized at the workplace by wily fomenters of solidarity. Women make themselves heard in a traditionally male domain; the style is relatively declamatory, confident of its platform and its captive audience; American jubilee and mass-choir voicings abound; the acronym for "Federation of South African Trade Unions" bedecks six of the twenty-five titles. But for agitprop, it's long on high-jinks, with stomps and whistles erupting frequently around the exhortations. If South African pop makes the struggle of the South African people doubly immediate, this does the same for South African politicos--while apprising skeptics of how close to the people they are. B+

Take Cover [Shanachie, 1987]
The buzzy sound that has me skipping the first side is no mbira, so I assume it's a tragedy of underdevelopment--a recording lapse serious enough to annoy even a lo-fi schmo like me. Though perhaps I'd reconsider if its two best-sounding tracks weren't a folk song and a call to Christian vigilance. Side two is Zimbabwe like it oughta be, soft-sung popchants hooked on clear, dancing treble guitar figures, with a second guitar echoing on the beat or embellishing lightly around it. You think maybe Stevie Wonder could donate a predigital console to a bright young engineer in Harare? B+

A Very Special Christmas [A&M, 1987]
You get J.C. Mellencamp rocking "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," Bon Jovi slavering "Back Door Santa," Madonna vamp-camping "Santa Baby," but you also get solemnity-and-a-half from Sting and Bob Seger and Whitney Houston (who in this context owes us some soul). No, what makes this the best Xmas album since Phil Spector got bored with Hanukkah is conceptual audacity: pop-rock sticks its schlock in your face, leaning on fourteen eternal hits only Scrooge and Steve Albini could hate on principle. And all for an utterly safe, indubitably worthy cause. This December I'm bringing it out to Queens for dinner. A-

The Wailing Ultimate [Homestead, 1987]
As long as you don't take the hooks too literally--believe me, there aren't many more where they come from--this is a pretty fair introduction to garage postnihilism, a surprisingly palatable mix of musical and sociological interest. Just like the grooveful laborers on a reggae or hardcore compilation, Gerry's kids hold together for the kind of continuous listen most local/label samplers can't sustain. In fact, only their fans and their mothers could tell most of these fourteen bands apart without a scorecard, and I'm not so sure about their mothers. Mrs. Petkovic: "I liked that song you did about the well." John P.: "How could that be ours, mama? A girl sings it." Mrs. P.: "Isn't Samantha a girl?" John P.: "Ma, we're called Death of Samantha--Death of Samantha." Mrs. P.: "Oh Johnny, she's not really dead. That's just, what do you call it, poetic license, right?" B+

Thunder Before Dawn--The Indestructible Beat of Soweto Volume Two [Earthworks/Virgin, 1988]
This compelling version of mbaqanga is preeminently a music of professional rhythm sections--the legendary Makgona Tsohle Band driving Mahlathini's cuts, the guitar-organ motor behind Amaswazi Emvelo. Unlike such urban roots musics as Chicago blues or Memphis soul, it doesn't mess much with laid-back--as deep into street action as punk, its forward motion is almost frantic with joy, which may mean it's less joyful than we assume (and it pretends). It's no shock that the level of inspiration doesn't match Volume One's--how many miracles do we get in a lifetime?--but the falloff in warmth is a little disappointing. Only Jozi's "Phumani Endlini" has much pastorale in it, and only the three instrumentals cut life much slack. My favorite comes from Malombo, a "black consciousness" band who've always seemed pretentious to read about, but whose haunting understatement bears the same relationship to this nonstop anthology as Ladysmith's pop spirituality did to its vigorously secular predecessor. A-

African Connection, Vol. 1: Zaire Choc! [Celluloid, 1988]
Assembled by the biggest and sharpest manufacturer-distributor of an African style perfected in Europe, this is the showcase the slick, deep, joyously cosmopolitan, unselfconsciously commercial body-music the Paris-Kinshasa connection was waiting for. Contrasting vocal hooks, quicksilver guitar figures, and negotiable rhythm changes are orchestrated with a skill that evokes a great dancefloor DJ working the crowd for an hour-long peak. For sure it's more than a quality disco compilation: selections don't just hang together, they stand out, with Sam Mangwana, 4 Etoiles, and Papa Wemba some of the famous hard-to-finds featured. The secret, though, is in the selection and the flow--bet the compiler did literally do time on the Paris club scene, testing every track in the crucible of Saturday night. A+

African Connection, Vol. 2: West Africa [Celluloid, 1988]
Since Senegambia and its Islamic environs nurture solo expressive practices more individualistic (more "Western"?) (more "soulful"?) than those of the Congo, these pop moves by Salif Keita, Youssou N'Dour, and Parisian pets Toure Kunda might not mesh all that well with Alpha Blondy and epigones' Afro-reggae grooves even if they were snazzier. Quite educational, moderately entertaining. B+

Folkways: A Vision Shared -- A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly [Columbia, 1988]
Half a century after the fact, Popular Front song achieves the industrial credibility of Popular Front flick. It isn't just Uncle Pete and Li'l Arlo and Taj Mahal and Sweet Honey in the Rock pitching in on these Woody and Huddie covers, proceeds earmarked to help purchase the leftwing Folkways catalogue for the august Smithsonian Institution. It's magnates like Bruce and Mellencamp and U2, legends like Little Richard and Brian Wilson and Bob Dylan, even Willie and Emmylou defying country's rightwing line. And wherever they come from they put out. Dylan hasn't sung this fresh or Taj this tough in years, Arlo picks a lethal obscurity from his father's vast book, Mellencamp's folky pretensions seem natural, Springsteen escapes momentarily from his slough of significance, and Sweet Honey earn their leadoff spot. Every example I've cited threatens to surpass its model. Elsewhere, the material holds up. A-

Heartbeat Soukous [Earthworks/Virgin, 1988]
Think of this Zaire-goes-to-Paris sampler as a best-of from a faceless disco supersession like Change or Kleeer, with interlocking musical directorates and a not all that different voice heading every track. The sectional structures--from femme chorus to synth cheese to unison horns, say--recall late disco as well. There are also distinctions, natch, especially in the beats, which interlock with an intricacy undreamed of in Giorgio Moroder's philosophy, and the sweet guitar figures that underlie every weave. The one on "Zouke-Zouke" is some kind of spiritual experience. A-

Hurricane Zouk [Earthworks/Virgin, 1988]
Slickly high-tech like no other African or Caribbean style, Antillean zouk is Afro-Caribbean plus vive-la-France. On these prize cuts the singers--most strikingly Francky Vincent, a/k/a Dr. Porn--are jokey, sly, lascivious. There's something comic and triumphant about the eclecticism of old Kassav hand G. H. Guamaguy, who favors horn and fiddle frills, and new champion Servais Liso, who goes for glitzier electronic effects. Name me another 20th-century pop that's thrived so exuberantly under the depredations of Gallic wit. Original grade: A. A-

Mr. Magic's Rap Attack, Vol. 4 [Profile, 1988]
For the first time since the series began, he corrals the most undeniable singles of the year--"It Takes Two," "Don't Believe the Hype," "Strictly Business," "Push It," "Wild Wild West." Only the Cold Chillin' posse, led by his sometime mixer Marley Marl, declined the honor. Except for "It Takes Two," every aforementioned title is on an album worthy of the name, but those who are still resisting the only collectively vital American subgenre will find this compilation educational. Even the filler's high grade. A-

Rai Rebels [Virgin, 1988]
Lewd bellydancer music rocked by angry young men semi-improvising to a click track for producers who add the accompaniment afterwards--how could it not be great? Lots of ways, especially if you don't feel Algerian culture or speak Arabic (though any rock and roller will dig those gutturals). With its mad intensity and funkadelic guitar, "N'Sel Fik" may stand forever as rai's (and multi-instrumentalist Rachid's) one transcendent moment. Take the rest as a visit to exotic modern-day Oran, poised between old and new . . . B+

The Heartbeat of Soweto [Shanachie, 1988]
Earthworks having cast in with Virgin, Shanachie goes to the well and tests Zulu hegemony with its own mbaqanga compilation. There are big advantages to the wider range of tribal melodies and beats--in Western pop terms, sharper hooks and a less monolithic groove. Seven artists divide up the 12 tracks, and while the hottest stuff is still Zulu--Usuthu's eternally recurrent tunelet, Amaswazi Emvelo's supertipico forward grind--this album has its urban heart in the bush. From the simple Tsonga drumbeats of Thomas Chauke's opener to the Shangaan family chorale of M.D. Shiranda's closer, unprofessionalism in no way diminishes the music's skill or complexity. Folkies may well prefer it to Indestructible. Rock and rollers with ears won't settle for one or the other. A

Zimbabwe Frontline [Earthworks, 1988]
Hot Thomas Mapfumo, hooked Four Brothers. Fervent call for unity in a non-Zimbabwean tongue, husky cry of independence from a natural feminist. Mbaqanga rumba with West Nkosi in the control booth. Tart pop sweetmeats from Devera Ngwena, who outsell the Bhundus in Harare. A generic or two. Except maybe for Mapfumo's Ndangariro, which gets over on groove rather than songs, mbira guitar's most convincing showcase. A-

African Acoustic Vol. 2: Kenya Dry [Original Music, 1988]
"Dry" is what Africans call acoustic guitar, and for the first side, which samples tribal languages before homing in on Swahili, this collection of '50s rarities sounds like a sweetly typical folk-song collection--just happens to be out of Africa is all. But as the B progressed through catchy little guitar tunes and relaxed harmony groups I got a more specific vibe, and when the notes adduced African heroes Jimmie Rodgers and Jim Reeves I decided I was right. Fans of string bands, bluegrass, and other old-time country music: if you find polyrhythms daunting, boring, or whatever, this could be your way in. B+

Best of House Music [Profile, 1988]
Rough and unmediated house may be more fun than Euro-abstraction for sure, but it's for-dancers-only with a vengeance--formally, it's almost as exclusionary as hardcore. Thoughtfully sorted onto diva, sleaze, jack-your-body, and jack-of-all-nations sides, these cuts earn a permanent spot in my reference collection rather than my heart or my somatic memory. Even Marshall Jefferson's "Rock Your Body" and Moonfou's "Shut Up" disintegrate into breaks designed exclusively for the communal intoxication of the steamy floor. I don't get out enough, but I know what jacks my body when I do. B

Go Go Live at the Capital Centre [I Hear Ya EP, 1988]
Visuals don't make it a mythic live music--certainly not visuals the much longer accompanying video has the chops to convey. Spirit does, a spirit the harmonica-synth version of E.U.'s signature "Go Ju Ju Go" captures more boisterously than most crowd recordings. So does a groove that translates with ingratiating naturalness to the sonic limitations of live recording. B+

The Go Go Posse [I Hear Ya, 1988]
Three-four years after not becoming the next big thing, the groove is as indomitable as ever--a groove more steeped in black history, in swing and jump blues and Afro-Cuban, than any dance rhythm of the past three decades. But the optimism has lost a lot of its spritz--what passes for crazee on this multi-artist compilation is an anticrack rap with D.C. Scorpio as Captain Kirk and a reminder that D.C. doesn't stand for Dodge City. Not becoming the next big thing can take its toll. So can black history. B+

Stay Awake [A&M, 1988]
Packed the tape but forgot the notes, which after three bewildered plays had me wondering whether Hal Willner's Disney tribute featured not the usual smart rocksters but lounge-jazz singers Whitney Balliett himself wouldn't profile. Then Willner acting alone would have perpetrated the feckless equation of fantasy and whimsy that wrecks this pastiche. Instead, his accomplices include Los Lobos, the Replacements, the Roches, NRBQ, Nilsson, Garth Hudson, and Ringo Starr. The arty, the miniature, and the atmospheric give way to "straight" interpretations that provide relief only until you realize how slight the song is. For me, the big exceptions are Sun Ra's jolly "Pink Elephants" and Aaron Neville's supernal "Mickey Mouse Theme," the small ones Buster Poindexter's villainous "Castle in Spain" and, yup, James Taylor's sleepy "Second Star to the Right." In none of them are the personal and the literal mutually exclusive--none of them goes flat or makes high-flown excuses for itself. Each takes pleasure in Disney's reality without hypostasizing it. Isn't that the idea? C+

Sheshwe: The Sound of the Mines [Rounder, 1988]
Those who get a kick from accordion-heavy gumboots mbaqanga might be lured to this Sotho compilation--with one producer overseeing and one bassist underpinning, unity wouldn't seem a big problem. Unfortunately, what unifies it is how tuneless and static all four groups are--despite Sebata Sebata's rudimentary hooks and the whistles and rude percussion deployed by the others, these songs about snakes and kings and magic bones are more folkloric than most non-South African fans need. Also than some South African fans need. Cf. Tau Ea Lesotho's Nyatsi Tloha Pela'ka (Kaya 1984), which drives stronger shouting with a livelier rhythm section (is that a syndrum?), or the vocal esprit of Puseletso Seema & Tau Ea Linare's He O Oe Oe! (GlobeStyle 1985) (is that a woman?). Harder to find, but believe me, both will satisfy your minimum daily grit requirement. B-

Hard as Hell [Profile, 1988]
Though "rap's next generation" is really only nine U.K. acts with the same packager, this is noteworthy in its less than epochal way. Strange to hear black Brits talking South Bronx the way white Brits aped Memphis drawls 25 years ago. Accentwise they've got an edge, too. But musically, not to mention conceptually, they don't. Svengali Simon Harris has a knack rather than a gift for the dissociated steals and electrobeats of contemporary hip hop, and when Einstein observes that British DJs "ain't got enough talent to rock no jam," he ain't just pumping his man C. J. Mackintosh. Nevertheless, the energy is what they call fresh--the sense of unbounded possibility that makes the early phase of any pop movement such an up hasn't dissipated into calculation. Check out Nomis Sirrah's mastermix, Asher D and Daddy Freddy's skank, and Lady Sugar Sweet's tough-ass dis, and wonder what else is cooking over there. B

The African Typic Collection [Earthworks, 1989]
Annotator-cocompiler Jumbo Vanrenen's latest Afrodisco sampler showcases the Caribbean-Camerounian rhythm--designated "makassi," and don't ask me to tell you more or recognize it on the dance floor--that was the making of Sam Fan Thomas, who has his name on three of the six cuts and his fingers in two others. As the owner of one Thomas LP, I hereby certify that this one is more catchy, infectious, and all the other meaningful things Afrodisco samplers should be. It closes corny with a "Peter Gabriel inspired" (oh dear) Mandela tribute, opens fresh with an acoustic-guitar-based mesh of African dances. In between, relentless genericism does its number. A-

Black Havana [Capitol, 1989]
Not a real house compilation, my sources say, and good--bet stay-at-homes enjoy these Kenny Ortiz commissions more than the authentic stuff on Republic, DJ International, FFRR, Great Jones. It's funkier and more tropical than the club norm--salsa, dancehall, rap--without eschewing surefire house machinations. For once the trancey breaks and cries in the night--"Throw 'Em the Chicken," "Like This Like That," the drugged, distorted "Do It Steady"--are as haunting as they're supposed to be. And the way each side breaks into cool, lush escape music is pure coconut milk. A-

Brazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical [Sire, 1989]
I have to tip my hat to any record that can induce me to dig rockpoets Caetano Veloso (four tracks) and Milton Nascimento (two), both of whom I've resisted (uneasily, but with increasing vehemence) for a decade. But in fact my pleasure is more like grudging respect or bemused enjoyment--I admire Arto Lindsay's translations, hum along in unguarded moments. Fact is, every certified auteur on this unexceptionable compilation could support a fetching best-of. Fact also is, the only ones I'm sure I'd dig would be by Gilberto Gil (three), an old fave, and Jorge Ben (two), whom D. Byrne has sold me on. B+

The Kampala Sound [Original Music, 1989]
Though some may find it too mild, here is the most plainly irresistible John Storm Roberts compilation since Africa Dances. Roberts credits mission-school melodies and natural Bagandan rhythms for the simple, striking, singsong charm of this Nairobi-recorded, Kinshasa-dominated "1960s Ugandan dance music"; note also the r&b-derived basslines of Charles Sonko underpinning whoever has his or her name on the label, and his sister Frida's modest vocals. Created for commercial gain in a Ugandan market that pre-Amin enjoyed the ultimate gift, existence, the music floats in on an innocence of intent that escapes today's self-consciously folkloric African culture preservers. Imminent brutalization lends its lyricism a poignancy I hope no one involved had any inkling of at the time--unless, of course, foresight helped save their lives. A

Yo! MTV Raps: The Album [Jive, 1989]
For dilettantes and LP abusers, especially those open-minded enough to consider the Fresh Prince a Harold Teen for our times, a pop companion piece to Profile's fourth Mr. Magic comp. Only "Wild Wild West" and the inexhaustible "It Takes Two" are on both, and in many other cases--Stetsasonic's "Talkin' All That Jazz," Boogie Down's "My Philosophy," Salt-n-Pepa's "Shake Your Thang," Ice-T's "High Rollers"--MTV's notorious crossover lifts great tracks off good albums. This is not what I call homogenization. A-

Zetrospective: Dancing in the Face of Adversity [ZE, 1989]
Resuscitating the four standout tracks from the 1981 nouveau-disco anthology Seize the Beat and 12 others besides, this is the soundtrack to a lost era--art-scene disco according to Michael Zilkha on one side, art-scene DOR ditto on the other. It's very Manhattan, even more dilettantishly cerebral after all these years, and I prefer the disco even though the beat does get repetitive (those handclaps): only Kid Creole's "I'm a Wonderful Thing Baby," which oddly enough is the compilation's only readily available cut, has much give to it. But good work by uneven or ultimately tedious artists abounds. From Cristina's satiric "Disco Clone" to Was (Not Was)'s literal "White People Can't Dance," from Coati Mundi's bad-rapping "Que Pasa/Me No Pop I" to Lydia Lunch's sweet-talking "Lady Scarface," from Don Armando's cheesy "Deputy of Love" to Breakfast Club's cheesy "Rico Mambo," this is the first postmodern dance music--dance music with a critical spirit. And it's funny as hell. A-

The Bridge: A Tribute to Neil Young [Caroline, 1989]
The boho life certainly is rife with irony--having started out as punks, various avant-garagists find themselves paying respects to Johnny Rotten's favorite hippie. Less ironic is that Young and Rotten got rich and they didn't, which is partly the times, but also partly that they have less to say. They parody, they imitate, they cover, sometimes two or three at once, not because they're complex but because they've never figured out what they're doing. In contrast, Victoria Williams and Henry Kaiser, who started out as music nuts, seize their good songs. And Sonic Youth, who may get rich yet, seize a catchy piece of junk. B

Fresh Reggae Hits [Pow Wow, 1989]
Here's where the quality begins to thin out--where a novelty-hungry dance audience demands variations on moves so subtle that novelty-hungry outsiders can't even hear them. Though somatic judgments are more subjective than most, Half Pint's "Level the Vibes" leads off, suggesting that a lot of bodies feel it the way mine does--as a dance track from God, not quite "Word Up" or "You Dropped a Bomb on Me," but close. Next two cuts are winningly songful. But it's only on side two, with Sophia George's "Tenement Yard," that I find anything else for my tape. B

Fresh Reggae Hits -- Vol. 2 [Pow Wow, 1989]
And just for the record, there are two things on this compilation--J.C. Lodge's elsewhere-available "Telephone Love" and Shelly Thunder's elsewhere-available "Kuff"--that might have made volume one almost as useful as Profile's prestige job. No doubt Profile figured prestige was the road to modest profit, while Pow Wow, which also has a King Jammy compilation on the market, went for quantity. Haven't we been here before? Many times? B-

Hip House [DJ International, 1989]
"A rap on a House record does not make Hip House"; an unassuming rap punctuated by simple sung hooks over house piano, pumped bass, and the occasional Brown-whoop does. As per house rules, the breaks are too abstract to justify their length. But party music that would be escapist at this hip-hop moment is a hard move where these kids are coming from, so they sound proud of themselves, and they should. Put your hands in the air, and wave 'em like you just don't care. B+

House Hallucinates: Pump Up the World Volume One [Vendetta, 1989]
Take it from your Uncle Bob--even at the time, no one thought hallucinogens enhanced gross motor function. Self-expression, utopian possibility, all that good stuff with insufficient material base--maybe. But as the hippie girls (not to mention boys) freaking through Woodstock and Monterey Pop remind us, acid didn't go with dance crazes. And with their hooks vanishing into the mix, the trickily rhythmic, subtly incremental, frustratingly one-dimensional synth doodles that dominate this two-disc acid house compilation are about as engrossing as a Greg Elmore drum solo. I observe admiringly that the music is kind of avant-garde. I note that the lyrics are mantralike. And I concede that all of it must connect better in context. But I doubt I'd take a shine to the context even if I didn't have to get up in the morning. So I advise the curious to check out the context first. C

Konbit!: Burning Rhythms of Haiti [A&M, 1989]
Because Caribbean musicians use horns the way African farmers use cattle--not just as resources, but as measures of wealth--it took me six months to hear through the sonic givens on this inspired potpourri. The basic style is an unsurprising relative of zouk, which saxman Nemours Jean-Baptiste anticipated by decades in what he called compas (French) or konpa (Creole, or rather Kreyol). And by insisting on the same kind of variety and politics that have undone other world-beat compilations, conceptmaster Jonathan Demme and hands-on producer Fred Paul rescue theirs from UNESCO disco. Buoyant Jean-Baptiste songs from 1960 and 1957 lead and close, and in between we find not the usual indigenous hits but three specially commissioned songs, some agitprop, the Nevilles, and Haitian bands working out of New York, where their displaced countrymen have enough money to support bootstraps recording. Some tracks go for the congas, others build a tension that repays concentration, and it's a tribute to all concerned that you can't tell the new stuff without a scorecard--though not that the bilingual lyrics are cassette/CD only. A-

The Nairobi Beat (Kenyan Pop Music Today) [Rounder, 1989]
Again and again, tintinnabulating guitar lines lift this carefully annotated compilation of 10 dance-length indie singles. When the vocals are something special--a couple of so-called sister acts and the trailing harmonies of two guys who don't want to mind the baby--the lift is all the way to heaven. When they aren't it clears the treetops. B+

Nuestras Mejores Cumbias [Globo, 1989]
Where the competing Fiesta Vallenata has the imprimatur of the world-music good guys at GlobeStyle and Shanachie, this Colombian compilation comes from an RCA subsidiary--two stocking-clad gams stretch ceilingward through a field of balloons on the cover. But I swear it wasn't antiliberal tendencies that induced me to put Fiesta Vallenata's raggedy-ass polkas in the hall while carrying this jaunty, chintzy subsalsa to friends' birthday parties. It was spontaneous attraction. I've since learned that accordion-based vallenata is cowboy music turned cocaine-lord music, while clarinet-hooked cumbia is a mulatto urban style with a longer pop history, and I'm glad I chose the right side. But if the cocaine lords seize cumbia (and for all I know they already have), I bet what makes it jaunty, though maybe not what makes it chintzy, will still liven up a party. A-

Ram Dancehall [Mango, 1989]
I expected more of our former finest reggae label, though Jamaica hasn't been its strength since it turned into one of our three finest African labels. Anyway, these selections are just a little too subtle (the way Johnny P.'s "Ring a Roses" finally gets you going, the synthpan intro on Cocotea's "Bad Love Affair" that doesn't return often enough to act as a hook) or second-drawer (Tiger's "Never Let Go" rather than his supposed title cut, Brian and Tony Gold's "Maniac" rather than Michael Sembello's). Manhattan Special: Admiral Tibet's "Mad Man." B

Scandal Ska [Mango, 1989]
The excuse for the label's very belated fourth ska compilation is the Christine Keeler movie that lends it a title and a rather generic lead Don Drummond instrumental. Cut in '60 and '61--and thus predating rather than duplicating Intensified!, More Intensified!, and Club Ska '67, all still in print--these 16 cuts are ska as imitation r&b, their chugalong a kissing cousin to a New Orleans shuffle, and sometimes they really don't require an excuse. In addition to early Cliff and Marley and Dekker, there are songs here that feel as impossible as any obscurely wondrous '50s novelty--Skitter's "Mr. Kruschev," or Lloyd Clark's "Japanese Girl." But sometimes unknown r&b songs are curiosities, nothing more. B+

Zetrospective: Hope Springs Eternal [ZE, 1989]
Rock anthologies rarely cohere like dance-music anthologies, because they have no groove running down the middle--at whatever level of execution, they're about meaning more than pleasure. Anyway, Michael Zilkha's rock tastes were more received than his disco tastes, and while there are lost wonders here--three great songs by the Waitresses, two or three by Davitt Sigerson--John Cale and John Robie and Zilkha's wife Cristina are middling at best. Kid Creole and Was (Not Was) you probably know. B+

Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits (1955-Present) [Rhino, 1989]
"Present" was a misrepresentation even in 1989--nine of these 10 songs in 27 minutes were hits between 1956 and 1964, and will presumably mean more to those who were young back then. I was, and I play this record with pleasure every "holiday season," cough cough. Between the mildly defiant rock and roll compromises of Bobby Helms and Brenda Lee, the kiddie novelties proved durable even though you never liked the Chipmunks and never heard of Barry Gordon, the Drifters' alternative "White Christmas," Charles Brown and Elvis Presley sexing it up, and the secular piety of the Harrys Simeon and Belafonte, it's a testimony to pop culture's eternal need to put mildly untraditional twists on the holy holy holy (and why the hell wasn't there a "Twistin' Santa"?). Then there's the capper and chronological ringer, Elmo 'n Patsy's 1983 smash "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer"--a cornily deadpan, cheerfully macabre tall tale that will have romantics idealizing the old weird America for as long as Christmas is commercialized. A

The Carl Stalling Project: Music from Warner Bros. Cartoons 1936-1958 [Warner Bros., 1990]
low on continuity, will keep you alert on the interstate ("Various Cues From Bugs Bunny Films [1943-1956]") ***

Dancehall Stylee: The Best of Reggae Dancehall Music Vol. 1 [Profile, 1990]
As disco habitués learn to perceive its marginal distinctions, tolerate its generic repetitions, and crave its pulse, the style becomes less accessible to simple curiosity-seekers like yours truly. I'm sure every song on this assiduous compilation was a special favorite in context, and appreciate all the little touches--the late-breaking piano hook on "This Feeling Inside," the lilting Sunday School promise of "Prophecy," the multiple interjections of "Nah Go Switch," the aggressively incredulous "Wha-at"s of "Bun and Cheese" and then "Life," the squeaky echo of "Life." But even at that the closing "Watch a Them" and for that matter "Nah Go Switch" seem too damn marginal in their distinction. But excepting three or four--Tiger's "Ram Dance Hall" (he roars), Gregory Peck's "Oversized Mumpie" (blue patois), and Derrick Parker's "Cool It Off" (sounds like "coup d'etat"), with Shelly Thunder's "Kuff" a dark horse--I still could stand some more big touches. A-

Cuban Dance Party: Routes of Rhythm, Volume 2 [Rounder, 1990]
Though the companion A Carnival of Cuban Music is half field recording, Rounder's folkloric bias finally does a pop compilation some good. Most of the seven bands on this live tour of vintage Cuban dance rhythms date to before Fidel; one features an 82-year-old trumpeter, another a 92-year-old bongo player (who takes a solo). And all of them--including the post-Fidel Irakere and Los Van Van, whose signature "Muevete" is the longest and strongest of the three versions I know--thrive on the loose-limbed ethos of the dance-concert contexts. There's space in this music, odd touches--it feels freer than modern dance hits from Trinidad or the Dominican or Cuba itself. Freest of all is the old mambo "Here Come the Millionaires," which is what one group of pre-Fidel dockworkers decided to call themselves when they got jobs. A-

Hi-Jivin' [Kijima, 1990]
It can't be that every group on this sweet little label sampler has the same rhythm section--certainly not Malombo, or the mbira-style percussion ensemble Amampondo--but at this remove it kind of sounds that way. Equally rustic whether the name up top is Zulu or Sotho, long on squeezebox and masculine stomp, it will come as a bit of a change to fans who hope there's more to mbaqanga than Makgona Tsohle. Those who aren't quite sure who Makgona Tsohle are should find out. A-

Hip Hop Greats: Classic Raps [Rhino, 1990]
No "That's the Joint," because the concept behind this found collection of lost keepers isn't the greatest rap records from back in the day, it's crossover in the dark of history. The rhymes are silly with moments of unimaginable grace--from Wonder Mike's bad meal to Shirl the Pearl's soft swagger, from Kurtis Blow's universal pun to "The Message"'s message. The beats are old-school funk except when Flash gets hold of them--half "The Message"'s prophecy was in its rhythms. And the youthful positivity of both style and stylists don't stop--until white lines turn into tiny chunks of poison rock. A

Pop-Rai and Rachid Style [Earthworks, 1990]
Algeria's kitchen sink (Cheb Sahraoui, "Lila Sekri Andi"; Cheb Zahouani, "Ma-Nsal") ***

Red Hot + Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter [Chrysalis, 1990]
Although only Shane MacGowan, David Byrne, and Debbie & Iggy have ever been identified professionally with punk, only the Jungle Brothers--whose suave rap, unlike Neneh Cherry's gauche one, ignores Cole Porter altogether--would exist as we know them without it. From U2 to K.D. Lang to Sinead O'Connor, from Tom Waits to Salif Keita to the Neville Brothers, they've all built their market shares in fissures of taste and heightened expectation that punk opened up. And this is where punk's fierce certainty that "rock" is never enough ends up--in the suspicion that the "rock" punk changed utterly and not at all is actually a historical phase of "pop." Rarely has the pomo practice of trashing history while you honor it reached such a pitch of accomplishment. The songs are so strong that they remain Porter's whether Waits is bellowing one to death or the Fine Young Cannibals are rearranging one to a draw or Lisa Stansfield is literalizing one to within an inch of its printed lyric. Inevitably, there are duds, but listen enough and they shift on you. The recontextualizations--O'Connor's gravid "You Do Something to Me," Keita's Mandinka "Begin the Beguine," Erasure's electrodance "Too Darn Hot"--are for the ages. A

Singing in an Open Space: Zulu Rhythm and Harmony [Rounder, 1990]
John Bhengu and his country cousins (Frans Msomi, "Zinsiza Zase Makhabeleni") *

Ska Beats, Vol. 1 [ROIR, 1990]
So here we are "in the age of sample," and who should come diddybopping out of hip house but Prince Buster and the Skatalites? Evoking history without quoting it on any but the most obvious or abstract levels, the upstart mixers and rappers who mastermind the permutation make the old-timers sound livelier and more righteous than the dancehall competition. Is it pride in a black tradition untainted by the U.S.A. that keeps Brits coming back to ska, or just the all-purpose quickstep of the beat? Irrepressible either way. A-

The Civil War [Elektra/Nonesuch, 1990]
A panorama of American melody circa 1865, when all manner of minstrels and semiclassically trained composers were melding hymns and folk airs into an American popular style. Modest execution guards against dated fussiness, forced projection, and parlor gentility--on its own terms it's a quiet classic. But its elegiac reflectiveness calls out for gruesome pictures that aren't there--because it conceives music as a respite from war, never as a weapon, it's more sentimental than the music deserves. Did you know that North Carolina's Salem Brass Band used to play in the midst of battle to spur the boys on, or that at a post-Appomattox concert a Southern major told his Yankee hosts, "Gentlemen, if we had had your songs, we'd have licked you out of your boots"? Not from this you didn't. A-

The Disco Years, Vol. 1: Turn the Beat Around (1974-1978) [Rhino, 1990]
With its beatwise hooks, generic soul, and cheap orchestral effects, disco was the great singles music of the '70s, finally ripe for rediscovery unimpeded by the territorial imperatives of individual labels. Compiler Ken Barnes tries to stick in some bad records, for history's sake. But though only "Shame, Shame, Shame" could qualify for volume two's "Ring My Bell"-"I Will Survive"-"Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" run, Andrea True and Peter Brown are commercial crap like it oughta be, and once "The Hustle" makes its statement the hits just keep on coming on, untouched by electro blandout. Seven songs here went number one, and all four non-top 10 choices belong. Travails that touch the heart, relieved by the phony good cheer that makes life worth living. A

The Disco Years, Vol. 2: On the Beat (1978-1981) [Rhino, 1990]
I know that (a) it never really died and (b) if it did it was killed by rockist philistines and the homophobic media. So basically this is a fairly ace singles comp. But since formal exhaustion happens, and so does commercial exploitation, disco does begin to suck a little here. Case in point: Lipps, Inc.'s "Funkytown," a better-than-average novelty record so brittle that to place it up against the magnificently novel "Ring My Bell" is to tempt the wrath of the gods. So let it be noted that two of Rhino's evil "CD bonus tracks" (by GQ and the B.B.&Q. Band) are so bland that I'm tempted to recommend the cassette. Best novelty sound: the flushing toilet of Indeep's "Last Night a D.J. Saved My Life"--one more proof of the inexhaustibility of human ingenuity and human chutzpah. A-

Freedom Fire--The Indestructible Beat of Soweto Volume Three [Earthworks, 1990]
Producer Trevor Herman claims the lead cut, featuring Mahlathini and the gang, is "the finest track ever released on Earthworks." I say it's high-generic, and five minutes of high-generic at that, damn near swallowing the shouting spirituality of the two Amaswazi Emvelo songs right afterwards. But gradually things pick up--Zulu fear of flying, nasal Shangaan weirdness, three distinct and magnificent Mahlathini vehicles, modest accordion jive, avant Venda-Pedi instrumental, modernized marabi, hectoring Sotho shout. Out of many peoples, one compilation. A-

Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson [Sire/Warner Bros., 1990]
acid damage as consistency--meaning formal wisdom (R.E.M., "I Walked With a Zombie"; Thin White Rope, "Burn the Flames") *

Yalla: Hit List Egypt [Mango, 1990]
One reason rock and rollers don't get Cairo pop is that it's pop in the pre-Warhol, pre-Elvis sense: a middle-class music hemmed in by classical and liturgical conservativism and half-acknowledged Europe envy. Both working-class shaabi and student-class al jeel rebel against these strictures--they're faster, snazzier, and (when they can get away with it) ruder than the ughnijah competition. The ear-catching arrangements and fuck-you spirit of the signature cuts transcend bothersome details of language and mode--their audacity is in the grooves, and you won't want to resist. Delving deeper takes more time, but eventually the rock glitz and Bedouin grit on the al jeel side sound both inventive and inevitable. The shaabi side just sounds gritty and glitzy. A-

Spirit of the Eagle: Zimbabwe Frontline (Vol. 2) [Earthworks, 1990]
Chimurenga godfather Thomas Mapfumo's producer also oversaw the quieter Robinson Banda opener and the more percussive Nyami Nyami Sounds entry, while someone named A.K. Mapfumo produced the other Banda song as well as two by old favorites the Four Brothers. Everywhere the ripple of mbira guitar buoys music whose varied details are mere decoration for a tourist like me--a tourist who sits grinning foolishly, amazed yet again that such a wonderful world could thrive independent of his sustained personal attention. A-

Groove 'n Grind: '50s and '60s Dance Hits [Rhino, 1990]
Though Allen Klein denies us "Mashed Potato Time," "Bristol Stomp," and Chubby Checker (who reshouts "The Twist" like his comeback depends on it), they'd be add-ons anyway. Eighteen dance-craze picks, no stiffs, with four CD-only finds mitigating the nostalgia factor unless you were making the scene when Billy Graves invented beach music or Big Al Downing dragged the slop in the Georgia clay. I dare any disco-sucks holdout to deny that these streetwise exploitations are one of the essences of rock and roll. If the Kathryn Murrays of Flushing High who trained me for my failed prom shot would like to try again, I'm game. A

Guitar Player Presents Legends of Guitar -- Electric Blues, Vol. 1 [Rhino, 1990]
What do guitar mavens know of rock and roll? Interesting to excellent though most of the individual selections in this series are, they don't track--obvious classics meet understandable obscurities for your historical elucidation and not much else. This volume is different. I like blues and have a large record collection, yet I don't own more than six or seven of the 17 tunes here, and most of those I don't play. Now I will. The guitarists are terrific, naturally. But so are the singers and the songs. And blues variety isn't various enough to get distracting--from Albert King's "Personal Manager" (I've never liked Albert), to Elmore James's "Dust My Blues" (I've wanted this version for years) to Guitar Slim's "The Story of My Life" (too specialized for me, I thought) is seamless pleasure. And that's just a random sample. A

Christmas Party With Eddie G. [Strikin' It Rich/Columbia, 1990]
novelty pretty paper cut to ribbons (Detroit Junior: "Christmas Day," Bobby Lloyd and the Skeletons: "Do You Hear What I Hear/You Really Got Me," Rufus Thomas: "I'll Be Your Santa Baby") *

Gnawa Music of Marrakesh: Night Spirit Masters [Axiom, 1990] Neither

¡Sabroso! [Earthworks/Virgin, 1990]
slicked back (Orquesta Chepin, "El Son de Nicaragua"; Grupo Irakere, "Rucu Rucu a Santa Clara") ***

Just in Time for Christmas [I.R.S., 1990]
Dread Zeppelin: "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" Choice Cuts

Dancehall Stylee: The Best of Reggae Dancehall Music Vol. 2 [Profile, 1990]
Barrington Levy: "Here I Come (Broader than Broadway)"; Tenor Saw: "Ring the Alarm" Choice Cuts

One Voice: Pride [Enigma/Ruffhouse, 1990]
Mac Money: "Respect Yourself" Choice Cuts

Holy Ground: Alvin Ranglin's GG Records [Heartbeat, 1990]
Freddy McKay: "Keep Your Mouth Shut" Choice Cuts

Homeland 2 [Rounder, 1990]
Nkuku and Jopie Sisters: "Tana Kamina" Choice Cuts

A Creole Christmas [Epic Associated, 1990]
Dr. John: "Merry Christmas Baby"; Rockin' Dopsie & the Zydeco Twisters: "Jingle Bells" Choice Cuts

Towering Dub Inferno [Rykodisc, 1990]
21st Century Dub: "Beggars Suite Pt. I, II, III" Choice Cuts

Cumbia Cumbia: A Selection of Colombian Cumbia Recordings [World Circuit, 1991]
Hits back to the '50s from Colombia's Disco Fuentes label, with history sweeping consistency aside--any gringo can tell Conjunto Tipico Vallenato's accordion side-closers are country and Rodolfo's coffee commercial isn't. But even if the accordion stuff belongs on a vallenata comp, it passes muster on a collection where at least half the songs bristle with the exigente hooks that sell classic pop the world over. And the unmistakable beat runs down a consummate South American groove, halfway between Euro clomp and Afro hipshake. A-

Azagas and Archibogs [Original Music, 1991]
Most of these 22 pre-Biafran War dance-band highlifes are just 45s with names on them from the Decca West Africa vaults in Lagos--only three decades later, almost nothing is known of the multilingual Charles Iwegbue & His Archibogs beyond the band intro on "Okibo," or of the raucous Aigbe Lebarty & His Lebartone Aces except that he seemed to be from around Benin. There's not even a consistent style to grab onto, and the overall effect is a lot less suave than that of stars like E.T. Mensah or Sir Victor Uwaifo. They take a long time to sink in. But in the end I get a kick from every one. The will to fun that's palpable in this music isn't anonymous. It's--and I don't give a fuck if this is a naughty word in these anti-essentialist times--universal. A-

Cole Porter: A Centennial Celebration [RCA, 1991]
Capitol's swinging Anything Goes survives incursions from the likes of Gordon MacRae. But any solon who disses Red Hot and Blue had better not try and tell me schlock kings like Andre Previn, Skitch Henderson, Robert Shaw, Norman Luboff, and Arthur Fiedler--none of whom even bother with lyrics, for God's sake--do him justice. At least Al Hirt's "I Love Paris" is a travesty, not unlike Les Negresses Vertes'. And then there are the vocalists. Better Arthur Fiedler than opera dropout Mario Lanza, and if Dinah Shore or Alfred Drake understand the material as well as Sinéad O'Connor or Jimmy Somerville, they don't let us in on the secret. From Mary Martin to Patti Lupone, actresses let the songs do the talking, and the two convincing male singers here have the "worst" voices. One is Fred Astaire. The other is Cole Porter, whose three demo-style vocals-with-piano are so alive that I'm praying some solon exhumes a whole album's worth. If Porter found them insufficiently musical, he was wrong. Now he belongs to the ages. B-

Dangerhouse, Vol. 1 [Frontier, 1991]
L.A. circa 1977--let's get rid of everything (Randoms: "Let's Get Rid of NY," Howard Werth: "Obsolete") **

Guitar Paradise of East Africa [Earthworks, 1991]
Though at least three of the artists came up in Zaire, this classic compilation comprises six four- or five-minute Kenyan dance hits and five eight- or nine-minute Kenyan dance hits. So I guess it's benga, a beat/genre/label even more all-embracing than the soukous it cheerfully lifts. Though at times the guitaristics billow like Kinshasa, they're gentler, quirkier, more rural--and they're not definitive, because this is a song album. Nasally conversational or breathily musical, the voices get catchy to impossibly fetching melodies, and though only one band can afford horns, that band comes up with a great chart--a great cheesy chart. Intensely pleasurable up till cut seven, Orchestre Super Mazembe's atypically dark, typically gorgeous "Shauri Yako." After that, five consecutive tunes make you sit up and exclaim, "Oh boy, that one." Destructible, I suppose--persuasion, not power, is the idea. But if this is one world, undeniable. A+

Jit -- The Movie [Earthworks, 1991]
Highlighting Eddy Grant fan Oliver Mutukudzi, whose trademark cough reappears as Solomon Skuza's grunt-in-transition, six songs from the soundtrack and six from the southern African ether complement Zimbabwe Frontline's earlier survey of a roughly soulful pop idiom--less mbira-rooted and more internationalist, with English lyrics that never grate. Not every musician in Harare is as ital as Thomas Mapfumo, or as light-headed as the Bhundu Boys. A-

Kenya Dance Mania [Earthworks, 1991]
A more Zairean--hornier, earlier, less distinctive--mix of soukous, salsa, mbaqanga, and indigenous whatever than the transcendent Guitar Paradise of East Africa, but with the same fundamental virtue: a melodic gift that only asserts itself after a few beloved grooves work their not-quite-exportable charm. Pretty homespun for disco, its most impressive (translated) lyric is a survey of siesta folkways entitled "Lunch Time." If music be the food of underdevelopment, play on. A-

Music of Indonesia 2: Indonesian Popular Music: Kroncong, Dangdut, and Janggam Jawa [Smithsonian/Folkways, 1991]
schlock-rock fun, kitsch-pop educational (Soneta Group: "Qur'an dan Koran") *

Music of Indonesia 3: Music from the Outskirts of Jakarta: Gambang Kromong [Smithsonian/Folkways, 1991]
don't miss the modern stuff--a Dixieland-gamelan head trip you have to hear with lyrics you'll want to read (Gambang Kromong Slendang Betawi: "Stambul Biya") ***

Risqué Rhythm: Nasty 50's R&B [Rhino, 1991]
The blue blues compiled on Columbia's Raunchy Business and reprised on Bluesville's Bawdy Blues are novelty material. Voicing r&b's revolt of the body against the cerebral demands of bebop, this stuff is sexy. Even the novelties--the original "My Ding-a-Ling," say--are carnal, and though the oft-collected "Work With Me Annie" and "Sixty-Minute Man" may be mild as poetry, they're plenty physical as music. The Sultans' "It Ain't the Meat" and Connie Allen's "Rocket 69" are plenty physical as poetry. And Wynonie Harris and Dinah Washington will make you want to fuck. The gift that keeps on giving for any music-lover whose genitalia you cherish. A

The Jazz Age: New York in the Twenties [RCA, 1991]
Crammed into Tin Pan Alley straitjackets by big bad bizzers or maybe just lacking in natural rhythm, these young white guys--Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Red Nichols, Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti--nevertheless sound intensely happy to be alive, so delighted with the freedoms come up the river from New Orleans that they can scarcely contain themselves. Disciplined but never sedulous, they're rollicking iconoclasts injecting greater musicians' mind-boggling innovations of pulse, phrasing, and intonation into the culture of Prohibition. They sing the spirit electric without uttering a word. A

The Kings and Queens of Township Jive: Modern Roots of the Indestructible Beat of Soweto [Earthworks, 1991]
If the successors to Earthworks's epochal mbaqanga comp have been too professional, the predecessors from Rounder and such haven't been professional enough. So finally, here are the '60s/'70s hits. Though it stars the usual great names--Mahlathini, the Queens, West Nkosi--its highs surprise: a beleaguered Soul Brothers boast hooked to a rumbling organ sound effect, a Lulu Masilela one-shot as self-evidently classic as "Walking With Mr. Lee," the rest of the sax jive. I used to get an r&b rush off these folks' mature work. Little did I know how much fun they'd already had. A

The Most Beautiful Christmas Carols [Milan, 1991]
Though this European tour by the Psalette de Lorraine, a multilingual French choir so famous its name appears nowhere on the package, could be less Catholic--I miss "Adeste Fidelis" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," especially with 3:28 expended on "White Christmas," where der Bingle and les Drifters still rool--it's ideal seasonal background kitsch nevertheless. Beautiful. Really. A-

Wild About My Lovin': Beale Street Blues 1928-1930 [RCA, 1991]
I don't know about Frank Stokes or Jim Jackson--acoustic-guitar songsters can fade to gray when their material isn't on the money. But as a longtime addict of Yazoo's Memphis Jug Band double-LP, I happily mainline Cannon's Jug Stompers' quarter-CD. Immersed in pop and vaudeville and minstrelsy because that was the competition, slick enough for slickers and downhome enough for traveling men, this stuff is a music of back alleys and medicine shows. Eventually it will spawn jump blues--and rock and roll. A

Gabba Gabba Hey [Triple X, 1991]
Somehow I dreamed Ramones songs would resist interpretation simply enough to make a tribute fun. Instead I'm wondering whether Sniffin' Glue went too far when it showed the world how to play those three magic chords. Double-redundant because the respectful L.A. punkoids it corrals are quadruple-obscure, this scenester showcase coughs up small surprises from L7 (gurls), the Creamers (mostly gurls), and the Badtown Boys (not gurls). Yabba dabba doo. C+

Two Rooms -- Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin [Polydor, 1991]
Where most tribute albums hitch second-raters to the famous fans who've been sweet-talked into signing on, this superstar showcase aims to turn the tributees into de facto titans, minting much moolah in the process. Sinéad O'Connor was born to cover, and Rod Stewart is reborn for a day. But the material proves less than titanic--it's just plastic, inspiring or enabling Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, even the Beach Boys and the Who to construct simulacra of their better selves. As for Sting, Hall & Oates, Bruce Hornsby, Jon Bon Jovi, Wilson Phillips, Phil Collins, and even George Michael, they don't have better selves--they have accidents, none of which happen here. B-

Rock This Town: Rockabilly Hits Vol. 1 [Rhino, 1991]
If like me you resist the rockabilly myth, here finally is something that sounds like a national movement--not just the Sun story plus, but weirdos and up-and-comers talking to each other by phonograph. Some of these artists were one-shots, some geniuses, some pros. Showbiz kids and child country singers and crazy young hillbillies and oilmen's sons and Western swingers who got lucky, they'd turn into freebasers and adult country singers and saner old hillbillies and bizzers who'd hook up with Nancy Sinatra and Gram Parsons and corpses in Dave Alvin songs. With no input from Elvis or Eddie Cochran, seven of the 18 have died--at 17, 30, 36, 45, 52, 55, and 58. So these kids weren't kidding when they tried to capture their youths in nervous-to-frantic guitar and put them on plastic. The knew something was happening, but they didn't know what it was. And you can still kind of hear it. A

Cuba Classics 2: Dancing With the Enemy [Luaka Bop/Warner Bros., 1991] Neither

Wind Your Waist [Shanachie, 1991] Neither

Deadicated [Arista, 1991] Dud

Rock This Town: Rockabilly Hits Vol. 2 [Rhino, 1991]
Elvises-come-lately, revivalists, and other diehards keep the legend juiced *

H.E.A.L.: Civilization Vs. Technology [Elektra, 1991]
Heather B.: "Don't Hold Us Back" Choice Cuts

Tom's Album [A&M, 1991]
DNA Featuring Suzanne Vega: "Tom's Diner" Choice Cuts

Africolor 2 [Celluloid, 1991]
Malka Family: "Malka on the Beach" Choice Cuts

Deep Blues [Atlantic, 1992]
Mississippi jook music today (R.L. Burnside: "Jumper on the Line," Big Daddy Johnson, "Daddy, When Is Momma Coming Home:) *

Antone's Women: Bringing You the Best in Blues [Antone's, 1992]
Eight gals whose natural habitat is the blues bar in all its beery, bedenimed isolation--the malest enclave this side of the men's locker room. Individually they're not immune to the rowdy conservatism that shackles all so-called house-rockin' music, but together they constitute a singular sisterhood: tough and independent, yet--with guidance from the label's cofounder, unflappable Austin oldtimer Angela Strehli--willing to help each other hoe that hard row. The songwriting is high generic, which in bar blues takes effort, and this sampler isn't just a wheat-from-chaff job. It highlights facets of a collective sensibility--earnest or cynical or sluttish or loving or proud, it's always of its world. B+

Buddhist Liturgy of Tibet [World Music Library, 1992]
Fourteen monks climax a Tantric meditation by chanting the Sutra. Unison readings are augmented and sometimes driven by precise percussion, patches of multivoiced murmur (like the prelude to a Kiwanis luncheon) are less predictably accompanied, and maybe the coughs are on purpose too. Whatever else goes down, though, the voices are interrupted every four or five minutes by a din out of Wynton Marsalis's nightmares. Handbells and cymbals, rattles and boom-booms, deafening oboes and monster trumpets unite in music that at this distance evokes nothing so much as a four-car accident--and that over there connects to the divine. Meaning notwithstanding, it's an astonishing sound--and I've yet to play it for anyone who's reported back unimproved by the experience. Rock and roll! B+

Kickin Mental Detergent [Kickin', 1992]
This 1992 U.K.-label comp proved so seminal that it spawned 1993's Vol. 2, which is merely less consistent, and 1994's Kickin Hardcore Leaders, which is scene specific to the verge of abstraction. And after trolling among competing fast-techno collections, I suspect the downward spiral is an omen. Early on, with label and movement still worried about being liked, songs of dread and abandon bedeck themselves with spoken-word hooks, lending their apocalyptic aura an illusion of coherence that squares can relate to, and aren't above other vulgar fripperies--layers of texture, sound effects, tunes. However impure they are counted by the small legions who have since undergone full aural immersion, they're as cleansing as claimed when approached from the other side--from the rest of music. A-

MTV Party to Go, Vol. 2 [Tommy Boy, 1992]
great singles from good albums for the harried host, casual fan, and amateur cultural historian (the KLF: "3 AM Eternal [Live at the SSL Extended Mix]," Heavy D. & the Boyz: "Now That We've Found Love [Club Version]") ***

Only for the Headstrong: The Ultimate Rave Compilation [FFRR, 1992]
Live and on the compilations that have become a soundtrack-strength proposition in the U.K., most techno is too squiggly for nondancers if not noncyborgs--the generation that's evolved to where switched-on Bach qualifies as a golden oldie has yet to reveal itself to SoundScan. But with its lower registers, human voices, and sound-effect hooks, you could almost say this one rocks. When undulating femme chorus meets percussive computer hook on the Utah Saints' "What Can You Do for Me" and DSK's "What Would We Do," it's sci-fi pop you can believe in. No way are nondancers tired of the house riff yet. Of course you know it. A-

Reggae for Kids [RAS, 1992]
dad says, "The real thing"; kid says, "I like all the songs but this one [Black Sheep's `Time To Think']" (Eek-a-Mouse: "Safari," Gregory Isaacs: "Puff the Magic Dragon") *

Billboard Top Hits--1984 [Rhino, 1992]
With '80s nostalgia as certain as Lloyd Bentsen, I tested the Carly Simon Principle by snapping all five of Joel Whitburn's 1980-84 samplers into the changer. If Carly could get lucky on the radio, why not Rick Springfield, Air Supply, Journey? But for four years it was ugh, yuck, and pee-yew, with occasional relief from Blondie rapping and skanking, "Bette Davis Eyes" and "Maniac" staggering under the dreck, Men at Work's gift from Oz. Then all of a sudden CHR dawns--and after four Brits and Eddy Grant in two years, we get five black artists, five U.K. artists, and "Talking in Your Sleep." It didn't mean much--this was also the year of Reagan rampant, with "Karma Chameleon" the only vaguely progressive moment. But give two cheers for formal evolution, the mass marketplace, the pleasures of false consciousness, and England swinging like a pendulum do. A

The Disco Years, Vol. 4: Lost in Music [Rhino, 1992]
The first two volumes were so brilliant that too much of a good thing was sure to follow. Keyed to the dumber-than-ever "Rock the Boat" and "Boogie Fever," volume three is obvious when it's listenable at all; volume five at least re-exposes obscurities on the order of Secret Weapon's "Must Be the Music," Hot Chocolate's "Mindless Boogie," and Cheryl Lynn's mad, shrieking "Star Love." But this sharply conceived anthology transcends hodgepodge, by tracing Chic's influence on the music of disco's deformularized commercial decline. Ken Barnes is right, damn it--not only did Chic inspire rips like René & Angela's "I Love You More" and imitations like Change, they also created the market that would dance to experiments like the Peech Boys' "Don't Make Me Wait" and C-Bank's "One More Shot." And as producers they were auteurs from Nile's impossible coda on Norma Jean's "I Like Love" to Diana Ross's single-entendre "I'm Coming Out" to Sister Sledge's uncoverable title tune--which tunnels deeper into club life than anything Elvis Costello ever wrote, and which wouldn't mean a thing without Nile and 'Nard sucking us in. A-

Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Rain Forest [Smithsonian/Folkways, 1992]
I've never had much use for ethnographic recordings, and I'm not converted. But from the moment Colin Turnbull lets the chatter and work rhythms of the encampment he's approaching engulf the jungle's ambient insect and bird music, I'm hooked. Though "Elephant Hunting Song" is almost protodoowop, that's not the point--most of these songs are as environmental for me as they are, in an entirely different way, for the parttime folk artists who weave-them-into-the-fabric-of-their-lives. Backed by more fauna, the rituals at the end have an eerie power. But I'm equally impressed that after Pakasi blows on his just-carved flute for a few minutes, he throws it away. A-

A*F*R*I*C*A*N E*L*E*G*A*N*T [Original Sound, 1992] Neither

Cuba: Fully Charged [Earthworks/Caroline, 1992] Neither

Pimps, Players and Private Eyes [Sire/Warner Bros., 1992] Neither

Zouk Attack [Rounder, 1992] Neither

Honkers & Bar Walkers Volume One [Delmark, 1992]
'50s sax raunch for joints with lounge dreams (Teddy Brannon: "Everybody Get Together," Paul Bascomb: "Pink Cadillac") ***

Rig Rock Jukebox: A Collection of Diesel Only Records [First Warning, 1992]
The Blue Chieftains: "Punk Rockin' Honky Tonk Girl"; Courtney & Western: "Go to Blazes" Choice Cuts

Dancehall Stylee: The Best of Reggae Dancehall Music Vol. 3 [Profile, 1992]
Papa San: "Maddy Maddy Cry" Choice Cuts

Berlin 1992--A Tresor Compilation--The Techno Sound of Berlin [NovaMute, 1992]
System 01: "Drugs Work" Choice Cuts

Zoo Rave 1 [Zoo, 1992]
Voyager: "Rhythm Dream" Choice Cuts

Duke-Peacock's Greatest Hits [MCA, 1992]
never a classic singles label (Johnny Ace, "Pledging My Love"; the Original Casuals, "So Tough") **

Street Music of Java [Original Music, 1993]
love that girl-group dangdut, appreciate the rest ("Asoi," "Kuda Lumping," "Hai Cuim Dong") ***

Jive Soweto--The Indestructible Beat of Soweto Volume Four [Earthworks, 1993]
By now the availability of South African pop far exceeds the needs of the curious, and there's no way any of Trevor Herman's four follow-ups to Indestructible Beat is as essential as Ladysmith's Classic Tracks or Mzwakhe's Resistance Is Defence or Mahlathini's Paris-Soweto or Shanachie's Heartbeat of Soweto. But for the converted, each has its distinct rewards. Featuring the slick arrangements and syncretic harmonies of the Soul Brothers on six tracks, this one abandons basso groaners for the high-end registers of hectoring chatterbox Ihashi Elimhlophe, theatrical interloper Mbongeni Ngema, and pop idol Steve Kekana. It makes itself useful on sonic differentiation alone. A-

Aural Ecstasy: The Best of Techno [Relativity, 1993]
blaring rave comp so obvious even I knew three cuts (Holy Noise: "James Brown Is Still Alive"; Pornotanz: "Cysex") ***

Before Benga 2: The Nairobi Sound [Original, 1993]
We all know African music is meant to be apprehended rhythm foremost--except for the oddballs who think maybe it actually comes tunes first. Early electric pop from a high-set city too temperate for open-air dance halls, these lovingly collected Kenyan singles lilt and sway beguilingly, and the lyrics mix timeless courtship and dated topicality with an earnest smile I'm sure will charm Swahili speakers. But the collective genius is in the tunes. Play it a dozen times, then attend as each melody makes its modest entrance, and you'll swear you've been hearing every one for years. And I guess it's possible you have. But not in the same place. A

Born to Choose [Rykodisc, 1993]
Granting the thematic animus of the Mekons' brazen "Born To Choose" and Soundgarden's ball-busting "HIV Baby," this charity comp has less in common with No Alternative than with A Very Special Christmas. The secret is consistency: quality artists (11 of the 12 have finished Pazz & Jop top 50, six top 10) doing quality material (perceptive enough to get involved, they cared enough to do it right). Kudos, then, to organizers Craig Marks and Karen Glauber, both of whom happen to be journalists--even, dare I say it, rock critics. Inspirational Verse, from John Lennon via Matthew Sweet: "She said/I know what it's like to be dead." A-

Dancehall Stylee: The Best of Reggae Dancehall Music Vol. 4 [Profile, 1993]
As if to prove Jamaica isn't totally overrun by electric percussion and macho bwoys grunting about guns and punany, this comp centers on two winsome pieces of lover's rock, one male and one female. It also makes room for numerous melody instruments, most of them saxophones repeating phrases you'll want to hear again (and will). For all I know, hardcore dancehall users will find it, to employ an expression current in my country, soft. But old reggae heads who can't be bothered distinguishing between Buju Banton and Wu-Tang Clan can start here. A-

Ethnotechno (Sonic Anthropology), Vol. 1 [TVT, 1993]
relaxed beats + sound effects con, Yoruba, etc. = "Sonic Anthropology Volume 1" (Juno Reactor, "Alash (When I Graze My Beautiful Sheep)"; Sandoz, "Limbo"; Jonah, "Algiers") ***

Future House: Best of House Music, Vol. 4 [Profile, 1993]
grooviest at its least techno, when it peels back house's soul to the kernels of melody underneath (Hyper Go Go: "High," S.A.S.: "Amber Groove," Liberty City: "Some Lovin'") **

Futurhythms [Medicine, 1993]
midrange, steady-state, "tribal" (Leftfield: "Song of Life [Radio Edit]," the Prodigy: "Wind It Up [Forward Wind Mix]") **

Heart of the Forest [Hannibal, 1993]
Where Baka Beyond: Spirit of the Forest, the acoustic guitar jam producer Martin Cradick constructed around tunes and percussion tracks parts he took out of the jungle, is so easy to ignore it makes you appreciate the candid hokeyness of Deep Forest, where Cradick constructs an awesome and enchanting glimpse of another world. His musical record of the Baka pygmies borrows the structure Steven Feld devised for New Guinea's Kaluli on 1991's Voices of the Rainforest, which condenses the sounds of a village day down to an hour. But unlike Feld, Cradick doesn't try to evoke a mindset in which birds, insects, frogs, running water, and crackling brush create music to that the human beings who share their earspace "lift-up-over sound." Instead, as in Smithsonian's recently reissued Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Rain Forest, natural sounds provide the ground of an ethnomusicological array dominated by indigenous harps--magical incantations, nursery rhymes, work songs, occasional divertissements, and drunken revelries. Before you buy any more guff about aural environments and ambient whoziwhatsis, check out what a real soundscape sounds like. Don't miss the water drums. A-

I've Found My Love: 1960's Guitar Band Highlife of Ghana [Original Music, 1993]
cultural downmarketing in postcolonial Accra (Youngsters, "Yebewu Asee Kwaa"; Akwaboa, "Onuapa Due") *

Journeys by DJ: Billy Nasty Mix [Moonshine Music, 1993]
An English DJ's one-cut, 78-minute set, comprising healthy swatches of 19 technohouse instrumentals. Despite occasional overdubbing and lots of switching back and forth, Nasty's basic strategy is to lay the best parts end to end and make you like it, and although I must have encountered some of these songs on ordinary dance comps, all I can tell you is that they're long on bass lines, midrange coloration, and vocal sound effects--and that they sound great whenever you tune in. For years hardcore dancers have been complaining that compilations and single-artist albums don't do their experience justice--the songs remain too discrete. The few street and private tapes I've heard don't live up to the fantasy, and a second volume in this series, The Stress Compilation, is more like an ordinary house collection. But this--this is sort of what they're talking about. Bravo. A-

Lipstick Traces [Rough Trade, 1993]
punk as Ur-political vanguard as per G. Marcus, a man who considers the Firesign Theatre background music (Adverts, "One Chord Wonders"; Mekons, "Never Been in a Riot") *

Mbuki Mvuki [Original Music, 1993]
Formally, this is more sampler than compilation--23 tastes of an Afrocentric catalogue that's long on cultural idiosyncrasy, highlighting many Islamic and Caribbean genres and several so local they're barely commodified. You figure that even if it induces some inquisitive soul to try Tumba, Cuarta & Kai and Songs the Swahili Sing--or, more fruitfully, Azagas & Archibogs and The Kampala Sound--there's no way so much weirdness can hang together. But back in the '70s, when Africa Dances made the entire sub-Sahara its oyster, it wasn't just because we didn't know any better that we didn't notice the clash of styles. The unifying force was John Storm Roberts's passion for the simple melody and the folk-pop cusp--the best term I can think of for the fusion of village ways and urban overload, naive curiosity and pancultural daring, that permeates the musics he tells the world about. On this labor of love from Roberts's associate Richard Henderson, the same spirit connects Professional Uhuru's "Medzi Me Digya" to, say, Unknown Street Group's "Asoi." You could carp about folkloricism on a couple of early selections, but starting no later than cut six, an eternal New Year's call-and-response from the Dutch Antilles, the tunes just keep on coming. A

MTV Party to Go, Vol. 4 [Tommy Boy, 1993]
At the same moment Vol. 3 convinces me I can live forever without "Baby Got Back," Mary J. Blige, "I'm Too Sexy," the simultaneous Vol. 4 firms up my affection for "They Want Efx," En Vogue, and "Give It Away" (I kind of dig "Baby-Baby-Baby" too) (and hey, "Hip Hop Hooray" and "Back to the Hotel" are cool, and "Jump" and RuPaul you know about). It's enough to renew my faith in confluences of taste--sometimes even dance disposables sort out. So what if the higher-grade collection mines higher-grade albums--these are remixes, right? Kris Kross's has Super Cat on it. Fun. A-

Putumayo Presents the Best of World Music, Vol. 1: World Vocal [Putumayo World Music, 1993]
UNESCO greeting card for the ear (Juan Luis Guerra y 440, "Ojalá Que Leva Café"; the Bhundu Boys: "Magumede") *

Tougher Than Tough: The Story of Jamaican Music [Mango, 1993]
Only residents and aficionados have heard half the 95 songs on this four-CD set, and I'm not going to tell you every one is an instant masterpiece. But I will tell you it doesn't much matter, because what's captured besides epiphanies, which are plentiful, are the homespun texture and limitless spirit of a musical culture that now stretches back 35 years. Lovingly or generously or just hegemonically, Island resists the temptation to overplay its own catalogue. Artists who were names on a page are brought to life by their moments in the sun, their place in the world of "Guns of Navarone" and "The Harder They Come" and "Police and Thieves" natural and secure, which in the end lends the classics a historical grandeur the label's earlier compilations don't suggest. What a miracle that one fucked-over little island should prove such a treasure house. And what a lesson. A

Welcome to the Future [Epic, 1993]
squiggly when it's generic, transcendent when it isn't (Jaydee: "Plastic Dreams (Original Version)," "Out of the Ordinary: "Da Da Da") **

Putumayo Presents the Best of World Music, Vol. 2: Instrumental [Putumayo World Music, 1993]
Essentially, this music to shop by showcases folkies from industrialized nations who correct for their deficient rhythmic élan with percussion devices more ethnic and less loud than one of those nasty trap sets. It turns the likes of Rossy and Ali Akbar Khan into easy-listening whores by association. It's why moralists think "world music" is an exploitation--and why hedonists think it's a drag. C-

The Best of Ace Records--The R&B Hits [Scotti Bros., 1993]
Like all Billy Vera compilations, this one isn't immune to collectoritis--gosh, not the B side of Al Collins's very rare "I Got the Blues for You"? 'Cept even the B side epitomizes the wry, insouciant cool of the New Orleans groove, con, and worldview--and the A goes "Baby with the big box/Tell me where's your next stop," or is that "Tell me where your legs stop"? Too full of itself by half, New Orleans has shoveled out enough generic music to shanghai anybody's fantasy of geographical genius. But with the right producer (Johnny Vincent) and piano player (the jocose Huey Smith plus the usual suspects) and drummer (first Earl Palmer, then somebody named Charles "Hungry" Williams), its generic music is Grade A. And with Huey behind eight of these 14 cuts (seven of 12 on cassette), generic is beside the point. "Rockin' Behind the Iron Curtain"? Generic? Not exactly. Not hardly. A

Funky Stuff: The Best of Funk Essentials [Mercury, 1993]
The Funk Essentials series doesn't just overreach, it blares mediocrity--not only will it convince the unsuspecting to reserve the slow ones for Chic, P-Funk, and Slave, it might make them doubt the infinitude of the offbeat itself. As a restorative, I prescribe this best-of-the-best-of. Even as it invites a dock by compelling "Word Up" fans to buy the entire Cameo disc, it does Con Funk Shun and the Bar-Kays more solids than I'd thought they deserved and adds stray strokes from Leon Haywood, Bohannon, and the mysteriously MIA Gap Band. Less than you hoped for, as much as you need. A-

Technosonic Volume 3 [Sonic, 1993]
Only maniacs and ecstatics track techno subgenres, but since this comp is subtitled "A Journey Into Trance," figure it's in "ambient" territory--that is, "boring." It's from Antler Subway Records in Belgium, a famous label for what that's worth, and the reason it isn't "boring" is that this trance seems designed to bring blood to the erectile tissues: "Drive My Body," "Sensual Motion," "Just Can't Get Enough," done mostly with rhythm and texture rather than the porny spoken-word come-ons so fashionable in the Brussels we've come to know. With a little poetic license you could call the first half the build to a relaxed orgasm. Relaxed by techno standards, anyway--in real-time measure, only maniacs and ecstatics fuck this fast for more than 30 seconds. The rest is more traditionally trancelike, with occasional forays into afterplay. Brian Eno could do a lot worse, and has. A-

Sweet Relief: A Tribute to Victoria Williams [Thirsty Ear/Chaos, 1993] Neither

Excursions in Ambience [Caroline, 1993] Neither

Méringue [Corason, 1993] Neither

The Beavis and Butt-Head Experience [Geffen, 1993] Dud

DJ Red Alert's Propmaster Dancehall Show [Epic Street, 1993] Dud

Tresor II: Berlin-Detroit . . . A Techno Alliance [NovaMute, 1993] Dud

Uptown MTV Unplugged [Uptown/MCA, 1993] Dud

Calypso Calaloo [Rounder, 1993]
while you're at it, read the book (Donald R. Hill, Florida) (Lionel Belasco, "Trinidad Carnival"; Lord Invader, "Rum and Coca Cola") *

Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix [Reprise, 1993]
Belly: "Are You Experienced?"; Body Count: "Hey Joe" Choice Cuts

Kickin Mental Detergent Vol. 2 [Instinct, 1993]
Kicksquad: "Champion Sound"; X-Statik: "Rapture" Choice Cuts

Bosnia: Music from an Endangered World [Smithsonian/Folkways, 1993]
Nadu Mamula: "Kad ja podjoh na Benbasu" Choice Cuts

Cream of Tomato [Moonshine Music, 1993]
Pascal's Bongo Massive Vol. 2: "Gettin' Started" Choice Cuts

No Alternative [Arista, 1993]
Pavement: "Unseen Power of the Picket Fence"; Patti Smith: "Memorial Tribute"; Matthew Sweet: "Superdeformed"; Uncle Tupelo: "Effigy" Choice Cuts

Rap Rhymes! Mother Goose on the Loose [Epic, 1993]
Tone-Loc: "Old Mother Hubbard" Choice Cuts

Stars of the Apollo [Columbia/Legacy, 1993]
Pearl Bailey and Jackie "Moms" Mabley, "Saturday Night Fish Fry"; Big Maybelle Accompanied by Leroy Kirkland and His Orchestra, "Gabbin' Blues" Choice Cuts

Incredibly Strange Music, Vol. 1 [Caroline, 1994]
Despite their claims to "amazing diversity" and "unique and bizarre visions of life," all of these 13 tracks, compiled by Andrea Juno to illustrate the RE/Search issue of the same name, are by white people. Though rhythms tend to the "Latin," all are notably deficient in bottom. The few guitars owe more to Django than Duane, sonorities are up in the whistling-vibraphone-marimba-sitar-theremin range. The two classical covers share a take-that! antirockism with the two songs about dumb teenagers. The only other vocals are Katie Lee's "Will To Fail," from her Songs of Couch and Consultation LP, and Kali Bahlu's spoken-word-with-sitar "Cosmic Telephone Call," a wacky flight of pseudo-Buddhist ecumenicism that's easily Juno's most charming find. Beyond their compulsion to escape pop's Afro-American mainstream, what's most striking about these willfully marginal, grotesquely pomo selections is how suburban they are. Responding directly to the hi-fi boom of the '50s and '60s, conceived by adepts of recorded sound for people who wanted to show off their stereos, they presuppose not merely disposable income but a commitment to affluence that insures the ultimate banality of the CD's concrète-naif sound effects and whoop-de-doo chord changes. It documents not forgotten or "strange" music, but a desperately silly moment in the ongoing history of bohemia, which has been hosting this kind of stunt since the time of the dandies. C

White Country Blues (1926-1938): A Lighter Shade of Blue [Columbia/Legacy, 1994]
Columbia has mined its blues catalogue with an assiduousness that verges on exploitation--the thematic albums are dully inconsistent, the single-artist jobs find deathless art in every $20 take. But this one is fascinating and fun. By now the sound of half-remembered crackers co-opting, emulating, and creating 12-bar laments and 16-bar romps is more provocative than the sound of black "originals" that are often only versions themselves. It fleshes out our dim awareness that Sam Phillips's white-rebels-singing-the-blues had a long history in the South (and you thought Carl Perkins wrote "Matchbox" like the Beatles said he did). Breaching the borders of the status quo, these hillbilly troubadours hewed to the innocent escapism of small-time show business--they stole only the catchiest tunes, and when the jokes fell flat they pumped in their own. In the course of two hour-long discs, there's still the occasional irritating sense that three generations later, ordinary subcultural entertainment music has been declared good for you. But mostly it's just ribald rhymes and wrecked romance--sometimes pained, but imbued with a droll detachment that epitomizes rural cool. If late minstrelsy was anything like this, I'm sorry we haven't heard more. A-

1-800-NEW-FUNK [NPG, 1994]
the princely funk-lite Warners wasn't actually too good for (MPLS, "Minneapolis"; Mavis Staples, "You Will Be Moved") *

A Taste of the Indestructible Beat of Soweto [Earthworks, 1994]
Knowing it would be a waste to raid the seminal mbaqanga compilation of the title, which is why his market niche might buy this one (and also why he has a market niche to begin with), Trevor Herman aims to match it out of the half dozen or so less perfect ones that followed. This is self-actualized and public-spirited, and damned if he doesn't come reasonably close. Steve Kekana and the Soul Brothers sweeten the mix, the Tiyimeleni Young Sisters show the Mahotella Queens how Shangaan women call their lover boy, and Mzwakhe Mbuli has the last word. A

A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield [Warner Bros., 1994]
everyone's eyes stay on the prize (Bruce Springsteen, "Gypsy Woman"; Tevin Campbell, "Keep On Pushin'"; Narada Michael Walden, "(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below, We're All Going To Go") **

Beat the Retreat: Songs by Richard Thompson [Capitol, 1994]
I hate tribute albums. They're patchwork by definition--even when the oeuvre is worth reprising, no way will all the contributors hit it right or the producer hear any way to segue it if they do. But this one peaks early and often, with double side-closers by balladic Britons June Tabor and Maddy Prior wiping out the creamy off-taste left by Bonnie Raitt and Shawn Colvin. The honoree's chronic inability to sing as good as he writes adds use value, and the two tours de force are vocal--the Five Blind Boys of Alabama's autumnal "Dimming of the Day" and R.E.M.'s joyous "Wall of Death." The honoree has also been known to play guitar, and Mould, Gilkyson, et al. make like it's a cutting contest. And then there's the oeuvre. A-

Cumbia Cumbia 2 [World Circuit, 1994]
Where the first volume was an all-subsuming best-of that ignored details of stylistic and historical development, this one focuses on the '60s, "la epoca dorada de cumbias Colombianas," and what it sacrifices in hooks it more than gives back in consistency and gestalt. Horn-dominated with plenty of accordion, far more playful and unpretentious than competing salsa or merengue, it's infectious rather than inescapable, lively rather than driving. I'd dance to it. I'd also give it to Scrooge for Christmas. A-

Dance Hits U.K. [Moonshine Music, 1994]
Only a hard-core club kid with connections could tell you what kind of "hits" these were, if any. I don't care because strung together they pass the sole test of a hedonistic disposable, which is personal--they do it for me. I surmise that continuous mixer DJ Tall Paul Newman splits the difference between house and jungle, favoring strong, postmechanical grooves with avant breaks and Snappy pseudorap like Tin Tin's "The Feeling" and his own "Rock Da House." Toward the end mere grooves take over; towards the end I stop shouting out hooks from my living room. A-

Diggin' in the Crates, Vol. 1: Profile Rap Classics [Profile, 1994]
linear beatbox fantasias, no fresher or sillier now than they were then (Rammelzee Vs. K-Rob, "Beat Bop"; Word of Mouth Featuring D.J. Cheese, "King Kut") **

Great Divorce Songs for Her [Warner Bros., 1994]
gals only country fans have heard of show Travis and Hank up for the blowhards they are (the Forester Sisters, "Men"; DeAnna Cox, "Never Gonna Be Your Fool Again") **

Handraizer [Moonshine, 1994]
High end mostly keyb/organ (not much fake guitar), low end more disco than funk (few nods to the unlocked pelvis), midrange provided by mostly black voices shouting out challenges and exhortations (you will get up now). Occasional cushy synth-symph flourishes provide what respite there is, because beyond a few of the very incidental vocals nothing here is slow--nothing. However it works in situ, I guarantee you'll clean your apartment at a record pace. A

Kwanzaa Music: A Celebration of Black Cultures in Song [Rounder, 1994]
Kwanzaa, Black History Month, whatever--Africa's musical diaspora is worth celebrating by formal imperative. So instead of flowing like a good multiple-artist compilation should, this one parades the startling diversity generated by a root aesthetic of body-based polyrhythm, expressive emotion, and speechlike song. You'll hardly notice the three subclassic New Orleans/Texas tracks as you're transported Bahamas to Brazil, Peru to Mali, Sudan to Haiti to Zimbabwe. An inspiriting, educational tour de force. A-

MTV Party to Go, Vol. 6 [Tommy Boy, 1994]
remedial dance-pop for a retrograde age (A Tribe Called Quest, "Award Tour"; Aaliyah, "Back and Forth") **

Oujda-Casablanca Introspections, Vol. 1 [Barbarity, 1994]
With Oran's chebs and chabas repressed, depressed, or scared away by the fundamentalists, superproducer Ben Omar Rachid took to prospecting just over the Moroccan border in Oujda and finally far west in Casablanca. His first export is these eight 1988-to-1993 singles, which sound from here like the rawest, most arresting rai compilation ever. Mixing old and new with a fine disregard for anybody's verities, the Berber-Gnawa-Shabi admixtures are lighter sonically and quirkier culturally, with male-female interplay a convention and the battle-of-Algiers ululations a surefire attention getter. A-

Street Jams: Hip-Hop from the Top, Vol. 4 [Rhino, 1994]
circa-'85 novelty comp that tops out on three nasty-girl rarities (Super Nature, "The Show Stoppa (Is Stupid Fresh)"; Roxanne Shanté, "Bite This"; Symbolic Three, Featuring D.J. Dr. Shock, "No Show") **

Turntable Tastemakers Issue No. 1: The Sound of Cleveland City Recordings [Moonshine, 1994]
Rarely if ever has steady-state techno sustained so unfailingly for the length of a compilation. Jungle-ish in its body-friendly moderation if not its unexotic sonic range, a single U.K. label's telling hooks, medium-fast mean tempo, and simple, humane, faintly Caribbean beats pull in the impartial listener rather than beating the hesitant dancer over the tympanum. Let the fogeys snort when I say it kind of reminds me of Booker T. & the M.G.'s. A-

The Flintstones: Music from Bedrock [MCA, 1994]
triple whopper with cheese ("Weird Al" Yankovic: "Bedrock Anthem"; Green Jelly, "Anarchy in the U.K."; the BC-52's, "(Meet) The Flintstones") ***

A History of Our World Part 1: Breakbeat & Jungle Ultramix by DJ DB [Profile, 1994] Neither

Vibrant Zimbabwe [Zimbob, 1994] Neither

Woodstock 94 [A&M, 1994] Neither

The Glory of Gershwin [Mercury, 1994] Neither

Punk-O-Rama [Epitaph, 1994] Neither

Concept in Dance: The Digital Alchemy of Goa Trance Dance [Moonshine Music, 1994] Dud

No Prima Donna: The Songs of Van Morrison [Polydor, 1994] Dud

Rock Stars Kill [Kill Rock Stars, 1994] Dud

Kickin Hardcore Leaders [Instinct, 1994] Dud

Lethal Riddims [Relativity, 1994] Dud

Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents: The Fire of the Fundamentals [Columbia, 1994]
Neoclassicism 101--conceptions of genius interpreted by talents of integrity ("Jungle Blues," "Dahomey Dance") ***

What Is Bhangra? [I.R.S., 1994]
Achanak: "Nukhe Chakhee Javana"; Johnny Zee: "Yaar Nach La" Choice Cuts

Journeys by DJ: DJ Duke [Moonshine Music, 1994]
The Believers: "Who Dares to Believe" Choice Cuts

Start the Party! Volume 1 [Big Beat, 1994]
Kraze: "The Party" Choice Cuts

Rhythm Country and Blues [MCA, 1994]
Patti LaBelle & Travis Tritt: "When Something Is Wrong with My Baby"; Little Richard & Tanya Tucker: "Somethin' Else" Choice Cuts

Max Mix U.S.A. [Max, 1994]
Sagat: "Why Is It?"; 20 Toes: "Short Dick Man"; 2 in a Room: "El Trago" Choice Cuts

Red Hot + Country [Mercury, 1994]
Wilco with Syd Straw: "The T.B. Is Whipping Me" Choice Cuts

Adventures in Afropea 3: Telling Stories to the Sea [Luaka Bop/Warner Bros., 1995]
Like Nonesuch's lavishly praised and quite possibly worthy Césaria Évora project, David Byrne's compilations have been lyric-heavy in a world where only saints and singers enjoy interpretive nuance in a foreign tongue. Here the slow ones, including Évora's classic morna "Sodade," are so choice they get across before they're swept away by a panoply of Caribbean-tinged Afro-Lusophone dance styles at their most hookily universal. I know it's crass of me, but I find that dirty little catch in Jacinta Sanchos's throat more alluring than all of Césaria's incomprehensibly earthy wisdom. A-

Afro-Peruvian Classics: The Soul of Black Peru [Luaka Bop/Warner Bros., 1995]
Andean salsa, say (Susana Baca, "Maria Lando"; Lucila Campos, "Toro Mata"; Peru Negro, "Lando") ***

Big Phat Ones of Hip-Hop, Vol. 1 [Boxtunes, 1995]
"Press play on remote at the Playaz Club"--a mythic realm of unknowable pleasure (Rappin' 4-Tay, "Playaz Club"; Scarface, "I Seen a Man Die") ***

Dada Kidawa/Sister Kidawa [Original Music, 1995]
more '60s dance hits from Tanzania, which improve as they Congo-Cubanize (Njohole Jazz Band, "Mpenzi Zaina"; Dares Salaam Jazz Band, "Mpenzi Sema") **

For the Love of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson [Musicmasters, 1995]
He was so great he can make Jimmy Webb and Steve Forbert sound interesting, Aimee Mann and Marc Cohn sound enduring, Jennifer Trynin and Ron Sexsmith sound like you should know who they are. He was so great Fred Schneider ain't funnier and the Roches ain't spacier. He was so great you'll play one of these things from beginning to end--twice, even more, for the fun of it. B+

Kerestina: Guitar Songs of Southern Mozambique 1955-1957 [Original Music, 1995]
Shangaan roots of Thomas Chauke and Obed Ngobeni (Mahikwani Makhuvele, "Ugandzibyeli Akuxonga"; Alberto Tentowani Mwamosi & Gabriel Maopana Bila, "Achifa Dukwana Chamina") **

Kneelin' Down Inside the Gate: The Great Rhythming Singers of the Bahamas [Rounder, 1995]
think field hollers, mbube, doowop (Joseph Spence and the Pinder Family, "Standing in the Need of Prayer"; Clifford Ellis with Stanley Thompson and Group, "I Met My Mother This Morning") *

Muziki Wa Dansi [Africasette, 1995]
Showcasing four cynosures of the Dar es Salaam dance circuit, where they rotate nightly from neighborhood to neighborhood, and ever since I read the notes I've wanted to go there. It would be boorish to single out the tune sense of Orchestra Maquis Original, so I'll merely grant that it may take a while for individual tracks to sink in, and promise that they will. Postsoukous Tanzanian style, rough and sweet in all the right places. A-

Only the Poorman Feel It: South Africa [Hemisphere, 1995]
Relying on EMI-affiliated artists with longterm pop ambitions, this modern mbaqanga compilation seems decisively postapartheid even though not all of it is that recent. What once might have sounded like a forced identification with a contemptuous oppressor now seems more like a forced expropriation of the oppressor's cultural capital. The great moments come from 25-year expatriate Busi Mhlongo, whose only solo album begins with the same seven-minute flight of exultant woman power that kicks off this record, and urbane revolutionary Mzwakhe Mbuli, who praises a 19th-century African king to a 21st-century African arrangement. But the glitzy production extras sound as township as the kwela fiddles throughout. A-

Phat Rap Flava '95 [Cold Front, 1995]
jeepbeats nationwide (69 Boyz, "Tootsee Roll [Set It Off Dance Version]"; Way 2 Real, "The Butterfly [Chux Party Mix]") **

Sif Safaa: New Music from the Middle East [Hemisphere, 1995]
their hit parade, intense whether hybrid or in the tradition (Mohamed Fouad, "Hawad"; Saleh Khairy, "Agulak") ***

Telephone Lobi/Telephone Love [Original Music, 1995]
medium-statured persons of Ghanaian danceband highlife (Red Spots, "Oya Kae Me"; Professional Beach Melodians "Uhuru No. 2," "Akwantu") ***

The Best Punk Album in the World . . . Ever! [Virgin, 1995]
I can just see the ad scrolling down the late-night screen: "Anarchy in the U.K."!/"2-4-6-8 Motorway"!/"Alternative Ulster"!/"Teenage Kicks"!/"Psycho Killer"!/"Blank Generation"!/"Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll"!/"Milk and Alcohol"! Images of leather and shirtless Iggy and pogoing and skinny-tied Joe and safety pins and Siouxsie with her tits jutting out (hey, get rid of that swastika fer Chrissake). But even with the Clash MIA, this stupid two-CD hodgepodge is how punk or new wave or whatever the fuck it was hit U.K. rock and rollers--with strong, fast songs by white people with a tendency toward attention deficit disorder. It ignores L.A., which London didn't know existed ("I Hate the Rich"!), and preserves some tracks you can't stand (Tubes, Adam and the Ants) as well as unearthing a few you missed (Skids, Jilted John). Collectors of a certain age don't need it, especially at import prices, and volume two is less surefire. But the title tells it like it is. A

Jive Nation--The Indestructible Beat of Soweto Volume Five [Earthworks, 1995]
The title is poetic license. Not only will it take a lot more than music to hold South Africa together, but the posttribal genres Trevor Herman fuses into jive aren't modern enough to do the job. Nevertheless, these 18 tracks, the series's strongest since volume one, prove how robust the genres remain. Three tipico Shangaan outfits and one supertrad Sotho group hold their own and then some against the Zulus. The King Star Brothers and especially Colenso Abafana Benkokhelo render Ladysmith's absence moot. Johnny Clegg sounds like himself and fits right in. And on his sole track, Mahlathini blows everybody else else away. A-

The Secret Museum of Mankind, Vol. 1 [Yazoo, 1995]
marginally more authentic, marginally less fun (Raderman-Beckerman Orchestra, "A Europaische Kolomyka"; Fonseka, and Party, "Kapirigna") ***

Trance 2 [Ellipsis Arts, 1995]
Moroccan Gnawas, Turkestanian Sufis, and Balinese Hindus, none carrying Discmen or coming down from humanmade drugs (Halimi Chedli Ensemble, "Touhami Dikr") **

URBMix Vol. 1: Flammable Liquid [Planet Earth, 1995]
L.A. DJ Doc Martin's steady bass roll (Paperclip People, "Throw"; Freaky Chakra, "Transcendental Funk Bump") **

Move to Groove: The Best of 1970s Jazz-Funk [Verve, 1995]
The jazzmen who named funk thought it should swing; the black rockers who stretched its foregrounded bottom every which way thought swing was only the beginning. Hence, "the best of 1970s jazz-funk" is an oxymoron. Funk is muscle on the one, yet most of the drummers here are lightweights, most of the bassists nonentities, and that's to leave hacks out of it. As for the slumming improvisers and pop wannabees up top, not only does this half-measure elicit their worst, but from Chick Corea and Roy Ayers to Sea Level and (jeeze, who remembered him?) Jess Roden, their best is none too good. We get Jimmy Smith trading B-3 for synth, Famous Flames going Vegas, Corea going nowhere, and a few good players whose rent is due. Jazz lifers--Monty Alexander, Houston Person, and especially Randy Weston--contribute the only enjoyable minutes on a 29-track double-CD. Remember, this is the breeding ground of acid jazz and rap jazzmatazz. Now you can't say you didn't know. C

Hillbilly Fever!: Vol. I: Legends of Western Swing [Rhino, 1995]
The strangest style in all American popular music--urban and rural, Eastern and Western, virtuosic and simplistic, hip and corny, swinging and square. Bob Wills was its king, but its minor masters ruled the plains, and despite a stupid, unrepresentative, disruptive Stan Kenton cover, this is the best sampler ever compiled. Not only that, it features a 1937 release with the word fuck on it. A

Joe Franklin Presents . . . The Roaring '20s Roar Again [Legacy, 1995]
The liveliest of a budget series barely scathed by Joe waxing nostalgic to sum up is especially recommended to provincials still unfamiliar with the young Louis Armstrong, who has two of the 12 selections. There are signature songs by Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, and Sophie Tucker, all of whom now sound excessively historical over their own full albums, and tickets to sin like Adelaide Hall's sinuous "I Must Have That Man," Bing Crosby's speculative "Let's Fall in Love," Ruth Etting's underpaid "Ten Cents a Dance," and Blossom Seeley's epochally jaunty "Yes Sir, That's My Baby." This music was nowhere near as safe and quaint as you think. Give it to your grandma and ask her how it felt. A

Money No Be Sand [Original Music, 1995] Neither

Ain't Nuthin but a She Thing [London, 1995] Dud

Help: A Charity Project for the Children of Bosnia [London, 1995] Dud

Hempilation [Capricorn, 1995] Dud

Tapestry Revisited [Lava/Atlantic, 1995] Dud

Macro Dub Infection Volume One [Caroline, 1995]
Bud Alzir: "Morocco" Choice Cuts

Spirit of '73: Rock for Choice [550 Music/Epic, 1995]
Babes in Toyland: "More . . . More . . . More (Pt. 1)"; Letters to Cleo: "Dreams"; L7 & Joan Jett: "Cherry Bomb" Choice Cuts

Mash Up the Place! The Best of Reggae Dancehall [Rhino, 1995]
Smiley Culture: "Police Officer" Choice Cuts

Journeys by DJ: Coldcut [JDJ, 1995]
DJ Food: "The Dusk" Choice Cuts

Love Punany Bad [Priority, 1995]
General Degree: "Pianist" Choice Cuts

The D&D Project [Arista, 1995]
Ill Will: "Blowin' Up the Spot"; Maniac Mob: "Get Up"; II Unorthodox: "Just a Little Flava" Choice Cuts

It Came from Memphis [Upstart, 1995]
Ross Johnson: "Wet Bar"; Mud Boy and the Neutrons: "Money Talks" Choice Cuts

Trance 1 [Ellipsis Arts, 1995]
Sagreddin Ozcimi/Neceti Celik/Arif Erdebil/Kemal Karaoz: "Perde Kaldirima" Choice Cuts

Christine Lavin Presents Laugh Tracks Volume 1 [Shanachie, 1996]
"20 funny folk songs--I just hope they have security at Tower Records when this goes on sale" (Andy Breckman, "Andy Breckman tells us how he really feels"; Andy Breckman, "Don't Get Killed"; the Chenille Sisters, "Blowin' in the Wind--A Female Perspective"; Rob Carlson, "[These Eggs Were] Born To Run") *

A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan [Epic, 1996]
he's dead, his band isn't (Jimmie Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, Art Neville, "SRV Shuffle"; Bonnie Raitt, "Pride and Joy"; Robert Cray, "Lovestruck Baby") ***

Divas of Mali [Shanachie, 1996]
voices of authority (Sali Sidibe, "Yacouba Sylla"; Kandia Kouyate, "Jakha") ***

Hot Luv: The Ultimate Dance Songs Collection [EMI, 1996]
Tough nooky to snobs who think good dance music now consists entirely of sensitive techies extending the frontiers of recorded sound. Its essence remains stupid singles you can't get out of your head, as on this peerlessly crass contemporary collection, which will lower your IQ so fast you'll settle for a "Macarena" with no girls on it. Sure I could nitpick about every cliched, overexposed, blessedly obvious track. But only if you gave me more time to think about it. A

Jazz Satellites, Vol. 1: Electrification [Virgin, 1996]
Running the gauntlet of not just fusion but such ignominious genres as Third Stream, soundtrack, and acid jazz, kowtowing to pretenders, meddlers, mooncalves, and schlockmeisters like Jan Garbarek, Teo Macero, Alice Coltrane, Norman Connors, and a panoply of pseudonymous English cyborgs, this obscurely annotated double-CD is the great lost testament of late Miles--cacophonous, futuristic, swinging-to-spacey variations on everything he thought he was doing between Bitches Brew and Agharta. Connecting up the mind-to-the-wall charge of early Mahavishnu and Tony Williams Lifetime, it ought to demonstrate the obvious to technomancers the world over--raid jazz for avant sounds and leave its beats for hip hop to sort out. In fact, it proved so indigestible that in its native U.K. it vanished without notice. If you find one, don't let go. A-

Kwanzaa Party [Rounder, 1996]
On the second of what deserves to be a long series, Daisann McLane joins Earthworks's Trevor Herman and Original Music's John Storm Roberts among world-class "world-beat" compilers. Where 1994's Kwanzaa Music exploded in star drive all over the African diaspora, this one gets an intensely listenable flow from an equally far-flung bunch of less renowned artistes. I've never heard of some of these musicians and listened right through others; not even tunes as classic as Trinidad's/Roaring Lion's "Marianne" or Haiti's/Ensemble Nemours Jn. Baptiste's "Rhythme Commercial" seem obvious. Neophytes are in for bigger revelations and just as much fun. Merry Whatever. A-

La Iguana: Sones Jarochos [Corason, 1996]
the most intensely strummed Mexican son style, strongest at its slickest (Conjunto os Jarochos, "El Jarabe Loco"; Conjunto de Santiago Tuxtla, "La Bamba") *

Live at the Social, Vol. 1 [Heavenly, 1996]
Chem Bros. party mix, livest when it's r&best (Meat Beat Manifesto, "Cutman"; Selectah, "Wede Man [Hoody Mix]") ***

Make 'Em Mokum Crazy [Mokum, 1996]
Records this idiotic don't come along every day. They don't even come along every year. Anybody remember Hot Legs' "Neanderthal Man"? I mean that idiotic. Apply the broad brush it deserves and call it The Chipmunks Go Techno--"Happy Tunes" in high registers that range from unnatural to very unnatural. The so-called Party Animals do Hair and Olivia Newton-John and "Hava Naquila" (sic); alias Technohead make up songs called "Happy Birthday" and "I Wanna Be a Hippy," which quotes David Peel, which has nothing on the MLK sample. Intensely irritating, perversely delightful, and (trust me on this) just the thing for a 12-year-old's coming-out party. "From The Underground Raves Of Holland To The Top Of The Euro Pop Charts," eh? No wonder the Euro is in trouble. A-

Nova Bossa: Red Hot on Verve [Verve, 1996]
proving once more that good real schlock is better than fake and bad real schlock is worse (Black Orpheus Soundtrack, "A Felicidade"; Elís Regina & Antonio Carlos Jobim, "Águas de Março"; Walter Wanderley, "Bicho Do Mato") *

Ocean of Sound [Virgin, 1996]
This gorgeously segued 32-track tour of trad ambient radiates out from Eno's 1984 On Land to such pop-avant types as Terry Riley, Harold Budd, Pauline Oliveros, John Zorn, and "post-orgasmic" ethnofusioneer Jon Hassell. It includes Debussy and Satie and Cage, Asians of widely disparate cultural orientation, rain-forest Yanomamis, Sun Ra and Miles and Ornette and Herbie sounding not especially jazzlike, two dubmasters and a bunch of white "improvisers," howler monkeys and bearded seals, the Aphex Twin and My Bloody Valentine, Les Baxter and Holger Czukay and the Beach Boys and the Velvet Underground. For Toop, it answers a need that's both postmodern and millennial, synthesizing insecurity and hope, "bliss" and "non-specific dread." His selections are microcosms to dive into, not magic carpets to escape on, and gently or subtly or harshly or esoterically or whimsically or just plain oddly they accommodate the disturbing and the chaotic. Those who've settled for the diverting sounds, swelling textures, and lulling grooves of the chill-out room may never buy another Quango collection again. A

Pass the Mic: The Posse Album [Priority, 1996]
Thirteen multirapper competitions/collaborations, most circa 1988-1992, juiced not just by shifting styles but by the pleasure-driven, word-mad forays the freestyle cutting session was invented for. Hip hop specialists will be down with Marley Marl's "Symphony Vol. 1," Main Source's "Live at the Barbeque," and Showbiz & AG's "Bounce Ta This." For most of us such happy flukes spice the far-from-overexposed likes of "Ladies First" and "Knick Knack Paddy Whack" just right. A-

Pop Fiction [Quango, 1996]
Thank Jason Bentley and Warren Kalodny for listening to more ambient techno and acid jazz than most humans can stand. Gleaning tracks from albums I'd already dismissed as trifles (Alex Reece, Barry Adamson, Kids) and albums that would have joined the pile if I'd heard them (Patrick Pulsinger, Manna, Strange Cargo), they lay a nice assortment of sonic profiles atop a nice assortment of dark grooves in a pomo-noir synthesis of Martin Denny, Henry Mancini, Brian Eno, and house music all night long. It's got a good beat and you can fall asleep to it. Only you might wake up feeling weird. A-

Red Hot + Rio [Antilles, 1996]
art-rocking up grooveful kitsch in a soulful cause (Money Mark, "Use Your Head"; David Byrne + Marisa Monte, "Waters of March") **

Sugar and Poison [Virgin, 1996]
Two CDs of David Toop-selected musical foreplay that bear the same relation to the quiet-storm makeout comps where labels now recycle late-soul also-rans that Toop's Ocean of Sound does to ambient house--the come-ons are edgier in the psychological sense, beset by an anxiety smoover grooves muffle, and thus a good deal sexier for many of us than the smarm of Peabo Bryson or the hortatory sincerity of Otis Redding. The locus is soul as Northern pop, a '70s sensibility whose roots in gospel and country are twice-removed, although the material stretches into the '80s (Loose Ends, Meli'sa Morgan, Tashan's drum 'n' bass-ish 1986 "Chasin' a Dream") and even '90s. Whether it's stuff you love (Sly's "Just Like a Baby," Bootsy's "Vanish in My Sleep," Chic's climactically inevitable "At Last I Am Free") or artists, even songs, you don't care for (O.V. Wright, "Southern Nights"), you've never heard them like this before. Only my wife has ever made me a better mix tape. A

Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation [Columbia, 1996]
with Vic Chesnutt accounted for, they should move on to Butch Hancock, who I hope is healthy as a horse (Garbage, "Kick My Ass"; Joe Henry and Madonna, "Guilty by Association") **

The Night Shift [C&S, 1996]
"laid-back trip hop and ambient grooves" that recline so indolently their souls sometimes fall out (Purple Penguin, "Tribhuwan"; Kitachi, "Spirit (Hip Hop Mix") ***

The Secret Museum of Mankind, Vol. 2 [Yazoo, 1996]
Hopping from Macedonia to the Society Islands, from Ukraine to Trinidad to Crete, Pat Conte has sequenced his "Ethnic Music Classics: 1925-48" for attentive listeners. A fun parlor game would be guessing cultures of origin, with Tower gift certificates awarded anyone who gets the likes of "Paghjelle" (Corsica, tell me about it--I'd have said Mozambique first, even Society Islands). The point of the programming, if there is one, is to showcase a bewildering splatter of incongruent local styles captured by a machine designed to destroy the musical isolation that makes local styles possible. By all means open up to the diversity--these historic moments do break down into pretty airs, lively dances, dark laments, and other familiar categories. But that doesn't mean you won't find many of them merely educational. In fact, if you like them all (feh on Corsican chorales, I say), I bet you don't love any of them the way I do "Yari Mohi Gatai Dehi Mai Shaim," a virtuoso vocal turn by a professor from India. Since you get to choose, try this disc first. It's hookier and--unlike Vol. 1, which picks up about the time the average listener is done looking at yesterday's Times--it begins strong. But either way, be prepared to concentrate. B+

The Secret Museum of Mankind, Vol. 3 [Yazoo, 1996]
Spaniards and Greeks who sound like Arabs, Tuvans and Albanians who sound like each other, Russians who sound like hillbillies, Africans who sound like folks (Thayelo Kapiye Trio, "Mai Wanga Anadiuza"; Grupo Dominicano, "Buen Humor") *

Tokyo Invasion, Volume I: Cosmic Kurushi Monsters [Virgin, 1996]
Not counting the Boredoms, who have finally cracked the carapace of my utter disinterest, my knowledge of the 22 Japanese bands on this uproariously thrilling two-CD import is confined to the track listings. Disc two is too arty for anybody this side of the Boredoms, who in context sound weirdly middle-of-the-road and seriously funny, and yet the quiet stuff grew on me. "Martzmer" is almost pretty until the guitar kicks in at around 5:00, and on "Blood Stained Blossoms" even the guitar is pretty. But those are exceptions on a showcase for more ugly guitar than sane people think they want to hear--plus yelling and ranting and crooning and torture, funk song and distorto-metal and funeral march and noise experiments and riffs ad infinitum. Where other comps annoy by jumping from artist to artist, here the bands are so hard to take that each change comes as a relief--which instantly plunges the listener into yet another maelstrom of sensationalism. These carefully selected doses are probably all of this 'orrible stuff us rock and roll normals need. But need it we do. My thanks to Tony Herrington of The Wire for doing the dirty work. A-

What a Bam Bam! Dancehall Queens [Shanachie, 1996]
errs on the side of conscious, which beats erring on the side of slack (Shelly Thunders, "Kuff"; JC Lodge, "Telephone Love") **

Wipeout XL [Astralwerks, 1996]
so what if it's a little early for a Chemical Brothers tribute? (Fluke, "Atom Bomb"; the Future Sound of London, "We Have Explosives"; Orbital, "Petrol") ***

El Caimán: Sones Huastecos [Corason, 1996]
No hablo español, so when it comes to the Mexican songform called son I naturally go for what the French call son--sound. The unvarying structures and repetitive tunes of this northeastern style only foreground the attractions of a sound I can't do without right now--two steady guitars, one wild violin, and two eerie falsettos conjoining to call up no one knows what Arab or (anti-) Aztec ghosts. Dug it before I'd ventured south of Tijuana, love it now, and don't assume you won't until you hear the Pérez Maya brothers, amateurs on a Veracruz islet who learned their weird shit from their father--or Dínastia Hidalguense, dulcet toasts of the subgenre. A-

Tricky Presents Grassroots [FFRR, 1996]
respect his way with rappers, love his way with the ladies (Tricky & Laveda Davis, "Devils Helper"; Stephanie Cooke, "Live w/ Yo Self") ***

Dance Floor Divas: The '70s [Rhino, 1996]
Sans Donna Summer or Gloria Gaynor, and irritatingly redundant for investors in the reissue monopolists' Disco Years series (nine tracks from the first three volumes), this is the finest disco compilation you can buy even so. Especially if you believe, correctly, that the spirit of classic dance music is women singing. And talking. And shouting. And screaming. And scolding. And imploring. And just plain getting over. A

Masters of Jazz: Bebop's Greatest Hits [Rhino, 1996]
The title means what it says. These aren't the style's most seminal or scintillating performances, although Bird's famously impossible "Ko Ko" acknowledges that concept. They're its best-known tunes--standards and theme songs and novelties and genuine near-hits, "'Round About Midnight" and "Lullaby of Birdland" and "Night in Tunisia" and "Oh-Sho-Be-Do-Be." Except for a two-sided single, only the last two break the three-minute barrier of a music that was invented in the age of the 78 even if its inventors had to prove themselves in an endless gantlet of after-hours cutting sessions. Here and there, even acid jazz fans will recognize the opening bars. A

Roller Disco: Boogie from the Skating Rinks [K-Tel, 1996]
Was there such a thing as roller disco? Or were there just songs you roller-discoed to? As Frankie Smith might put it: "Willzoo kizzairs?" The few overcollecteds (Cheryl Lynn, Taste of Honey) and underwhelmings (Rick James, Dazz Band) detract barely a whit from a 10-track budget item that peaks with two magnificent rarities: Vaughan Mason's transcendently utilitarian "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll" and Taana Gardner's kittenishly walkin'-'round-here-so-intense "Heartbeat." A

Detroit: Beyond the Third Wave [Astralwerks, 1996] Neither

Incursions in Illbient [Asphodel, 1996] Neither

Abstrakt Workshop 2 [Shadow, 1996] Neither

Best of Straker's: Ah Feel to Party [Rounder, 1996] Neither

Dancehall Queens [Blunt/TVT, 1996] Neither

A Journey into Ambient Groove 3 [Quango, 1996] Neither

Badawi Presents Bedouin Sound Clash [ROIR, 1996] Neither

Lach's Antihoot: Live from the Fort at Sidewalk Cafe [Shanachie, 1996] Dud

Monsters, Robots and Bug Men [Virgin, 1996] Dud

Hit Mix 96 Volume Two [Cold Front, 1996] Dud

A Journey into Ambient Groove [Quango, 1996] Dud

The Montuno Sessions--Live from Studio A [Mr. Bongo, 1996]
Charlie Palmieri and friends pursue their clave ("6/8 Modal Latin Jazz") *

Jungle: The Sound of the Underground [Sour/Columbia, 1996]
Atomic Dog: "Natural Born Killaz" Choice Cuts

Spin Control [Imix, 1996]
Bass Kittens: "Heartbreak Factory" Choice Cuts

Just Say Noël [DGC, 1996]
Beck: "The Little Drum Machine Boy" Choice Cuts

More Noize Please [Shadow, 1996]
Diferenz Featuring Jazz Con Bazz: "Face" Choice Cuts

America Is Dying Slowly [Red Hot, 1996]
Domino: "Sport That Raincoat"; Wu-Tang Clan: "America" Choice Cuts

Club Mix 96--Volume 2 [Cold Front, 1996]
Fresh Fish: "Bang Da Bush (Cadet Mix)" Choice Cuts

Macarena Club Cutz [RCA, 1996]
Los Del Rio: "Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)" Choice Cuts

Silencio = Muerte: Red Hot + Latin [Red Hot, 1996]
Los Fabulosos Cadillacs + Fishbone: "What's New Pussycat?" Choice Cuts

Gravikords Whirlies and Pyrophones [Ellipsis Arts, 1996]
Hans Reichel: "Le Ball" Choice Cuts

Christine Lavin Presents Laugh Tracks Volume 2 [Shanachie, 1996]
Dave Van Ronk: "Garden State Stomp" Choice Cuts

Anthology of American Folk Music [Smithsonian/Folkways, 1997]
Harry Smith's act of history--three two-record sets originally released by Folkways in 1952, now digitally remastered into a gorgeously appointed six-CD box--aces two very '90s concepts: the canon that accrues as rock gathers commentary, and the compilations that multiply as labels recycle catalogue. In its time, it wrested the idea of the folk from ideologues and ethnomusicologists by imagining a commercial music of everyday pleasure and alienation--which might as well have been conceived to merge with a rock and roll that didn't yet exist. What enabled Smith to bring off this coup was his preternatural ability to hear unknown songs that were irresistible to his own people--the bohemians and collectors who have been inflecting pop ever since. Somebody you know is worth the 60 bucks it'll run you. So are you. A+

Beats & Rhymes: Hip Hop of the '90s, Part III [Rhino, 1997]
This bumps along for eight tracks distinguished by two new to me--Lord Finesse's "Return of the Funky Man" ("you're softer than baby shit") and Double X Posse's "Not Gonna Be Able To Do It" ("I'm not gonna be able to do")--before vaulting off Naughty by Nature and A Tribe Called Quest into four consecutive guaranteed great, hilarious records: Del Tha Funkee Homosapien's Three Stooges bit, Humpty Hump's nose, the Pharcyde's dozens, and FU-Schnickens' advertisement for Jive Records, which has steadfastly kept their catalogue in print. Then Romy-Dee expands the legend of funky Kingston. A-

Beats & Rhymes: Hip Hop of the '90s, Part II [Rhino, 1997]
Meet and greet such subculturally certified rhymesmiths as Leaders of the New School, Organized Konfusion, Main Source, the UMC's, and the oft-odious DJ Quik. Plus, for some reason, three predictably solid Chubb Rock tracks. Plus minor hits from Rakim, Lyte, and Run-D.M.C. Think wordplay not signification. Think beats not hooks. Go with their flows. A-

Beats & Rhymes: Hip Hop of the '90s, Part I [Rhino, 1997]
Between 1990, when old school went emeritus, and 1992, when gangsta stuck daisy age's pistil up its stamen, came a nondescript downtime that Rhino maps without recourse to rap crossovers, which meant less than nothing to the loyalists who were just then insisting that what they loved was called "hip hop." But though all three volumes are pretty subtle for nonloyalists, only here are the high points obvious--hits from key Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest albums, BDP's "Love's Gonna Get'cha"--and the selections from minor figures like Special Ed, Def Jef, and K-Solo open to challenge from the likes of me (I nominate "Taxin'," "Fa Sho Shot," and "Tales From the Crack Side"). Even so I love the YZ, Poor Righteous Teachers, and D.O.C. tracks, not to mention the BDP radio edit with sound effects where the bleeps should be. I also love Cold Chillin' 's "Erase Racism." B+

Bergville Stories [Sony International, 1997]
As a South Africa-only release, the original-cast album to this drop-dead entry in Lincoln Center's boorishly overlooked South African theatre series (as amazing as the Ornettefest by me) will be sought out (try www.music.sony.com/Music/Globetrotter) only by those who already dig mbube/iscathimiya. In the US that means Ladysmith, period--almost nothing else is in the racks. Yet mbube is the heritage of one of the most voice-crazy peoples on the planet--every Zulu is taught to sing, damn well if field recordings from labor congresses and informal competitions mean anything. So in this play, set in a besieged Soweto hostel, the actors break into song every few minutes. Not primarily singers, they aren't pure amateurs either. They know how to project and present, and writer-director Duma kaNdlovu orchestrates their flow--home pitch fluctuates from chant to chant, call-and-response patterns shift, sound effects and catchy choruses kick in just when you need them. The result is a vivid representation of the mbube I've always read about, a rougher and more male chauvinist domain than the elegant Christians of Ladysmith ever hint. A-

Big Rock'n Beats [TVT, 1997]
Funny and shameless, whomping where artier types now skitter and not too futuristic for harmonicas or choo-choo trains, the 13 acts from five nations who here define what some dubiously dub "big beat" cohere more generically than does the high-buzz Amp. But in a compilation that claims to lay out a genre, that's a mark of honor. A-

Closer Than a Kiss: Crooner Classics [Rhino, 1997]
Vanilla sex--yum. Eighteen white guys of yesteryear, six black but only Al Hibbler and Johnny Hartman hinting at difference, show their voices the way peacocks present their tails and rent boys display their ivory hardons. Their creamy grain and relaxed, well-groomed flow promise smooth sailing all the way to sweet, gradual, uncomplicated orgasm. A

ESPN Presents Slam Jams, Vol. 1 [Tommy Boy, 1997]
Nouveau jock jams, extreme-sports anthems, or wrinkle on a muscle-headed repackaging concept? Don't know, don't care--fabulous new wave comp is what matters. From Madness's "One Step Beyond" to the Modern Lovers' "Roadrunner," with such superobvious milestones as "Ca Plane Pour Moi" and "Dancing With Myself" marking the route, the stoopidity barrels down an expressway to your ass. You will drive to it. Dance, too. Even bungee jump. A+

History of House Music, Vol. 2: New York Garage Style [Cold Front, 1997]
Where the Chicago-based volume one honors disco and spawned techno, the Gotham-based volume two honors funk and spawned nothing. Compressing clenched male studio voices into keyb-saturated bass-and-percussion, it's just a dense, urgent, anxious moment of dance music--unutopian even when Colonel Abrams soul-shouts that "Music Is the Answer." "Don't Make Me Wait" set it off. "Set It Off" was the answer. A-

Holding Up Half the Sky: Voices of African Women [Shanachie, 1997]
From the Sahara to the Cape, from pop candy to folk porridge, they have one thing in common: vaginas (Netsennet Mellesse, "Yellew Wekesa"; Kiné Lam, "Souma Sagnone"). **

Kings of African Music [Music Club, 1997]
Ali Farka Toure's folkloricism to Manu Dibango's dance jazz is a leap for anyone who can hear, and as a listener who has learned to distinguish instinctively among the vocal approaches of Zimbabwe, Congo, and Senegal (to overgeneralize shamefully, call them rough, sweet, and piercing), I object in principle to the pan-African conceit. But essentialism has its lessons, such as how overtly dramatic--ergo individualistic?--pop vocals have gotten continent-wide since the ebullient postcolonial communitarianism captured by John Storm Roberts's Africa Dances. And done as well as this, essentialism also has its uses--as a budget-priced introduction for theoretical Afrocentrists ready to confront musical reality, and a minor treasure trove for supposed experts like me. How can it be that I never heard Franco's "Tres Impoli" before? A-

Lesbian Favorites: Women Like Us [Rhino, 1997]
Big solid emotions, woman to woman, easiest to take cut down to size (Gretchen Phillips, "Swimming"; Jill Sobule, "I Kissed a Girl"). **

MTV's AMP [Astralwerks, 1997]
Working for the MTV dollar, Caroline wipes out 1996's Wipeout XL--the two repeats, Fluke's "Atom Bomb" and Future Sound of London's "We Have Explosive," are the two killers, and Chem Bros, Prodigy, Orbital, Photek, and the accursed Underworld check in on each. But though I miss the disaster-movie conceit (and Orbital's "Petrol" to go with it), this is an EZ-duz-it tour to sit still for. Before you're good and sick of Tranquility Bass's groovy psychedelica, it's daring you to upchuck at Goldie's pop kitsch instead. Take two Dramamines and hate yourself in the morning. A-

Queens of African Music [Music Club, 1997]
like most continents, Africa has more kings (Amy Koïta, "Soman"; Oumou Dioubate, "Christiana") *

Soundbombing [Rawkus, 1997]
"You record label people gonna die and your family gonna die too motherfuckers." Far more eager than the militantly joyless Company Flow, far more songful than the secretly ambient Lyricist Lounge, this singles-plus showcase is "underground" hip hop's most convincing advertisement for itself. Reflection Eternal, a/k/a Black Star plus Mr. Man, add crowd samples and a chorus about Medina to an echoing guitar-piano hook, topping anything on Black Star's secretly smooth debut. Mos Def and Kweli freestyle with feeling. Company Flow give up their catchiest album track and devolve into the more complex Indelible MCs, who "keep tabs like Timothy Leary and/or ASCAP." And Ra the Rugged Man ("all information concerning Ra is currently unknown"), who swears he'll be into "this rap shit" "Till My Heart Stops," admits that actually he's "not succeedin' ": "They turn my mind state into evil 'cause I want everyone dead on this fuckin' earth/It really hurts/ 'Cause if music doesn't work I got nothing left to live for except dyin' in the poorhouse." Pray he returns on volume two. A-

Real: The Tom T. Hall Project [Delmore, 1997]
many titles skipped by the gemlike Essential Tom T. Hall and the softer two-CD box, but that doesn't mean Johnny Polonsky and Ron Sexsmith are up to them (Iris DeMent, "I Miss a Lot of Trains"; Kelly Willis, "That's How I Got to Memphis") **

Strip Jointz [Robbins, 1997]
Long convinced that the sexiest soundtrack to coitus and its kissing cousins is provided by the participants, I have no use for slow jams and assume this would suit that purpose even worse. I'm not even positive anyone splits beaver to such stuff. But as an antidote to subtlety, you couldn't beat this selection of soft-core r&b cartoons with a fistful of Vaseline. It flags a little in the middle, you know how it is, but from R. Kelly's pre-Christian "Bump n' Grind" to Clarence Carter's do-it-with-his-eyes-closed "Strokin'," it fairly represents the great middle ground between Li'l Kim and Peabo Bryson where most carnality actually situates itself. A-

The Mystic Fiddle of the Proto-Gypsies: Masters of Trance Music [Shanachie, 1997]
from Baluchistan, wherever that is, sorud melodies over lute drone--very intense, rather narrow ("Suite of damali pieces, performed by Ramazan") ***

The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Tribute [Columbia/Egyptian, 1997]
Something about the spiritual proximity of country music's TB-racked founder-hero--plus, perhaps, Bob Dylan's grizzled guidance--moved these lovefesters to sing like the lowly mortals they are. Neatniks David Ball and Mary-Chapin Carpenter must have been warming up when somebody rolled the tape; even Bono comes down off his high horse a little, although his failure to get his feet out of the stirrups compels him to sing with his head up his ass anyway. As for Jerry Garcia, he just laid down his track yesterday with his new old-timey group, Dead and in the Way. Meanwhile, the great ones--Nelson, DeMent, Earle, and, in this context, Mellencamp, with Dylan topping them all--roll around in their cracks and crannies. Set off by loose-jointed arrangements that move naturally from Dixieland horns to I-for-Indiana fiddle, they reimagine these old songs as if the man who wrote them had had a chance to get old himself. Which in a sense he now has. A

This Is Ska! [Music Club, 1997]
Ska compilations are a puzzlement--once you get the ramshackle groove, the supply of likable stuff you'd never heard expands toward infinity as the roll call of undeniable classics remains as brief as ever. Island instigated the confusion with Intensified! and More Intensified! two decades ago, and finally solved it with the first volume of the four-CD reggae overview Tougher Than Tough. But this $10, 16-track, 44-minute alternative also strikes just the right mix of funky popsters (two Desmond Dekkers, one Jimmy Cliff) and loose-limbed groovemasters (their pace set by the Skatalites' "Guns of Navarone"). Prime MIAs: the unrepresented Prince Buster's "Al Capone" and Roland Alphonso's "Solomon Gundie," the latter available on Island's semiobscurantist new Ska's the Limit, which does unearth the archetypally out-of-tune sax solo of Lord Creator's "Independent Jamaica." Then there's Music Club's This Is Ska Too!, specializing (it says) in third-wave cover faves. Skank on. A

Township Jazz 'n' Jive [Music Club, 1997]
Before mbaqanga's stomping bumpkin intensity swept the townships, small jazz-style ensembles played indigenous tunes with a South African beat you could jitterbug to. This is that music, the same urbane mode cherry-picked so infectiously on the Mandela soundtrack: the swinging jive of the '50s, when social dancing was a passion in every slapped-together apartheid ghetto. Far suaver than mbaqanga or kwela yet no less African, far simpler than Count Basie or the Mills Brothers yet no less artful, it implied an indoor space even if it couldn't always find one big enough for its spiritual ambitions. Its matchless buoyancy is mostly a matter of two learned rhythms coming together. But it evinces an unsinkability nobody would ever puncture. A

Yo! MTV Raps [Def Jam, 1997]
to paraphrase the eminent RZA: "This ain't true hip hop you listenin' to right here, in the pure form; this is some r&b with the wack nigga takin' the loop, be loopin' that shit and stickin' in choruses thinkin' it's gonna be the sound of the culture"--and it has its uses (Bone, Thugs-n-Harmony, "Tha Crossroads"; L.L. Cool J, "Loungin [Who Ya Love Remix]") **

Muggs Presents . . . The Soul Assassins, Chapter 1 [Columbia, 1997]
Freed from the big-buddah boom of H.O.R.D.E. hip hop, the Cypress Hill DJ concocts an album's worth of phantasmagoric Wuscape and farms out the lyrical terrorism to two coasts worth of tough talkers, most of whom give the job some thought and all of whom provide welcome relief, if only from each other. Atlanta's Goodie Mob sound plenty goodie between Dre and RZA, LA the Darkman's yknowwhutImsayin adds street, a Fugee rewrites John 3:16, and that ain't all. Not too many crime how-tos and lots of embattled postgangsta militance define a music prepared to survive its own self-abetted demise. A-

Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Underground [Quango, 1997]
With zip to do with bhangra, and no commitment to drum 'n' bass, here's a travelogue designed to remind us that tabla players (presenter Talvin Singh, for instance!) have been hand-producing something like breakbeats for years. Not exactly like breakbeats, though. Anyway, who buys records solely for breakbeats? (Wait, I don't want to know.) C+

Heritage [Six Degrees/Island, 1997]
I don't know why Darol Anger's name was left off his pet project, but the effect is to conceptualize it. As a result, these "new interpretations of American roots music" seem of a piece with the rest of 1997's folk revival revival, in which the Smithsonian's Harry Smith reissue and Rounder's Alan Lomax exhumation joined the alt-country bubble and the revitalization of Bob Dylan in a single antifuturist countercurrent. But just as there's Americana and then Americana, there's futurism and then futurism--why do you think they call it New Age? And this, by Jiminy, is New Age Americana: fiddler Anger is a Windham Hill stalwart long active on the folk-jazz cusp. Guest vocalist Jane Siberry opens 'er up and brings 'er home, and in between Willie Nelson and Mary Chapin Carpenter, who outdid themselves on Dylan's Jimmie Rodgers tribute, sink into the intelligent sentimentality that is the bane of each. Ditto for long-winded virtuosos David Lindley, David Grisman, and John Hartford, all of whom can be sharper when somebody jabs them a little. The smug soundtrack to a PBS special about tribulation and survival on the lost frontier. C-

Roots of Jazz Funk Volume One [MVP, 1997]
Hitting their stride in the pre-Beatles '60s as lounge loafers diddled their hi-fis, the solid young jazzmen twixt bop and free figured out how to do Bird without getting so intellectual about it by devising midtempo heads from straightforward riffs and mining gospel for changes. Movement leaders Blakey, Silver, Morgan, Adderley, and Hubbard all contribute a signature song to this overdue summation, as do the market-ready Hancock-Montgomery-Smith and the art-thirsty Coltrane-Rollins-Mingus. A wealth of soulful sidemen--Joe Henderson, Bobby Timmons, Bob Cranshaw, Billy Higgins, on and on--never let up. A+

Dancing at the Nick at Niteclub [Nick at Nite/550 Music, 1997]
Rhino's Groove 'n' Grind wrote the disc on dance-craze collections, and three of the four CD-only tracks there repeat here, along with the Diamonds' "The Stroll." But cut-for-cut the competition's close. This one is nicely Southern-fried (Joe Simon, King Curtis, Archie Bell) but soft on famous dances trailing ordinary records (watusi, jerk). It shares its greatest triumph with the Hairspray soundtrack: Gene & Wendell's "The Roach." Stomp here. A-

Roots of Jazz Funk Volume Two [MVP, 1997]
Mellower, and schlockier, than its predecessor. Donald Byrd, Lou Donaldson, "Canadian Sunset"--these are not names associated with high principle. Except for repeater John Coltrane, you'll find no art stars here at all, nor any leaders of Blakey-Adderley calibre. But from Johnny Griffin's "Blues for Dracula" to Jack McDuff's "Rock Candy," the funk will be more palpable to the acid-damaged as a result. And if you're art-damaged yourself, let me put it this way: it'll be Good For You. A

The Power of the Trinity: Great Moments in Reggae Harmony [Shanachie, 1997]
Dancehall having relegated all classic reggae beyond Marley and the early dubmasters to the realm of specialist arcana, a concept that might have seemed obvious a decade ago now comes as essential pedagogy. Culture's Joseph Hill aside, not one of the leaders here commands a drop-dead voice, but whether they make themselves felt like the Itals' Keith Porter or remain as obscure as Israel Vibration's Skelly Spence, all find strength in unity. Nowhere else will you encounter the tragic intensity of the best of these tunes--and beyond Culture, whose Two Sevens Clash is an essential piece of popular music, the Wailing Souls' "War," the Mighty Diamonds' "Right Time," and the Congos' "Row Fisherman" are touchstones. The devotional aura is without parallel even in gospel or mbaqanga, both of which are far more upful, as Jamaicans used to say. It's the sound of conscious alienation, a pervasive longing for the motherland accessible to anybody who longs for anything--justice, or the chance to say goodbye one more time. A-

Nuyorican Soul [Giant Step/Blue Thumb, 1997] Dud

In Tha Beginning . . . There Was Rap [Priority, 1997]
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony: "F--- tha Police"; The Roots: "The Show"; Wu-Tang Clan: "Sucker MC's" Choice Cuts

And Then There Was Bass [Mercedes/LaFace, 1997]
B-Rock & the Bizz: "MyBabyDaddy" Choice Cuts

September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill [Sony Classics, 1997]
William S. Burroughs: "What Keeps Mankind Alive?"; PJ Harvey: "Ballad of the Soldier's Wife"; David Johansen: "Alabama Song" Choice Cuts

Drop Acid . . . Listen to This!! [Knitting Factory Works, 1997]
DJ Spooky: "Remix Sistrum"; Kramer: "She's Everything Mr. R" Choice Cuts

Éthiopiques 1 [Buda, 1998]
Notes from an aborted pop scene (Mulequèn Mèllèssè, "Wètètié maré"; Sèyfu Yohannès, "Tezeta"). ***

'80s Underground Rap: Can I Kick It? [Rhino, 1998]
the obscurities kick harder than the obviosities (the Real Roxanne, with Hitman Howie Tee, "Bang Zoom [Let's Go-Go]"; Jungle Brothers, with A Tribe Kalled Quest, "Promo No. 2 [Mind Review '89]") **

'80s Underground Rap: Can You Feel It? [Rhino, 1998]
no matter what they didn't know in Cali, New Yorkers were feeling EPMD and the JBs back in the day (Special Ed, "I Got It Made"; Three Times Dope, "Greatest Man Alive [After Midnight Mix]") ***

Afro-Latino [Putamayo, 1998]
African salsa derivatives tend toward a relaxed retro, guitar-dappled with a charanga feel, avoiding merengue hyperdrive and reducing hectic horns to a synth wash or solo obbligato. And while it wouldn't be Putumayo without the Peruvian-American subway musicians who write as flat as they groove or the conceptually slack if musically deft Cuban son selections, this opens the niche nicely, expertly promoting label debuts by Sam Mangwana and Ricardo Lemvo and locating an ace lead by the obscure Tam-Tam 2000 as well as picture-card filler by the overpraised Africando. A-

American Pop: An Audio History from Minstrel to Mojo on Record, 1893-1946 [West Hill, 1998]
Nine CDs spanning 1893-1946, it'll set you back a hundred bucks, and it's not really what it says it is, cheating Tin Pan Alley, John Philip Sousa, George M. Cohan, Ruth Etting, Broadway, Northerners, Ukulele Ike, Gene Austin, humor, Hollywood, Fred Astaire, Glen Gray, Glenn Miller, the Andrews Sisters, and anybody who doesn't sing-a de English, among others. Nevertheless, it's an endless delight, almost 11 hours where Harry Smith's Anthology is four-something, and a powerful illustration of the antibiz aesthetic in which the best popular music derives from and is aimed back at subcultural audiences the artist can smell and touch. Play any disc and you'll soon be rummaging around for the first booklet, where all the track listings are. So that's James Reese Europe! Ella Mae Morse! Geeshie Wiley! Only isn't it "Geechie"? And who the hell are Polk Miller and His Old South Quartette? A

Baby Sounds: Happy Sounds to Delight Baby [Kid Rhino, 1998]
Ambient bio ("Baby Sounds [Part Two: Toddlers]," "Baby Sounds [Part One: Babies]"). ***

Big Beat Conspiracy: BBC 1 [Pagan, 1998]
As much fun as a new chemistry set (Laidback, "International"; J Knights, "Catch a Break"; Surreal Madrid, "Insanity Sauce"). ***

Cuba Now [Hemisphere, 1998]
I prefer son to other salsa cousins because horn arrangements annoy me--even when they have more jam than the Cherry Poppin' Daddies'. I work on this prejudice, primarily to accommodate my clave-loving in-house adviser, who plucked this item out of the confusion of Cuban comps we've sampled during the current fad. Sucked in, as who wouldn't be, by the off-kilter montuno of NG La Banda's lead "El Tragico," she ignored the blare and voted with her hips. Grooves struggle against surface clutter throughout. Usually they win. A-

Éthiopiques 2 [Buda Musique, 1998]
barest, craziest, sexiest, least melodic, least grooveful, most Arabic (Tigist Assèfa, "Toutouyé"; Malèfya Tèka, "Indè Lyèruzalèm") *

Éthiopiques 3 [Buda Musique, 1998]
The instant cachet of a five-CD series documenting the 1969-1978 run of the only record label in Addis Ababa did not reflect the irresistibility of its parts. I doubt any reviewer bonded with many individual songs/tracks even on this superior volume, not after the three or four listens preceding publication and probably not ever. Because Ethiopia was its peculiar self--an uncolonized absolute monarchy so insensible to indigenous music that its national anthem was composed by an Armenian--the set also does without such world-music boons as love of the past, belief in the future, and lust for conquest. As the soundscape to a locale undiscovered by squarer, older tourists, however, it obviously has its uses, especially for an alt generation that's always mistrusted organic ecstasy. I've never encountered a more neurotic-sounding Third World sensibility. Its m.o. is to mush up Middle East, Africa, and Europe for a small-time power elite you can almost see--anxious young traffickers in court intrigue sitting around smoky, well-appointed clubs where petit-bourgeois artistes strive to give them a thrill. And just often enough, the organic--imbued with melody or hook or vocal commitment or instrumental synergy, only to be tempered and twisted by an endemic uncertainty--peeps through. B+

Éthiopiques 4 [Buda Musique, 1998]
Booker T. and Ramsey Lewis trade concepts over a drummer who first laid eyes on a trap set last month--Ethiopian-style, mais oui (Mulatu Astatqué, "Yèkèrmo sèw," "Mètché Dershé") *

Fat Beats & Bra Straps: Battle Rhymes & Posse Cuts [Rhino, 1998]
Bitch-bitch-bitch and brother-brother-brother (Shante, "Big Mama"; Roxanne Shante vs. Sparky Dee, "Round 1 [Uncensored]"). *

Fat Beats & Bra Straps: Classics [Rhino, 1998]
"The rules of the game are simple and plain/ Turn on the microphone and recite your name," claims the great lost Sparky-D over some break-beats and an audacious two-note Louie Shelton loop. And beyond the two stone classics, Roxanne Shante's "Have a Nice Day" and the Real Roxanne's "Bang Zoom (Let's Go-Go)," that innocence encapsulates the casual charm and enduring artistic value of this early femme rap comp. It's innocent when Shante lays out the perils of the street on the rare "Runaway," when young Latifah skanks the Meters, when LeShaun d/b/a 2 Much serves up the lovingly lubricious "Wild Thang" for the ineluctably lustful L.L. Cool J, when the great lost Ice Cream Tee disses "male chauvinists" without thinking twice. Historically and musically, the Sequence and Salt-n-Pepa are missed. But this proves what a great girls school the old school could have been. A-

Hard Rock Cafe: Party Rock [Hard Rock/Rhino, 1998]
Lead track: "Addicted to Love." Best track: "Addicted to Love." Also includes: "Hot Blooded," "What I Like About You," "Can't Get Enough." Oldest track: "Joy to the World." Second-worst track (after "Do You Feel Like We Do"): "Joy to the World." Author of notes: singer of "Joy to the World." Black artists: one. Newest track: Tone-Loc's "Wild Thing." Tracks by legitimate album artists: one ("Gimme Three Steps"). Conflicts with Dazed and Confused: two. Conflicts with Jock Jams or Frat Rock: zero. In short: best stupid-rock comp in many a year. A

Hound Dog Taylor: A Tribute [Alligator, 1998]
The natural evolution of chops and technology renders this inauspicious vehicle the best houserocking record by anyone since the honored slidemaster, who died in 1975 leaving his Houserockers to bequeath their name to a boogie blues style never truly replicated. Bigger and faster than the prototype, it lets virtuosos-in-spite-of-themselves give free rein to their baser natures: flash-fingered Luther Allison, Sonny Landreth, Dave Hole, and Warren Haynes come on every bit as crude as neoprimitives George Thorogood, Elvin Bishop, and Cub Koda. Respect to Vernon Reid and Alvin Youngblood Hart for powering up acoustic. Shame on Ronnie Earl for showing off. A-

Lyricist Lounge, Vol. 1 [Priority, 1998]
Can't beat the atmosphere (Word a' Mouth, "Famous Last Words"; Bahamadia and Rah Digga, "Be OK"). *

Mama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here [Yazoo, 1998]
Most Yazoo compilations take egalitarianism too literally, mixing the classic and the generic so that every 78 in the vault stands a fair chance of digitalization. That may happen on this collection of "Piano Rags, Blues & Stomps 1928-35" as well--note that Cow Cow Davenport's hit "Cow Cow Blues," which is definitive by definition, "will be included on a later album"--but boogie-woogie is so much more fun than country blues it doesn't matter. Beyond the distinct voices--Davenport's barrelhouse solidity, Arnold Wiley's quicksilver chromatics, Will Ezell's playful chopsmanship, Speckled Red's errant enthusiasm--a single rhythmic idea animates the flow, and just when you're tired of piano Red opens his mouth and teaches America the dozens. Plus on the ride out we have the lost Oliver Brown classic "Oh You Devil You," about which we know nothing, including how Harry Smith missed it. A-

Millennium Funk Party [Rhino, 1998]
There are at least three of these things: nonstop nondisco from the Commodores to the Sugarhill Gang on Millennium Funk Party; the Tempts to LTD on Rhino's song-strong VH-1 8-Track Flashback; or Tom Browne to Graham Central Station on Relativity's jamful Funkgasm. The examples suggest why this one gets the nod--it's totally obvious, totally surefire. Does it conflict with your P-Funk library and Gap Band best-of? I hope so, and by all means compare track listings. But somewhere in this vicinity lies the way of instant par-tay. A

MTV's AMP 2 [MTV/Astralwerks, 1998]
Defined by Fatboy Slim's irresistable new "Rockafeller Skank," this is rap-techno fusion in the great tradition of Snap's "The Power," which is best at its cheapest--Chuck D sounds disoriented while KRS-One is saved by, of all people, Goldie. And if you think Fatboy Slim gets boring pretty fast, that's the beauty part. After all, Roni Size gets boring pretty fast too. But with the concept providing unity as the multiple choice provides variety, you can enjoy these obvious macho beatfests for as long as they're worth. Here we go, let's rock and roll. A-

No Easy Walk to Freedom [Music Club, 1998]
South African roots-pop K-Tel style (Sister Phumi, "Ithemba"; Sipho Mabuse, "Jive Soweto"). *

Over in Glory: Favorites From Classic Gospel Groups [MCA, 1998]
All climax, all the time. In a music whose individual proponents make it their business to channel the universal, why not stick to their ecstasies and leave the mundane to their secular counterparts? Not that these impassioned tracks are above detail--one apogee among many is the Jackson Southernaires' painfully protracted tale of a son who reaches his dying mama just hours too late. But whether the glorious singers are getting happy or laying their burdens down, they're all in extremis, opening windows not into their mortal souls but into an idealized gospel experience--the spiritual release nonbelievers prize in a music that will never be their own. Connoisseurs may cry cartoon, but for most of us that's a plus, as are the articulated call-and-response built into the group format and the crassness of Peacock's Don Robey, not a guy who hesitated to besmirch the Lord with rhythm sections. Guitars either. A

Red Hot + Rhapsody: The Gershwin Groove [Antilles, 1998]
Bacharachians please note: this AIDS-fighting Gershwin tribute is how great songwriters make themselves felt. Beyond near has-beens Bowie and Sinéad and the all-too-inoffensive Natalie Merchant, the contributors are marginal. Spearhead, Sarah Cracknell, Morcheeba, Finlay Quaye, to stick to standouts, flounder as often as they fly. But entrusted with this material they soar or at least flutter about, as do Smoke City and Majestic 12, both previously unknown to me. Defined by keyboard textures from sampledelica to Hammond B-3, this is a seductive showcase of the moody sensibility shared by acid jazz and trip hop. Now if only the sensibility had Gershwins of its own--well, soon they'd no doubt find themselves something better to do. A-

The Gospel According to Earthworks [Sterns/Earthworks, 1998]
Joy to the world music, South African style (Makholwa Vumani Isono, "Izikhova Ezimnqini"; Holy Spirits Choir, "Siyakubonga"). *

The King's Record Collection, Volume 1 [Hip-O, 1998]
A great gift idea for that Elvis nut, this collection of records Elvis covered hits every Sun nonoriginal except "Milkcow Blues Boogie" and establishes his superiority to Arthur Crudup and Big Mama Thornton (though not the Drifters or Joe Turner) for anyone who's never located the records in question. A vivid representation of both his voracious tastes and the musical ferment from which he made what he made. D.O.A.: Leon Payne's dull "I Love You Because." Born again: the Shelton Brothers' deadpan "Just Because." A-

The Music in My Head [Sterns, 1998]
Although piercing vocals, contentious percussion, and kora guitar are constant, all that really unifies this feverish, coruscating soundtrack to the Mark Hudson novel is Senegal, with one atypically Islamic Franco track standing in for soukous's pan-African inescapability. Yet with half its tracks recorded 1970-1980 and the other half 1992-1995, so that they segue from 1977 to 1994, 1993 to 1980, it cleaves faithfully only to itself--crossover dreams notwithstanding, only a reggaeish Omar Pene unemployment anthem hints anything round, comfy, Euro. Franco elegy and Wassoulou hunting poem and not-for-export mbalax all project congruent rhythmic angles, and watch out you don't trip yourself as musicians jockey for position, vying with their bandmates while continuing to serve the band as they jam rock sonorities into salsa-inflected Senegalese grooves. Desert mystics conquer the fleshpots. Overloaded camions careen down a potholed road. Frantic macho coheres and clashes, stops and goes, crashes and coheres again. A+

The Secret Museum of Mankind: Music of East Africa [Yazoo, 1998]
half Kenyan, spanning a mere 24 years up to 1948, these old 78s could almost be said to hold together (Frank and His Sisters, "Mwanangu Lala"; Francis Baloye & Shangaan Band, "Kumbe Siyengetile"; Zoutpansberg Brothers, "Hosi Yehina Masia") *

Ultimate Christmas [Arista, 1998]
chestnuts roasting on an open fire plus surprise gifts--but who invited Kenny, Carly, Sarah, Luciano? (Aretha Franklin, "Winter Wonderland"; Luther Vandross, "O Come All Ye Faithful") ***

United Kingdom of Punk, Vol. 2 [Music Club, 1998]
live tracks, demos, and now-obscure gems from the first golden era (999, "Homicide"; the Lurkers, "Cyanide") *

African Salsa [Sterns/Earthworks, 1998]
In Wolof, both the consonants and the clave are harsher (Pape Fall, "African Salsa"; Super Cayor de Dakar, "Xamsa Bopp"). ***

United Kingdom of Punk: The Hardcore Years [Music Club, 1998]
"Perhaps I'm not too clever, perhaps I'm not too bright," yowls Mensi on the debut single from the Angelic Upstarts, who at least I've heard before. Four of these circa-1980 bands are on Oi!--The Album, two are on Carry On Oi!, here's the good ol' Anti-Nowhere League, and that's it--Stateside, these yobs were lucky to see the inside of an import store. None are clever and none bright, at least not so's they'll tell you about it, because where in American hardcore us-against-them is about age, in Britain it flouts class in all its manifestations--not just money, but manners, education, culture. So above all they're rude--the Pistols, the Clash, and Generation X are limp-wristed art wankers by comparison. The rant can get tedious--a song called "Free Speech for the Dumb" ought to be smarter. But 20 years after we sussed that British fascism looks more like a middle-aged housewife than a boot boy downing pints at a football match, these antieverything anthems prove that anyone who pegged them as a menace was neither clever nor bright either. A-

Hot Latin Hits/Exitos Latinos Calientes: The '90s [Rhino, 1998]
Doing my bit to nip a world-lounge fad in the bud, I hereby deplore not just a record but an entire sensibility--the florid Spanish-language romanticism at the root of the international ballad style. Performed mostly by one-named singers like Mijares, Lucero, Cristian, and Julian, these early-'90s cris de coeur are all the excuse any young Spanish speaker needs to believe Los Fabulosos Cadillacs are the Beatles. Emotion so deeply in love with itself is why irony was invented. D+

James Brown's Original Funky Divas [Polydor, 1998]
give the ladies some! now give 'em some more! one more time now! don't stop 'til they get enough! (Lyn Collins, "Think [About It]"; Marva Whitney, "Unwind Yourself") ***

Fat Beats & Brastraps: New MC's [Rhino, 1998]
"Unknown MCs" may be the truth, but that don't make it justice (Nonchalant, "5 O'Clock"; Sha-Key, "Soulsville"). **

Bad Boy Greatest Hits Volume 1 [Bad Boy, 1998] Neither

Brother's Gonna Work It Out: A DJ Mix Album by the Chemical Brothers [Astralwerks, 1998] Neither

'80s Underground Rap: Don't Believe the Hype [Rhino, 1998] Neither

Return of the D.J. Vol. II [Bomb, 1998]
Beyond Three: "The Positive Step" Choice Cuts

Chef Aid: The South Park Album [American, 1998]
Eric Cartman: "Come Sail Away" Choice Cuts

Motown Sings Motown Treasures [Motown, 1998]
Jackson 5: "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" Choice Cuts

Lucky 13 [Oh Boy, 1998]
John Prine: "Let's Talk Dirty in Hawaiian" Choice Cuts

The Harry Smith Connection: A Live Tribute [Smithsonian/Folkways, 1998]
Peter Stampfel: "His Tapes Roll On" Choice Cuts

Essential DanceHall Reggae [Music Club, 1998]
Starkey Banton: "Jungle Bungle" Choice Cuts

The Real Bahamas, Volumes I & II [Nonesuch, 1998]
Recorded by two young amateurs in 1965, initially released in 1966 and 1978, then re-released minus two tracks on one CD, these part-sung, finger-picked gospel songs constitute one of the great treasures of folkiedom's collecting adventure. Here is the individual untutored genius in the person of the literally nonpareil guitarist Joseph Spence. But here also for once is communal creativity in action, as leaders rhyme their couplets while so-called background singers dab, smear, and pixilate the music we're there for, and I dare you to decide who's who for the entirety of "God Locked the Lion's Jaw." Although full-fledged tunes rise up only intermittently from the quirkily articulated babble, many of these have been anointed classics--"I Bid You Good Night," "Out on the Rolling Sea," "Don't Take Everybody to Be Your Friend." The Bahamas became a haven for escaped U.S. slaves after slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1834. Friendly but also mischievous and not all that easy to know, these folks sound as if they know the limits of friendship to be one of God's great truths. A

African Ambience: The Ultimate African Dance Party [Shanachie, 1999]
Skipping all over the continent, raiding definitive albums by King Sunny Ade and Franco & Rochereau, this is not the kind of Afrocomp that ordinarily gets my seal of approval. But does it ever do what it sets out to do, and what competitors on Music Club, Mango, Putumayo, and others too crappy to remember don't: Segue the incongruous vocal attacks and rhythmic gestalts of, for instance, Youssou N'Dour's "Immigres" and Thomas Mapfumo's "Nyoka Musango" into the kind of danceable mix tape world-beat's venture capitalists once imagined we'd all be partying to by now. An ideal introduction for the neophyte, who might then branch out to Ade, Franco, Rochereau, and Loketo's Extra Ball too. Me, I hope I can find that album by Cameroon's Masao for less than the $26 it'll set me back at CDnow. A

The Spirit of Cape Verde [Tinder, 1999]
Heard in the background, as quiet world-music comps usually are, the saudade here can be vaguely annoying, like somebody unburdening her troubles out of earshot across the room. Listen close, however, and the melancholy seems so deeply imbued it's as if 300,000 islanders had been lulled to sleep by Billie Holiday before they learned to speak. Though it lapses into the genteel sentimentality that mushes up too much samba, there's a little more muscle to the music's technical intricacy and sensual pulse. And if your attention flags, be sure to come back for the farewell instrumental, cut 30 years before sadness became the nation's cash crop. At two minutes and 12 seconds, it's primal. B+

Cape Verde [Putumayo World Music, 1999]
Trust the escape merchants at the world's softest world label to put a happy face on saudade--the tempos a little quicker, the melodies a little brighter. Still, it's not like these musicians are trying to get the party started, increase efficiency in the workplace, or reduce sales resistance to clothing bought cheap and sold dear--not that they know of, anyway. They're just confronting the sense of loneliness and loss built into "the romance of these remote and exotic islands." And maybe because they're beginning to feel it's too easy to hold their cultural heritage at bay by correctly pronouncing one of its many names, they're beating it, honestly if temporarily. Good for them. A-

Casa de la Trova [Detour, 1999]
Even when the musicians have a drop taken, there's nothing bacchanalian about this survey of the poetic, composed Cuban folk songs it designates trova. Their clave subsumed in guitars and the occasional chamber orchestra, they're formal, precise, intensely romantic, old-fashioned, crotchety. All the singers are stylists, and sticklers for harmonic detail, and though only the seventyish sisters Faez, tart as grandaunts and weird as widows in a haunted house, command one-of-a-kind deliveries, the vocal variety keeps you alert. Call it the Buenas Vozes Hearts Club Band and hire a film crew. A-

Chuck D Presents: Louder Than a Bomb [Rhino, 1999]
Exhortations and commonplaces, old school style (Common Sense, "I Used To Love H.E.R. [Radio Edit]"; Ice Cube, "A Bird in the Hand"). ***

Knitting on the Roof [Knitting Factory, 1999]
Fiddler fiddled, less arrantly than you might fear (Magnetic Fields, "If I Were a Rich Man"; Come, "Do You Love Me?"). *

Lightning Over the River: The Congolese Soukous Guitar Sound [Music Club, 1999]
Although compiler Christina Roden rightly distinguishes between speed soukous and the old bipartite kind that gives the singer some, the thunderbolts she catches in her bottle are all thrown by guitarists. Admirers of Kanda Bongo Man, Tshala Muana, and especially Syran M'Benza (Symbiose, two tracks) may find a few selections familiar. More likely, however, they'll just own them. Even for Afropop fans, an enjoyable tour of a terrain that tends to blur into itself without a guide. A-

M-Boogie: Laid in Full [Blackberry, 1999]
Here comes the West Coast underground, sunnier than the East Coast underground (Kut Master Kurt Presents Masters of Illusion Featuring Motion Man, "Magnum Be I"; Rasco Featuring Defaro & Evidence, "Major League"). *

Millennium Hip-Hop Party [Rhino, 1999]
Following rap crossover from Flash to Dre, this deflates big time. Hard to believe some find "Baby Got Back" and "Now That We've Found Love" as much fun as, not "It Takes Two" (what is?), but "Bust a Move" or "U Can't Touch This." Circa 1991, as aspiration gives way to calculation and entertainment becomes subculturally suspect, shame enters game--though if the compilers had stuck in "Jump" and "Shoop," who'd notice? A-

MTV: The First 1000 Years: R&B [Rhino, 1999]
Love the title, which mocks both millennium hype and music television while implicitly acknowledging that this is but the latest slice of what the cognizant would call r&b--the part hip hop thinks is for bitchez, the sexy part that finally cracked MTV halfway into the network's going-on-two-decade life. Two of 16 tracks predate 1990, including Tina Turner's semiringer. Two fall flat--wrong Brian McKnight, any Deborah Cox. R&b being a singles music in every phase of its evolution, the few from albums worth owning all sound better here with the sole exception of P.M. Dawn's semiringer. Soft-core come-ons from Johnny Gill, Montell Jordan, Jodeci, and R. Kelly sound a lot better--they sound like a subculture seeking xscape rather than four damn liars. Even when the words dissemble, the music does not. This is how we do it--or try to do it, anyway. A

New Groove 3: Déconstruire le groove esoterique [REV, 1999]
At long last acid jazz (Swoon, "Pomegranate garrote"; Henri Lim, ("Aria [Ether Edit]"). **

No More Prisons [Raptivism, 1999]
Convicts not gangstas, agitrap not CNN (Hurricane G, "No More Prisons"; Dead Prez & Hedrush, "Murda Box"; Daddy-O, "Voices"). ***

Pop Music: The Early Years 1890-1950 [Columbia/Legacy, 1999]
Unlike the equally amazing nine-CD American Pop: An Audio History (still floating around the Net for $70), the sole prize from Sony's misshapen series of two-CD Y2K keepsakes (discounted at Wherehouse.com for $20) relegates the folk to other keepsakes and deals solely in pop: not only "commercial" music, which all records aimed to be, but manufactured music, geared to the demands of a known distribution system. It doesn't avoid schlock (bandleader Ben Selvin, who laid down 2000-plus sides, is a far commoner denominator than Elton John or Celine Dion), and it's got its ringers--14 of these 50 records aren't on Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories charts. But most of the nonhits serve some historical or artistic purpose--in my favorite (conceptually, at least), the Italian American impostor who played Aunt Jemima in the original Show Boat delivers "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," her only release. In general, these tracks are more urban, Northern, immigrant, Jewish, female, female-identified, arranged, literate, timely, faddish, vulgar, sophisticated, expert, confident, compromised, conflicted, and monocultural than their folk counterparts. They're also every bit as fascinating and enjoyable. Education can be fun. Pop is art. A

Profilin': The Hits, Vol. 1 [Arista, 1999]
beyond "It Takes Two" and "It's Like That," which nobody considering this purchase doesn't own, long on novelty (Poor Righteous Teachers, "Rock Dis Funky Joint"; N2Deep, "Back to the Hotel") *

Quannum Spectrum [Quannum Projects, 1999]
deepest grooves in the underground (Lyrics Born, "Hott People"; Divine Styler & DJ Shadow, "Divine Intervention") **

Rawkus Presents Soundbombing II [Rawkus, 1999]
Whoever's representing--Medina Green eating crosstown beef or Eminem tripping on a minivan or Company Flow dissing AmeriKKKa or Pharoahe Monch toasting the mayor or "hairy fat slob unshaven" R.A. the Rugged Man conjoining his "white trash nation" with "all the starvin' artists"--the Rawkus subculture is always peering over its own edge. The beats aren't invariably propulsive, but they never relent, with timeouts for DJs to scratch themselves minimized. Although the us-against-society mood is far from asexual, nobody macks and nobody flosses. Nobody deals either. Racism is an issue, race isn't. In our present-day dystopia, no wonder so many make this imaginary world their home. A-

Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons [Almo, 1999]
First cut's the worst, which I blame not on Chrissie Hynde but on "She," the softest song Parsons ever wrote (and probably the only one about black people). Last cut's the best, and though "In My Hour of Darkness" is anything but soft, I credit it primarily to Victoria Williams and a gang that owes Parsons everything, from alt-country lifer Mark Olson to Nashville darling Jim Lauderdale to in-betweeners Buddy and Julie Miller. There are plenty of great songbooks with plenty of great admirers, but damn few that define a sensibility, and even Elvis Costello and Evan Dando seem to have pondered Parsons all their musical lives--though not as much as Aunt Emmylou, who shares recipes with Beck H. and Sheryl C. As for Gram's own kids, even the slow ones--parched Gillian Welch, sodden Whiskeytown, spaced Cowboy Junkies--designed their sounds for this material, which nails their identification-alienation harder than their own ever will. A-

Ruffhouse Records Greatest Hits [Ruffhouse, 1999]
The Miseducation, Score, and Cypress Hill lifts have their own lives. "Insane in the Brain" is worth hearing twice. "Fuck Compton" is history. Kriss Kross weren't always has-beens. Nas wasn't always nasty. John Forté and Pace Won have their own futures. Few labels have done '90s hip hop so proud. A-

Streets of Dakar: Generation Bool Falé [Sterns, 1999]
Under the rubric of a new piece of slang whose meaning is surrounded by "carefree," "fed up," and "whatever," young singers in a land where horns are no longer cost-effective make do with synthesizers. Though they use them well, there's a loss not just in color but in punch and ruckus, and though there are plenty of guitars and enough guitar hooks, the few solos never bust out. Leaving us with tama drums that don't-stop-and-they-don't-stop and a profusion of voices, tremendously varied within their penetrating West African attack-girl group and rap crew share space with blues growlers, trumpetless Gabriels, and other secular muezzins. These voices convey resoluteness, spirituality, spunk, moralism, humor--personality. They also convey good-to-great melodies. So, whatever. A-

Strength Magazine Presents Subtext [London/Strength, 1999]
W.C.U.W.A. (Aceyalone, "Rappers, Rappers, Rappers 12 for 10"; Del the Funkee Homosapien, "Cyberpunks"). *

The Funky Precedent [Loosegroove/No Mayo, 1999]
Underground hip hop at its warmest, most multiculti, and least hip hop (the Breakestra, "Getcho Soul Together"; Dilated Peoples, "Triple Optics [Live Funky Precedent Mix]"). *

South African Rhythm Riot: The Indestructible Beat of Soweto Vol. 6 [Sterns/Earthworks, 1999]
Trevor Herman knows better than any one that compilations suffer when they sneak in artists the compiler has a weakness for, but here he gets a little sentimental anyway. Kwaito is the biggest musical fad of postapartheid South Africa, and the smashes he wanted to include--notably Arthur's "Oyi Oyi," one of those dance hits that sweep all parochialism before them--make the choicest township jive seem more received than it used to. Put it all together and you get patchwork rather than seamlessness: pop stars like Chicco and Brenda Fassie cambering the old rhythms, the socalike single-mindedness of Aba Shante's Arthur-produced "Girls," even a visit from the tireless Papa Wemba. Fairly terrific track by track--I've tried hard enough with Fassie to admire how skillfully Herman flatters her, and I'd rather hear "Oyi Oyi" here than on the megahit album of the same name. But a sampler nevertheless. A-

The Real Hip-Hop: The Best of D&D, Vol. 1 [Coldfront, 1999]
The main thing undergrounders mean by "real" is Hold That Tune, a/k/a/ Hook Junkies Keep Out. Though this ethos dates officially to the South Bronx's primordial ooze, its immediate forebear is these mid-'90s productions of Premier and his lessers. On choice singles from a singles music, the warm feelings hip hop heads cherish for M.O.P., the Lost Boyz, Smif-N-Wessun, and Showbiz & AG can be shared by us hook users. An excess of celebrity similes is counterbalanced by gangsta talk as unmitigated metaphor. Competitive world, hip hop. It could kill ya. A-

Totally Hits [Arista, 1999]
Of course it cheats--every compilation cheats. Inferior Sugar Ray, Monica, and Madonna, ringer from the hapless Five, awful hit from the imitable Sarah McLachlan. But given its BMG-WEA limitations, this is premier radio fodder. It rescues Cher and LFO from their meaningless albums as it repackages ace Whitney Houston and Deborah Cox remixes, and from "No Scrubs" to "Bawitdaba" it establishes a flow that sets off "Smooth" and "Ray of Light" and the formerly execrable "(God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time on You" as the touchstones they are. The mood is hiply happy and humane--the exceptions, a would-be suicide and some heavy yearning, mean only to prove that this is the real world, troubling at times but always manageable. The stylistic signature is keyb/electric guitar as acoustic guitar, rippling its quiet riffs over the intricate rhythms of a body at peace with itself. As composition, I find it as convincing, if not as elegant or organic, as Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians or Franco & Rochereau's Omona Wapi. Note, however, that the only energy rushes come from Cher's Eurodisco and the show-topping Kid Rock, who's also the only true rapper here. It's a relief to know Arista needs him to put its lovely lies over the top. A-

Tropicália Essentials [Hip-O, 1999]
Relics of a cultural revolution--14 1967-1969 songs, all except the Tom Zé written by Caetano Veloso or/and Gilberto Gil and most performed by them. Although these songs outraged their world merely because they weren't Brazilian enough, what's striking at this distance is the Brit specifics of their internationalism, idealizing not the hippie '60s of spaced-out pastoral but the mod '60s of trippy pop. For all the deep rhythms and avant-garde sounds, the guitars are drunk on Revolver and Out of Our Heads, the orchestrations full of Blow-Up and Modesty Blaise. Decades later, we can hear how Brazilian their cheese and lyricism remained. But these particular Brazilians were the premier melodists of their generation, and they considered it trippy to juxtapose bright, rebellious music against grim antijunta fables. Translations provided--read them. A-

Uptown Lounge [The Right Stuff, 1999]
Rarely have more black singers I dislike been gathered in one place. Billy Eckstine and Arthur Prysock, Lena Horne and Carmen McRae, Nina Simone and Sarah Vaughan, Lou Rawls and Nancy Wilson, Bobby Short and Sammy Davis Jr.--the grand and the genteel, the expressionistic and the arty, the smarmy and the pop pop pop. But after dozens upon dozens of hi-fi "lounge" comps, at least three of which I tried my damnedest to get through, they all do justice to old songs worth hearing. It's a credible, likable, and enjoyable rendering of the pseudosophistication young ginheads have been promoting since the second coming of Esquivel. The secret is that for once even Short and Horne sound comfortable in their bodies. This is not something I'd ever say about Esquivel or most ginheads. And comfort, ladies and gents, is supposed to be what lounging is about. A-

Y2K: Beat the Clock Version 1.0 [Columbia, 1999]
Starts out blatant--it don't get blatanter than "Rockafeller Skank"--and then, generously, remains that way for half its allotted 73 minutes: quality Prodigy, that Wildchild song everyone loved last summer, Crystal Method's reason for existence. Second half's less enlightened if equally obvious: "Lost in Space," "Born Slippy," Björk remix, Orb edit, spanking-new remake of Sparks' prophetically annoying and exciting title song. In short, all the big beat an adherent of the first big beat need own. A-

Roots Rock Guitar Party: Zimbabwe Frontline Vol. 3 [Sterns/Earthworks, 1999]
Chimurenga and its vaguely soukous-inflected descendants are liberation music no longer. Mugabe's the new boss, and though he isn't the same as the old boss--they never are, and at least he's not white--he is certainly a tyrant, dividing-and-plundering along tribal and sexual lines. But where Afropop surrendered lilt and intraband debate for escapist desperation and automatic virtuosity as nationhood bore down on the material lives of the people, these 12 tracks, all but one recent, maintain an illusion of communal jollity and balanced progress. Past kisses future as guitars articulate thumb-piano scales into a language all their own, an endeavor spiritually engrossing enough to keep everybody involved occupied. When you read the translated lyrical snippets, you can infer how much the all-male Shona choruses aren't saying. When you listen to the music, you give everybody involved credit for tending their bit of human space. A-

The RZA Hits [Razor Sharp/Epic, 1999]
If Enter the Wu-Tang is a block party mythologized into a masterwork, its endless spinoffs are soirees in smoke-filled rooms, where intimates tender messages and crack jokes newcomers can only pretend to understand. So this public work is a public service. Never mind that it pulls three tracks from the source and two each from the most obvious solo exceptions, by ODB and Ghostface Killah. Just be grateful that for once they're celebrating the obvious--the anthemic, the obscene, the braggadocious. In this context, even Raekwon sounds like a regular guy. Says the produceur: "That's enough information right there to get you involved, get you inside the system." Whereupon he sets off a three-minute Wu Wear ad. A-

The Blackbook Sessions [Galapagos4, 1999]
Up against a rap underground this brainy, no wonder Chitown's white bohos "feign" shallowness (Anacron, "Be Where? [Beware!]"; Offwhyte, "Easy Speak"). *

Prodigy Present the Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One [XL/Beggars Banquet, 1999] Neither

Every Road I Take: The Best of Acoustic Blues [Shanachie, 1999] Neither

Wu-Chronicles [Wu-Tang, 1999] Neither

AP Presents Industrial Strength Machine Music [Rhino, 1999] Neither

Dublin to Dakar: A Celtic Odyssey [Putumayo World Music, 1999] Dud

Éthiopiques 5 [Buda Musique, 1999]
Tsèhaytu Bèraki: "Aminèy" Choice Cuts

No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees [Epic, 1999]
Black Sabbath: "Psycho Man (Danny Saber Remix)"; Pearl Jam: "Soldier of Love"; Pearl Jam: "Last Kiss"; Rage Against the Machine: "The Ghost of Tom Joad"; Neil Young: "War of Man (Live)" Choice Cuts

Suck It and See [Palm Pictures, 1999]
Hyper Crad: "3 (Back Door Mix)"; Inevidence: "Cum Dancing" Choice Cuts

Burning London: The Clash Tribute [Epic, 1999]
Silverchair: "London's Burning" Choice Cuts

Nowcore!: The Punk Rock Evolution [K-Tel, 1999]
Dismemberment Plan: "The Ice of Boston" Choice Cuts

The Sidewalks of New York [Winter & Winter, 1999]
Tin Pan Alley represented, not re-created--with hyped tempos, with maestro Uri Caine arranging like a time-traveling Kurt Weill, with homage to James Reese Europe's boys rather than the white studio stiffs who backed Nora Bayes on the original "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?" and Bert Williams on the original "Nobody," with multiethnic buddies making passes and kidding around. Compensating for well-meaning missteps like Barbara Walker's 11-minute soulification of "Some of These Days" are well-deployed sound effects and singers who achieve intonation in the vernacular--sprightly contralto Nancy Opel, talky baritone Stuart Zagnit. And while favorites inevitably get missed--I nominate "Bully of the Town"--the material proves there is such a thing as the test of time. A-

Men Are Like Streetcars . . . Women Blues Singers 1928-1969 [MCA, 1999]
All but seven of these 46 choices are from the Decca, Chess, and Duke catalogs MCA controls, and that's a shame. No Bessie Smith or Ma Rainey, OK--they cut albums' worth of classics on their own. But the absent Lil Green always deserves a plug and, come on, Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues" is the archetypal seminal one-shot--a debut single she never equalled that sparked every other side collected here. Still, sometimes a tasty mouthful is all these singers had in them (see my unpublished monograph Big Mama Thornton: Who Owes Who?), and on the first disc especially, folkie lifer Mary Katherine Aldin's picks rarely lag. Maybe they'll inspire you to seek out more Memphis Minnie, Victoria Spivey, and Rosetta Tharpe, or maybe you'll just say thank-you-ma'am to the lost sin songs of Georgia White, Blue Lu Barker, Rosetta Howard. Second disc is easier to lose track of, so let me direct your attention to the Margie Day feature. Aldin seems a little embarrassed by this "quirky ditty." Me, my day was made by a song that begins "Take out you false teeth daddy, your mommy wants to scratch your gums." And with such lip-smacking gusto, too. A-

Dancehall 101, Vol. 1 [VP, 2000]
Speaking as a not quite total stranger, unimbued with electroskank riddims and incapable of understanding more than half of the nominally English-language leerics, I know of no more fun way to access Jamaica's answer to hip-hop, disco, house, techno, and Blowfly than this historical compilation. From Red Dragon's "pop [??] your vagina" to Beenie Man's "keys to my Beemer," from Yellowman's zungaing keyb-as-guitar to Cutty Ranks's deep-jingle organ-grind, this connects as timeless novelty music, lively and dirty and knowing no shame. As a style, not to mention an industry, of course its repetitive hooks are recycled endlessly. Here's where they started--or were especially well imitated, I don't know. The secret is that it doesn't make much difference. A-

Dancehall 101, Vol. 2 [VP, 2000]
Long on "ice cream sound"-tunelets, yearning, chick toasters (Johnny Osbourne, "No Ice Cream Sound"; El General, "Pun Tun Tun"). **

Ego Trip's The Big Playback [Rawkus, 2000]
in-crowd touchstones--essential hip hop history, functional rap entertainment (Rammelzee Vs. K-Rob, "Beat Bop"; the Bizzie Boys, "Droppin' It") **

Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Volume 4 [Revenant, 2000]
It's true. Half a century after it redefined folk music, the official rerelease can still sound like tombstone rubbings, not to mention tales from the crypt, while this previously unheard two-CD reconstruction is suitable for a PBS special or community sing: blues balancing bluegrass, gospel stylings elevating parlor sentiment, "John Henry" into "Nine Pound Hammer," Lead Belly and Robert Johnson, Joe Louis and Haile Selassie, and hovering over the whole shebang, the Great Depression. That means it's down to whether the individual performances induce the known past not merely to live again but to get up and strut around, and hot dam they do. My very favorite is the Blue Sky Boys' sugary-creepy murder ditty "By the Banks of the Ohio," a maneuver worthy of Harry Nilsson or Robbie Fulks, but I note as well many moments of momentum and interaction--most impressively on Minnie Wallace's "The Cockeyed World" only because the Memphis Jug Band we figured and Jesse James the songster rolls Casey Jones the engineer down the fast track to hell all by his solo self--with no parallel in the earlier recordings. Those who regard self-consciousness as a curse will mourn past glories. Those who consider it quintessentially human will take this present as it comes. A

Hip Hop 101 [Tommy Boy, 2000]
De La Soul's (really Maseo's) version of "real" and/or "underground" hip-hop, those bizarre virtual synonyms, eschews ascetic beats and fancy-ass scratching for an accessibility that recalls the ebullient old-school funk of Pumpkin and Hitman Howie Tee. About half the hooks are irresistible, the rest are at least hooks, and from metaphysics to dick grab, the rhymes honor black male expression in all its self-validating glory. A-

In Griot Time: String Music from Mali [Sterns, 2000]
I doubt I would have gotten this without having scarfed down compiler Banning Eyre's eponymous book about his seven-month stay in Bamako studying guitar with Rail Band headman and CD centerpiece Djelimady Tounkara. Mixing home- and street-recorded tape with commercial releases by the renowned and obscure Malians who populate his memoir, Eyre thinks like a guitarist and induces us to hear like one-Oumou Sangare and Habib Koite tracks I'd barely noticed spring to life in this context. The Music in My Head it's not. But Eyre's book is so much better than Mark Hudson's it could suck you in. B+

Kwaito: South African Hip Hop [Sterns/Earthworks, 2000]
Where the Jo'burg disco of late apartheid was not-for-export schlock, this lowbrow party fodder, more "Jack Your Body" than "Bring the Noise," sounds like independence music. I'm not sure what makes it go. The southern African pulse, so much heavier on the four-on-the-floor than the equatorial polyrhythm? The entrepreneurial thrill of artist-owned labels? Township kids feeling like their own people? Dumb luck? All I know is that this compilation moves like one of those flukey dance albums that makes you keep on loving the same trick-electro riff plus raggaqanga bass plus southern African chant and chorus. Is it conscious, as they say? A little, sometimes--Arthur's "Kaffir" sure puts the kibosh on the K-word. Note, however, that the one that preaches "Together we are one under the sun" is entitled "Make Em Bounce." A-

Latino Blue [Blue Note, 2000]
'50s and '60s "Jazz con Sabor Latino," a/k/a bongos (the Jazz Crusaders, "Agua Dulce"; Kenny Dorham, "Afrodisia"). ***

Loud Rocks [Loud, 2000]
Convenient and also poetic that Wu-Tang and its cohort--Mobb Deep, Xzibit, Tha Alkaholiks, Big Pun--should label their label with a hard-rock buzzword. Their white collaborators are often dullards like Sevendust and System of a Down--only Sugar Ray, Everlast, and Tom Morello add much content. Yet because everybody wants to accommodate everybody else--to get along, as someone once said--the aggression remains focused and cleansing throughout. Greater than the sum of its parts. Louder, too. A-

Motown: The Classic Years [UTV, 2000]
Although most of these tracks are by artists who can and do support two-CD comps of their own, the documented existence of whole generations of young people for whom they are prehistoric overrides such scruples. Motown was Motown before it was Smokey, Supremes, Tempts, Marvin, Stevie, or marvelous Marvelettes, and it deserves to be heard that way. I fretted that its formula--on the first disc, only two tracks clock over 3:00 and two under 2:30--would sound corny or mechanical. Instead, all but a few of these 40 records range from superb to transcendent, and the only one I'd pan is a pet peeve, the Four Over-the-Tops' "Reach Out I'll Be There," which some judge a masterpiece. Lists for $25. If you know somebody who wouldn't be delighted to receive it, ditch the sourpuss. A+

Puerto Rico [Putumayo World Music, 2000]
These earnest craftspeople you never heard of feed off and into a folkloricismo of uncommon naturalness and grace--fueled by a Third World economy with loads of loose money in it, and lubricated by ease of movement between two different worlds. Too hip to the States to mess up their cultural pride with xenophobia, on good terms with the commercial danceability of their salsa-pumping Nuyorican cousins, they choose to serve the bomba of the black settlements, the plena of Ponce, the seis of the mountainous center. Although these tracks abound in indigenous percussion and don't shun horns or pianos, their defining sound is the lilt of the 10-string cuatro--rural yet sophisticated, romantic with a beat. Would that preservationists in Cuba and West Africa could float such a utopian groove. A-

Ragga Essentials: In a Dancehall Style [Hip-O, 2000]
A little obvious up top-even rank outsiders know and may own "Hot Steppa," "Telephone Love," and "Ring the Alarm" by now. Not as striking as the VP competition as it moves into the late '90s, either. Nevertheless, this selection has the virtue of isolating tracks that tricked bizzers into envisioning crossover for the likes of Chaka Demus & Pliers, Apache Indian, Junior Reid, and Mykal Rose. As someone who has test-driven several albums by all of the above, I can attest that their direct hits were rare. But because these artists mean to break out of their genre, not to mention their culture, their punch is pretty powerful when it doesn't ask too much of their reach. A-

Republica Dominicana [Putumayo World Music, 2000]
A quainter place than "the Dominican," where merengue comes from (Luis Varga, "Tranquila"; Ivan Bautista, "Pegao de Que"). ***

Select Cuts from Blood and Fire [Select Cuts, 2000]
Never a fan of reggae version sides or Mikey Dread 'tween-sets, left cold by the soundlabs of not just Björk but Linton Kwesi Johnson, unconverted to the gospel of Macro Dub Infection, and having expended too many hours on the title label's lovingly reconstituted arcana collections, I didn't trust my attraction to this master compilation. So to check for brain softening, I returned to Macro Dub Infection--and was soon cursing my own cowardice in never calling it out as the arid piece of Eurotheory it is. At its most abstract, this music is juicy. Only a full-time herbhead wants to be set adrift on disc upon disc of bass 'n' sample. But even herbheads get off on the occasional swatch of tune-like the five-note guitar phrase that tops the catchy bassline of Glen Brown's "Lego the Herb Man Dub," or the "Yabby Yabby You" chant with horn and piano variations on Yabby You's "Conquering Lion." Enough of those and all the mirrored reverb and seismic throb and voices warning and announcing and grunting and muttering and expostulating make the right kind of sense--or nonsense. A-

Smooth Grooves: The Essential Collection [Rhino, 2000]
Finally, after truckloads of fluff and baloney, a quiet-storm comp worthy of a 70-minute man. Access definitive Delfonics, Stylistics, Spinners, Blue Magic! Enjoy essential Green and Gaye! Hear Lou Rawls succumb to Gamble & Huff! Find out why Kool & the Gang did slow ones! Climax simultaneously with Barry White! Wake up next to Heatwave in the morning! A

Take a Bite Outta Rhyme: A Rock Tribute to Rap [Republic, 2000]
mediocre rockers cover great rap songs--most adequately, a few abysmally, several memorably (Dope, "New Jack Hustler"; Dynamite Hack, "Boyz-N-the Hood"; Fun Lovin' Criminals, "Microphone Fiend"). *

The Funk Box [Hip-O, 2000]
Praise UniMoth from whom all blessings flow. Thanks to the corporate consolidation that unifies MCA's and PolyGram's holdings, as well as the corporate cooperation that frees WEA to share Aretha and AWB, here's the rare box that makes sense (and music) of tracks you could never hear (or stand) rather than diminishing ones you cherish into generic or hero-mongering oblivion. Roy Ayers? Patrice Rushen? Billy Preston? The Fatback Band? Fatback? With their basslines pumped and their best tricks set off by the deeper tricks of betters from JB on down, all jam like jam bands oughta and Uncle Jam said they should. Stretching over four CDs as expansive as the world music they encapsulate, these 55 tracks are worth your 50 bucks no matter how many you already own. Scrooge option: the same label's 12-track Love Funk. A

'Til We Outnumber Them [Righteous Babe, 2000]
Bruce Springsteen, "Ridin' in My Car"; Ramblin' Jack Elliott, "1913 Massacre" Choice Cuts

The Rough Guide to Cumbia [World Music Network, 2000]
Slightly pokier than World Circuit's two Cumbia Cumbia comps, and mouldier as well (most artists born in the '20s and '30s, youngest in '53), these 22 tracks from Colombia's Sonolux label (the World Circuits are Disco Fuentes, for those who know the difference) partake nevertheless of cumbia's sprightly shit-kick, which is several pelvic rolls more fluid than its Tex-Mex conjunto cousins. Despite several avowed dance anthems, it flirts with the generic. But with some out-of-the-way genres, that's just what most of us need. A-

Afrobeat . . . No Go Die! [Shanachie, 2000]
Ultimately, the man made the style (Dele Sosimi, "Gbedu 1"; Kiala, "Batumwindu"). ***

Mozambique Relief [Naxos World, 2000]
The Afropop miracle-out of want, exultation (Ghorwane, "Mayvavo"; José Mucavele, "Golheani"). **

Twilo Volume 1: Junior Vasquez [Virgin, 2000]
Two and a half hours of complex build toward the black female voice (Dubtribe Sound System, "Equitorial"; Kelis Feat. Terrar, "Good Stuff"). **

Taquachito Nights: Conjunto Music from South Texas [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2000]
Best of a 1998 festival, a formula for mediocrity that beats the odds for once (Gilberto Pérez y sus Compadres, "El Burro Pardo"; Joe Ramos y Ellos, "Maldito Vicio"). **

Lyricist Lounge Vol. 2 [Rawkus, 2000]
The first volume documented a fertile institution of zero political correctness and endless creativity, but because it's hard to catch live improvisation on the fly, it was longer on feel than on legible music. The follow-up takes off from 16 high-flying bars of 1993 Biggie, then proceeds to the studio to prove how much competitive freestyling has meant to New York hip-hop. Name producers and star collaborations abound, and informing them all is a mindset few official guardians of black pride would approve--not just that good art needn't forswear violence, but that in this community it can't. Even moralists Dead Prez and Talib Kweli praise their pistols, as weapons of political struggle and self-protection, and not always against the white man--they know Prodigy, Kool G Rap, and M.O.P. aren't so circumspect, know it because that's the life they're living and know it because all three soon say so. Mos Def sums things up by rhyming in the voice of that boyfriend Macy Gray committed murder for. The two of them make it sound like a blast. A-

Rebirth of the Loud [Priority, 2000]
Smaller labels often have personalities--sometimes hateful ones. Since the dawn of N.W.A., Priority has pushed a brand of brutalism that rejected shows of empathy as, shall we say, unmanly--un"real." So it's not enough to say that bands who would sound ugly covering Howlin' Wolf won't do any better by U-God's "Rumble," not when the dire likes of Sevendust and the Kottonmouth Kings get out of Republic's rival Take a Bite Outta Rhyme alive. One need add that these "14 blistering tracks fusing thrash-rock, hardcore-punk and hip-hop infused metal" usually bypass hip-hop altogether, and feature Priority-associated songs when they don't. One might also point out that this is where Mos Def's "Rock N Roll" gets as stupid as it always was. D

Haiku D'Etat [Pure Hip Hop, Inc., 2000]
Hooray for who-he? drummer Adrian Burley, mastermind of a Freestyle Fellowship-Project Blowed spinoff that slips horn and keyb cameos into a flow that's steady yet supple, catchy yet varied, live yet studio--a musicality that naturally extends to the rhymeslingers, who offset each other as well as the beats. Aceyalone's smart-ass singsong is more fun lip-by-jowl with Abstract Rude's rough edges; Mikah 9's alcoholic free-association sets up the star's righteous "Man I want money I need food/I want clothes I need housing/I want cars I need good health/I want knowledge of self I got knowledge of self." And it goes on. Worth reading along to, too. A-

The Rough Guide to Bhangra [World Music Network, 2000]
"No padding, no `fillers,'" boast the notes. But "not every great bhangra band or artist is represented," apologizes the dedication. Which leaves the "You don't need to understand the words" part up in the air. Because we do need to understand the groove. And in the absence of sure-shot hooks, understanding comes easier to non-Punjabi speakers in the U.K., the epicenter of the Indian diaspora, where this voracious dance style links Bollywood kitchen-sink to a village thrust that long ago fused with the industrial pulse of the global metropolis. Never previously drawn to more than a stray track or two, I count this meant-to-be-definitive collection thusly: first three hits that pass all understanding, final three so fierce they need only get started, middle seven pretty engaging for a groove and language not one's own. A-

Grammy Rap Nominees 2000 [RCA/Grammy, 2000] Neither

The Unbound Project Volume 1 [Realized/Ground Control, 2000] Neither

God Bless Africa [Music Club, 2000] Neither

Rebirth of the Loud [Priority, 2000] Dud

Best of Trance Volume One [Robbins, 2000] Dud

Platinum Christmas [Arista/RCA/Jive, 2000] Dud

Solesides Greatest Bumps [Quannum Projects, 2000]
DJ Shadow and friends show off their goods and their greats, including the better half of that Latyrx album you slept on (Blackalicious, "Swan Lake"; the Gift of Gab, "Rhyme Like a Nut!"; Lateef the Truth Speaker, "Lateef's Freestyle") ***

Music from the Tea Lands [Putumayo World Music, 2000]
Anatolians and Ainus are Asians all, even via Australia or America--that's Orientalism, and calming it can be (Ujang Suryana, "Kang Mandor"; Lei Quang, "Picking Flowers") **

Down to the Promised Land: 5 Years of Bloodshot Records [Bloodshot, 2000]
Supersuckers with Amy Nelson: "The Least I Could Do"; The Unholy Trio: "Bring the Noise"; Meat Purveyors: "Sunshine"; Trailer Bride: "Ghost on the Highway" Choice Cuts

Dance Hall Liberation [Heartbeat, 2000]
Isha Blender: "Bad Boys" Choice Cuts

Planet Reggae 2000 [VP, 2000]
Madd Anju: "Wah Dis Fada" Choice Cuts

Salsa Clasica [Music Club, 2000]
Licensed from the Miami-based Kubaney label, this "taste of classic Latin flavors" barely dips into Nuyorican salsa, which eliminates a lot of distractions--star turns, crossover dreams, big-band penis envy, shows of force in which moonlighting jazz hotshots do their damnedest to play the same notes better than the guy in the next chair. Merengue mainstay Johnny Ventura is the big name, and his two tracks find him in a trad mood--he even offers up a guajira. With compiler John Armstrong keeping things subtle, trad comes naturally to such journeymen as Machito-Puente pianist Luis Varona, tres lifer Jorge Cabrera, Dominican speedster Pochy. Garnished just enough, clave is the main course. A-

Badlands [Sub Pop, 2000]
It's fine in principle for alt-etc. heroes to cover Bruce Springsteen's 1982 living-room bummer Nebraska in its exact sequence at a higher level of production. But tribute albums always come with artistic happenstance attached. The woeful Son Volt's generically mournful "Open All Night" generates more punch than the party song Los Lobos try to make out of "Johnny 99." Second-rater Deana Carter's eerily electronic "State Trooper" signifies more sharply than the great Ani DiFranco's bitterly electronic "Used Cars." And only Johnny Cash truly nails anything--"I'm on Fire," one of three bonus tracks. Dar Williams's perfectly well-sung "Highway Patrolman," which Cash once did better than Springsteen himself, typifies what's wrongest about the idea. Williams may think it's nifty for a woman to sing a lyric explicitly designed for a man without adjusting it for gender. But it also reduces a song that was a holy mission for its creator into a mere work of art--a museum piece that deserve better. [Rolling Stone: 3]
Hank III, "Atlantic City"; Deana Carter, "State Trooper"; Johnny Cash, "I'm on Fire" Choice Cuts

Free the West Memphis 3 [Koch, 2000]
See: Dog Food for Justice. B+

The Best of International Hip-Hop [Hip-O, 2000]
See: Planet Rock. A-

The Rough Guide to the Music of Central America [World Music Network, 2000]
Travelogue that makes the subcontinent seem more Creole than it actually is (Philip Montalvan, "Bilwi Luhpia Mairen"; Lincoln Lewis, "Wabouga"). **

The Prestige Legacy, Vol. 1: The High Priests [Prestige, 2000]
Here's an opportunistic little comp I grab when Carola feels like "some jazz." It's a time capsule of how the music was recorded 50 or 60 years ago, with plenty of care and not much conceptual panache. Four tracks apiece to leaders Davis and Coltrane, three to Rollins, five to Monk, and for me it's Monk who's something like a ringer, first because three of his lack saxophone, as does only one of the Davises, and second because this was his classic era. Not so with Davis, better on Columbia, or Coltrane, better on Impulse or Atlantic--both of them sorcerers' apprentices, playing with a youthful ease soon to be honed into singular command but in this context more redolent of the great culture that made their genius possible. And none of Rollins's three, my favorite of which honors a Victor Herbert tune, are on either Silver City or his single-disc Prestige best-of. Also scattered about are ace sax cameos by two sidemen: Charlie Parker, meet Davey Schildkraut. A-

Not the Same Old Blues Crap II [Fat Possum, 2001]
Paul Jones, "Goin' Back Home" Choice Cuts

Chitlin Circuit Soul [Rhino, 2001]
Although the notes downplay the music's Southernness and never mention the audience's mean age, it's as impressive that five selections postdate 1989 as it is telling that eight predate 1980. Slowly but surely, soul is dying. But all the proof you need that it ain't dead yet is 16 great tracks by stalwarts who, beyond Bobby Bland and one or two others, only loyalists will remember. Proof of their collective maturity is that almost every song concerns married love, and not the newlywed kind--by now, soul focuses far more obsessively on cheating than country. Another self-sufficient world that only a CD can unlock, complete with more grit than a laundromat slop sink and more sex than you got last week. A-

The Rough Guide to Cuban Son [World Music Network, 2001]
Proceed to "Para Bailar Par Son," by Cañambú, previously unknown to me. Bask in or recoil from the intense nasality of Arístides Ruiz Boza, sole survivor of the five brothers who founded the group in 1940, while tracing younger accompanists' clave-linked tres, bamboo bongo, and inauthentic bass. Ruiz Boza's high pitch is indigenous to his tiny hometown, but it typifies a penchant for idiosyncrasy as crucial to this collection's success as the store of tunes and rhythms on display. Bask in Cañambú and you won't even mind the horn sections of Los Van Van, ¡Cubanismo!, and the Afro-Cuban All Stars. Recoil and stick with Buena Vista--or R.E.M. A-

Desert Roses and Arabian Rhythms [Mondo Melodia, 2001]
Not surprisingly, there's schlock here--English lyrics, worse horns, Trans-Global pomo, Amina Francophonie, and Sting, without whose Cheb Mami one-off this roundup of North African hitmakers wouldn't exist. There's also the signature tune from Natacha Atlas's best and only good album, the supplest Mami track I know, an unstoppable Rachid Taha bonus, the latest in Egyptian sha'bi or however you spell it, and other intense bits from a culture that's full of them, some attached to horns you can live both with and without. Rai rebels are so over. Rai professionals rool. B+

Keep It Rollin': The Blues Piano Collection [Rounder, 2001]
After years of devoting entire albums to New Orleans pianists who have trouble sustaining one's interest two songs running, Rounder reduces a bunch of them to their essence on this 17-track selection. Mixing instrumentals and vocals, barrelhouse and gospel, it's a mishmash jelled by second-line lilt. James Booker towers as always, but the late primitive Booker T. Laury and the young virtuoso Davell Crawford clearly belong on the same record with him--as do, this time, Tuts Washington, Charles Brown, even Willie Tee and Eddie Bo. Woogie! A-

The Rough Guide to the Music of Indonesia [World Music Network, 2001]
Being as Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous nation and all, I strove to meet the Smithsonian's endless documentary series halfway and made contact with some pop stuff--go you cats and kitties with your gambang kromong. But as a groove man schooled in Western scales, I gave up soon enough; 550 cultures are the stuff of ethnomusicology, not rock criticism. This 15-song minitour is more like it. Crass even by Rough Guide standards, its only criterion seems to be tune, which can mean the very greatest hit of longtime stars or absolutely surefire folk tunes--a lovely gamelan snippet, say. Shameless schlock and proud rock fusions are by no means frowned upon, so those with sensitive stomachs will have to wait for something more tasteful or eternal life, whichever comes first. For most of us, however, this will prove at least as edutaining as Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? A-

Avalon Blues: A Tribute to the Music of Mississippi John Hurt [Vanguard, 2001]
Geoff Muldaur (With Jenni & Clare Muldaur), "Chicken" Choice Cuts

Gimme Indie Rock V. 1 [K-Tel, 2001]
If U.K. Virgin's Best Punk Album in the World . . . Ever! was the ultimate K-Tel joke, this must be the postultimate. Reducing an anti/post-commercial movement/tendency to 30 putatively/frequently catchy songs, it represents indie far more accurately than Michael Azerrad's severe rockism--boys and a few girls, Yanks and a few furriners, talents and a few geniuses, guitars and a few synths, ugly and pretty and both at once. Half the bands released good albums once and a few still do. Most of these are in print if anything strikes your fancy, though the track that takes you home may not lead you to the album that'll pay the rent. Traces of a world gone by. Intimations of the one we live in now. A-

A Nod to Bob: An Artists' Tribute to Bob Dylan on His 60th Birthday [Red House, 2001] Dud

A Break from the Norm [Restless, 2001]
the former Norman Cook shows off his capacious ears and record collection (Doug Lazy, "Let the Rhythm Pump"; Yvonne Elliman, "I Can't Explain") **

El Son No Ha Muerto [Rhino, 2001]
defining son in the broad dance-music sense, guaranteeing a glitzy-to-glittering compilation that doesn't hang together (Cachao, "El Son No Ha Muerto (The Son Has Not Died)," Estrellas Arieto, "Póngase Para las Casas") *

Crossfaderz: Roc Raida of the X-Ecutioners [Moonshine Music, 2001]
a dream of hip hop radio without hooks or hits (the Arsonists, "The Session"; East Flatbush Project, "Tried by 12"; "Backpack Rapper") *

The Rough Guide to Merengue and Bachata [World Music Network, 2001]
especially bachata, with its real lyrics and modest accordion (Luis Segura, "Los Celos"; Blas Duran, "Crei [Version Bachata House]"; Nelson Ruig, "El Dueño De Las Noche") **

Brand New Boots and Panties: A Tribute to Ian Dury [Gold Circle, 2001]
great songs, absolutely, and if Robbie Williams or Paul McCartney leads anyone to the originals, good for them (Sinéad O'Connor, "Wake Up and Make Love With Me"; Cerys Matthews from Catatonia, "If I Was With a Woman") ***

Bombay 2: Electric Vindaloo [Motel, 2001]
DJs refiddle long deflowered Bollywood fare for cross-cultural fun and profit (Kid Koala & Dynamite D, "Third World Lover"; DJMedjyou, "Bionic Hahaan") ***

Wild Pitch Classics [Wild Pitch, 2001]
your once-in-a-lifetime chance to find out exactly how much you love the Main Source (the Coup, "Dig It"; Ultramagnetic MC's, "Raise It Up") *

Vital 2-Step [V2, 2001]
one hell of an abstract way to put your back out (Artful Dodger, "Re-Rewind"; Nadine Featuring Capital T, "I Feel for You") **

Mush Filmstrip (Frame 1) [Shadow, 2001]
Eighteen bites of the vinyl-friendly "downtempo instrumental" and/or "abstract hiphop" Mush Music label featuring precisely one artist in my recall vocabulary, Aesop Rock. Starts with three instrumentals faster and more content-conscious than was the illbient norm back when there was illbient. Since all are deeply funky in a DJ Shadow Attends Handsome Boy Modeling School kind of way, the rap tracks are like gravel folding into asphalt. And although the two acid jazz demonstrations shoulda stayed in Chi-town, the sax and Hammond B-3 moments later are just more displaced sonics in a waking dreamscape of nothing but. A-

Tea in Marrakech [Sterns/Earthworks, 2001]
These 15 songs are Muslim like Philip Roth is Jewish-irreverently, idiosyncratically, and to the marrow. Their North African provenance means their sense of Islam is at least unorthodox and often cosmopolitan/European-and so, of course, does their pop provenance. East-West instrument mixing is standard, mystical intensity a hook. Women hold their own. Some of these professional entertainers are seekers after the catchy tune, others folkloric types who sound authentic to us and impure to adepts, and as many come from Paris or Barcelona as from Cairo or Marrakech. You wouldn't think to listen that they're all championing a cultural tendency under attack. But Islamists hate them as much as they hate us, if not more. A

Tommy Boy Essentials: Hip Hop Vol. 1 [Tommy Boy, 2001]
from the age of linear funk, three great collectibles and many good ones (Uptown, "Dope on Plastic"; Prince Rakeem, "Ooh I Love You Rakeem"; Too Poetic, "God Made Me Funky") ***

The Beat: Go-Go's Fusion of Funk and Hip Hop [Liaison, 2001]
With all protestations of American optimism sounding false and forced, I woke up one day with a yen for Chuck Brown's "Bustin' Loose" and didn't-stop-no-I-didn't-stop playing this definitive genre comp for two hours. Like most dance music, it's a little long-winded for home use; like most two-CD sets, it gets less definitive as it goes along. It merely documents and celebrates a local movement by a nationally disenfranchised audience that was utterly undaunted by their music's failure to take over the world 15 years ago. Without ever truly busting loose, go-go remained an autonomous realm of freedom--an option ripe for exploration by any other audience with the will to make it so. A-

Classical Hits [Sony Classical, 2001]
OK, so there's more Yo-Yo channeling more Bach and Wynton Marsalis doing what comes naturally and Andre Rieu feeling much love for Strauss, That Louse. But there's also three tenors and three sopranos and a refined orchestration of a Bernstein opus owned by Carol Lawrence and Bond's platinum-plated va-va-voom chamber music and pantheon poachers Horner, Zimmer, Williams, and Lloyd Webber. There is, in short, a soi-disant great tradition with its pants down, and is that a baton in its jockeys or is it just overdoing the Viagra? Not Bach's fault, or Yo-Yo Ma's. Not even capitalism's fault. But you have to ask yourself just exactly what kind of repository of All That Is Highest in Western Civilization it is that remains so susceptible to the brummagem, the bathetic, the half-assed, and the utterly full of shit. C-

Wayne Kramer Presents Beyond Cyberpunk [Music Blitz, 2001]
Richard Hell and the Voidoids: "Oh" Choice Cuts

Boy George, Essential Mix [FFRR, 2001]
Boogie Macs: "Girl From Ipanema" Choice Cuts

Arabic Groove [Putumayo World Music, 2001]
Cheb Tarik: "L'histoire" Choice Cuts

Girl Group Greats [Rhino, 2001]
No news here, especially if you were conscious in 1962, and of course the Shirelles and the Shangri-Las, the Marvelettes and the Supremes, Martha Reeves and Mary Wells sustain their own albums. But girl-group was bigger than its biggest stars, and never before has it sounded this wondrous. When my daughter and I made a genre tape for her 16th birthday, we just filled the first half of the C-90 with tracks one through 17, in order, the only question Little Peggy March's "I Will Follow Him," a perkier record than I remembered. Every great one-shot is recalled--Exciters, Angels, Cookies, Ad Libs, Essex, Little Eva, Betty Everett, holy Jaynetts. So's Motown, as indicated, although not spoilsport Phil Spector, who didn't make many records that can stand up to these anyway. The selection is so perfect that when Joanie Sommers parades by with "Johnny Get Angry" she's marked with the Sign of the Beast. Bless the Toys and Claudine Clark for relegating her to the perdition she deserves. A+

Select Cuts From Blood & Fire Chapter Two [Select Cuts, 2001]
More Euro-pomo dubs of Jamaican-pomodub classics that respect the tropical source by remaining far beatier than the Macro Dub Infection norm. Just to get my bearings, though, I played them up against Heartbeat's honorable King Tubby comp, Black Foundation in Dub, and suddenly what stood out was how tricky the techno remixes were. The well-dispersed echoes and dimensional effects and stealth riffs that keep you waiting in '70s dub are the music here--pervasive, almost continual, with just enough space between to set them off. Detail density suitable for the active mind, mystical amazements suitable for the blown one. A-

Alligator Records 30th Anniversary Collection [Alligator, 2001]
the endless varieties of endless boogie, turn-of-the-millennium style (Little Charlie & the Nightcats, "I'll Take You Back"; Corey Harris & Henry Butler, "If You Let a Man Kick You Once") **

Blind Pig Records 25th Anniversary Collection [Blind Pig, 2001]
Big Bill Morganfield & Taj Mahal, "Strong Man Holler" Choice Cuts

Spirit of Africa [RealWorld, 2001]
do-gooders put the best face on their condescending Afrofusion and, way to go, fight AIDS too (Hamid Baroudi, "Baraka"; Zawose & Brook, "Kuna Kunguni/The Bedbugs Bite"); **

Farewell Fondle 'Em [Def Jux, 2001]
Bobbito Garcia's far-flung posse and dream of life (M.F. Grimm, "Scars & Memories"; Cenobites f/ Bobbito, "Kick a Dope Verse"); *

Classic Reggae: The DeeJays [Music Club, 2001]
plenty beats and version, not enough wuga wuga (Sir Lord Comic, "The Great Wuga Wuga"; Dave Barker, "I've Got to Get Away") ***

Hank Williams: Timeless [Lost Highway, 2001]
give him more unreasonable search-and-seizures and not so damn many authorized nominations for the Grammy Hall of Fame (Keith Richards, "You Win Again"; Hank III: "I'm a Long Gone Daddy") **

Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records [Sire, 2001]
Bob Dylan, "Red Cadillac and a Black Mustache"; Jeff Beck & Chrissie Hynde, "Mystery Train" Choice Cuts

Mondo Soukous [Mondo Melodia, 2001]
I know and with a single exception recommend eight of the 10 albums targeted by this obvious 66-minute collection. Buy any one and you'll hear Sam Mangwana, Samba Mapangala, Koffi Olomidé, Kékélé, and others as distinct artists imposing themselves on rhythmic and sonic strategies that conquered a continent. Buy this idealization and you'll conclude they're too gentle and friendly to impose themselves on anything. But if you're only now getting your feet wet, or just have a yen for Afropop gentle and gorgeous, obvious is obviously what you're looking for. A-

Colombia [Putumayo World Music, 2001]
The excellent World Circuit and very good Rough Guide cumbia comps are narrow not only genrewise but labelwise, leaving plenty of room for the pop exotica Putumayo hawks up. In fact, only four of these 12 tracks are even cumbias. Instead we get reclaimed mountain beats and bastard salsas, ambitious neofolkies and singing TV hosts, '90s hits and anthemic oldies. And hooks, always hooks. You could learn as much about Colombia at a restaurant in Woodside if its jukebox measured up. And have a darn good time doing it. A-

The Rough Guide to the Music of Greece [World Music Network, 2001]
Dimitris Sakalis, "Simera Gamos Ginete"; Himerini Kolimvites, "Apo To Parko Sti Mirovolo" Choice Cuts

Bosavi: Rainforest Music From Papua New Guinea [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2001]
See: Chasing Waterfalls. A-

The Rough Guide to Sufi Music [World Music Network, 2001]
not just qawwali (Hassan Hakmoun & Adam Rudolph, "Saba Atu Rijal"; Sheikh Yasîn Al-Tuhâmi, "Qâlbî Yuhaddithuni") **

Shango, Shouter and Obeah: Supernatural Calypso From Trinidad 1934-1940 [Rounder, 2001]
Yoruba rites, Holiness Christianity, and witchcraft were all banned by the British, and compiler Dick Spottswood is probably right to insist that calypsonians who mined them masked their commitments--that concealed beneath satire and critique were sympathy and support. But even when Lion or Caresser sings in Yoruba, the camouflage starts with the music, the formulaic charm of which depends on stock melodies and well-rehearsed orchestras. As un-African as any contemporary black Caribbean style save the politest danzón, calypso exemplified what the old ways resisted. Artists may have been attracted to those ways, but not like they were to calypso's urban airs. A concept that subsumes such mixed motives is exploitation, which I mean unpejoratively, although a religious person might demur. Why not play to the rustics who guarded tradition as you exoticized them for your core audience? Why not hot up your formula with the spice of their lives--a gospel chorus, a little Yoruba? What a great idea for a novelty record. B+

Novelty Songs: 1914-1946: Crazy and Obscure [Trikont, 2001]
Not all so obscure--starts with the Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and includes the Ink Spots, Spike Jones (twice), and the Memphis Jug Band. Not all so crazy, either--what distinguishes Kanui & Lula's "Tomi Tomi," sanity-wise, from dozens of other "Hawaiian" hits of the '20s and '30s? But most of it I'd never heard on record, including such remnants of other media as Groucho Marx's "I'm Against It," Danny Kaye's "Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)," and Jimmy Durante's "Inka Dinka Doo." Touchingly, given its Deutschland provenance, the selection ends with an English music hall singer praising the kaiser in 1913, Spike Jones farting in "Der Führer's Face" in 1942, and peaced-out Germans Karl Valentin and Liesl Karlstadt laughing their asses off to the accompaniment of a confusedbrass instrument in the hiatus between World War I and the crash. A

Definitive Jux Presents II [Def Jux, 2002]
El-P, "Stepfather Factory" Choice Cuts

Africa Raps [Trikont, 2002]
Although there are traces of Wu in what I'd rather call these rhythms or these sonics than these beats, the reason this (not African but) West African collection smashes through the language barrier is that hip hop music as a whole is only a flavor, albeit a prominent one, in a sound that remains Sahel--sometimes looped and sometimes live near as I can tell, mostly mbalax but traditional too, with plenty of live and sampled singing as well as some rapping you'll savor just for the sound. I wanna hear Mystikal battle guttural old schoolers BMG 44. I know I won't, but I wanna. A-

The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever [no label, 2002]
Easily purchased at a St. Marks Place shop that begins with K, the most interesting and enjoyable album so far this year is nothing but music you've heard before, which is not to claim I can effortlessly ID every pop/rap/r&b top or rock/electronica bottom. Most of them, though. Yes, this is that collection of Christina-meets-the-Strokes seizures you've heard tell of, and that one is hardly the big prize, which I would award the Beyoncé-meets-Nirvana "Smells Like Booty" even if the chance to hear "Satisfaction" and "Rockafeller Skank" simultaneously is just as precious. A dubious ethos does prevail, at least on this selection. It's as if the guilty pop pleasure--Eminem, Celine Dion, Salt-n-Pepa, even the rap of "Get Ur Freak On," which once rode the deepest bottom of the millennium--is somehow validated by its juxtaposition to Nirvana, the Clash, the Stones, the Stooges, the fucking Strokes, and for that matter fucking Gary Numan. In theory, I don't approve--how about Iggy on top of RZA or the Bomb Squad? But I also don't believe in feeling guilty about pleasure, and I love this record to pieces. A

Desert Roses -2- [Mondo Melodia, 2002]
Olga Tañón and Hakim, "Ah Ya Albi" Choice Cuts

South African Freedom Songs [Making Music, 2002]
No nation on earth can claim a vocal tradition to equal South Africa's, and while Ladysmith are as gorgeous as it gets, their delicacy misrepresents the Nguni styles that germinated out of the makwaya choirs of a century ago. In this package, which comes with a bonus radio documentary, the artists are mostly politicos first, some long based in London or Angola--inauspicious details instantly overrun by the power, esprit, and musical commitment of the singing. Language usually Xhosa, not Zulu. Lots of women for once. Lyrics of defiance, exile, and armed struggle--translate the second track's gruff-sweet call-and-response and you get: "We shall shoot them with rocket launchers. They shall flee." But let me ask this: If South Africa's so righteous, why don't they free Mzwakhe Mbuli? A-

Now That's What I Call Music! 9 [UMG, 2002]
Pink (Featuring Redman), "Get the Party Started/Sweet Dreams" Choice Cuts

The History of Township Music [Wrasse, 2002]
Unlike Music Club's '50s-focused Township Jazz 'n' Jive, this is an educational tour rather than a stylistic overview, with jaunty 1939 stride-boogie piano representing legendary marabi to begin and misplaced 1978 soul guitar heralding attempted disco at the end. And as on the more sloppily organized Mandela soundtrack, it's the '50s stuff that stands out. Start with one of the two tracks it shares with Township Jazz 'n' Jive, the Solven Whistlers' "Something New in Africa," a pop moment whose big-band pennywhistles could get a Martian patting his pseudopods. Then backtrack to Nancy Jacobs & Her Sisters' "Meadowlands," on which if you knew Zulu or Sotho you would hear Jacobs praising the razing of Sophiatown, the 1954 debacle that signaled the cultural triumph of apartheid, and if you knew the thug pidgin Tsotsitaal you would hear the same singer condemning that debacle. Cue over to the insouciant strut of the Elite Swingsters' "Thulandavile" and wonder what kind of debacle could leave such a rhythm alive. Segue directly to "Midnight Ska" and doubt skank is purely Jamaican. Not a rhythm nation, a vocal nation. But somehow its groove snakes or lopes or bunnyhops all the way to mbaqanga. A-

Constant Elevation [Astralwerks, 2002]
El-P, "Day After the Day After"; Freestyle Fellowship, "Crazy" Choice Cuts

Soundbombing III [Rawkus, 2002]
The Roots Featuring Talib Kweli, "Rhymes and Ammo" Choice Cuts

American Polka [Trikont, 2002]
The first decent polka comp I've ever heard was masterminded by a record-collecting German American statistics prof who moonlights as the leader of Chicago's Polkaholics and can't resist boosting fellow hobbyists' novelties and burlesques. While these are often delicious--my personal jelly doughnut is the Happy Schnapps Combo's "You Can't Teach the Japanese to Polka"--they swamp the quaint delicacy and straightforward fun of the scant older selections, as I learned when (with much guesswork and difficulty) I programmed a chronological version from this vaguely annotated 25-track hodgepodge. Still, as someone who'd always found that polka was happy in theory and corny in practice, I'm ready for a more scholarly job--on Putumayo/Smithsonian, produced by Charles Keil, and please, not a box. B+

Red Hot + Riot [MCA, 2002]
The latest AIDS-benefit disc is a Fela tribute, and also the best since the Cole Porter tribute that kicked the series off in 1990. If you figure it'll reimagine Fela as a songwriter, as I did, figure again--Cole Porter, he was a songwriter. Instead it establishes Fela's claim to funk godfatherhood more forcefully than any displaced Afrobeat ensemble. Sacrificed is Africa 70's clarity of motion. Gained are the head fakes and back-da-fuck-up that have always made funk beats harder for white people to understand than the four-fours rock and roll appropriated from John Philip Sousa and Chicago blues. Retained are Fela's horn sound, whether replicated whole by Femi's band or reconstituted by the likes of Roy Hargrove and Archie Shepp--and, most of the time, Tony Allen's deceptively light groove. You know how multi-produced hip hop albums hold together sometimes? This is even subtler. A-

The Rough Guide to Paris Café Music [World Music Network, 2002]
Great food, great wine, great countryside. Beautiful paintings and fine cinema. Bohemia soi-même. Fairly belle langue. Cool esprit. But then, over on the other side, le snobisme, as epitomized by both the academy (a French invention) and "theory" (a French brand name). As for music, not so hot. In the classical world, nobody would rank France with Germany or Italy, and though chanson's structural and procedural contributions to pop are major, it doesn't travel, in part due to its lyrical raison d'être and in part due to whatever gives Italians the tunes and Germans the big ideas. With help from Auvergne laborers and Italian immigrants, chanson evolved into the danceable accordion-equipped style called musette, which flourished in the '20s and '30s and has been compiled on a Paris Musette series I'll dig out again as well as two Music Club discs I'll now bury. This typical Rough Guide potpourri ignores intrastylistic continuities and favors revivalists (hiding the older, simpler stuff at the end). Droll, impassioned, tuneful, gay, its limitations are French limitations--too much cocked eyebrow, not enough baby got back. But as mood music for that mystery merlot or soundtrack for a drive to Quebec City, mais oui--just the travelogue a day tripper needs. B+

Defining Tech [Orbisonic, 2002]
As reactive and exclusionary as loungecore, tech-pop/electroclash/etc. is above all for club snobs, and for such a "fuckable" music (sez Fader) gives off no telltale whiff of mucous membrane. Imagewise, these guys and gals are way too jaded for kiss-me-I'm-ironic--they all sound like their idea of memorable sex involves cumming into a wine glass. I can remember when New Robotics like Spandau Ballet were touted as the future of pop avant, and while tech synths do have more rebop to them, so does the average boy-group ballad. As for the song form some praise, where's the movement's "Cars," its "Warm Leatherette"? Where's the auteur who can write 'em both? C-

Cuisine Non-Stop [Luaka Bop, 2002]
often clever if you like that sort of thing, only after a dozen plays je still ne sais exactly quoi kind of thing it is (La Tordue, "Les Lolos"; Lo'Jo, "Brulé la Méche") *

Badenya: Manden Jaliya in New York City [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2002]
"Manden jaliya" means "Manding griots," "in New York City" means they live here, and despite what you fear they distinguish themselves (Bah Bailo, "Keme Burema"; Super Manden, "Kinzan") *

This Is Tech-Pop [Ministry of Sound, 2002]
Yellow Note vs. Pukka, "Naked, Drunk and Horny" Choice Cuts

Electric Highlife: Sessions From the Bokoor Studios [Naxos World, 2002]
Ghanaian-Nigerian highlife was a pop music not just because it was urban and popular, but because it produced something resembling hits and stars--in their world, the Victors Uwaifo and Olaiya were genuinely famous. Not these eight early-'80s guitar bands John Collins recorded in Accra. As all too part-time musicians in a ruined economy, they share a likably ramshackle feel, which infused by the good cheer they mustered in the face of 100 percent inflation is enough to sell this collection. But I noticed a funny thing when I looked closely at the second Rough Guide to Highlife, which is that its two finest tracks began their public life at Bokoor: the hummable one by the Black Beats, who had a long if varied career elsewhere, and the musicianly one by Francis Kenya, who seems to have been Collins's greatest protege. Think there were some players over in Ghana? Must have been. A-

The Rough Guide to the Music of Nigeria and Ghana [World Music Network, 2002]
For a while I niggled my compilation niggles. Sunny Ade old-timers know, Tony Allen hipsters know, I've already recommended the albums whence spring the E.T. Mensah, Eric Agyeman, Stephen Osita Osadebe, and A.B. Crentsil tracks at the end, and it's quite a reach from highlife and juju of varying vintages to Adewale Ayuba's fuji drumming and Allen's Afrobeat abstractions. Soon enough, though, I was struck by how naturally it all held together, with a fundamental sound distinct from South Africa, Sahel, and the Congo nexus. Both rhythms and voices are lighter, and however much these pop styles emphasize showmanship and innovation, talky singing and associative structures impart a folk feel throughout. Thus they suggest an innocence and archaicism that need have nothing to do with their historical context or cultural intent. It's sound. And as such pure delight. A

This Is Where I Belong: The Songs of Ray Davies & the Kinks [Rykodisc, 2002]
like Irving Berlin and Al Green, he can make the shallow speak and the lame lilt (Fountains of Wayne, "Better Things"; Steve Forbert, "Starstruck") ***

Antifolk, Vol. 1 [Rough Trade, 2002]
Adam and Kimya stay true to their scene (Lach, "Drinking Beers With Mom"; Diane Cluck, "Monte Carlo"; Brian Piltin, "Tramp Star") ***

Call It What You Want This Is Antifolk [Olive Juice, 2002]
Kimya Dawson: "I'd Rather Go With Friends Than Go Alone" Choice Cuts

Cash Money Records: Platinum Hits [Cash Money/Universal, 2002]
The label's never had a platinum single, or all that many platinum albums--maybe half a dozen, plus a few gold. But it's underwritten many SUVs worth of platinum jewelry, and while the albums themselves sink into thug tedium, these good-humored paeans to material gratification are so crass and crude they're spiritually uplifting. Equal parts tweedly hooks, drumbeats for Conlon Nancarrow, boasts you could cut with a butter knife, and yelling. "Bling, Bling" cheek by high-riding buttock with "Back That Azz Up." Be thankful the exigencies of airplay keep the "I like to fuck 'em in the ass while he beat up the pussy" to a minimum. A-

The Music in My Head 2 [Sterns Africa, 2002]
Lying in a good cause as usual, Mark Hudson a/k/a Litch claims that, having thought he'd "said it on African music," he's topped himself. The trick, he explains, is a follow-up that honors "the beauty, the humanity, the essential goodness of African music." Of course, what made the original so intense was the chaos, the contingency, the essential madness of Senegalese music, and when that kind of construction coheres, it's untoppable. Venturing over into Mali and Guinea and back before mbalax, this applies standard-grade connoisseurship to 1975-1985 Afropop. It's more soulful, a good deal simpler, and truer to the historical West Africa than its brilliantly tendentious predecessor. I hope it spins off a follow-up in its turn. A-

Blazin' Hip Hop & R&B [Columbia, 2002]
from good to middling, corporate beats at their most salable (Maxwell, "This Woman's Work"; Jagged Edge, "Where the Party At") **

Off the Hook [Columbia, 2002] Dud

The Rough Guide to Raï [World Music Network, 2002]
Although I could easily manufacture Islamic dynamite (secular, true, but so's Saddam) from my own store of cunningly concealed materials (if the inspectors don't spy the chaba between the Faces and Donald Fagen, am I really obliged to point her out?), I've never heard a rai compilation that made me want to party till I puked. Ben Omar Rachid's hard-to-find Tunisian Oujda-Casablanca Introspections still comes closest, but for something more representative this will have to do. It flattens when you want it to rev, decelerates awkwardly for godmother Cheikha Remitti, and kisses Cheb Mami's pert ass. But its highlights include an intense opener from cross-dressing Abdou, desert romance from the murdered Cheb Hasni, and Cheb Zahouani's "Moul El Bar," "The Barman" to you, about partying till you puke. A-

The High & Mighty Present: Eastern Conference All Stars III [Eastern Conference, 2002]
ill for its own antisocial, tortured, sexist, barely profitable sake (Cage, "Ballad of Worms"; High & Mighty & Eminem, "Last Hit [Original]") ***

Raï Superstars [Mondo Melodia, 2002]
except for Cheikha Remitti, recorded in the shade of a nearby camel, the cosmopolitan, Francophile article (Cheb Nadir, "Rani Rya"; Cheikha Remitti, "Rani Alla M'Rida"; Noria, "Quin Rak Tergoud") ***

Wish You Were Here: Love Songs to New York [Village Voice, 2002]
See: Room for the Occasion. A-

Extra Yard [Big Dada, 2002]
Documenting a "bouncement revolution" that exists only in the perfidy of its promotional imagination, this U.K. label comp is the hottest mix CD I heard in 2002. "Dancehall flavoured hip hop," writes one lukewarm listener, but in fact the two elements are equal and the flavor's in the arrangements: spoken Brit-Jamaican English of varying local provenance and no verbal distinction over beats that I guess are "garage," their big attraction keyb-generated horn or organ or guitar bits laying on the rhythmic dissonance and harmonic frisson. These never get better than on the first song, Gamma's "Killer Apps," and wear down midway through. But their momentum sweeps the record all the way to Roots Manuva's "Witness the Swords" and its keyb-generated harp, by which I do not mean harmonica. A-

Big Beach Boutique II [Southern Fried, 2002]
if I review this and ignore those remix EPs, you think F. Slim will DJ my daughter's prom? (Lo Fidelity All Stars, "Tied to the Mast"; Fusion Orchestra, "Farfisa") **

Fat Beats Compilation Volume Two [Fat Beats, 2002]
amazing how much brains and music alt-rap can still lay on us (Atmosphere, "My Songs"; Alchemist Feat. Twin, "Different Worlds") **

Wow Hits 2003 [Sparrow, 2002]
Christians--they're back, they're bad, get mad at them. Not that the pap on this annual bestseller suggests the lust for power of the new suburban zealots--just their slickness, their bad faith, and their skin color (with Cece Winans tokenizing as hard as she can). What unites all 30 "hit songs from Pop, Rock, Adult Contemporary and even Worship genres" is derivativeness--a year or a decade behind the times, these artists live and breathe music like Bush lives and breathes freedom--and their use of the second person to refer to Jesus. So far, their bestseller status is strictly relative--triple-platinum P.O.D. sound like Nirvana plus Public Enemy by comparison. In a nation tipping evangelical, this failure to move units is a blessing. But the new suburban fascism being what it is, don't bet it'll last forever. E+

The Rough Guide to the Music of Turkey [World Music Network, 2002]
folklorically atmospheric because that's what it means to be (Belkis Akkale, "Bendeki Yaratar"; ÜmitSayin, "Ben Tabli Ki") **

Ghana Soundz: Afro-Beat, Funk and Fusion in 70's Ghana [Soundway, 2002]
The African Brothers, "Self Reliance"; Honny & the Bees Band, "Psychedelic Woman" Choice Cuts

The Rough Guide to the Music of Haiti [World Music Network, 2002]
Hinting pokily at soukous, merengue, and son, a compas guide lifts all too decisively when Boukman comes on the set (Boukman Eksperyans, "Baron"; Coupé Cloué, "Gacon Bôzô"). **

The Rough Guide to the Music of the Indian Ocean [World Music Network, 2002]
Tourist attractions of half a dozen competing island paradises (Seychelles String Band, "Polka"; Kaya, "Sensé") **

The Rough Guide to Afro-Peru [World Music Network, 2002]
David Byrne didn't tell us how many males this tiny scene stars (Manuel Donayre, "Negro Carbon"; Arturo "Zambo" Cavero & Oscar Aviles, "El Alcatraz"). ***

The Sound of the City: Memphis [EMI, 2002]
Compiler Charlie Gillett is one of the rare guys who can make a virtue of getting dragged by obviosity. Although NYC, L.A., and Chicago proved too various to fold into accompanying musical cityscapes, he goes to town on a radio-ready two-CD mixtape that includes six songs with Memphis in their titles and three artists with Memphis in their names. It's got thematic segues, novelty instrumentals, stuff the historian-DJ plays wayfaring strangers in his living room, and known great songs now passed from the collective memory: "Tongue Tied Jill," "Trapped by a Thing Called Love," "I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home," the amazing "Third Rate Romance," more. Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King check in with early crudities; "Dixie Fried" packs thematic punch. And though some selections are only curiosities--Dan Penn must be one hell of a nice guy--the whole thing moves, slight dips being part of the ride. [Recyclables]

Finger Poppin' and Stompin' Feet [EMI/Capitol, 2002]
This 1960-1962 Allen Toussaint comp starts with two essentials Charlie Gillett failed to bag: the Showmen's "It Will Stand," a show-then-tell improvement on Danny & the Juniors' "Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay," and Ernie K-Doe's "Mother-in-Law," ranked with "The Star-Spangled Banner" by the artist himself. Beyond those and "Ooh Poo Pah Doo," however, it's longer on delicacy than impact. The obscurities are trifles, and as gifted as the young Irma Thomas and Aaron Neville were, the young Toussaint was right to slot them pop. The man is the definitive producer of New Orleans rock and roll. He gave us Lee Dorsey, the Wild Tchoupitoulas, striking solo work. But his signature is a genial accommodation that presaged the tourist mecca the town became. A-

The Rough Guide to the Music of the Alps [World Music Network, 2002]
Attwenger, "He-U" Choice Cuts

The Best There Ever Was [Yazoo, 2003]
Between conglomerates milking catalog and collectors tailgating hype, I don't know how many multi-artist blues CDs I've gone through in an absurdly oversold year. Not counting Clint Eastwood's piano comp, this purist entry from a label that scoffs at both musical consistency and proprietary propriety is the only one I've wanted to hear again. This may be because I've never paid country blues due respect, so that the three artists I've long treasured--John Hurt, Skip James, and Blind Willie Johnson--provide a launching pad into the more-difficult-than-advertised pleasures of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, and Charlie Patton himself. But it's also because the right songs by these artists hang together sonically--their strong tunes and distinct voices transcend regional disparity, as varied as the hit parade. And it's also because such minor legends as Geechie Wiley, Frank Stokes, King Solomon Hill, Robert Wilkins, and Garfield Akers score one-shots no matter what else they've got in their kits. A

The Rough Guide to Highlife [World Music Network, 2003]
The original Afropop has always been mysteriously difficult to access stateside, so this genre survey, divvied up between Ghana and Nigeria, is your chance to become an informed reissue agitator. Will you get behind Celestine Ukwu? Victor Uwaifo? Not to be confused with Victor Olaiya? How about the legendary Rex Lawson? It wouldn't be a Rough Guide without ringers (Orlando Julius), revivals (Stephen Osita Osadebe), and anachronisms (Joe Mensah synth part I think), but near as I can tell--to compiler Graeme Ewens's credit, many of these artists are familiar only to aficionados--the preponderance comes from the '60s and '70s. In other words, it's both postindependence, which means feeling its kenkey, and not stuck on the swing era, which means livelying up itself. It's more uneven than the revivalist The Highlife Allstars: Sankofa, but sometimes uneven equals eccentric, which is good--hits that got heard because they were different. A-

The Bug Vs The Rootsman Feat. Daddy Freddy/Dj/Rupture [Tigerbeat6, 2003] Dud

Arabesque Tlata 3 [React, 2003]
The third and reputedly best of Algerian-born London restaurateur Momo's world comps, this Maghreb survey has its quirks. Up-to-date though it must be, it leads with "N'Sel Fik," the definitive rai classic since Chaba Fadela and Cheb Sahraoui released it 20 years ago. It also leans on Cheb Khaled's arty 1988 crossover Kutché, and in general starts roots and goes soundtrack as if that's progress. Which for Momo it is. On London DJ Hamid Zagzoule's terrific 2001 Tea in Marrakech (with which this CD shares a great hit by a Spanish nanny from Sudan), North African authenticity redounds to preservationists with an ear for the hooks every old culture recycles. Momo is drawn to diffusion. Natacha Atlas is fine with him, ditto the arranged marriage of Cheb Mami and Nitin Sawhney. And since in London up-to-date means dance music, dance music it will be--Moroccans jarring Egyptian shabi toward electronica, theories of trance merging like record labels, an ethnotechno excursion named "Ford Transit." A-

The Kings of Highlife [Wrasse, 2003]
How irritating--uncounted hours of music out there and this duplicates four tracks on Rough Guide's highlife comp. Makes one doubt how deep the genre goes. Pluses: brighter mastering, original version of Osita Osadebe's "Osondi Owendi." Minuses: multiple titles by Osadebe, Celestine Ukwu (including one repeat), Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson (ditto), Dr. Victor Olaiya (ditto), and Sir Victor Awaifo (ditto; also, me and the annotator thought it was Uwaifo.) Clearly, all of them deserve dedicated comps. Because, actually, I don't doubt how deep the genre goes--the four lesser lights in the middle only amplify the glory of its grace and groove. Voices caress, guitars strut and undulate, horns butt in. A-

Anthology of World Music: The Music of Afghanistan [Rounder, 2003]
the old wisdom--not exotic, just many shades of different ("Chant From Azerejot," "Song of Kataran") ***

Jit Jive: Zimbabwean Street Party [Sheer Sound, 2003]
Leonard Zhakata, "Bhora Rembabvu" Choice Cuts

Ragga Ragga Ragga! 2003 [Greensleeves, 2003]
Fun as they are, these functionally carnal hard-electro hits can't compare to the eccentricities of VP's Dancehall 101, still the primer for outsiders willing to believe that Jamaican music can't be one roaring mass of dick-proud patois just because they keep forgetting the difference between Cutty Ranks and his brother Shabba. Absent are not just Shaggy-style choruses, a relief, but the extreme weirdness that marked, say, "Good Hole College" and "Coca Cola Shape." The songs same out second half, and I'll take Missy and Timbo over Beenie and Jammy in a backwards minute. But on the whole, this gets the job done. Eccentric enough are Elephant Man's "Fuck U Sign," which establishes the blunt tone early, and Vybz Kartel's Egyptian beat, as its 19 rivals on Greensleeves' Egyptian comp have already proven to the uncounted adepts who can tell them apart. A-

Rasta Jamz [Razor & Tie, 2003]
a/k/a Ragga Love (Mr. Vagas, "Heads High"; Super Cat, "Dolly My Baby [Hip Hop Mix]") **

The Rough Guide to South African Gospel [World Music Network, 2003]
The competing Gospel According to Earthworks is softer and slicker, with six pieces by two well-groomed Joseph Dumako groups who get the two they deserve on a 22-track mosaic replete with weird mbube, rough jive, one-shots the annotator can barely account for, and joyful affirmations of a belief system that's done black South Africans almost as much good as the union movement and considerably more bad. Praise God you can't understand the words. A-

The Neptunes Present . . . Clones [Star Trak, 2003]
It takes more than groovemastery to make a hodgepodge flow (Dirt McGirt, "Pop Sh*t"; Kelis, "Popular Thug"). **

Festival in the Desert [World Village, 2003]
Ali Farka Toure aside, the Mali we know is southwestern Mali. Bamako and Wassoulou, Keita and Sangare and Tounkara, all look west to Dakar and the Francophone world outside. This three-day festival takes place well north of Timbuktu, deep in a Sahara where the sand is as fine as flour and Algeria-identified Berber Tamasheks bore arms against Bamako for 30 years before they were finally placated a decade ago. So though Oumou is the soul of grace and kora master Ballaké Sissoko duets nicely with an Italian pianist, though European groups and even some Navajos check in, most of the artists are locals who arrived by Toyota or camel, and most I'd never heard of--not even the rapturous, woman-dominated Tartit. Lots of male gutturals, lots of female ululations, lots of hard chanting, lots of drums, lots of stringed instruments that might as well be drums--and yes, a few blue notes. A-

Mali Lolo!: Stars of Mali [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2003]
Use as a sampler, swearing faithfully to explore the artists you glom on to (Oumou Sangare, "Ya La"; Les Escrocs, "Pirates"; Super Rail Band, "Mansa"; Neba Solo, "Vaccination"). ***

Tulear Never Sleeps [Sterns/Earthworks, 2003]
Tsapiky from Madagascar's wild southwest, milder than advertised in true Malagasy fashion (Saïd-Alexis, "Mahareza"; Tsy an-jaza, "Tsy an-jaza andao tsika holy"). **

Yes New York [Wolfgang Morden, 2003]
The Rogers Sisters, "Zero Point"; The Strokes, "New York City Cops (Live in Iceland)" Choice Cuts

New York City Rock N Roll [Radical, 2003] Dud

Postwar Jazz: An Arbitrary Roadmap [no label/Weatherbird, 2003]
Gary Giddins Jazz, I call it. Not officially for sale and never will be, permissions being the slough of greed, vanity, and indifference they are. But available on the Net to those as know how, I am assured by one of the two nuts of my acquaintance who copied, borrowed, ripped, and otherwise purloined a six-CDR set comprising the 1945-2001 choice cuts our greatest jazz critic annotated for the June 11, 2002, Voice. Beyond the cross-generational ecumenicism Giddins champions--the assumption that jazz musicians are artists for life, so that a supernally lucid summation by 78-year-old Benny Carter takes the 1985 prize--is a music in which intellection harnesses energy and feeling and rides them hard toward the horizon. The selections are sometimes too avant for my tastes, and insufficiently electric (Craig Harris over Blood Ulmer in 1983?!); I wouldn't agree they're all "great records." But the vast majority come close enough. Among the artists I'd never have believed could dazzle me like this are Art Pepper, Gil Evans, Tommy Flanagan, Stan Getz, George Russell, and, I admit it, Sarah Vaughan. Why had I barely heard of Sonny Criss? How the fuck did I miss "Little Rootie Tootie"? A+

Somewhere Over the Rainbow: The Golden Age of Hollywood Musicals [Rhino, 2003]
Great songs by mediocre singers! Mediocre songs by great singers! Sometimes g-g! Often m-m! For movie fans mostly! (Gene Kelly, "Singin' in the Rain"; Judy Garland, "Over the Rainbow"). ***

Down in the Basement [Old Hat, 2003]
Here be 24 of the 50,000 78s collected by fun-loving Joe Bussard, portrayed by co-compiler Marshall Wyatt as a crusty old sweetheart who'll make you mix tapes for 50 cents a song until the RIAA hits him with a writ. The same share-the-wealth openness lifts the selections, which are upful even when bemoaning life's travails. Unfamiliar arrangements of famous songs leaven the obscurities, and stars like Gene Autry and Bill Broonzy pitch in. The country breakdowns that lead it off and take it on out could convert Nas (or me). And the concept has room for the hot jazz bands of Luis Russell and Fess Williams. It's hard to imagine Harry Smith declaring either folk music. Bussard could care less. A-

The Rough Guide to the Music of Egypt [World Music Network, 2003]
The field is vast, vast--Cairo has been the cultural capital of the Middle East since the dawn of recording. And though the compiler is Yalla: Hitlist Egypt's David Lodge, the logic is unusually impenetrable: neither of Yalla's hard youth styles, no Faudel or Umm Kulthum, two tracks each for current superstars Angham and Amr Diab, plenty of classicists and also plenty of Nubians. Yet keynoted by Angham's irresistible "Leih Sebtaha," which dates all the way back to 2001, its intense, tradition-steeped politesse holds it together as it leaps not just decades but generations. A-

Stomp and Swerve: American Music Gets Hot [Archeophone, 2003]
Because David Wondrich's sourcebook cracks so wise, and because pre-electrical recordings are so tinny, you'll get happier reading about this music than listening to it. But there's a third reason: although most of these 27 1897-1925 selections are groundbreaking, the conventions they're tethered to are boulders they scarcely budge. Listening to early Armstrong is like reading Yeats--they're both so vivid and immediate you don't care how dated they are. Listening to Vess Ossman or Arthur Pryor (major innovators, as the book makes clearer than the notes) is more like reading Edwin Arlington Robinson. So take this as a hell of a history lesson. Play it half a dozen times and you'll adjust to its aural coordinates, but even then you may enjoy its quaintness more than its raunch or roll. Two great exceptions: Bert Williams's "Nobody," a barely sung set piece that gains inevitability until it stands there a masterwork, and Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues," in which a black vaudevillian and her black band revolutionize the record industry and have a ball doing it. B+

Hot Women [Kein & Aber, 2003]
R. Crumb collects 24 international 78s, 24 big butts, and 24 smiles (Hamsa Khalafe and Ali Atia, "Ballali Madja"; Aïcha Relizania, "Khraïfi") **

Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: Warming by the Devil's Fire [Columbia/Legacy, 2003]
W.C. Handy, "Beale Street Blues"; Mildred Jones, "Mr. Thrill" Choice Cuts

The Guitar and Gun [Sterns/Earthworks, 2003]
Cut at the same time in the same studio during Ghana's chaotic early '80s, this CD condenses two old LPs but functions as a follow-up to the brave, sunny Electric Highlife comp Naxos World released in 2002. Maybe the music feels slighter and less captivating because it gives equal time to what producer and Afropop chronicler John Collins calls "gospel highlife," created by church-based ensembles whose amateurism is even more palpable than in the "concert party" and "cultural" strains. The only repeater is the most professional, and the best: F. Kenya's Guitar Band, whose four tracks here (and three there) combine loping beats, a lead voice of undeniable presence and indefinable key, and high little guitar figures scuttling along the edges of the groove. A-

Compilasian: The World of Indipop [Narada World, 2003] Dud

Piano Blues: A Film by Clint Eastwood [Columbia/Legacy, 2003]
Branding being a fact of musical life, title listings often cite series overseer Martin Scorsese, who only wishes he had ears like his subcontractor's. The first 16 tracks here are so historically astute--and skip so gracefully from instrumental to occasional vocal, from boogie-woogie to big band--you could almost call them, well, curated. So much of it is absolutely classic that it's kind of a shame that the last four tracks were newly recorded under Eastwood's supervision even though Dr. John co-owns "Big Chief," the Pinetop Perkins-Marcia Ball duet gives the octogenarians and the ladies some, and the other two ain't bad either. This is the record to put on when you feel like some blues but aren't in a guitar mood. "What'd I Say" and "Tipitina" it's hard to hear too many times. The Ellington-Mingus-Roach "Backward Country Boy Blues," which had passed from my mind, is almost as good. A

Masters of the Boogie Piano [Delmark, 2003]
Or you could settle for the two tracks commandeered from the Ammons album--one Ammons, one Lewis, both mastered eight seconds faster--on this go-for-the-hips budget comp released to celebrate the Chicago label's golden anniversary. Jumping, as one reviewer wrote, from "fist-fingered old pros" to "lightning revivalists," its most breathless moment comes when Roosevelt Sykes's two-lane "North Gulfport Boogie" is passed on the left by Pete Johnson's four-lanes-and-counting "66 Stomp." And it's topped off by that special thing, an Ammons-Lewis-Johnson trio. A-

For Jumpers Only! [Delmark, 2003]
It's hard not to love Delmark Records, the blues ur-indie founded by retailer Bob Koester in 1953, which never stops expanding a sizable catalog dominated by blues and jazz musicians from sweet home Chicago. Koester encouraged the Art Ensemble nexus and underwrote Junior Wells and Buddy Guy's definitive young Hoodoo Man Blues. He makes a practice of rescuing masters abandoned by less astute or stubborn small businessmen, as on this jump blues collection. Rather than long workouts, these jump blues are three-minute songs designed for jukebox play by names famous, obscure, and inappropriate. Just about every one and will gratify instantly or come too quick depending on your prejudices. [Recyclables]

When the Sun Goes Down: Poor Man's Heaven [Bluebird, 2003]
As music, the sixth volume in this all-over-the-place RCA series is even more all over the place. But by segregating the showbiz folk up ahead of the folk musicians, it suggests that citified pop dreamers were even angrier about the Great Depression than the rural immiserated. Jug-blowing Mississippi Sarah moaning "this depression has got me," the Cedar Creek Sheik denied credit in his Afro-Swedish accent, and Blind Alfred Reed entering heaven with "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" are all hard hit. But they aren't as bitter as Bob Miller, whose 7,000 published songs included "The Rich Man and the Poor Man" ("Oh the rich man gets acquitted while the poor man gets the rope") and "It Must Be Swell" (death, he means). Between categories is the jazzified title tune by country pro Carson Robinson, which craves not just relief but revenge. Not that I myself would want some number cruncher serving me breakfast. But with a little training maybe he or she could do my filing. A-

The Rough Guide to Salsa Colombia [World Music Network, 2003]
By limiting itself to unwaveringly commercial Discos Fuentes product, this avoids not just folk and jazz but tropical ballads, because Discos Fuentes is old-fashioned enough to think commercial means danceable. Whether from veterans going back to the '50s or the Fania wannabes the label launched in the '70s or the revivalists of the '90s, the sinewy clave is locally inflected and the rhythms always take off. These are not famous names internationally, although Joe Arroyo and Fruko and Los Titanes may deserve to be. But everybody shares a commitment to the basics of salsa dura--and that collective thrust, not individual twists, is what keeps the pulse racing. A-

The Rough Guide to Salsa de Puerto Rico [World Music Network, 2003]
Progger and/or blander and/or folkier than anyone but a world-music sap would prefer (Willie Colón & Héctor Lavoe, "Todo Tiene Su Final"; Jose Alberto, "El Canario," "Déjate Querer"). **

Salsa Around the World [Putumayo World Music, 2003]
Bands from 12 non-Hispanic nations oversimplify and/or distill Nuyorican clave (Salsa Celtica, "El Sol de la Noche"; Mousta Largo, "Anna Maria"). *

The Rough Guide to the Music of Venezuela [World Music Network, 2003]
Folkier than necessary, which hurts the beats, though it probably helps the tunes (Simón Díaz, "Caballo Viejo"; Guaco, "Deshonestidad"). **

Now That's Chicago [Legacy, 2003]
This profit-taking '20s comp is so committed to its Academy Award-winning tie-in that it doesn't bother listing musicians on the back. Good thing--totemic designations like Cab Calloway, Sophie Tucker, and Jack Teagarden might distract you. Name artists aren't why it works, except insofar as they too generated the hoop-de-doo novelties that gave the Jazz Age its name when Armstrong and Ellington were still rumors in the prevailing culture. Armstrong and Ellington were better, by miles. But the fun here is hard to fin these days, and worth getting to know. [Recyclables]

Saucy Calypsos Volume One [Ice, 2003]
Trinidadians and their filthy sex habits risk Jah's wrath (Lord Canary, "Dr. Beckles Clinic [Tent]"; Mighty Sparrow, "60 Million Frenchmen"). ***

African Groove [Putumayo World Music, 2003]
Ethnotechno from the ethno side (Badenya Les Frères Coulibaye, "Boroto"; Madeka, "Mokoto"). *

Urban Brazil [Sterns/Earthworks, 2003]
Baile funk for party people with more stuff (Botecoeletro, "Coco Nutz Mass"; Rappin' Hood, "Sou Negro"). ***

Sampa Nova [Sterns Brasil, 2003]
Samba as beat itself, beat song, and, of course, beat jazz-schlock (Suba, "Sereia"; Otto, "Bob [Edu H Mix]"). **

The Rough Guide to Brazilian Electronica [World Music Network, 2003]
Macumbalada, "Samba Do Morro"; Suba, "Sereia" Choice Cuts

The Sound of the City: New Orleans [EMI, 2003]
Surely some exploiter will step forward, or wouldn't it be nice if the Smithsonian strong-armed licensors into sluicing royalties right to the Ninth Ward? But with Rhino's three-LP canon long ago put under and Shout! Factory's four-CD Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens tourist-board hype, this Charlie Gillett creation is easily the finest available overview of the lost city's rock and roll heritage even if you have to e-mail England to get one. On what is essentially a rock-era survey, the New Orleans tinge sustains a perilous segue from "Let the Good Times Roll" to "West End Blues" to (Bobby Bland's) "St. James' Infirmary." No Mardi Gras krewes, but Gillett does remember every major artist as well as irreplaceable one-shots from Jessie Hill's high-principled "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" to the Animals' carpetbagging "House of the Rising Sun." And though he deals a few sixes and sevens, ace finds start with Archibald's boogie-woogieing "Stack O Lee," Jerry Byrne's frenetic "Lights Out," Willie Tee's pimping "Thank You John," and two very different Bobby Charles songs--one young, dumb, and itching to be free, the other disabused, disabusing, and longing to make love work. A

Power of Soul: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix [Experience Hendrix, 2003]
In which aging stars and young souls try to prove that Hendrix's compositions, as opposed to performances, will earn royalties forever. Songwriting wasn't Hendrix's strength, but don't blame him for this--he was too busy re-inventing the guitar to anticipate the tribute album. The two best tracks are by John Lee Hooker amd Stevie Ray Vaughan, both as dead as he was when it came out, and the main thing it proves is that Hendrix's guitar isn't inimitable, just unduplicatable. [Blender: 1]

The Rough Guide to the Music of Morocco [World Music Network, 2004]
Sequenced with the series' usual disdain for consistency, it sticks an interpreter of the lost poetry of al-Andalus after a wild traditional chant, Casablanca rappers who scream "Donnez moi les papiers!" after an exiled cantor who applies his countertenor to a suppressed Sephardic melody. Yet throughout a multiplicity of related styles, tunes are similarly minimal and textures share a spareness--only when New Yorker Hassan Hakmoun comes on do the sonics cream up a little. And even with time out for a few recitations, it never jumps the track of its Berber-plus-Gnawa drive. A-

The Rough Guide to African Rap [World Music Network, 2004]
There are beats and then there are beats, and these are most exciting at their most recent and most American (Kala-mashaka, "Ni Wakati"; Pee Froiss, "Djalgaty") ***

The Hip Hop Box [Hip-O, 2004]
As it stands, disc four proves how many memorable tracks are embedded in recent radio-rap detritus: Bone Thugs-n-Harmony's prophetic singsong, Gang Starr's classic flow, DMX's brutal bark, Noreaga's Neptunes electrojive, more. But imagine if it featured the Notorious B.I.G., the Fugees, Jay-Z, Eminem, Missy Elliott, Nelly, and OutKast, all absent except Biggie, snuck on via a well-selected Junior M.A.F.I.A. cameo. Thus, The Hip Hop Box may well play as a downhill slide to anyone familiar with such old-school classics as Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock," Run D.M.C.'s "Sucker M.C.'s," and Roxanne Shanté's "Roxanne's Revenge"--which in turn may well shock young rap fans who haven't heard them, positively with their optimistic audacity or negatively with their crude hooks. Eric B. & Rakim, Boogie Down Productions, and Ice-T lead disc two by deftly elaborating minimalist parameters. Then comes MC Hammer with the minor "Turn This Mutha Out" rather than a smash: full-band sonics, femme chorus, hype man, scratches, drum breaks, the works. And then comes the dense Bomb Squad multitracks that undergird the outspoken Public Enemy, as loud and aggressive as any arena-rock, and a hell of a lot funkier. It's not even 1990 and we're off to the races. Hip-hop can be anything it wants to be. It can be Biz Markie out of tune over a piano sample or De La Soul layering as thick as PE so they can remain goofs for life. It can be Naughty by Nature copping J5 followed by the once and future Will Smith doing spoken-word over girlie cheese. The indie entertainment of Chubb Rock, the proto-underground provocation of Black Sheep; the jazz lite of Digable Planets, the cockeyed nutball of Craig Mack; the sisterly womanism of Queen Latifah, the diva pride of Roots protegee Jill Scott; the textured flow of Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, the dramatic atmospherics of Wu-Tang Clan; the oily G-funk of Dr. Dre, the bumpy swampbeats of Timbaland. Maybe somebody up there has good ears. Or maybe with a genre so pervasive and extraordinary, picking just 51 tracks is a gimme. [Blender: 4]

The Rough Guide to the Music of Ethiopia [World Music Network, 2004]
Finally, after umpteen volumes of Buda Musique completism, a peaky, fluent introduction to one of the European diaspora's stranger and more consistent national musics. Sonically, horns dominate. After World War II, instructors from Austria, Armenia, and other non-Abyssinian places imposed themselves along with the sway of victorious swing on military brass bands that never abandoned their indigenous scales. These bands only went pop decades later, and on Buda, a sameness besets them. Here, in contrast, solid vocalists show off their best tunes, and incongruences like the émigré with King Curtis's taste for major keys merely shift the mood. Smack in the middle and right in a row, an old master of an ancient lyre that sounds like a bass zither, a future émigrée backed by quasi-classical piano, and an instrumental with string section disrupt the vocals-with-horns norm, never alarmingly. Then the norm bounces back refreshed. From beginning to end, what a sound. A-

The Rough Guide to the Music of Kenya [World Music Network, 2004]
Kenya isn't just diverse tribally, the way all African nations are diverse. Among the larger ones, only Nigeria sustains such a pronounced Christian-Islamic split, with the Muslims holding sway over pan-African Swahili and the arriviste Christians aligning with the animists their grandparents once were and also with Congolese rumba speculators come east to rake in the shillings. Traversing generational boundaries as well, this is a travelogue. But Kenya is a populous place with a prosperous history whose music has made few international inroads, and compiler-annotator Doug Paterson has ears. So here's chiming benga never heard stateside, traditional Swahili taarab and upstart Swahili rumba, distinctly Muslim hooks, rappers worthy of the name, and--best of all, really--three modern female voices on the first six tracks. The country's a mess; Daniel arap Moi saw to that. But its spirit would appear to be strong. A-

Women of Africa [Putumayo World Music, 2004] Dud

The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip Hop 1979-1983 [Stones Throw, 2004]
No lost Spoonie Gees or Melle Mels, and half the beats are "Good Times." But these rediscovered 12-inches aren't the usual humdrum crate-digger arcana. In precise parallel to the first run of punk 45s, spirit is all: you won't just be reminded that early hip-hop was about having fun, you'll have fun. Main man Mr. Magic raps the oldest rhymes in the book with a sense of entitlement that grants them life, while young Pookey Blow advising kids to stay in school and the lisping boasts of that dummy Woodie are timeless novelties you'll find nowhere else. A-

Not in Our Name [Broken Arrow, 2004]
Los Pachanga Pistols, "I Don't Have a Car and I Live in L.A." Choice Cuts

Nuevo Latino [Putumayo World Music, 2004]
Jarabe de Palo, "El Lado Oscuro"; Raul Paz, "Mulata" Choice Cuts

Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster [Emergent, 2004]
Foster presaged rock and roll--"Oh! Susanna" was his "Louie Louie"--but rock and roll barely knows he existed. Except for John Prine drawling "My Old Kentucky Home" in gravelly tones no minstrel troupe would have stood for, the only fast one that does justice to Foster's uptempo mode is BR549's clog-stepped "Don't Bet Money on the Shanghai," about a Chinese fighting cock who decreased the songwriter's whiskey intake. Oh well--no point lamenting the rhythm sections of Nashville roots fanciers, and anyway, like most pop tunesmiths Foster was what the word says, a melody man first. As a result, normally snoozeworthy schoolteachers like Judith Edelman, Beth Nielsen Chapman, and David Ball, who does his level best to help us forget that "Old Folks at Home" ever had anything to do with darkies, fit the bill on this worthy effort to reclaim the master for the American vernacular. Inauthentically quaint here (a santour, a toumbak, and an armonica pop up, and once Foster's antiquity is signified by a now extinct guitar not yet invented when he was alive) and anachronistically subtle there (before the microphone, even parlor singers pro-jec-ted), it nevertheless feels more or less the way one suspects Foster must have. Special kudos to Henry Kaiser and Mavis Staples for making their weirdness and grit blend right in. A-

The Rough Guide to Gypsy Swing [World Music Network, 2004]
Django Reinhardt towers so high over this style that he takes four of 21 tracks on a multi-artist comp with no other repeats, and wrote two others. Maybe "Gypsy swing" isn't a style at all--just a bunch of tribute bands. Yet its master proves far easier to emulate than Jimi Hendrix or Jerry Garcia, in part because his followers bypass his excitable youth for the sophisticated background music of his post-WW II decline. Reinhardt was one of the first to welcome bebop's harmonic challenge while finessing its cultural threat--which makes him the kind of artist whose imitators segue smoothly from cut to cut on a collection like this one. B+

Cafe Mundo [Sunnyside, 2004]
Techno-colored travelogue for the chiropractice of dreams (Bajofondo Tango Club, "Mi Corazon"; Hamid Baroudi, "Trance Dance [DJ Krush Mix]"). *

Patriotic Country [BMG/Music for a Cause, 2004]
Dusty Drake, "One Last Time"; Hank Williams Jr., "America Will Survive" Choice Cuts

Paris City Coffee [Sunnyside, 2004] Dud

Songs and Artists That Inspired Fahrenheit 9/11 [Epic, 2004]
Rediscoveries, recontextualizations, redundancies, and new stuff (Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, "I Am a Patriot"; Zack de la Rocha, "We Want It All"). **

Tell Us the Truth: The Live Concert Recording [Artemis, 2004]
Boots Riley, "Underdog"; Jill Sobule, "War Correspondent" Choice Cuts

Patriotic Country [BMG/Music for a Cause, 2004]
For the record, and records must be kept, the vilest thing on Fox News' Music Row takeover doesn't come from Lee Greenwood. Lee Greenwood is just the beginning. It's by a onetime Bob Dylan fiddler: Charlie Daniels's rockin', racist "This Ain't No Rag It's a Flag" ("And we don't wear it on our heads"), its climax a child lisping the Pledge of Allegiance while a band of braggarts chants "U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A." Runner-up is the Warren Brothers' dim, toadying, putatively nonpartisan "Hey Mr. President," which tosses "those guys in the House and the Senate" out on their nitpicking asses and reflects how hard it must be to tell a mother her soldier son has died as if our CEO does it all the time. Educational: Dusty Drake's deeply felt plane-going-down "One Last Time" versus Lonestar's militantly sentimental "I'm Already There," where some damn country singer calls home from his hotel room. Honestly conflicted: Hank Williams Jr.'s "America Will Survive," the rare post-9/11 country song that knows New York is more than the ex-towers and the Statue of Liberty. "Big business" dis: Blackhawk's "Days of America." Sign of hope: token female Martina McBride's involuntary manslaughter of "God Bless America." C-

Ultimate Worship Music [BMG Strategic Marketing Group, 2004]
All I know about worship music is that it's the hottest Christian subgenre--otherwise content-free "vertical" songs of praise to the Almighty in many modern (i.e., dated, white) pop and rock styles. So this came in the mail, and with Christians on the warpath I played it, and it sounded like goop to me, but it would, wouldn't it? The $12.98 or so price for a triple-CD that would fit on two discs canceled out the all-too-redolent label name. Still, I wondered why the credits listed only composers. An Amazon post from Stephen Putt of Warren "Vacate Our Election Board, Journalistic Terrorists" Ohio put me straight: "I bought this cd at walmart. there was no indication on the cd that the songs were not sung by the original bands. I tried to return this cd at walmart and they wouldn't take it back. basically if you want a collection of worship music done by the original bands and singers. Dont buy this cd." How "naive," shot back a co-religionist who'd attended a camp run by compiler Joel Engle: "Believe it or not, the vast majority of these songs do not 'belong' to any one band, but have been written by songwriters and can be sung by anyone who gets permission." Or doesn't get permission, actually. Strategic marketers have long known that sacred truth. Just like Christian retailers know what's nine-tenths of God's law. E

The Roots of Rock 'n' Roll 1946-1954 [Hip-O, 2004]
One could question the utility of this triple-CD, and in fact it doesn't play as strong as Golden Era of Rock 'n' Roll 1954-1963, the starter kit for 12-year-olds released alongside it. But when I try to think of essential artists passed by, I get only one: Elmore James ("Dust My Broom," No. 9 r&b, 1952). There's never been anything like this: three hours of rock and roll from before rock and roll, long on boogie-beat jump blues with helpings of regular blues, honky-tonk from before honky-tonk, doowop from before doowop, and other stuff. Included are such foundational texts as "Rocket 88," "Cry," and "Crazy, Man, Crazy," early versions of "That's All Right, Mama," "Hound Dog," "Kansas City," and "Sh-Boom," and a few gems I don't recall hearing before: "Rock This Joint," "Cupid's Boogie," "Little Richard's Boogie." Arranged chronologically by year, it has a nice drape even if every track isn't a perfect fit. Afterward you can locate best-ofs, starting with Louis Jordan and Professor Longhair. A

Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: Big Ol' Box of New Orleans [Shout! Factory, 2004]
This box wasn't assembled by the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, but the way it trades on the city's status as a musical wellspring to showcase professional revivalists running rampant, it might have been. Ignoring chronology, it mixes classic polyphonic jazz, irresistible piano r&b, and seminal proto-funk with Cajun and zydeco and overrated contemporary locals of every provenance and stylistic orientation. Sure there are great tracks few nonexperts have heard--Dave Bartholomew's "Shrimp and Gumbo," Balfa Toujours's "Marshall's Club." But they're overwhelmed by pleasantly ordinary ones that make it a labor to find the gems. And for some reason, the Crescent City's most original contemporary musician is totally absent. Mannie Fresh, back your azz in here. [Blender: 3]

Unity: The Official ATHENS Olymphic Games Album [EMI, 2004]
See: Do-Gooders Do Good.

Rock Against Bush Vol. 1 [Fat Wreck Chords, 2004]
See: Fat Mike Against.

Rock Against Bush Vol. 2 [Fat Wreck Chords, 2004]
See: Fat Mike Against.

Black Power: Music of a Revolution [Shout! Factory, 2004]
See: Black Enough for You.

Future Soundtrack for America [Barsuk, 2004]
See: This Will Be Our Year.

African Underground Vol 1: Hip-Hop Senegal [Nomadic Wax, 2004]
According to the label head's senior thesis, there are 3,000 hip-hop acts in Senegal, so a big up to BMG 44 and Omzo, who take the lead tracks here after highlighting Trikont's 2002 Africa Raps. But where that music was Senegalese first, this sounds like the true Afrofunk. Flow yeah yeah, and the label guy says the lyrics are conscious, although the few in English could be sharper and are welcome anyway. But here, there, and everywhere, the techno-flavored synth/guitar splats of international hip-hop sink their hooks into frantic gutturals of unknown meaning. A-

Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon [Artemis, 2004]
It wasn't just Schmeagles who envied his sarcasm and gusto (Jordan Zevon, "Studebaker"; Adam Sandler, "Werewolves of London"). ***

Lif Up Yuh Leg an Trample [Honest Jon's, 2004]
Hard dancehall soca surrounds improbable nominee for best Iraq II song extant (Andre Tanker, "Food Fight"; Dawg E Slaughter, "Trample"). **

The Rough Guide to Brazilian Hip-Hop [World Music Network, 2004]
As with most foreign-language rapping, you may wonder what the point is, especially given liner notes so devoid of lyrical clues I assume the compiler's Portuguese is mucho shaky. But if like me you're prey to the vulgar prejudice that most carioca rhythms run a little lite, the straightforward beats here are intensely pleasurable whether indigenous or r&b--imbued with the rhythmic sophistication of their culture, the vocalists just naturally provide enough variety to keep a North American clod like me going. Often the rappers work chorally, augmenting the r&b feel. One of the soupiest tracks, a love letter recited over Rammelzee's "Bon Bon Vie" variation, is by two guys who were doing 10 years for armed assault when it was recorded. A-

Zambush Vol. 1 [SWP, 2004]
"Zambian Hits from the 80s"--hence, geographically and musically midway between Congolese rhumba and Zimbabwean chimurenga, which contained rhumba to begin with. Population under 6 million then, close to 10 million now--though the great preponderance of these musicians died in between, AIDS and the local kachasu homebrew having taken their occupational toll and then some. Cheerful in affect, moralistic in content--the brightest warns against kachasu itself. But though I'm glad its creator survived, I wish there was more evidence that these musical homilies made a difference in the lives of those who created or heard them--after the musical moment itself, when they clearly did what they were supposed to. B+

The Rough Guide to Mediterranean Café Music [World Music Network, 2004]
Worldly Christians meet secular Muslims, often in joints swank enough to feature a piano (Maurice El Médioni, "Bienvenue--Abiadi"; Eda Zari, "Ra Faja"). ***

Tribal Bahia: The Best of Timbalada [Universal, 2004]
Carlinhos Brown and associates do their drum-and-chant thing (Carlinhos Brown, "Canto Pro Mar"; Carlinhos Brown/Cicero Menenez, "Margarida Perfumada"). **

Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Beats [Essay, 2004]
In Brazil as anywhere else, the sound of poverty can be a stark thing (Bonde do Tiagro, "O Baile Todo"; Furacao 2000, "Mengao 2000"). **

War (If It Feels Good, Do It!) [Hiphop Slam, 2004]
Mash up the bushit (Azeem, "Bush Is a Gangsta"; DJs of Mass Destruction, "Liberate the Children (Live)"; 4AM, "InDaClub"). ***

The Rough Guide to Rebétika [World Music Network, 2004]
From the sound of these old Mediterranean café songs, it could be Jews or North Africans singing, but it's Greeks (Roza Eskenazi, "Enas Mangas Sto Teke Mou"; Markos Vamvakaris, "Antonis Varkaris Seretis"). **

Bats'i Son [Latitude, 2004]
Thirty-year-old Smithsonian recordings from Chiapas, including trumpets, Christmas songs, and childlike voices ("Fiesta de San Sebastian--Venustiano Carranza," "Danza de Mujeres-Tenejapa"). *

World 2004 [Wrasse, 2004]
Charlie Gillett presents songs from 28 lands, including five Afro-Euro collabs (DJ Dolores y Orchestra Santa Massa, "A Dance da Moda"; Aïwa, "Oudïwa"). **

Sí, Soy Llanero: Joropo Music From the Orinoco Plains of Colombia [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2004]
Harp and bandola cowboy songs dressed up with the occasional vocal (Ana Veydó, "Un Llanero de Verdad"; Carlos Quintero, "Los Diamantes"). **

Classic Folk Music [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2004] Dud

Ultra Lounge: Cocktails With Cole Porter [Capitol, 2004]
He's hard to ruin, which doesn't stop Steve Lawrence and Sammy Davis Jr. from trying (Ella Fitzgerald With the Duke Ellington Orchestra, "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)"; Sarah Vaughan, "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye"; Louis Prima and Keely Smith, "I've Got You Under My Skin"). *

Oxfam Arabia [World Music Network, 2004]
If by Arabia you mean Palestine, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, Sudan, and Iraq (MoMo,"Agee Jump"; Abdou, "Mali Ha Mali"). **

Caroline, or Change [Hollywood, 2004]
What better can one say of an original Broadway cast recording than that you'd love to see the play? ("JFK"). *

Memphis Celebrates 50 Years of Rock 'n' Roll [BMG Strategic Marketing Group, 2004]
See: Recyclables.

The Rough Guide to the Music of the Balkans [World Music Network, 2004]
Half-Roma predecessor to The Rough Guide to the Music of Balkan Gypsies, switching abruptly midway through to nice folk-harmony ensembles (Toni Iordache, "Hora de la Bolintin"; Mostar Sevdah Reunion, "U Lijepom Starom Gradu Visegradu"). ***

The Rough Guide to Boogaloo [World Music Network, 2005]
Living east of Avenue B from 1965 to 1975, I probably dismissed many of these songs out my window for the jerrybuilt noise they are--not like the salsa elders who resisted Nuyorican soul jive's silly lyrics and simplified dance beats, but like the Anglophone rock snob I would have sworn I wasn't. After all, I dug Jimmy Castor and Joe Cuba on AM radio, and no matter what hip-hoppers think, I consider soul jazz even cheesier now than I did then. But this stuff is--and, I'm sure, was--a gas. In Spanish, Spanglish, or English, enlisting Batman and covering the Rascals or luring the likes of Tito Puente and Celia Cruz into teen hits no more heartfelt than Perry Como's "Hot Diggity," boogaloo proves one of the purest party musics ever. I can't dance to it even now--the crudest salsa is wiser than my hips, mano. But I love its spirit. A-

Run the Road [Vice/Atlantic, 2005]
One so wants to give British MCs the benefit of the doubt. They're sincere, they're determined, and they've paid their dues. So this useful little collection will be praised like The Harder They Come when it's more African Underground Vol. 1: engaging yes, delightful no. As with African Underground, there's a language barrier, albeit a less insuperable one. But with grime there's also a music barrier: The beats are so squelchy (complexly squelchy here, but still) that when Dizzee Rascal and the Streets come on, they could be Just Blaze bum-rushing the permissions department. Three female voices also provide welcome illusions of grace. In fact, Lady Sovereign's cheap, cute "Cha Ching" is delightful. A-

The Rough Guide to the Music of Central Asia [World Music Network, 2005]
Bands from the 'stans, where traditional meets classical and rock is as modern as hip-hop (Ashkabad, "From the Station to the Mill"; Sherali Juraev, "Oz'begim"; National Assembly of the Presidential Orchestra, "Zhez-kiik"). **

World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love's a Real Thing [Luaka Bop, 2005]
A canny idea, packaging vaguely countercultural early-'70s Afropop as psychedelia rather than funk. That way the shambling trap drums and casual solos are part of the solution rather than part of the problem. And though none of these bands could have rocked Woodstock's socks off like the Family Stone or Ten Years After, nobody wore socks at Woodstock anyway. Charming at worst and captivating at best, sometimes mild and sometimes wild, the sources range from Cameroon and Nigeria up to Mali, crossing the treacherous boundaries between Anglophone and Francophone, jungle and desert--as if west-central Africa, at least, is all one place. Not that the music's homogeneous, although there's a cheesiness to the guitars that the hotshots down in Kinshasa would have laughed out of town. But it shares a mood--postcolonial hopes inflamed by news of a world cultural revolution that would soon succumb to the economics of enforced scarcity. The high point is William Onyeabor's "Better Change Your Mind," which calmly warns Western nations including Canada and Cuba not to "think this world is yours." It seems Africa didn't have what it took to back Onyeabor up. We shall see. A-

Mali [Putumayo World Music, 2005] Dud

Nouvelle Vague [Luaka Bop, 2005]
At long last bossa newwavo ("Guns of Brixton," "Too Drunk to Fuck"). *

New York Rocks [Koch, 2005]
Some might carp that this efficient little celebration of New York punk is both too obvious and too obscure. Ramones-Velvets-Patti Smith-Television-Richard Hell? Go for the albums, five unchallenged classics. The Mumps' "Crocodile Tears?" Why not the Contortions' "Contort Yourself"? Or anything by the New York Dolls? Nevertheless, the famous songs gather force back to back, and despite the Mumps, compiler Bill Crowley has mixed in some canny arcana. Mink DeVille-Dead Boys-Suicide? Skip the albums. All told, the disc evokes a scene worthy of that stupid term almost as well as closer Wayne (now Jayne) Country: "The kids are jumpin' around everybody's doin' loop-de-loop/Just makin' the rounds like a speed freak in a telephone booth." [Blender: 4]

The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara [World Music Network, 2005]
Maybe it's just the harem scenes in racist movies, but seldom will you hear a regional compilation at once so distant and so familiar. The Sahara is bigger than Europe, and insofar as these often nomadic artists--very few of whom I'd heard before, with only the jet-setting Tinariwen and one other on Festival in the Desert--have home bases, most hail from lands thousands of miles apart, and further off the musical map than Mali: Mauritania, Niger, Libya, the Morocco-occupied "Western Sahara." Yet except for the closer, a long poem-sermon with rosewood flute by an Algerian Berber, they share lulling chants, many by women, and a steady pulse that seems neither African nor European but "Arab," which it isn't. Although often born of political conflict, they evoke eternal things--subsistence beyond nations, a post-nuclear future, world without end amen. A

North African Groove [Putumayo World Music, 2005]
Mediterranean cosmopolitans entertain a groovy world (Amr Diab, "Nour el Ain"; Samir Saeid, "Aal Eah"). *

Global Hip Hop [Manteca, 2005]
You want beats, they got world beats, finally. Whatever they're rapping about--and when they break into English, which happens, it'll seem real enough unless humanism's not your way--the 14 non-U.S. crews on this U.K. comp are funking some different shit, usually looped tunelets that are common currency there and fresh here. Front-loaded Latin, it excludes European materials till the final track, which saunters past with its arm around the shoulder of a casually mesmeric Greek guitar or bouzouki figure. Lots of Africans, a German Turk, and some U.K. Indians headline; Sergent Garcia and Oumou Sangare guest. Watch out, homeboys--they're learning, and they're very eager. A-

Bar Bhangra [Escondida, 2005]
Just like one of those dancehall comps named after a beat, which in this case goes surprisingly far but no further (Panjabi MC, "Jogi"; DJ Gem, "Kank Di Rakhi"). ***

The Rough Guide to the Music of the Balkan Gypsies [World Music Network, 2005]
The Rom, as these notes call them, set out from India a millennium ago and have long played music the way African freedmen did in Cuba--because it's low-class, low-paying work, but also because they're thought to have a knack. By 1700 or sooner they had seized local styles in dozens of European locales. There is no "real" Gypsy music, but the daredevil fiddles, skirling horns, and extreme vocals of the Balkan strains whose ins and outs they deploy come close enough. I'd never heard of most of these Romanian, Bulgarian, and other bands, but those I've encountered before, including Taraf de Haïdouks on a standout cut absent from their two Nonesuch albums, have never sounded better than in this can-you-top-this party. Not a new groove because it's not smooth enough. But more than one new beat, usually with a history. A-

The Rough Guide to the Music of Sudan [World Music Network, 2005]
Decadent bandleaders, vagina-bearing vixens, and a former child soldier sin against Sharia (Emmanuel Jal, "Gua"; Omdurman Women's Ensemble, "Daloka Bet El Mal"; Mohammed Wardi, "Azibni"). ***

Italian Café [Putumayo World Music, 2005]
Putumayo say these ingratiating Latins like cute novelties and guys who whisper almost as much as French sophisticates (Giorgio Conte, "Gnè, Gnè"; Fred Buscaglione, "Juke Box"). *

Mehanata: New York Gypsymania [Mehanata, 2005]
The fermented garbage from which arose the fabled gypsy punk (Balkan Beat Box and Eugene Hutz, "Tromba de Zangari/Yek, Dui, Trei/New Yorkskiri"; Yuri Yunakov, "Arabski Kjuchek"). *

Cameo Parkway 1957-1967 [Abkco, 2005]
See: A Trip Back to the Gravy Days, When Philly Knew How to Take a Dump.

Hustle and Flow [Atlantic, 2005]
What the fools who claim Djay's crunk success isn't credible don't mention is the reason--he's too smart and too nice (Djay feat. Shug, "It's Hard Out There for a Pimp"; Juvenile feat. Skip & Wacko, "Body Language"; Djay, "Whomp That Trick"). ***

Son Cubano NYC [Honest Jon's, 2005]
1972-1982--neopurist Cubanismo from the salsa-is-sauce school (Rey Roig y Su Sensación, "Son Sabrosón"; Henry Fiol, "Oriente"). ***

Our New Orleans 2005 [Nonesuch, 2005]
Few in New Orleans foresaw the immensity of the flood that finally came, but most lived with the belief that sooner or later there'd be one, including the thousands of musicians employed by the city's tourist industry. History-hawking formalists as party-time pros, they generally found escapist denial more useful than existential courage in their line of work, and the likable Rounder charity comp A Celebration of New Orleans Music sums up how well they did and didn't entertain. These post-Katrina recordings are something else. Not all the artists transcend the pious traditionalism of their old city or their new label, but most arrive at a harder spiritual place. Dr. John's "World I Never Made" is his deepest track in decades. Irma Thomas's "Back Water Blues" is hers. Eddie Bo's "Saints" and John Brunious's "Do You Know What It Means" are frail, felt, fun, and wrenching. Punctuating Wardell Quezergue's full-orchestra "What a Wonderful World" is a piano solo Allen Toussaint localizes down to "Tipitina and Me." And hovering over the close, scythe at the ready, is Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927," the flood tale annotator Nick Spitzer reports has been sung aloud at bars all over the state ever since it surfaced in 1972. A

Another World Is Possible [Uncivilized World/UWe North America, 2005]
Cross-cultural statements, many warming and three scintillating, two Clash covers among them (Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orchestra, "Lost in the Supermarket"; Manu Chao & Tonino Carotone, "La Trampa"; Asian Dub Foundation & Zebda, "Police on My Back [Live]"). **

Motown Classics Gold [Motown, 2005]
Gold is a budget-priced two-CD UniMoth reissue series that only the fallible will confuse with its Millennium/Ultimate/Chronicles predecessors/competitors. Needless to say, some entries are too much, others too little, others the wrong stuff. For instance, Disco: Gold sucks, while this entry is exactly the same as 2000's glorious Motown: The Classic Years, except--is this possible?-- cheaper. So if you missed it . . . A+

Crunk Hits [TVT, 2005]
Crass, crude, and cartoon lubricious, saved rather decisively from male supremacist domination by Khia's "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)"--beyond "lick my pussy and my crack," "The best head comes from a thug" is a sign of progress too--this compendium of Dirty South dance hits is a mightier fuck you to the centurions of respectability than the most extreme rock band can manage anymore. To remind us how fast such shit gets dull, and how useless most of the corresponding albums are, it winds down before you want the party to be over. But power beats, tricky hooks, and who knows what combinations of accident and effort render the first half utterly joyous in its for-the-moment defiance. When the centurions conspire every day to deny the lower orders a decent future, reckless hedonism is a species of justice. Battle cry: "If you don't give a damn, we don't give a fuck." A-

Golden Afrique Vol. 1 [Network, 2005]
N'Dour-Keita-Baobab warhorses are few on a Deutschmark-pegged double that homes in on late-'70s Senegal and environs. Where The Music in My Head explodes with independence, this comp honors capitalist-socialist hopes. Tribal identities melt and meld in cities where immigrants are hungry for more than drums drums drums. Beyond mbalax and Afrosalsa a-borning, there's continent-sweeping soukous, local ziglibithy, Les Amazones de Guinée, a pop smash whose singer went out to seek a fortune that boiled down to a few Tabou Combo cameos, a Conakry-based Miriam Makeba singing a stately pan-African praisesong in Paris. One hopes there's still this much action in some distressed African metropolis as yet undocumented. But one also hopes Afropop aficionados stuck in the past will keep showing us what we missed. A

Sound of the World [Wrasse, 2005]
In the 2005 edition of Charlie Gillett's international sweepstakes, even the 38-man Kenyan hip-hop crew behave (Nairobi Yetu, "Nijenge"; Okna Tsahan Zam, "Edjin Duun"). *

Think Differently Music: Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture [Babygrande, 2005]
Less Wu than advertised--RZA duet, GZA duet, GZA cameo, U-God cameo, with production dominated by RZA subaltern Bronze Nazareth. Not especially coherent, either, even within individual songs. But loaded with beats, and with great moments--RZA's traffic cop, Byata's Russian homegirl, Solomon Childs's African economics. With backpack types now Wu-Tang's natural constituency, the 27 rappers on this comp make their subculture sound dope even if they're not. Plus an infomercial in which Jim Jarmusch bites Yehudi Menuhin. B+

Good for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows--1926-1937 [Old Hat, 2005]
Forty-eight lovingly documented songs, most generic even when also distinguished, many uncomfortably laissez-faire about minstrel stereotyping (Walter Cole, "Mama Keep Your Yes Ma'am Clean"; Jim Jackson, "I Heard the Voice of a Porkchop"; Beans Hambone & El Morrow, "Beans"). ***

Big Boi Presents . . . Got Purp? Vol. II [Virgin, 2005] Dud

Together Again: Legends of Bulgarian Wedding Music [Traditional Crossroads, 2005]
Clarinetist Ivo Papasov of Kardzhali and saxophonist Yuri Yunakov of the Bronx show off their speed, multi-traditional command, and suitability for polite company ("Star Dimo/Mama Radojcho Gulcheske," "Oriental"). *

One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost & Found [Rhino, 2005]
See: Hatbox Hits.

Golden Afrique Vol. 2 [Network, 2005]
As a stickler for compilation etiquette, I object to the sequencing of the Congo-based follow-up to this German label's excellent but pricey two-disc West African collection. It begins with two warhorses potential buyers probably own: Franco & Sam Mangwana's 1982 "Coopération" and Nyboma's 1981 "Doublé Doublé." But rather than touring the sleek, over-the-top Parisian soukous of the style's late international vogue, it moves back in time, hopping around among older examples of Lingala rumba. These are almost invariably charming and inventive, if sometimes a little poky, as in a personal favorite, Joseph Kabasele's 1960 "Indépendence Cha Cha Cha." Many have been rare in these parts, so it's a privilege as well as a pleasure to hear them. But often the musical logic is obscure. If there's anything an Afropop comp ought to do, it's flow. A-

Africa Remix: Ah Freak Iya [Milan, 2005]
Where usually Afrocomps look backward, this one is 21st century. And while most of the names are familiar, only five of the 16 tracks are in my collection, with all except Orchestra Baobab's improved by this cross-continental mix. Nor are the prime attractions the old reliables--Oumou's remix, Youssou's Senegal-only track. Far more striking are the radical techno-soukous by the son of a Franco guitarist, the Kinshasa rap with four names on it, Malouma's Mauritanian breakout, orthe Mariem Hassan & Leyoad wail somehow left off the Sahara comps. Things in Africa are probably no better than you think. But Afropop lives--hard, but undaunted. A-

The Rough Guide to Dub [World Music Network, 2005]
A less inclusive sampling than the title suggests--everything 1973-1980, King Tubby and acolytes only--and easier to access as a result, especially for those put off (or bored) by the abstraction toward which the dub mindset gravitates (or wanders). This early in the genre's history, trickles of melody still activate the pleasure centers as the music shifts in and out of one's stoned, spaced or distracted consciousness. Later, dry will regularly be mistaken for deep. A-

The Rough Guide to the Music of Brazil: Rio de Janeiro [World Music Network, 2005]
It's all samba to me--world's lithest easy-listening music (Moises Santana, "Alegria"; Beth Carvalho, "Folhas Secas"). *

Classic Rock Gold [Hip-O, 2005]
Its 33 tracks duplicate only four acts and one song from Dazed and Confused, to which it cedes the mission of recalling a subculture while it does the dirty job of recapitulating a radio format. At first I was theoretically offended by such pop and new wave ringers as Elton John, Eddie Money, Billy Idol, and the Cars. But the only picks that don't fit are Rod Stewart's "Maggie May," because it's too good, and Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again," because it's too godawful. More than a useful compendium of name bands whose albums you may never play again, it's sonic history. Yes, children, there really was a time when whole radio stations were devoted entirely to brawny-sounding white guys bellowing, moaning, and even singing over electric guitars, electric guitars, and electric guitars. "Born to Be Wild," "American Woman," "Show Me the Way," and "Cold as Ice" you know you love. But watch out. "Hair of the Dog" could grow on you. A-

Run the Road 2 [Vice, 2006]
Got no idea whether this is true grime because I never knew what grime was to begin with. The Brit accents on the pseudo-triumphalist, vaguely Jeezy-sounding four-cameo opener are grime enough for me--most gripping grime I know, in fact, and pretty damn fine Jeezy-sounding pseudo-triumphalism to boot. Offenses against purity abound--girl choruses and duets, guy who argues endearingly if unconvincingly that "shanking" isn't commercial, and a Nas fan with a pink penis who tells a mildly grisly story backwards whilst strumming an acoustic guitar very hard. Letdown: Sway, touted as this year's, you remember, Dizzee Rascal. Disappointment: paucity of Jeezy-sounding pseudo-triumphalism. A-

The Rough Guide to Bhangra Dance [World Music Network, 2006]
Punjabi-based dance music has accrued formula since Rough Guide's first bhangra comp, and this one pumps identical hyperdrive from boy group, Anglophone pop queen, and subcontinental elder. Only it's really great hyperdrive--if that's the same hook again (it is, right?), bring it on. Eventually, soft or folkloric sounds do enter the mix, and how about that? The letdown is a respite if you happen to be tired and does itself proud if you're not. More more more. A-

Turkish Groove [Putumayo World Music, 2006]
Sweet and stretchy in its commercial version, just like the taffy (Bendeniz, "Kirmizi Biber"; Nilgül, "Pis Pisla"). **

The Rough Guide to Urban Latino [World Music Network, 2006]
A noisy mess from rock to ska to hip-hop, with catchy politicos prominent and a German for spice (Zona Marginal, "No Mas"; Yerba Brava, "Sos Un Cheto"). *

Congotronics 2 [Crammed Discs, 2006]
Even the mbaqanga originators, who took as their conscious project the transformation of village tunes into city songs, tried to make pop music. Konono No 1 became the sole stars of Congotronics 1 just trying to make themselves heard. Though happy to sell their musical wares on the international market in the end, they weren't assimilationists, and it was their tribal loyalties as much as their avant-naive sonics that captivated alt-rock ideologues who regard any hint of slick or catchy as an indicator of spiritual contagion. Never big on lo-fi (or bush drum circles either), I missed the tune factor in Konono, the muscle factor too. So on this multi-artist comp-with-DVD it was the combined efforts of Masanka Sankayi and the Kasai Allstars that softened me up to the buzzy, beaty sound of crudely electrified thumb pianos deteriorating midair. This being anthropology, pretty much, a sampler is the ideal introduction. A-

The Rough Guide to Planet Rock [World Music Network, 2006]
Fearing Sepultura, Junoon, and Gaia knows what other arena-rock gooney birds, I got something more ethnic instead--16 pieces of folk rock, let's call it, from 15 different nations, with who else but the U.S. of A. hogging one and three halves tracks. Gutturals are the sonic determinant and electric guitars the weapon of choice on a collection that amps up all manner of indigenous pleasures, slipping only when it strays to Romance-language Réunion Island and Portugal midway through. Niger? Palestine? Hungary? All Islamic-tinged. As for the Tuvans throat-singing "In a Gadda da Vida," who better? A-

Re-Bop: The Savoy Remixes [Savoy Jazz Worldwide, 2006]
Charlie Parker Featuring Miles Davis, "Moose the Mooche"; Charlie Parker, "KoKo" Choice Cuts

From Bakabush: The First Ten Years of Stonetree [Ba Da Bing!, 2006]
Circa 1796, when the Afro-Carib Garinagu were expelled by the conquering British from St. Vincent to Roatán Island for the sin of being insufficiently Carib, there were 2,000 of them by landfall. Now there are 200,000 in Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. A world dance Garifuna-style was briefly and inconsequentially promoted as punta rock in the early '90s. This Belize label cultivates the more folkloric paranda strain. Though its guitars are Latin, paranda adds a laid-back Caribbean groove to melodies that could go back to the Arawaks and a gentleness that feels Bahamian. Aurelio Martinez is the big preservationist. Adrian Martinez has the best tune. Mr. Peters' Boom & Chime throw down two brukdown breakdowns. Leroy Young the Grandmaster wears dreads and raps. Godfather Paul Nabor contributes an anthem he wrote for his sister's funeral that they can play at mine. A-

Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story [Rhino, 2006]
Though disco was supposedly an underground, minor-label phenomenon, Rhino's corporate muscle is what makes this two-and-a-half hour mix the most successful attempt to evoke the mythic vibe of the great DJ's Soho dance haven. Fifteen of the 22 tracks originated with WEA, including a few that provide songful relief from the cult hits of divas-in-waiting--Yaz's "Situation," Womack & Womack's "Baby I'm Scared of You," and a weirded-up Nile Rodgers remix of Sister Sledge's "Lost in Music." But mostly it showcases the ambient abandon and steady-state serial orgasm of 12-inch singles often fashioned by Levan himself, cutting extravagrant orchestration with spare percussion and breaks he could protract to infinity if the mood was on him. Not really infinity, of course--not here, and not at the Paradise Garage either. The sun always did come up. And Levan died in 1992. A-

Tropicália: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound [Soul Jazz, 2006]
Ideologically Brazilian though it was, the style Gil, Veloso & Associates devised in the late '60s was not a groove music. Brought forth by classical and avant-garde trainees who loved "Strawberry Fields Forever" and had a full-on right-wing dictatorship to subvert, tropicália anthologizes awkwardly, especially for non-Lusophones. So at first this lavishly annotated, ecstatically reviewed disc seems to jump around too much, in the arch art-pop manner of Os Mutantes, who get six of its 20 tracks. But relisten some and it takes on the inevitability of a song cycle--Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, for instance. The beats roll and rock even as the groove stops and starts; the melodies leap over the language barrier even though trots would be nice. Occasionally, the singers break into English, or in the case of Tom Zé's "Jimmy Renda-Se," toward English--did he say "Billie Holly hollyflex"? The verve is as audibly miraculous as that of any certified Anglo-American acid prophet, more here than on Hip-O's 1999 Tropicália Essentials (which does, however, provide trots). A-

From Dakar to Johannesburg [Playasound, 2006]
Mamany Kouyaté, "Fatou Nana" Choice Cuts

Crunk Hits, Vol. 2 [TVT, 2006]
What fun. Eighteen more bangers, three featuring Lil Jon's ridiculous "whut"-etc., by artists whose albums are marketed to people who think it makes good economic sense to put diamonds in their teeth--plus, of course, their wannabes. BG does his Tuva thing on a line that goes "Huhhhhhhhhhhhhh yeah"; the Body Head Bangerz reach out to all Americans "addicted to money, cars and clothes"; Dem Franchise Boyz brag about their pristine T-shirts. And all that good stuff is toward the back. Not as peaky as the first volume. But more reliable. A

Elton John's Christmas Party [Hear Music, 2006]
Rufus Wainwright, "Spotlight on Christmas"; Pet Shop Boys, "It Doesn't Often Snow at Christmas" Choice Cuts

The Rough Guide to West African Gold [World Music Network, 2006]
Golden-age ecumenicism, late '50s to early '80s--Francophones trying out their English, Ghana respecting Mali, Nigerian Hawaiian guitar (Bembeya Jazz, "Whiskey Soda"; Eric Agyeman, "Abenaa Na Aden?"). ***

American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1986 [Rhino, 2006]
Beyond Black Flag, Bad Brains and Flipper, 23 driven bands with a track apiece disappear into one anonymous blur (Bad Brains, "Pay to Cum"; Black Flag, "Nervous Breakdown"). *

Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, & Chanteys [Anti-, 2006]
Loudon Wainwright III, "Good Ship Venus," "Turkish Revelry"; Stan Ridgway, "Hanging Johnny"; Ralph Steadman, "Little Boy Billee" Choice Cuts

Jewface [Reboot Stereophonic, 2006]
Though these 16 dialect songs from 1905 to 1922 are generally performed by Jewish comics, gramophone megastar Billy Murray "goils" and "vys" through his only known Hebrew number, and jill-of-all-accents, Ada Jones, trills "Under the Matsos Tree." Like Irving Berlin's "Cohen Owes Me 97 Dollars," they're usually written by Jewish tunesmiths, but to the best of my knowledge neither Bert Fitzgibbon nor Al Piantadosi qualify. In other words, they're not only minstrelsy but on occasion blatantly exploitative minstrelsy, just as compiler Jody Rosen's album title implies. Nevertheless, they're good for many yocks on the order of "I'm a good Yiddisher/Buttonhole finisher" and often truly sharp, as in "He was sentimental/Not Jewish, but gentle" (that's a toreador) or "All Cohens look alike to me" (substitute the pet name of a masked, ring-tailed carnivore). They're catchy and well-sung--try Fanny Brice's "Becky Is Back in the Ballet" or Rhoda Bernard's "Nat'an"--and orchestrated with some variety. They're history; they make you think about the compulsion to racial stereotype in American humor. But mostly they're just a delight--talent enjoying itself without inhibition. If you disapprove, consult a proctologist. A-

Paris Presents: Hard Truth Soldiers: Volume 1 [Guerrilla Funk, 2006]
"A response to the current apolitical climate in commercial music," with beats to match its truths (Truth Universal, "Inspiration"; Paris, "Laylow"; the S.T.O.P. Movement, "Down Wit Us"). ***

Why the Hell Not . . . : The Songs of Kinky Friedman [Sustain, 2006]
Funny after all, with essential help from guys who can actually sing and/or tell a joke (Willie Nelson, "Ride 'Em Jewboy"; Ray Benson & Reckless Kelly, "Homo Erectus"). ***

African Pearls, Vol. 1: Rumba on the River [Syllart, 2006]
Ibrahima Sylla, the capitalist angel of Afro-Parisian Hi-NRG, compiles 44 soukous songs recorded in and around Kinshasa in the innocent years between 1954 and 1969, with the 1969 one, Nico's rippling "Tour d'Afrique," slicker but no less sweet and gentle than the 1954 one, Grand Kalle's undulating "Ambiance Kalle Catho." These were 45s, 28 of them 3:20 or less, but they don't separate out readily for us non-Lingala speakers. Instead they're a river to rumba on, invariably softer than their Cuban models even when they imitate them. Talent scout extraordinaire Grand Kalle is the glue, and Tabu Ley is a bigger standout than Franco. Greatest hit: Sam Mangwana's 1968 "Festival Bilombe," which breaks into an irresistible trumpets-plus-pidgin-Spanish seben at around 1:20. A-

Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers [Atlantic/Rhino, 2006]
The Soul Clan, "That's How It Feels" Choice Cuts

Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Sisters [Atlantic/Rhino, 2006]
Aretha Franklin, "My Way"; Margie Joseph, "It's Growing"; Esther Phillips, "Cheater Man" Choice Cuts

Mama's Got a Bag of Her Own [Stateside, 2006]
Margo Thunder, "Expressway to Your Heart"; Doris, "Beatmaker" Choice Cuts

Panama! [Soundway, 2006]
Los Exagerados, "Panama Esta Bueno y . . . Ma" Choice Cuts

Eminem Presents: The Re-Up [Interscope, 2006]
It's a crew album--of course it sucks. The depressing thing is how much. Obie Trice, the merry men of D-12, Shady Records never-was Stat Quo and newbies Ca$his and Bobby Creekwater, 50 Cent proving payback is a bitch--didn't one of them have a lyric to show off? On a record where all they do is brag about being big-timers who are down with Shady, even a few insights into cocaine packaging would tone things up considerably. The boss's beats tend toward ominoso rock-keyb marches like "Mosh" and "White America," with gunshots scattered here and there like pepper spray. But not only is this mode less fresh now, Eminem doesn't develop it, and the rhymes don't nearly justify its declamatory pomp. So the Em-50 duet "Jimmy Crack Corn," an egocentric return to the rhythms of the visionary anti-Bush "Square Dance," comes as a relief, as do the Akon and 50 remixes. But though Eminem's own rhymes meet his traditional polysyllabic standards, with a nice pass into the third person on the title song ("as sick as his music is, or was, still is, whatever"), only the final two minutes of the final track access the brilliance we once took for granted: "They don't see that I'm wounded/All they did was ballooned it/I'm sick of talking about these tattoos/Cartooned it/That's why I tuned it out." [Rolling Stone: 2]

Plague Songs [4AD, 2006]
The ten plagues of Egypt were good for the Jews--brought down by Moses, Aaron, and their boss Jehovah to help those long-ago Middle East good guys get out from under. But when a British documentarian got grant money to commission songs about said plagues as part of her muddled re-enactment of the Exodus, what were her arty artistes to do? Make locusts and boils sound like liberation? Instead, Brian Eno and Laurie Anderson escape into depressive murmurs, Scott Walker and the Tiger Lillies offer competing Antony and the Johnsons imitations, wan London rapper Klashnekoff and typographically challenged soulster Cody ChestnuTT fulfill their quota, and King Creosote associates frogs with loneliness because they didn't ask him to write one about roses. At least Rufus Wainwright moves the firstborn-son action to Westchester. And thank G-d Stephin Merritt risks "necessary heresy." "Fleas fleas, STDs/All of Egypt on her knees"--that's the spirit. [Rolling Stone: 2]

What's Happening in Pernambuco? [Luaka Bop, 2007]
Fresh musotourist Brazil-beats from not-quite-Bahia (Otto, "Bob"; Cabruera, "Erectos Cactos"). **

Authenticité: The Syliphone Years [Sterns Africa, 2007]
A 1965 to 1980 trove from Guinea, which in its anti-accommodationist militance socialized music, subsidizing dozens of big-time, "federal" (i.e., "national" and local) orchestras and recording them on a government label. The consistent musicianship and enjoyable high points of the first of two mix-and-match discs don't necessarily signify from afar. But on the second, all the horn bands about to erupt up the coast in mercantile Dakar are presaged by longer tracks with crazier, more expansive arrangements. And though these aren't as spectacular as on Stern's Dakar-based Music in My Head, they're often as surprising. Midway in, roots-conscious new ensembles slow things down while keeping them weird. And for a finale, there's a tribute to the sharp, comic falsetto of Disc 1 standout Demba Camara, dead in 1973 along with his nation's first, best chance at pan-African stardom. A-

Bokoor Beats [Otrabanda, 2007]
A white African whose father taught philosophy at the University of Ghana, John Collins named the ever-shifting Bokoor Band and the always-open Bokoor Studio after the Twi word for coolness, but the nonchalance he nurtures is much more congenial than anything American hipsters associate with that idea. These eight songs in Ga and English by Bokoor (there are also four by allied bands) were worked into surefire danceability on a picaresque touring schedule--Collins has stories to tell. But they're not tight--even the soukous numbers shamble. And if you never figured out what "Afro-rock" might be, Bokoor will make it clearer than any Afro-funk comp you've ever tried to love. A-

Urban Africa Club [Out Here, 2007]
Any ignoramus who still considers Afro-pop crude should get a load of what happens when it makes its bellicose peace with techno. The beats here are far broader than in soukous or mbalax and the lyrics are rapped in the less liquid African tongues, notably Swahili and, you'd best believe it, English. So what once was infectious is now aggressively in your face. You will dance to it, suckers. A-

The Rough Guide to the Music of South Africa [World Music Network, 2007]
Folked-up travelogue that sidesteps most of postapartheid's actually existing pop escapism and political complexity (Busi Mhlongo, "Yehlisan' Umoya Ma-Afrika"; Solomon Linda's Original Evening Birds, "Mbube"). **

Singing for Life: Songs of Hope, Healing, and HIV/AIDS in Uganda [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2007]
Village instructional music, usually engaging and occasionally much more (Vilimina Nakiranda and the Bakuseka Majja Group, "Olumbe lubiibi [Death Is Bad]"; Kibaale Village Embaire Ensemble, "Olumbe lwamala abantu [Death Killed All the People]"). **

Hyphy Hitz [TVT, 2007]
I don't just admit it, I wear it on a sandwich board at Lincoln Center--I love stoopid, retain clishayed misspelling please. And there's no hip-hop anywhere, not the drunkest Atlanta crunk or the screwiest Houston purple-slurp, as stoopid as this wasted Bay Area electro derivative. From the A'z' siren-enhanced knowumsayin variant "Yadadamean" to the "Family Guy" poo-poo of the D.B.z' "Stewy," there isn't a sound effect too cartoon for these illegally illing sillies. They gulp, they duh, they gabble, they slur and of course they drawl. Street dealers who pass the time joking around, they bitch about snitching, and occasionally one of them manages an erection. But they generally lack the discipline to pimp and the braggadocio to lie about it. A-

The Rough Guide to Latin Arabia [World Music Network, 2007]
Sub-world-class performers put across not by their top tunes but by their shared history--Moorish Iberia, montunos included (Maurice el Medioni featuring Roberto Rodriguez, "Oran Oran"; Salamat, "Mambo el Soudani"; Cheb Sahraoui, "Je Suis Naif"). ***

North Africa: The Greatest Songs Ever [Petrol, 2007]
The mysterious super-Sahara of Gallic Islam--now that's my idea of trance (and sometimes electronica too) (Gnawa N'Joum Experience, "Kami Ni Mantabub [DJ Click Remix]"; Setona, "Sawani"). **

Gypsy Caravan: Music in and Inspired by the Film [World Village, 2007]
Unusually faithful aural depiction of must-see movie (Taraf de Haïdouks, "Mugur Mugurel"; Juana la del Pipa and her church congregation, "Te Necesito"). **

The Rough Guide to North African Café [World Music Network, 2007]
Fine Bordeaux available; kif not even a rumor (Cheb Balowski "El Dia"; Tarik, "La Foule"). *

Hairspray [Soundtrack] [New Line, 2007] Dud

Motel Lovers [Trikont, 2007]
I'm too far away to judge how vital this particular chitlin' circuit is. But I trust the money-where-her-mouth-is of 66-year-old Barbara Carr, who quit her factory job of 20 years and returned to music full-time in the wake of regional hits "Footprints on the Ceiling" and "Bone Me Like You Own Me." Presumably not all current Southern soul records stick to explicit adulterous sex, Friday-night hustles and the circuit itself. But I bet a lot of them do--enough for Munich-based Trikont to top its two '60s Black & Proud collections with these 18 contemporary songs. Young Sheba Potts-Wright furrows her own groove as she counsels coital subtlety. So does Johnnie Taylor's son Floyd analyzing his woman's failure to bring him his house shoes. Big Cynthia's matched demands for clitoral and vaginal stimulation and Denise LaSalle's Anita Hill-era "Long Dong Silver" are good cheap novelties. And standing tallest of all is a standstill ballad by Carr, who is pained to admit that her macho man is also a "Down Low Brother." A-

The Roots of Chicha [Barbès, 2007]
These "Psychedelic Cumbias From Peru" taught me why I'd resisted Cuba's belatedly exhumed Los Zafiros and Brazil's lately legendary Os Mutantes. Simply put, they were more sophisticated than the rock 'n' roll they rode into modernity on. These six Amazonian oil-town bands arrived '70s, not '60s, bearing already outmoded surf guitars, teenybopper Farfisas and space-cadet Moogs. For them, psychedelic means the Electric Prunes and "96 Tears"--in short, garage, which in the middle of an oil boom is kinda poetic. The cumbia beats they grab from up Colombia way are pokey and polka-ish, and the Andean melodies they can't get out of their heads add something new to the syncresis. The most cheerful substyle to emerge from the nether regions of "world music" in years. A-

Tropicalia: A Revolutionary Movement of Sound [Universal Latino, 2007]
Gilberto Gil, "Questão de Ordem," "Luta Contra a Lata Ou a Falência Do Café"; Caetano Veloso, "Soy Loco Por Ti, America"; Gal Costa and Jards Macalé, "The Empty Boat" Choice Cuts

Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino [Vanguard, 2007]
Only a tribute album, but the material is so welcoming and the guests give back the love (John Lennon, "Ain't That a Shame"; Lucinda Williams, "Honey Chile"; Paul McCartney featuring Allen Toussaint, "I Want to Walk You Home"; Corinne Bailey Rae, "One Night [of Sin]"; Norah Jones, "My Blue Heaven"). ***

The Rough Guide to African Blues [World Music Network, 2007]
Ayaléw Mèsfin & Black Lion Band, "Feqer Aydelem Wey"; Mariem Hassan, "La Tumchi Anni" Choice Cuts

The Rough Guide to Bellydance Café [World Music Network, 2007]
Café or no café, that's bellydance in the higher sense, aka the musical ambience of the mysterious East (Ensemble Huseyin Turkmenler, "Soleyin Yildizlar Nerde"; Giasemi Iyasmini & Nikos Saragoudas, "Tsahpinoula Moy"). **

Downtown 81 [Recall, 2007]
Jean Michel Basquiat's musical New York, which could be exciting even when it was too damn arty and could also be too damn arty (Kid Creole & the Coconuts and Coati Mundi, "K Pasa-Pop I"; Rammellzee vs. K-Rob, "Beat Bop"; Liquid Liquid, "Cavern"; DNA "Blonde Redhead"). **

Think Global: Bellydance [World Music Network, 2007]
Long on Cairo strings and other tokens of a surprising, representative formalism (Hossam Ramzy, "Aziza"; Richard A. Hagopian & Omar Faruk Tekbilek, "Kadife"). *

Seriously Good Music: Gypsy Beats [Petrol, 2007]
Lite is all you're going to get from this label, but for once it's neither schlocky nor anonymous (Esma Redzepova, "Abre Ramce"; Dunkelbunt featuring Amsterdam Klezmer Band, "La Revedere [Single Edit]"). *

Crunk Hits Vol. 4 [TVT, 2007]
A living party music enters its collectible novelty stage (Lil Jon Feat. Three 6 Mafia, "Act a Fool"; Huey, "Pop, Lock & Drop It"). *

The Sandinista! Project [00:02:59, 2007] Dud

After Dark [Feow!, 2007] Dud

Look Directly Into the Sun: China Pop 2007 [UFO, 2007]
Here be a panoply of DIY styles as imitated or reimagined by 18 young Shanghai bands, about half of whom sing in English-as-a-second-language. I've been enjoying it off and on for pushing six months, and although not a single song sticks in my mind when I go away--if there's a striking lyric here, it hasn't struck me--most return quickly when I come back. More important, that joyful youth-revolt jolt keeps getting stronger. I doubt this means that in another decade all the new bands will be Chinese, although it might. If anything, it's as if these rock 'n' roll outliers who represent a quarter of the planetary population have belatedly discovered what our bands wore out decades ago--a bish-bashing delight that portends eternal life and absolutely nothing at the same time. It will always be a kick to hear that delight again. A-

I'm Not There [Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax, 2007]
Karen O & the Million Dollar Bashers, "Highway 61 Revisited"; Mira Billotte, "As I Went Out One Morning"; The Hold Steady, "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?"; Yo La Tengo, "Fourth Time Around" Choice Cuts

Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur [Warner Bros., 2007]
The Flaming Lips, "(Just Like) Starting Over"; Green Day, "Working Class Hero"; Jack's Mannequin featuring Mick Fleetwood, "God"; Youssou N'Dour, "Jealous Guy" Choice Cuts

The Rough Guide to World Music: Africa & Middle East [World Music Network, 2007]
Rhany, "Un Mot de Toi"; Amr Diab, "Amarain" Choice Cuts

New York City Salsa [Fania, 2007]
For 40 years now I've been turned off classic salsa by the horn tuttis--their blare, their flash, their pretentious precision. And the first time I heard Tipica 73 pianist-leader Sonny Bravo kick things off with the crashing intro of Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C Sharp Minor," I cringed. But long immersion in Puerto Rican culture, as well as three relatives who are part-time salsa musicians (none of whom, even the trumpeter, loves horn tuttis), has taught me to hear salsa's rhythms, especially as driven by the piano montunos and vocal coros that are so tight and gorgeous on this 30-track comp from the label that invented the stuff. I'm not attuned enough to readily distinguish one legend from another, but I know that around my family Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Hector Lavoe and Larry Harlow are revered. I note that as the style gains presence, the horns quiet down. And by the end of the second disc--Palmieri, Puente, Lavoe and who are these Lebron Brothers driving "Sin Ti"'s piano-conga-cowbell-trumpet over the top? I'm feeling it. A-

Think Global: Women of Africa [World Music Network, 2007]
The de facto fantasy is that an entire continent, from South Africa to the Western Sahara, is in some crucial respect a single place. The styles don't mesh, of course. But the voices do, stronger in timbral solidarity here than when carrying their own full-lengths. Crowned queens--Oumou Sangare, Miriam Makeba closing with the inevitable "Pata Pata"--are outdone by such sisters as South Africa's Busi Mhlongo and Somalia's Setona, both of whom have full-lengths that are now on my to-do list. B+

Bachata Roja: Acoustic Bachata From the Cabaret Era [iASO, 2007]
Dominican son, approximately, moved to a city it romanticizes and once in a while sends up (Rafael Encarnaciòn, "Muero Contigo"; Juan Bautista, "Estoy Aqui Pero No Soy Yo"). ***

The Rough Guide to Salsa Dura NYC [World Music Network, 2007]
The Jimmy Bosch title cut establishes how magnificent this groove can be, everything else how often it's just missed (Jimmy Bosch, "El Embajador"; Ricky Gonzalez, "Mi Rumba Es Candida"). **

The Rough Guide to Salsa [World Music Network, 2007]
The international durability of classic clave, once Cuban, then Puerto Rican, now Afrodiasporan (Fruko y Sus Tesos, "La Máquina Del Sabor"; Grupo Caribe, "Sombre Una Tumba Una Rumba"). **

The Rough Guide to Latin Funk [World Music Network, 2007]
Not so great as individual bands, nice change-up as a movement--also a party (Antibalas, "Che Che Cole Mombassa"; Quantic, "Politick Society"). *

The Greatest Songs Ever--West Africa [Petrol, 2007]
Crossover nobodies array credible Afrocentrist miscellany (Nam, "Africa"; Dioss Diabaté, "Iloyoro"). *

Think Global: Salsa [World Music Network, 2007]
Richard Lemvo & Makina Loca, "Kasongo Boogaloo" Choice Cuts

Si, Para Usted: The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba: Volume 1 [Waxing Deep, 2007]
Irakere, "Bacalao Con Pan"; Los Van Van, "Y no le conviene" Choice Cuts

The Bad Boogaloo: Nu Yorican Sounds 1966-1970 [Fania, 2007]
La Lupe, "Fever"; Johnny Ventura, "Guajira Con Soul"; George Guzman, "Marilu" Choice Cuts

The Rough Guide to Salsa Clandestino [World Music Network, 2007]
Ray Santiago, "It's a Man's World" Choice Cuts

African Party [Putumayo World Music, 2007] Dud

The Best of the Johnny Cash Show 1969-1971 [Columbia/Legacy, 2007]
Back when country was working to prove it was America's music, rather than donning the mantle of patriotism and disrespecting us sinners (Ray Charles, "Ring of Fire"; George Jones, "MEDLEY: She Thinks I Still Care/Love Bug/The Race Is On"). **

Belly Bar [CIA/Bellydance Superstars, 2007]
For two CDs ethnic and less so, what the title says, although outsiders well may wonder about the "Some Like It Cool" disc (Saad, "Salaam Alakoom"; Turbo Tabla, "Irrouh"). **

Now That's What I Call Party Hits! [Capitol, 2007]
By "now," if I'm not infringing their copyright, this 2007 special edition of the endlessly uneven series has turned into That's What They Called Party Hits Back in the Day! But since it cherry-picks back through the six preceding years to preserve all one need ever hear of Shop Boyz, Dem Franchize Boyz, Mims, Chingy, and, sad but true so far, Amerie, that just brightens its classic aura. The other 15 artists are more auspicious--in fact, "Gold Digger," "Get Your Freak On," and "Hey Ya!" may strike sticklers as insufficiently cheesy. But to my ears these actual great records tone up such instamatic hits as the Pussycat Dolls' "Don't Cha" and Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend." Fittingly, the sole stinker is by Chris Brown. Making me even sorrier that Soulja Boy was too young to attend. A-

Think Global: Tango [Riverboat, 2007]
Sometimes rougher (good), sometimes artier (not), sometimes jazzier (depends), Chris Moss picks 15 Oxfam-approved tangos for the well-meaning market (Juan Carlos Caceres, "Cumtango"; Melingo, "Leonel El Feo"). **

Tango Around the World [Putumayo World Music, 2007] Dud

Gypsy Groove [Putamayo, 2007] Dud

Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection [Shout! Factory, 2007]
Before Motown, Chicago-based Vee-Jay was the biggest black-owned label of the rock and roll era, with a run of r&b and then pop hits stretching from Jimmy Reed's "High and Lonesome" in 1953 to the Dells' "Stay in My Corner" in 1965--and also included the Four Seasons' 1962 "Sherry" and, thanks to Capitol Records' initial stupidity, four of the first nine Beatles' songs to go top 40. But the label failed to survive these unlikely successes--by 1964 or so, it was said to be involved in sixty-four separate legal actions. Vee-Jay had no house style--just a&r man Calvin Carter, who favored the rougher strains of blues and gospel but appreciated every r&b and gospel style, and promo man Ewart Abner, who could schmooze anybody about anything and ended up president of Motown. Reed was its most prolific artist. Label-hopping blues primitivist John Lee Hooker had his biggest singles with Vee-Jay, and apostle of soul cool Jerry Butler his first. Carter also brought the world the supernal doowop of Pookie Hudson's Spaniels and the durable post-doowop of Marvin Junior's Dells. But all these artists are more efficiently accessed on their own collections. What's striking on this four-CD set is the one-shots: young Gladys Knight and aging "5" Royales, cult heroes Rosco Gordon and Pee Wee Crayton outdoing themselves, hot songwriter Hoyt Axton's hokum blues and future record exec Donnie Elbert's falsetto workout. Like most boxes, this one needs its familiar hits and is too long on high-generic collectors' items. But with the worst of eighty-five tracks a lounge-jazz "Exodus," a lot of people were clearly doing something right. [Rolling Stone: 3.5]

Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump: Original Heavyweight Afrobeat, Highlife & Afro-Funk [Strut, 2008]
Starts with a lively juju (wha?--see subtitle) by Sir Shina Peters, born in 1958 (wha?--see title) and along with highlife new jack Victor Uwaifo easily the most famous artist on this poetically shambolic Afrocomp. When Afrobeat does surface, it lacks Fela's rage and drive, which isn't such a bad thing: Peter King's bassy, relaxed "African Dialects," Dynamic Africana's flute-fed, delicate "Igbehin Lalayo Nta," and Eric (Showboy) Akaeze's protracted, assalam-aleikoumed "Wetin De Watch Goat, Goat Dey Watcham" are all high points. Even the funk has its moments. As Ify Jerry Krusade so aptly puts it, "Everybody Likes Something Good." A-

Body of War: Songs That Inspired an Iraq War Veteran [Sire, 2008]
Thirty war songs, 30 freedom songs--major and minor, obscure and familiar, with many more to come (John Lennon, "Gimme Some Truth"; System of a Down, "B.Y.O.B."; Laura Cantrell, "Love Vigilantes"; Bouncing Souls, "Letter From Iraq"). **

The Rough Guide to African Street Party [World Music Network, 2008]
Dog Murras, "Kamussekele" Choice Cuts

Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock & Fuzz Funk in 1970s Nigeria [Soundway, 2008] Dud

Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues [Soundway, 2008]
Knowledgeable compiler Miles Cleret says no concept here, just a bunch of records he didn't want to die, and more power to him. Beyond Celestine Ukwu and Sir Victor Uwaifo, none of the 26 artists was in my recall vocabulary, including Mono Mono and the Funkees, who I'd failed to notice on 2001's Nigeria 70 funk comp. But from the retooled folk tunes on the trad extreme to the Afrobeat on the prog, most of Cleret's treasures are winning, probably because highlife controls the middle--though horns sound occasionally. Anglophony does push the Yoruba and Ibo aside now and then. But the focus is always Nigerian. As Cleret translates Mono Mono: "Don't teach us our own culture; this has been our way for ages and we know it best." Which must be why they feel free to interpret funk to mean a few Ernie Isley moves. A-

The Rough Guide to Congo Gold [World Music Network, 2008]
This chronological tour of rumba-not-soukous begins with a crackly 1949 78 featuring founding father Henri Bowane and coasts home on guitar-weaving revivalist and synth-embracing neoclassicist tracks by old Franco hands Papa Noel and Madilu System. But it peaks in the middle, when Verckys' yakety sax gives way to the scrumptious Franco Volkswagen ad "Azda." Then it levels off high and gentle. With five of the 12 selections by Franco or Rochereau, who made more great records than most of us will ever know, the delights of their unknown pleasures obliterate the redundancy of "Azda" and the Rochereau-Mbilia Bel hookup. Finally the perfect complement to Celluloid's lost Hi-NRG Zaire Choc! CD. As playable as Afrocomps get. A

Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project [Cumbancha, 2008]
This collection belongs first of all to the Garifuna women Cumbancha's Jacob Edgar calls "the true caretakers of Garifuna songs"--Sofia Blanco, whose piercing sweetness leads two of the dozen tracks and whose daughter Silvia takes two others; powerhouse Chela Torres; Julia Nuñez succeeding her ailing mother with a brief threnody for her murdered son. But it also belongs to Ivan Duran, who spent years collecting material in the field and then brought singers into his studio 50 miles or much more inland from the Caribbean coastal areas that are home to Afro-Carib Garifuna communities all the way down to Nicaragua. Adding guitar parts and finding vocal arrangements, eliciting a solo from a local Hendrix, hooking up with Fatboy Slim only not so's you can tell, Duran never cheapens the material. Instead he achieves the misbegotten world-music dream of rendering the folkloric "accessible." Alan Lomax should have been so canny. A-

The Rough Guide to the Music of the Hungarian Gypsies [World Music Network, 2008]
Cooler and crazier the more Balkan it gets (Khamoro, "Lingara/Csavargok"; Kàlmàn Balogh & the Gipsy Cimbalom Band, "Calusul Dance"). **

Latin Reggae [Putumayo World Music, 2008]
Really, I wasn't expecting reggaeton, just maybe the deep thrum of Bristol Brooklyn Bridge on Rough Guide's Latin funk comp. What I got was Barcelona, the whitest hotbed of internationalism on the planet. Six of 11 tracks hail from that paradise, and whatever the artists' political bona fides--said to be legion, including a tithe or something to combat poverty in Latin America (tricky term, that "Latin")--they could pick up some skank from the Bellamy Brothers, who I bet would still also have better lyrics even if I knew what these were. The bouncy cheer and quiet comfort always purveyed by this label run amok. C-

The Rough Guide to the Music of Romanian Gypsies [World Music Network, 2008]
Why'd ya think they call 'em Roma? Home to more Gypsies than any other nation, with Ceaucescu's urban Electrecord bureaucracy preceding and complementing Eurobizzers' deep-mountain fabrication of Taraf de Haïdouks and Fanfare Ciocarlia, Romania is the Gypsy-music motherlode--so much so that I've already A-listed albums by eight of the 20 artists on this inevitable compilation. But I'm not idealistic enough to believe that many readers have tried them all, and would be flattered if they'd tried more than one, so here's what you've been missing. The knockouts come in the first half, including Haïdouks and Romica Puceanu picks I'd never noticed or heard, respectively. But the civility of the Electrecord material and the raucousness of the Crammed Discs period are vivacious in their own distinct ways, with less renowned recent recordings splitting the difference. Maybe you wish four of the last eight featurees didn't play accordion, and maybe you're right, sort of. In the end, you'll hardly notice. A-

Princes Amongst Men: Journeys With Gypsy Musicians [Asphalt Tango, 2008]
Excellent Balkan Gypsy starter set keyed to excellent Garth Cartwright book raids excellent single-artist albums and grinds to a halt on two six-minute diva workouts that give up no funk whatsoever (Fulgerica, "Briu De La Craiova"; Sudahan, "Cocek Shutka"). ***

Love, Peace & Poetry: Chilean Psychedelic Music [Tee Pee, 2008]
Aguaturbia, "Erotica"; Kissing Spell, "Yellow Moon" Choice Cuts

Disturbia Remixes [Def Jam, 2008]
Rihanna, "Disturbia (Craig C's Disturbstramental Mix)" Choice Cuts

The Rough Guide to Klezmer Revolution [World Music Network, 2008]
In klezmer revolution, so-called, there's the Klezmatics and then there's everybody else, with kudos to the following (Amsterdam Klezmer Band, "Sadagora Hot Dub"; Margot Leverett & the Klezmer Mountain Boys Feat. Michael Alpert, "Leibes Tanz"). **

The Rough Guide to Klezmer Revival [World Music Network, 2008]
Often sprightly, always contained (Di Naye Kapelye, "Schwartz's Sirba/A Briv Fun Yisroel"; German Goldenshteyn, "Moldavian Freylakhs"). **

The Jewish Songbook [Shout! Factory, 2008]
Paul Shaffer and Richard Belzer, "Joe and Paul"; Triumph the Insult Comic Dog With Special Appearance by Max Weinberg, "Mahzel (Means Good Luck)"; Jason Alexander, "Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max" Choice Cuts

The Rough Guide to Calypso Gold [World Music Network, 2008]
Trinidad as Novelty Island, including many songs preferable in their Top 40 versions (Lord Kitchener, "Ah Bernice"; Houdini, "Uncle Jo' Gimme Mo'"). ***

A Jazz & Blues Christmas [Putumayo World Music, 2008]
If swing them bells you must, wrap them in this (Ray Charles, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"; B.B. King, "Christmas Celebration"). **

Arriba la Cumbia! [Crammed Discs, 2008]
Want a recipe for Steam Table Surprise? How about an English DJ in search of "the latest global dance music phenomenon" promoting a charming, Colombian-gone-Latin style whose heyday was half a century ago? Fold in some Euro modernizers just to stink the joint up a little more. But then culinary magic happens, and the mélange ends up some kind of cross between one of those fabled musical gumbos and the world's tastiest processed chicken fingers. Salted with autèntico old-timers whenever the corn syrup gets too thick, a Bristol trio and a Mexican DJ and some arty reggaetonians and the beat firm of Droesemeyer & Wetzler and Basement Jaxx getting in on the action rev up squeezeboxes real and imagined. Piece de resistance: Fulanito's "Merencumbiaso," in which a bunch of NYC Dominicans blend Latin America's pokiest pop dance style with its speediest. A-

Rich Man's War [Ruf, 2008]
Bad protest music, as in the forced rhymes and scansion of Norman and Nancy Blake's "Don't Be Afraid of the Neo-Cons," diminishes the cause of justice by making both preacher and choir sound like smug slobs. But nowhere else here does this unlikely cherry-pick of blues survivors, hacks and unknowns fall on its face. They're just mad, that's all. Blues scholar David Evans lifts a title from Freda Payne and adds a "bring the girls back home" verse for Jessica Lynch and Lori Piestewa. Candye Kane, whose many album covers all feature her large breasts, eavesdrops on "Jesus and Mohammed." Sometime Marcia Ball guitarist Pat Boyack spins out a nine-minute ramble in which Bushie nightmares help you hit today's number. After all that, the tireless Eddy Clearwater has every right to sing "A Time for Peace." And when journeyman Doug MacLeod climaxes the proceedings with "You gotta get off your butt if you're gonna implement change," it sounds idiomatic as all get-out. A-

The Rough Guide to Colombian Street Party [World Music Network, 2008]
Insofar as there are street parties in Colombia--and there are, though probably not as many as the compilers want you to believe--you're unlikely to hear all these beats at any one of them. As the notes tell us, Colombia is home to over 300 genres and rhythms--metropolitan and backwater, coastal and Andean, Caribbean and Pacific. But where on most Rough Guides the abrupt changes of cultural mood are dangerously disorienting, here dance tempos rev over the bumps and the rhythm shifts interest non-Spanish speakers as content even when the beatmakers are strictly from Hungary. Salsa predominates slightly: dura, never romantico. But rustic flutes get things started, the cumbias fit right in, the chirimias likewise, there's a mento thing in English, the rock en Espanol tends ska, and everything's flowin'. A-

Delmark: 55 Years of Blues [Delmark, 2008]
Near-geniuses and mere journeypeople feel the strength of their sweet home genre (Speckled Red, "The Right String but the Wrong Yo-Yo"; Jimmy Dawkins, "Feel So Bad"). **

The Rough Guide to Cuban Street Party [World Music Network, 2008]
Positing a world where Cubans from both sides of the embargo can rev the clave hard together (Maraca, "Castigala"; La Lupe, "Sin Ma¡z"). ***

The Rough Guide to Latin Street Party [World Music Network, 2008]
"Turn it down, there's people sleeping here!" "No, turn it up!" "I'm warning you, turn it down!" "Come on down yourself!" (Chale Brillante y Su Bambino, "Prisionero En Tus Brazos"; Sidestepper, "Mas Papaya [Lightning Head Remix]"). *

The Rough Guide to Turkish Café [World Music Network, 2008]
Sultana, "Kusu Kalkmaz" Choice Cuts

Whiskey in the Jar: Essential Irish Drinking Songs & Sing Alongs [Legacy, 2008]
Close the windows tight, pour yourself a second beer, and enjoy St. Patrick's Day the fun way--vicariously (Dropkick Murphys, "The Dirty Glass"; the Dubliners, "Weila Waile"). ***

Black Stars: Ghanas Hiplife Generation [Out Here, 2008]
The African ability to manufacture major exhilaration out of marginal economics is a skill young American musos should wrap their minds around. These 14 tracks, selected by ace German compiler-annotator Georg Milz from the decade-plus history of a broadly conceived genre that's not about to quit, modernize highlife with electronics, rap, and the occasional excursion into reggae. Their only program is getting parties started. These parties are as raunchy as they wanna be--"Toto Mechanic" means "Pussy Mechanic" in Ga. But they're markedly more relaxed than, for instance, the HI-NRG bashes evoked by VP's new Ultimate Soca Gold Collection--as if they've figured out that the toto feels better to both partners when all day and all night includes breathers. A-

ZZK Sound Vol. 1--Cumbia Digital [ZZK, 2008]
Spawned not so much by as in Buenos Aires's Zizek club, these teched-up variations on the pokier Colombian alternative to salsa divide into two conveniently block-programmed sub-variants. Tracks nine through 14 have their fun with the tidy tweedling of what I classify as early electro, and maybe you could throw track five in there too. The rest, through eight and 15 to 17, are lower, wilder, freakier, epitomized by but hardly limited to Fauna's seven-and-a-half-minute "Canibal," with its feral shouts, squelching bass, and funny sound effects. The tweedling gets annoying. But the rest makes a dandy playlist. B+

African Pearls: Senegal 70: Musical Effervescence [Syllart, 2009]
I've heard plenty of salsa-influenced pre-mbalax from Senegal's second decade, with its brash interplay of rough and sweet, clave and tama, roots and dreams. But lacking verbal cues, I don't recall individual songs that well, so I'm pleased to report that after examining my library and perusing notes in inelegant French and illiterate English, I'm impressed by how few duplications pop up on this 26-track double-CD--and also by the quality of rarities like Orchestra Baobab's Parisian Arsenio Rodriguez cover "Juana" and JB-channeling "Kelen Ati." The vocal intensity will surprise no one familiar with Youssou's warm up posse or Baobab's panoply of frontmen, and it's good to attach audible presences to celebrated names like Pape Seck and El Hadje Faye. It's also good to hear winners unknown in these parts, like Xalam's explosively retro "Daïda." A-

The Home Run EP [Yep Roc EP, 2009]
Todd Snider, "America's Favorite Pastime Choice Cuts

War Child Presents Heroes: An Album to Benefit Children Affected by War [Astralwerks/War Child, 2009]
Who said nobody writes standards anymore? (Lily Allen feat. Mick Jones, "Straight to Hell"; Duffy, "Live and Let Die"). ***

Dark Was the Night [4AD, 2009]
Starting with the still-available, still-classic Cole Porter tribute Red Hot + Blue, the AIDS-fighting Red Hot Organization has sponsored many smart multi-artist charity albums since 1990, but no bigger conundrum than this two-disc alt-Brooklyn-plus coffee klatch. The second disc can be pigeonholed with the usual anti-comp cliches--uneven, second-shelf, too many covers, etc. In fact, though, its many big names (for that scene) have national scope and try harder than usual. As for the first disc, only scenesters will warm to it right off--assuming they don't just trash it like the good little boho contrarians they are. But give it more chances than any non-fan would and the thing coheres--quiet, strange, subtle, too subtle, like a dream you can't quite remember. A-

Johnny Cash Remixed [Compadre, 2009] Dud

The Rough Guide to Afrobeat Revival [World Music Network, 2009]
With Fela gone, definitely a style best consumed in one-song-per-artist dollops, as bonus Kokolo disc demonstrates (Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble, "Fela Day"; Mr. Something Something and Ikwunga the Afrobeat Poet, "Di Bombs"). **

Panama! 2 [Soundway, 2009]
The first volume preserves the big-band salsa and Latin soul of the Colon and Panama City scenes--hot, yes, but often secondhand and/or overblown. This one sticks mostly to the interior. On the lead track, an accordion takes the horn part of a Willie Colon bomba and turns the tune into a cumbia; on the next, two horns take the accordion part of a percussion-driven tamborito and turn that one into "tamborito swing." Gradually the music salsafies, though less elaborately than on volume one, as well as briefly resuscitating more soul and a couple of calypsos. But in the end the accordion returns, frisky and tipico, the indigenous instrument of what some have called "Colombia's black province," as of the 1967-'77 heyday this heroic crate dig documents. A-

The Rough Guide to Latin Lounge [World Music Network, 2009]
The Juju Orchestra, "Kind of Latin Rhythm" Choice Cuts

The Panic Is On [Shanachie, 2009]
Ranging well beyond the folkloric songsters you'd expect, this CD/DVD documenting "The Great Depression as Seen by the Common Man" makes a point of how far that disaster spread by resuscitating bland session singer Dick Robertson's desperately jocular "If I Ever Get a Job Again" and Bing Crosby imitator Charlie Palloy's non-hit cover of "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?"--and also cheerier songs by each. From a title track in which Hezekiah Jenkins splits the difference between black or white to a Roy Acuff rarity equating Social Security with good riddance to the cosmetics industry, unfamiliarity deepens thematic impact. It's as if you couldn't walk out the door back then without hearing about hard times. In controlled doses, the DVD is almost as good. Don't miss the surreal dance marathon clip. The federal documentary about rural electrification is pretty surreal too. A-

In the Pines: Tar Heel Folk Songs & Fiddle Tunes [Old Hat, 2009]
Local luminaries illuminate locale, 1926-1936 (Grayson & Whitter, "Tom Dooley"; "Dock" Walsh, "In the Pines"). ***

The Rough Guide to Merengue Dance [World Music Network, 2009]
With its smooth disco hyperdrive, big-band merengue is cocaine music. These 15 tipsy tracks are different. Recorded mostly in the Dominican, supplied almost exclusively by a single U.S.-based label, they're nuevo tipico and proud. Just when it's time for the tempos to accelerate, hip-hop touchups add a roughness, and the dominant instrument is accordion, which as in Colombian cumbia evokes a rural idea of urban modernity even if the hands of virtuosos like María Díaz and Krency Garcia. Elsewhere find wild crossovers whose sonic reach could throw anybody's dance-music assembly line off kilter. And young accordionist Carlos Almonte earns not just his closing spot but the bonus disc that backs it up. A-

The Rough Guide to Afrobeat Revolution [World Music Network, 2009]
Fela acolytes from many nations finally start getting his groove right (the Afromotive, "Lies"; Albino!, "Puppet Boy"). *

The Rough Guide to Tango Revival [World Music Network, 2009]
You say you like your music constructed, arranged, and what's wrong with Euro? Prove it. As Chris Moss' essay reports and selections demonstrate, Argentina's financial crisis had an upside: an upsurge in Buenos Aires pride embodied in a tango revival that looked to Astor Piazzolla as its fountainhead. But many of the great internationalist's habits and innovations owed Europe, and not all of these bands are Argentinean. Hungarians and Romanians take naturally to a violin-bandoneon sound that's perked up by a little cymbalom; Germans butt in as is their musical wont. Every track here rewards close attention, some require it, and all justify Moss' programmatic notes--do actually convey "romance and rancour," "boom-and-bust," and "urban disaffection" musically. To prove how complex tango has become, a bonus disc showcases the simpler soul of Carlos Gardel, whose death in a plane crash in 1935 sealed his status as tango's first great hero. A-

The Rough Guide to Tango [World Music Network, 2009]
Not the older stuff, necessarily--just the cornier stuff (Damian Bolotin, "Escualo"; Fleurs Noires, "Urbano"). *

The Rough Guide to Gypsy Revival [World Music Network, 2009]
Whatever the title is supposed to signify, this is Roma music trying out some dance/hip-hop fusion--three out of 13 tracks from the dubious Electric Gypsyland ventures. Yet even those are stronger in this context. It does get bland, even duff. But it also showcases worthy second-stringers revving up and getting raw. And it's more of a pick-me-up when the interlopers spur on rather than show off. B+

The Rough Guide to Gypsy Music [World Music Network, 2009]
Musafir, "Barish" Choice Cuts

Dr. Boogie Presents Heavy Jelly: Essential Instrumentals 8 [Sub Rosa, 2009]
Belgian super-collector proves that while great sax and/or organ singles were rare in pre-Beatles Eden, good ones weren't (Rudy & the Reno Boy's, "7-11"; Baby Earl & the Trinidads, "Blackslop"). **

Ghana Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Ghanaian Blues [Soundway, 2009]
Two discs of rarities encompassing the usual scintillating oddities, odd oddities, and slightly substandard generics (Pagadeja, "Tamale"; Basa Basa Sounds feat. Fela Anikulapo Kuti, "Dr. Solutsu"). *

Beatles Beginnings [Rhythmand Blues, 2009]
The young may find the second, "rock 'n' roll" volume educational, though not as educational as best-ofs by Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, etc. But this misleadingly billed predecessor will enlighten and entertain almost any American, not with its perfectly OK roots-style material, which is less country than blues, but with its pop, especially its British pop. Top of which are some terrific skiffle records, the greatest of them Lonnie Donegan's runaway version of Huddie Ledbetter's "Rock Island Line," a novelty smash Stateside in 1956. But the choicest are names more read about than heard: George Formby, Humphrey Lyttelton, Chris Barber--every one proof of life on radio for eager '50s British kids. And then there are a dozen tracks illustrating pop's unpredictable fecundity in any period or context: "Your Feet's Too Big" and "Sheik of Araby," Marlene Dietrich and "Third Man Theme," Ray Charles' "My Bonnie" and Gene Vincent's "Summertime," even Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly joining in on "True Love." I hated that record when I was a musically rebellious teen. But as the notes point out, it's the direct source of John Lennon's "Good Night." Pick and choose, pick and choose--it's the way of pop genius. A-

Ouaga Affair: Hard Won Sound of the Upper Volta 1974-78 [Savannaphone, 2009]
Upper Volta became Burkina Faso in 1984, when Thomas Sankara reformed the corrupt government of this landlocked, not quite sub-Saharan backwater and simultaneously undermined a fan base consisting, as so often in Africa, of bureaucrats and businessmen with other people's money to burn. Not that the infrastructure amounted to much--a few venues and fewer labels, the largest of which supplied these 15 tracks. Recording quality varies from primitive to clear, but the music is remarkable for an impoverished nation of six million, no matter the input of educated immigrants from Europe and Francophone Africa. Singer and trade unionist Sandwidi Pierre contributes three indictments of urban decadence that include the instantly captivating lead cut. Manding guitarist Mangue Konde raises up a Latin-styled track before moving to Abidjan to join Super Mande. Harmonie Voltaique debate whether to save your mother or your wife from a raging river and make you feel their pain. Sahara and sub-Sahara mix and mingle. B+

Preservation [Preservation Hall, 2009]
"An album to benefit Preservation Hall & the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program"--which is in New Orleans, and needs it more than ever (Dr. John, "Winin' Boy"; Pete Seeger/Tao Rodriguez- Seeger, "Blue Skies"). *

BalkanBeats: A Night in Berlin [Piranha, 2010]
Bosnian expat DJs a Balkan disco night (Al Lindrum & His Magic Hat, "Come Together"; Shantel, "Disko Partizani [Marcus Darius Meets Tricky Cris Remix]"). **

Next Stop . . . Soweto [Strut, 2010]
Rare old mbaqanga 45s, invariably lively and often off formula (Ubhekitsche Namajongosi, "Ngizitholile Izinkomo"; Amaqawe Omculo, "Jabulani Balaleli [Part 2]"). *

Project Ahimsa Presents Global Lingo [Project Ahimsa, 2010]
One-worlder hip-hop comp benefits from the kids it aims to serve, who turn corn into charm again and again (Amit Shoham, "BodaNathu"; the Children of Ritmos en los Barrios, "El tiburon del Lago Cocibolca"). ***

Snoop Dogg Presents the West Coast Blueprint [Priority, 2010]
All the proof you need that Compton booty-bass was better off before fools started believing that "Gangstas Make the World Go Round" (Yo-Yo Featuring Ice Cube, "You Can't Play With My Yo-Yo"; King Tee, "Act a Fool"; Kid Frost, "La Raza"). *

African Pearls: Congo: Pont Sur le Congo [Syllart, 2010]
From the early '70s, before the plunderers went bonkers, the music on this extraordinarily sweet and gentle double-CD flows and glows where later soukous accelerates and coruscates. There are features for Franco, Rochereau, Zaiko Langa Langa. But it achieves its steady-state bliss by showcasing second-level artists rarely heard in the States: Franco's brother Bavon Marie Marie, dead in an automobile accident at 26; outspoken Congo-Brazzaville progressive Franklin Boukaka, executed after a leftwing coup at 31; Franco's adaptable guitarist mentor Dewayon; sax man as big man Verckys; silken guitarist Docteur Nico; and many others who won't let you down. Amid plenty of rhythm workout and enough rough stuff, the purpose is beauty rather than passion or ecstasy. And the effect is to make you feel how deep this musical culture ran. A

Egypt Noir: Nubian Soul Treasures [Piranha, 2010]
Proof there's life after Ali Hassan Kuban--and also Um Kulthum, who was never known for her beats anyway (Fathi Abou Greisha, "Hager"; Salma, "Yanas Baridou"). ***

Lagos Disco Inferno [Academy LPs/Voodoo Funk, 2010]
Back in the disco fever era, when post-Biafra Nigerians replicated modern records cheerfully, faithfully, and nevertheless differently (Doris Ebong, "Boogie Trip"; Paradise Stars, "Boogie Trip"). **

African Pearls: Côte d'Ivoire: West African Crossroads [Syllart, 2010]
A recording center because it was an economic capital, Abidjan never developed a musical identity of its own (Assia Kobe Michel Bin, "Okoi Séka Athanese"; Aicha Koné, "Aminata"). **

African Pearls: Sénégal--Echo Musical [Syllart, 2010]
When the very tastiest tracks on a perfectly enjoyable two-CD collection from '70s Senegal are all Youssou- or Baobab-related, a barrel is being scraped--a molasses barrel, not a tar barrel (Xalam, "Yumbeye," "Bere Baxu Gor"; Waato Siita, "Bajuda"). ***

Eccentric Breaks & Beats [Numero Group, 2010]
Megamix goes warp quantum moderato as Shoes consortium cherrypicks the breakbeat canon into two supposedly narrative, actually just segued 20-minute tracks ("Side A," "Side B"). **

Raise Hope for Congo [Mercer Street, 2010]
Amid decent Western and better African originals and a few surprising Western-African collaborations, the show-stopper is California royalty reading the testimony of a Kivus rape survivor (Sheryl Crow, "My Name Is Mwamaroyi"; Konono #1, "Nsimba & Nzuzi"). *

Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine [Oh Boy, 2010]
Those Darlins, "Let's Talk Dirty in Hawaiian"; Josh Ritter, "Mexican Home" Choice Cuts

Tribute to a Reggae Legend [Putumayo World Music, 2010] Dud

Angola Soundtrack [Analog Africa, 2010]
These 18 carefully sequenced, thoroughly annotated tracks are the musical spoor of the 12-year leadup to a cruelly delayed independence that was followed immediately by three decades of civil war. Thus it's even more poignant than the soon-to-be-dashed hopes you hear in the early pop of other African nations. Given its Lusophone provenance, its Latinisms are remarkably un-Brazilian, dominated by son, merengue, and especially the rumba-twice-removed of the big boys just north in Congo. Song per se doesn't count for much--singing often seems an afterthought to the basic mode of trebly guitar atop indigenous polyrhythms, crude and palpably rural compared to the Congolese jams it emulates and often evokes. But the sense of possibility is undercut only by the occasional hint of saudade. B+

Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa [Honest Jon's, 2010]
In a capital city in northwestern South Africa a producer known as Nozinja--which in Xitsonga means "dog," which may signify top dog and may not--creates indigenous pop out of next to nothing. Just keyboards is my best guess, revved in tempo and pitch so the occasional chipmunk effects fit right in. Unrevved are the voices, South African baritones and contraltos going on about endless love and rabbit stew as if this was still mbaqanga. The tweedly gestalt will grate at first unless tweedles are your idea of postmodern fun. But before too long the voices assert themselves in the mix, naturalizing those tweedles with a confidence that's my idea of postmodern fun. A-

Scion CD Sampler v. 28--Dub Police [Scion AV, 2010]
Doubting my powers of judgment while prospecting for single-artist gold or at least promissory notes, I dipped into half a dozen failed tips while this simplistic stuff continued to please. So call me dumb, why should I care? Midtempo of course, with Dub Police label head Caspa and his paleskin posse extending stick-to-the-tympanum little synth motives into gallumphing lilts that only rarely--on Unitz' "Light ina Distance," say--approach what anyone in Notting Hill would call dubwise. Danceable if you or any of your flatmates is so inclined, its basic function is environmental--and also, some hustler has convinced Toyota, making young consumers think its boxy little cars are cool. B+

Blow Your Head: Diplo Presents Dubstep [Downtown/Mad Decent, 2010]
Though by now the cognoscenti slot him as a blunt-force popularizer, Maya's unchivalrous ex will pass as a semi-popular tastemaker for the loikes of me and probably you. If you really want to, you can even dance to this moneygram from Club Downer--I've seen it happen in my own apartment. The beats are there even when the drums aren't. The electronics are suitably dark without ever approaching sadism or tedium. Lil Jon's fake thug is matched stereotype for stereotype by a British actor making dastardly threats in practiced Cockney. Major Lazer provides fake patois. There's even a lady vampire sounding suspiciously like a disco dolly in forlorn ballad mode. A-

Now That's What I Call Club Hits 2 [EMI, 2010]
If the Now cartel's records weren't so uniformly patchy I'd think they'd done it on purpose: 10 straight "dynamite" tracks, to borrow Taio Cruz's cutting-edge metaphor before he tries to copyright it, followed by six straight--well, not quite duds, but songs to sit down to. What differentiates good from ordinary isn't purity of talent or purpose, though Christina Aguilera and Adam Lambert certainly fulfill their dull destinies. Lady Gaga excepted, it isn't genius either, though Ian Nieman, whoever he is, comes close, expanding and overdriving Jason Derulo's high-generic "Ridin' Solo" into ramalama history. It's just inspired mechanics, as the same sounds and techniques that make it such a chore to dance to most dance music once your adrenalin recedes are propelled from the booming din by one or more extra-clever tricks. A trifecta of synth hooks on David Guetta and Chris Willis's "Gettin' Over You." La Roux's "Bulletproof" goosed with both treated echoes and "natural" crooning--and then seguing directly to drum 'n' electrosqueezebox custom-designed to juice the Black Eyed Peas' "Imma Be." Etc. A-

The Rough Guide to Desert Blues [World Music Network, 2010]
The blues tag is a marketing gimmick we should all hope works. Saharan music deserves an "accessible" variant of 2004's Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara, and if a few comparatively undistinguished minutes of Ali Farka Toure from the Niafunke delta does the trick, all the better for the scene-setting Terakaft, the humbly imperious Mariem Hassan, the male-led Euro-African women's collective Tartit, the foghorn diva Jalihena Natu, the knot-tying Tamikrest, and various masters of various instruments whose names we have trouble remembering even if we've encountered them before. The most arresting track is Tinariwen's "Tenhert," which convinced many advocates that the stage-savvy Tuaregs' latest album is their best. It's better contextualized here. A-

Radioclit Presents: The Sound of Club Secousse Vol. 1 [Crammed Discs, 2010]
Dancefloor-tested by a London DJ partnership comprising one Frenchman and one Swede, these 17 tracks from contemporary Africa are high and speedy instrumentally, with male voices to bring them down to pavement. West Africa with its muscle and beseeching gravity is absent, and not enough of the songs stick as songs. But there are so many major exceptions in the second half--the shouted "Zuata Zuata" by Angola's Puta Prata, the nutty "African Air Horn Dance" by Zimbabwe's Jusa Dementor, the airy "On Est Ensemble" by Congo's Kaysha, the very high and speedy old "Xipereta" by South African falsetto Dr. Thomas Chauke--that the hyper beats and nonstop electrosounds of the first half start sorting out into minor exceptions themselves. B+

Yes We Can: Songs About Leaving Africa [Out Here, 2010]
The new Afropop reality--a continent's worth of emigre Afrorap (Afrikan Boy, "Lidl"; Matador Feat. Gor Mak, "Xippol Xol") ***

Afro-Beat Airways [Analog Africa, 2010]
Best proof yet that there was Afrobeat beyond Fela--though no frontmen like Fela, and some of it's kinda highlife, and some of it's from Togo, and there's loads of organ throughout (K. Frimpong & His Cubano Fiestas, "Me Yee Owu Den"; Orchestre Abass, "Awula Bo Fee Ene") ***

The Rough Guide to the Music of Afghanistan [World Music Network, 2010]
Brave in exile, even braver not, and a lot less solemn than they have every right to be (Setara Husseinzada, "Zim Zim Zim"; Rafi Naabzada & Hameed Sakhizada, "Sabza Ba Naaz Mea Ayad"; Mehri Maftun, "Dar Khyal-e Ishq-e Khuban") **

The Lost Cuban Trios of Casa Marina [Ahi-Nama, 2010]
Two of them, to be precise, making sweet harmony if not love in a Batista whorehouse (Trio Zamora, "Vacilon"; Trio Melodicos, "El Negrito Del Batey") **

The Rough Guide to Arabic Lounge [World Music Network, 2010]
Don't worry, it'll be air-conditioned (Azzddine With Bill Laswell, "Droub Al Lit"; Ghazzi Abdel Baki, "Al Guineyna"; Amir ElSaffar, "Khosh Reng") **

Afro Latin Via Dakar [Syllart Productions/Discograph, 2011]
With its ill-organized, ill-translated notes and obscure sequencing, this two-CD collectorama is a puzzle to think about. But not to hear--it listens great. Dates run late '60s to early '80s, though without a decent scorecard it can be hard to tell what's when, and tempos trend medium, presumably to flatter the dignity of Senegal's post-independence elite, which was the core audience for what we'll call Senegalese salsa even though it was made by musicians from all over West Africa and often recorded in Abidjan. This elite audience the notes don't note amid their oft-told tales of Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Cuban sailors bearing precious 78s, but if you'll compare Addis Ababa's mood in the Éthiopiques comps you'll hear what I mean. Even the dance numbers are pretty contained. Key players include Orchestra Baobab in its many iterations (six of the 32 songs, only the climactic "Papa Ndiaye" known to me), master vocalist Laba Sosseh (get this man a best-of), and such relatively big names as Papa Seck, Thione Seck, and droll saxophonist Issa Cissoko, who got around. Though the annotator's boasts of rare 45s and student bands make one fear collectibles for their own sake, there are few clinkers and not many generics. Baobab fans especially will know where this music is coming from and be happy to hear more. A-

Generation Bass Presents: Transnational Dubstep [Six Degrees, 2011]
In 1994 Wax Trax' Ethnotechno proved a politely polyrhythmic techno reachout to straightforward international dance musics it secretly found quaint. It listened well and stuck poorly, the "ethnotechno" tag itself its main contribution to international understanding. Conceived, assigned, and sequenced by DJ Umb, the London-born son of Kashmiri exiles who promotes such all-embracing terms as "transnational bass" at his Generation Bass blog, this array of whomping exotica reflects its creator's appetite for any Third World dance movement he can get his ears on, including such new ones on me as kuduro, barefoot, and--from the mysterious depths of the District of Columbia--Moombahton! Plus, of course, the bassy evolution of techno beatmaking since 1994. Speaking as someone who will never enter a barefoot club (my doctor prescribed those orthotics, dammit), I hereby extend my thanks to whoever invented that shuddering synth low end that turns background music into foreground fun without requiring you to kiss your ass goodbye. And I also testify that not a damn thing here sounds quaint. Which is to make no predictions as to how any of them will sound 17 years from now. A-

Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector 1961-1966 [Phil Spector/Legacy, 2011]
This one-CD Philles comp reflects the murderer's loss of his mad grip on his overrated legacy and brings its limitations front and center. Of course there are great records among these 19 oddly sequenced selections--by a generous count, as many as a dozen. But there are also three Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans tracks, including the regrettable "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." Especially given the Crystals classics here that feature La La Brooks or Barbara Alston, these should be enough to convince you to skip the simultaneously released Darlene Love best-of. The Ronettes songs are the only ones in which the lead singer is personable enough to carry material less inspired than "He's a Rebel," "Uptown," and "A Fine Fine Boy." Sometimes, anyway--their much better best-of is spotty nonetheless. Too often, Spector's wall of sound was a miasma. Respect him as a girl-group maestro even more gifted than the Shirelles' Luther Dixon. The great exception isn't the Righteous Brothers, who have worn poorly. It's "River Deep Mountain High." A

Afro Latin Via Kinshasa [Syllart Productions/Discograph, 2011]
Instead of a puzzle, the concept's Kinshasa edition gives us a solution. Cuban music was largely Congolese to begin with, and Congo's liquid Lingala lingua franca lubricated its foward motion where guttural Wolof brought out its stops and starts. Moreover, all but two of these 39 tracks are by just four artists: paterfamilias Grand Kallé, Brussels upstart Docteur Nico, and--with 22 between them--our old friends Franco and Rochereau. It's good to have so much Kallé and Nico in one place, though they clearly deserve overviews of their own. But such is the magnitude of the other two's legacy that only one of Rochereau's tracks is duplicated on his Sterns twofer from the same period, and none on Franco's (though there is one from his earlier and less essential Originalité). Chronologically the range is narrower and earlier than on the Dakar set. Demographically it's identified in the notes as upper-crust for Kallé's more sophisticated arrangements and anything but for Franco's cruder and more brilliant output. Guess so, but Kallé at his sweetest never hints at the dignity of the statelier Dakar grooves. Maybe the difference is Islam, or the rain forest, or happenstance. At this distance, we'll really never know. With this music, we're really not supposed to care. A-

Fania Records 1964-1980: The Original Sound of Latin New York [Strut, 2011]
I'm reviewing this 29-track double-CD with my judgment, conscience, and sense of history as half a dozen imagined family members roll their hips slightly while looking over my shoulder; my ears, body, brain, and musical tastebuds, while present, aren't dominant. What you get without fail is impressive singing in half a dozen pleasurably varied Afro-Hispanic modes, more clave than you can shake a peg at, and montunos of noticeable firmness and vigor; what you get sometimes is piano solos of jazzlike sophistication, a rare thing, and big-band arrangements of playful sophistication, a rarer one. What you get too often is arrangements that are overbearing, even bombastic. By the second disc, as the music bigs up the way world-beating pop styles always do, the horn tuttis take over, leading inexorably and paradigmatically to the strings that puff up Hector Lavoe's 10-minute "El Cantante," which aficionados revere and I can't stand, especially once the strings start eliciting soundtrack moves from the horns. But right around there Ruben Blades is throwing his simplifying intelligence around and Celia Cruz is chipping in some female principle. Fania was the definitive salsa label, and there are unmistakably great records I'd never heard here: Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz's "Sonido Bestial," Johnny Pacheco's "Dakar, Punta Final," the Fania All-Stars' long, live "Quitate Tu," maybe even some on the second disc. Also, you're probably more tolerant of tuttis than I am. B+

Nigeria 70: Sweet Times: Afro-Funk, Highlife & Juju From 1970s Lagos [Strut, 2011]
As with 2008's Lagos Jump, the boon is that the "funk" is so tentative--mostly a few chicken-scratch guitars that barely qualify. The bass lines lope and what trap drumming there is owes nothing audible to Jabo Starks or Ziggy Modeliste. Strut says none of these recordings has ever been released outside Nigeria, and indeed, when I pulled down my vinyl on Dele Abiodun's 15-minute keeper "It's Time for Juju Music" I learned that it had indeed been manufactured in the mother country. Such little-heard luminaries as Victor Olaiya and Ebenezer Obey stake their claims, and I enjoyed Ali Chukwumah's un-chicken scratch "Henrietta" so instantaneously I assumed I'd already heard it somewhere--which it would appear that I had not. A-

Rave On Buddy Holly [Fantasy, 2011]
High-profile film-music supervisor Randall Poster assembled quite the high-profile cast to revive these 19 ancient titles. The Black Keys! Cee-Lo Green! Florence + the Machine! My Morning Jacket! She & Him! A whole bunch of rather dull yet commercially viable succès d'estimes! But lo, handed the gift of Buddy's simple tunes and simpler lyrics, they joyfully escape the craft-by-numbers of their own compositions, leaving it to father figures Paul McCartney and Lou Reed to disrespect Holly's classics and to materfamilias Patti Smith to solemnize Holly's fluff--which they can, because they're Holly's coequals. The way his heedless old songs liberate cautious young professionals lays to rest any doubts as to whether he belongs in the same pantheon as George M. Cohan and Irving Berlin. He just bequeathed us a smaller book. A-

Note of Hope [429, 2011]
Bragg & Wilco? The folk-rock of dreams. Jonatha Brooke? Singer-songwriter. The Klezmatics? Er, his wife was Jewish. But assigning a Woody Guthrie "celebration" to bassist extraordinaire Rob Wasserman? Trailing the likes of Kurt Elling, Madeleine Peyroux, Tom Morello, Studs Terkel, Ani DiFranco, and Jackson Browne behind him? Reads like a jazzbo recipe for leftwing piety. And proves instead yet another winning realization of an idea I had doubts about from the first Mermaid Avenue rumors. Wasserman is all over a record that's less sung than spoken, providing a musical identity as distinct as any other in this motley series. Once again Guthrie's words are set to music, although sometimes these words were prose and sometimes they're rapped or sprechgesanged. They're sly, sexy, down-and-out, up-and-at-'em. Terkel and DiFranco deliver diary jottings of breathtaking acuity, and the Pete Seeger recitation ends: "There never was a sound that was not music. There's no trick of creating words to set to music once you realize that the word is the music and the people are the song." Then Jackson Browne sings a formally static 15-minute ballad about the night Woody met Marjorie and all the dreams he had. I said Jackson Browne. It's magnificent. A-

BLNRB: Welcome to the Madhouse [Out Here, 2011]
In which minor German electronic music duo Gebrüder Teichmann, major Berlin techno-populists Modeselektor, and sexy Euro-multiculturalists Jahcoozi take up residence in Kenya via Goethe-Institut Nairobi and spend a month working out a fusion with local rappers. Miraculously, they avoid paternalism and other mismatches until an emotive singer-guitarist initiates a downshift. Until then it's an excited Afro-minimalist blast, with "first lady of Kenyan rap" Nazizi and aspiring electropoppers Just a Band bringing extra spritz and tune to a delighted mesh that's at its best when a sinuous synth buzz snakes like a digital didgeridoo through four tracks that begin with one called "Ma Bhoom Bhoom Bhoom." Even the dubby stuff at the end gathers contemplative charm. It's like a crew album where the crew has real mojo. A-

Our Dreams Are Our Weapons: From the Kasbah/Tunis to Tahrir Square/Cairo and Back [Network, 2011]
At first this bifurcated selection of eight liberation songs from Tunisia and six from Egypt sounds noble and no more. Although the 14 tracks vary considerably, all are on the respectable side except for one Tunisian rap, which was recorded well before the revolt got the rapper imprisoned. But soon the Tunisian sequence hits home: uplifting neotrad opener to songpoem with crowd chatter to haunting rap to marchlike hymn right through a rock anthem that swept all the way to Tahrir Square. Unfortunately, after a Nubian opener the Egyptians' contributions don't connect as deep. The two oud-and-percussion features by two Coptic brothers are too many, and the saved-for-last "The Challenge," by Tunisian oud-and-zither brothers with their own album on this very label, strives a little too solemnly to, as the notes put it, "build a bridge between Orient and Occident." A matter of taste, of course--tragic sacrifices and momentous changes merit some solemnity. But I'd love to hear just one beat from the rappers I know damn well were taking their A game to the Cairo streets. B+

The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams [Egyptian/CMF/Columbia, 2011]
Unlike Woody Guthrie, Williams is loved more for his singing than his lyrics, and boy does some of this retrofitted doggerel lack character as entuned and delivered. Hank's granddaughter Holly and Amy's hubby Vince you'd guess, Uncle Merle reciting a farewell sermon probably not. But what you definitely wouldn't figure is Nashville tastemonger Patty Loveless accessing her inner twang or a Dylan named Jakob grabbing an unusually witty lament (OK, maybe he had dibs of some kind). And what you'd only hope is Alan Jackson imparting just the right gravity to the despairing opener--or Jack White two-stepping his find so lustily you know he has an all-Hank cover album on his life list, and that it can't possibly match up. B+

Sofrito: Tropical Discotheque [Strut, 2011]
The title means exactly what it says. Selected by a London dance collective called Sofrito, which is also the name of a fatback-based Puerto Rican staple, two-thirds of these 15 obscurish dance tracks are from the disco era of 1976-1980, almost all sound it a little, and all are from Africa, Colombia, and the Caribbean. Like a DJ set designed to blast rather than lure you out of your seat, they start strong, end classic, and let you sit down in the middle. Whether they achieve their pan-tropical goals is unclear; I probably prefer the African tracks--especially the Zaiko Langa Langa spinoff "Je Ne Bois Pas Beaucoup"--because I always prefer the African tracks. So let me now praise two barn burners I would never otherwise have checked out: a lead cut featuring cumbia stalwart Lisandro Meza and--from Guadeloupe, whose music generally leaves me feeling like I haven't eaten--a speedy call-and-response workout by gwo ka drummer Ti Céleste. DJ-annotator Hugo reports that this is his crate-digging crew's most-played track. You can hear why. A-

Bachata Roja: Amor y Amargue [iASO, 2011]
This introduction to Dominican son was "recorded live to 2-track," sniffs the same label's co-released Bachata Legends, in which the original artists re-record decades-old classics smoothly and even beautifully but seldom enthrallingly. What the original vocals lacked in accomplished ease they made up and then some in quirky intensity, and they weren't anything like amateurish. With more at stake professionally and personally, these young singers grabbed onto the "bitterness" at the heart of their barrio-bohemian genre so as to dramatize not only the pain of thwarted love but the hunger for public identity that eats at a people after half a century of tyranny. Sometimes it's almost like they're crying. A-

19 Classic Blues Songs From the 1920's: Vol. 9 [Blues Images, 2011]
Since 2004 this company has released blues CDs to accompany handsome blues calendars illustrated with old ad, sleeve, and catalog pix. Showcasing the Paramount 78s proprietor John Tefteller collects, those I've heard have been good albeit patchy. This one is better--not perfect, but a surprising country blues and jug band anthology undiminished by eight of the rarities blues collectors dote on and normals yawn at. The three gritty Blind Joel Taggarts are pretty generic, but Lane Hardin's forbearing head voice and Jenny Pope's cutting soprano are as satisfying as anything on the record, adding a freshness even for a duffer like me. Other highlights include two Tampa Red takes on "Mama Don't Allow No Easy Riders Here," with future gospel luminary Georgia Tom Dorsey and vaudeville wise guy Frankie Jaxon; Ora Brown's near-classic "Jinx Blues" and Ida Cox's altogether classic "Fogyism"; Harum Scarum's feet-airing "Come On In (Ain't Nobody Here)"; and a two-sided Blind Blake called "Rope Stretchin' Blues" that equals anything on his best-of. You can buy the CD alone, but at $19.95 I'd spring for the calendar package, which Tefteller warns is going fast. The calendar doubles as liner notes, for one thing. A-

The Rough Guide to African Guitar Legends [World Music Network, 2011]
Less than the sum of its oft-familiar parts, several of which you can do without a lot easier than you can Syran M'Benza's bonus Franco album (Eric Agyeman, "Nea Abe Beto"; Henry Makobi, "Omulanga Wamuka") ***

The Original Sound of Cumbia [Soundway, 2011]
Subtitled "The History of Colombian Cumbia & Porro: As Told by the Phonograph 1948-1979," this is a crate dig rather than a hits collection: two CDs culled from five years of rooting around among 78s by the prolific U.K. beatmaster-bandleader Bill "Quantic" Holland, who also provides 5000 words of fact-filled notes. There's not much of the surface sparkle of the Disco Fuentes cumbia comps here, but boy, are these guys determined to stand out and have fun. Few of the 55 three-minute dance tracks by 50-plus artists are catchy in the pop sense, but most boast a mark of difference--intro or small arranging trick, yodel or spoken byplay or Donald Duck voice or comic call-and-response or lead tuba or humorous squeezebox trickery. Accordions and a panoply of local percussion dominate the Afro-mestizo groove, so that the larger horn sections that materialize toward the end are almost buzz killers sometimes. Not the kind of album you put on craving greatness--the kind of album you put on craving company. A-

Blow Your Head Vol. 2: Dave Nada Presents Moombahton [Downtown/Mad Decent, 2011]
I love one of these fashioners of listenable reggaeton derivatives so much that he tempts me to fib about the others (Dillon Francis, "Masta Blasta"; Dillon Francis & Diplo Featuring Maluca, "Que Que") ***

I Have My Liberty!: Gospel Sounds From Accra, Ghana [Dust-to-Digital, 2011]
Urban field recordings from the refuges where Ghanaian women sing to convince themselves that capitalism works (Divine Healer's Church: Nema Assembly, "I Have My Liberty"; Great Grace Church, "Sunday School") *

The Rough Guide to Bellydance [World Music Network, 2011]
The politer dabke, raqs sharki, khaleeji, baladi, etc.--complete with instructional DVD! (Satrak Sarkissian, "Boos Shoof"; Said Al Artist, "Sadaf Iskandarani") ***

This One's for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark [Icehouse, 2011]
Legend gets the country-canted alt-star lovefest he deserves (Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Homegrown Tomatoes"; Suzy Bogguss, "Instant Coffee Blues"; Jack Ingram, "Stuff That Works") ***

Listen . . . Oka! [Oka Productions, 2012]
This beguiling piece of post-rock is neither a proper soundtrack nor a field recording--not with the African musicians offered the chance to hear their own inventions on headphones and add overdubs. It's a soundtrack-based Bayaka Pygmy audio collage, very much doctored by producer and frequent co-composer Chris Berry, a Californian adept of Zimbabwean thumb piano. With their dream songs, 54-bar structures, and propensity to turn anything from a babbling brook to a scrap of plastic pipe into an instrument, these culturally threatened Central African Republic hunter-gatherers seem to live music even more than most Africans. Women are the chief creators, which has major consequences as regards both prevailing pitch and how much the music hunts and how much it gathers. But either way, it pervades their lives. By manipulating recorded sounds and songs and inviting the Bayaka to do the same, Berry translates that pervasiveness into a form comprehensible in a culture differently pervaded by music--ours. A

The Rough Guide to the Music of Morocco [World Music Network, 2012]
The 2012 release, not to be confused with 2004's The Rough Guide to the Music of Morocco, especially if you know the new one is 1266CD and the old one is 1128CD. Without a single artist repetition, they cover pretty much the same range. On both you get cafe trad and hip-hop derivatives and devotional gravity; on both you get a Jewish expatriate, in 2004 a refugee Israeli cantor born 1954, in 2012 a Canadian emigre practitioner of his own impure Andalusian classicism born 1922. Yet eight years later the overall mood seems more aggressive. The added hip-hop is a major musical improvement because Arabic gutturals rock when rapped, even over beats played on traditional instruments, with the glitched-up syllabics of Amira Saqati's "El Aloua" providing a hint of pomo lurch. The bonus disc is by the "chaabi-groove" generalists Mazagan, who encompass most of these tendencies with pleasant-to-pleasing success. A-

The Rough Guide to Highlife [World Music Network, 2012]
Although the label's second pass at this expandable concept tends quirkier and quieter, in-house compiler Rachel Jackson goes for the gut tunewise. From the surprising pre-Afrobeat Fela who opens to the gospel falsetto-as-girl group who close, every song stands out, so much so that Jackson really could have risked Celestine Ukwu's "Osundu" rather than repeating the oft-compiled "Igede." Special faves: the Black Beats' "Tsutsu Tsonemo" for hook, Gentleman Bobby Benson's "Taxi Driver" for lyric, Francis Kenya's "Memia" for guitar compression, and Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe's "Osondi Owendi" for guitar expansion. There's a slight tailoff before the gospel closer, but not so as to spoil your appetite for the bonus disc by the university-based trio Seprewa Kasa. On Riverboat four years ago, I found their preservationism a mite polite. Here the same album provides a graceful, restful, informative coda. A

Dabke: Sounds of the Syrian Houran [Sham Palace, 2012]
From seven weddings and such in southern Syria, 42 board-tape-to-vinyl-only minutes collected by Sublime Frequencies' Mark Gergis and released in an edition of 1000. Why you should want such a fetish object is simple--access to the most intense music you'll hear all year, including anything by Gergis's related discovery Omar Souleyman. It's very male and replete with strange noises: grunts and yelps, chipmunk squeals, and the buzzy overtones of a bamboo flute called the mejwiz--sometimes live, sometimes sampled, sometimes, Gergis says, both. Yes the music drones--it's supposed to. No you won't understand a word they're singing--insofar as they're singing any. A little one-dimensional sure--assuming you're not from southern Syria yourself. A-

The Rough Guide to African Roots Revival [World Music Network, 2012]
It was ever thus, ctd.--the poor invent urban folk musics, the better off nurture rural ones (Mbira DzeNharira, "Tozvireva Tingaputike Neshungu"; Shiyani Ngcobo, "Sevalina") ***

Songs for Desert Refugees [Glitterhouse, 2012]
All proceeds from this charity comp go to two NGOs serving a war zone created in part by the Tuaregs whose music it puts to use--music more humane by definition than Tuareg nationalism, but just as fierce in its cultural pride. Since that music can seem as unvaried as one of the desert vistas the Tuaregs see in a detail we can't, the multi-artist format provides easeful marginal differentiation rather than jarring stylistic disparity. As with 2005's Rough Guide to the Sahara, the 12 tracks, most previously unreleased and all postdating that prophetic piece of genre-making, progress like a single expression toward the showy new jack guitars of Tadalat and Bombino and the overdue female voices of Toumast and Tamikrest. A-

The Rough Guide to the Music of Ethiopia [World Music Network, 2012]
The latest of the label's unlabeled updates/Second Editions/Volume 2s of national overviews they did well by the first time (catalogue number: 1286CD) favors 21st-century material whether it's quinquagenarian Dutch punks inviting a septuagenarian saxophonist up from Addis or Tirudel Zenebe's abrasive Ethiopian disco. On some of the 13 tracks, the beats and tonalities first documented by the completist overkill of Buda Musique's Selassie-era ?thiopiques collections are infused with a funkier feel, but the old-school stuff also sounds pretty fresh--my favorite is a contemplative workout on a buzzing lyre called the begena by Zerfu Demissie, one of many artists here better served as a taste on a sampler than an album-length meal. Which in turn is provided by Anglo-Ethiopian Invisible System's bonus disc, a best-of that often surpasses their track on the overview. Start with "Gondar Sub," or "Dark Entries." A-

The Rough Guide to Undiscovered World [World Music Network, 2012]
Dumb title. If they're afraid to call it "world music fusion" because that sounds too cheesy, how about "polydiscovered" or "cross-discovered"? Gambian-Scottish reels, Cypriot-Chilean rebetika, Polish orientalism, like that. At its worst, which is pretty bad, New Age mawk wafts incenselike from its gentle shows of musical privilege. But pull the plug on the unspeakably polite English Arabists at track six and program past the peace-addled Africana at tracks nine-ten-eleven and you have a lively panoply of sounds you've never heard before. Most of them couldn't maintain your interest for more than a track, although I hope eventually to double-check that assumption with the gamelan funk of Sarutusperson. Instead they're held together by their hopeful, thoughtful, universalist curiosity. B+

Lowe Country: The Songs of Nick Lowe [Fiesta Red, 2012]
New-country hopefuls impart more life to old new wave songwriter than he's shown in 20 years (Caitlin Rose, "Lately I've Let Things Slide"; Jeff the Brotherhood, "Marie Provost") *

Sofrito: International Soundclash [Strut, 2012]
Pokier and more clackety than the first, second rare-Afrogrooves-international comp is heavy on Caribbean Francophonie (Luis Kalaff y Su Alegres Dominicanos, "Agarraio Que Eso Es Tuyo"; Grupo Canalon, "La Zorra y El Perol") **

African Blues [Putumayo World Music, 2012]
World-music easy-listening specialists achieve enjoyable as opposed to the usual saccharine (Mali Latino, "Ni Koh Bedy"; Issa Bagayogo, "Djigui") *

Diablos Del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot 1960-85 [Analog Africa, 2012]
You'll need the physical on this package because the 60-page booklet is part of the attraction: a detailed if not always fluent rundown of musical doings in the "dormant diaspora" of coastal Colombia, where the biggest port on the Colombian Caribbean, Barranquilla, was transformed by forces half understood into a voracious market for African dance music in the '70s and '80s. Although crate-digger obscurantism is big on this scene--Barranquilla is still home to a contest in which DJs compete to play the rarest African record--these two discs are a cherry-pick, and astutely programmed too. I prefer the one where Colombians imitate Africans, which is heavy on short-form soukous derivatives and makes room for Fela and Miriam Makeba rips as well as the sui generis Wasamay? Rock Group. But the jerkier, accordion-heavy "Puya, Porro, Gaita, Cumbiamba, Mapal?, Chand?, [and] Descarga" of the Latin selection has a gritty, fetchingly homemade quality. And if you want something smoother, try J. Alvear's "Cumbia Sincelejana." A-

The Man With the Iron Fists [Soul Temple, 2012]
Less outrageous and fulfilling than the flick, more outrageous and fulfilling than most soundtracks (Pusha T/Raekwon/Joell Ortiz/Danny Brown, "Tick, Tock"; Ghostface Killah/M.O.P./Pharoahe Monch, "Black Out") **

The Rough Guide to the Music of Hungary [World Music Network, 2012]
Somewhat more contemporary and very nearly as "Gypsy" as the label's 2008 Hungarian Gypsies comp (and with only three artist repeats, two of them standouts), this skims off much of the schmaltz in which what-us-Balkan? Hungarians have always indulged. Faster and less melodramatic, it's more Balkan as a result. By all means avoid if violins make you fiddle about, but by all means consider if you could use an infusion of the most uncivilized stomp and swerve Europe has to offer. Although the last third does fade some, be sure to stay awake for Parno Graszt and Mitsoura. And if afterwards you crave schmaltz for some reason, the Tárkány-Müvek bonus disc will be waiting politely to grease you up. A-

Future Sounds of Buenos Aires [ZZK/Waxploitation, 2012]
Quite a little pan-Latin electro scene they have going down in Cosmopolis (Frikstailers, "Guacha"; La Yegros, "Viene de Mi"; Fauna, "Hongo x Hongo") **

Fac. Dance 02: 12" Mixes & Rarities 1980-1987 [Strut, 2012]
Amid the self-important proto-acid house and -EDR aridity and obscurity, trance-worthy grooves, gripping weirdness, and the occasional diamond (Fadela, "N'Sel Fik"; 52nd Street, "Can't Afford [Unorganised Mix]"; Section 25, "Knew Noise"; Kalima, "Land of Dreams") *

Nuggets [Rhino, 2012]
Crammed onto one CD, here are Lenny Kaye's 27 selections for the first of more garage-protopunk crate-digs (multivolume series dubbed Pebbles, Flashback, etc.) than any sane person could count. Kaye's terrific notes are included, as is a useful addendum from Elektra's Jac Holzman. Assembled just a few years after the singles it comprises were first released, this is punk's Anthology of American Folk Music, the most influential rock comp ever. And some of it is absolutely classic: for me, the Standells' "Dirty Water," the Knickerbockers' "Lies," the Castaways' "Liar, Liar," the Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard," maybe the Electric Prunes' "I Had Too Much to Dream," and definitely the Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction," the only one of the 27 to go top 10. In fact, note that all of my six designated classics went top 40, while a mere five of the remaining 21 did. With early efforts by Roky Erickson and Todd Rundgren, this signifies nothing. But too many of these records were marginal because they weren't all that good, and are now evocative period pieces only. As Kaye contextualizes them, they make a hell of a variety show, with plenty to say about mass bohemia hippie-style. As a dream to build a band on, they have limits rockin' guitar crazies have been failing to get a bead on ever since. A-

The Rough Guide to the Music of Senegal [World Music Network, 2013]
As someone who mistook Youssou N'Dour's warmup guy for the boss several times back in the day, I agree that Senegal brims with impressive singers. The strategy of showcasing winners by such longtime crossover hopefuls as Cheikh Lo, Ismael L?, Mansour Seck, and Baaba Maal honors and exploits this plenitude: make sure you check out the Thione Seck, Sister Fa, and Amadou Diagne picks. But put on either of the Music in My Head collections and find out why you could miss them if you didn't make an effort. The bows to Orchestra Baobob and Etoile de Dakar here pop out every time because one band cooked and the other exploded. In fact, even the Westernized folkloricism of Daby Balde's worthy bonus disc powers a more striking collective identity than most of these tracks. B+

Live From Festival Au Desert Timbuktu [Clermont Music, 2013]
Recorded soundboard-to-Marantz two days before full war broke out and sharia began its forced march through northern Mali, this doesn't translate as readily as the first edition a decade ago. Although Saharan music has gone somewhat international since then, there's even less melody and groove, widely known acts are few, and of those both Tartit and Bassekou Kouyate fail to peak. But when I buckled down to listen to six straight unfamiliar names in the middle, I concentrated effortlessly as the first four demonstrated different ways men can yell at each other, with Odwa's "Tamnana" winning the argument. Then right after Khaira Arby's "La Liberte" made an ideological point, and later her guitarist Oumar Konate made a godly one. Inshallah, they'll once again be sure of their freedom to play their music a year from now. A-

Kenya Special [Soundway, 2013]
There were hundreds of 45s released every month in the Nairobi of the late '70s and early '80s, many of which have disappeared, as happens when some artists can only bankroll their releases in batches of 50. But enough have survived to sustain a crate dig that aims for quality rather than rarity or oddity. The stylistic range of these 32 high-level selections is audible without a scorecard--playful savannah-pop harmonies, tight hotel bands with their dance numbers, many English lyrics, enough benga to scratch that itch, and numerous one-of-a-kinds. Don't expect much airy soukous a la Guitar Paradise of East Africa--that was more a Tanzanian thing. And for all the welcome variety and obscurity, the most exciting music is five minutes of a horn section anchored by the great Verckys--not funk by a long shot, but Brownian in its momentum. Also recommended is the scorecard, which runs 40 pages. A-

The Rough Guide to Acoustic Africa [World Music Network, 2013]
At this point in history, acoustic is the opposite of authentic in Africa--at least the kind of acoustic that gets near a recording studio. The 16 artists scattered across this collection include tourist bands, factitious folk ensembles, moonlighting dance musicians looking for a payday, academics, and loads of expats. They tend genteel and their albums can be snoozefests. But you can bet every one has the sense to polish up a few tuneful show-stoppers, and assume that Rough-Guide-in-Chief Phil Stanton has found them. Normally I get annoyed when Afrocomps skip from Niger to Madagascar 'cause it's all one big happy continent. But the aesthetic here is so pretty and soft-spoken it rarely matters. Assured, calculated, innocent, and sometimes sublime. A-

Ethnic Minority Music of Southern Asia [Sublime Frequencies, 2013]
I don't have the confidence to give this an A because even though it makes sense on its own terms it's just too weird by American standards. Maybe by Chinese standards too--my calculations indicate that the 11 or 12 ethnic groups responsible for 16 tracks (excluding sacred Tibetan finale) add barely 10 million to China's population, well under one percent. Yet because I lack the sophistication of their billion-three fellow citizens, the vocal scales and lute-and-flute sonorities all just sound Chinese to me. Not well-schooled, formally respectable Chinese, however. There's a conversational feel to most of these colloquies and solo turns, with high female voices prevailing but enough men grunting their prerogatives. In my house, which hosted a Netflix festival of Chinese nature docs recently, it's dinner music. And a beardo I know with a small electronica business immediately pegged it as a sample source. B+

The Rough Guide to African Disco [World Music Network, 2013]
Africans are obviously funky in their own way. But they did without trap drums and electric bass for so long that their attempts to imitate James Brown and his bootyspawn impressed only Afros coveting modernity and, a generation later, Euros too young to have experienced funk the genre in its time and place. As this belated showcase establishes, disco was much easier to copy, and while a few selections force it--the repurposed Mahlathini, for instance--most strike the right balance between cheap commercialism and heartfelt ambition. I'm especially grateful to find a use for the great lost Afro-rock venture Osibisa and yet another example of African trap master Tony Allen's versatility. And then--and then!--there's the bonus disc: a straight reissue of the 34-minute 1988 Soul on Fire, in which Camerounian guitarist Vincent Nguini covers seven soul classics (including "In the Midnight Hour" twice) as Syran M'Benza inundates faux disco arrangements in virtuoso soukous billows. It's very makeshift--tracks don't even fade, just stop. But Nguini sure does make soul journeyman Tommy Lepson sound like he coulda been a contender. A-

Sing Me the Songs: Celebrating the Works of Kate McGarrigle [Nonesuch, 2013]
The ritual passing of the songbook from tart old folkies to sweet-and-sour showbiz kids worked better as theater, where we don't get to re-examine the performances, than it does as recorded music, where we're able to ponder just how the kids remodeled the house and put in that piano-shaped hot tub. But though Rufus's and especially Martha's oversinging stretches some of Mom's songs well beyond their limits, it's a hell of a songbook, and in the end it's the lesser material that fares worse, not the less experienced performers. Aunt Peggy Seeger is no more impressive than the youngish gender mixers whose names you'll forget again without the credits, and it's a shock to realize that a youngish gender mixer whose name you know delivers a "Go Leave" more heart-wrenching than Richard and Linda Thompson's. Almost as shocking is that the next best thing isn't a Kate song. It's Chaim Tannenbaum and the gang's "Travelling On for Jesus." A-

ZZK Sound Vol. 3 [ZZK/Waxploitation, 2013]
The third compilation from this adventurous if narrowcast Buenos Aires label--which on its first comp five years ago (see below) classified its milieu as "cumbia digital"--has gotten some respect in the U.S. dance world, but zero comprehension near as I can tell, which may not matter much when you're dancing but ought to when you're verbalizing into the infosphere. For instance, the first thing this Anglophone in an office chair wants to know is whether it's dance music at all. The most detailed review I've found references "intoxicating electro-pulsating beats derived mainly from the Buenos Aires club scene" and promises it will render the listener "better aquainted [sic] with the dance and electronic underground of South America." And these electro-pulsations sound how, exactly? Find hints in the label squib: "there's a darker, last hour of the club feel to it, everybody sweaty and grooving to deep bassy cumbia infested tracks." To which promo poetry I add a few prosaic facts. Moderate-to-submoderate tempos that speed up gradually over 15 tracks. Low-end sonics not so much bassy as buzzy. Never ambient or chill-out, there's always a beat, but not floor-fillers either. Cumbia roots submerged. DJs mostly Argentinian but also from Paris, Barcelona, NYC, Mexico, Caracas, maybe Sweden. General ambience tends humorous--and friendly, as befits the cumbia tradition. Animators seeking soundtrack could do worse. A-

121212: The Concert for Sandy Relief [Columbia, 2013]
Featured artists in order of performance quality: Springsteen, Sandler-Shaffer, McCartney, Keys, Joel, Bon Jovi, Rolling Stones, Waters, Clapton, Martin, Who (Adam Sandler and Paul Shaffer, "Hallelujah [Sandy Relief Version]"; Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, "Land of Hope and Dreams"; Paul McCartney, "Helter Skelter"; Bon Jovi, "It's My Life") *