After 365 days and nearly that many albums listened to, the Sun Tracks staff (with a little help from their friends) gets serious and decides on the best of 1992. Robert Baird

Sun Tracks editor

1. Jimmy Scott, All the Way (Reprise). Album of the millennium. Lured out of retirement by the prospect of finally making a recording the right way, Scott delivered one of the moodiest, sexiest, most stylish vocal albums ever made. Standards like Sammy Cahn's "All the Way" and Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye" sound refreshingly new, thanks to Scott's gift for phrasing. Arrangements by Johnny Mandel and others are top-drawer. And having Ron Carter and David "Fathead" Newman in the band doesn't hurt, either. Listen closely for the sound of a crackling fire and a muffled bearskin rug.

2. Flaco Jimenez, Partners (Warner Bros.). There are those who would buy this one for the guest list--Stephen Stills, Dwight Yoakam, Linda Ronstadt, John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, Emmylou Harris and Los Lobos. But that would be missing the point: After 20 years as undisputed "El Rey" of the accordion, Flaco signs with the only major label intelligent enough to produce him, and hits a home run his first time at bat. All the duets here work, but Flaco's pairing with Cooder on "The Girls From Texas" and with Harris on Butch Hancock's "West Texas Waltz" shine brightest. If you think conjunto is a second-class regional music that sounds too much like a polka, think again. All hail the king!

3. Buffalo Tom, Let Me Come Over (Beggars Banquet/RCA). Finally clear of the Dinosaur Jr. comparisons, this Beantown trio reaches a new level of promise: buzz-saw pop that builds and crashes in Hsker Desque splendor. White guitar noise doesn't get any better than this. Great songs, better vocals and a lot more meat and trimmings than Nirvana can even begin to imagine. "Tailights" and "Mineral" tie for the year's best alternative tune.

4. Soul Asylum, Grave Dancers Union (Columbia/Sony). The year's runner-up in the Replacements-Hsker D-Byrds derby, one of this land's best bands sidesteps nonsense about selling out and makes yet another outstanding disc. Here Soul Asylum has it both ways: manicured pop tunes next to structureless feedback sludge, all done with big production values. Dave Pirner's vocals have come a long way. And Danny Murphy's guitars now tower at least six stories high.

5. Gin Blossoms, New Miserable Experience (A&M). Local band? What local band? Tempe's own has become a full-fledged national act with a capital H, for "hit." If time spent on the CD player is the standard here, then the Blossoms' debut rates high on my list. Great songs, superior production and Robin Wilson's vocals make this disc a true contender. 6. Maceo Parker, Life on Planet Groove (Verve). Remember McFadden and Whitehead's butt wiggler "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now? It should now be retooled to read, "Ain't No Stoppin' Maceo Now." After a sparkling start with James Brown, sax master Maceo has embarked on a rippin' solo career that's put him in a tie with George Clinton for the title of funkiest man alive. If this album fails to move you, you're probably dead and don't know it. Recorded live to capture all the extra juice, this disc is the funkiest thing since Clinton's "Uncle Jam Wants You."

7. Joe Ely, Love and Danger (MCA). It used to look like a cinch that Joe Ely would tumble into obscurity without ever having made a good studio recording. Love and Danger changed all that. "Kicked in the ass" by producer Tony Brown, Ely got down and in record time cut what is the first big-time album of his career. It's also the first to compete on an energy level with his two live recordings and the first with the right mix of pop and grit to win Ely a larger audience. Filled with solid tunes from Ely, Robert Earl Keen Jr. and Dave Alvin, this album benefits from crisp arrangements and the playing of Ely's road-bitten band. 8. Tom Waits, Bone Machine (Island). Every so often, Baron Von Waits emerges from his lab with a new monster. Pieced together from every squeal, squeak and ominous rumble imaginable, Waits' menacing creations are clearly the work of a mad genius. But instead of terrorizing the countryside, these mutant giants are content to sit in your CD player and savage the savage beast.

9. Los Lobos, Kiko (Slash/Warner Bros.). A career-wrecking detour or a remarkably brave artistic risk? Either way this oddball album is another large step away from the curse of "La Bamba," as well as a surprising addition to the continuing saga of one of the most innovative forces in music today.

10. k.d. lang, Ingnue (Sire). Freed from her big-boned-gal country misstep, Lang emerges here as a world-class song stylist. She and collaborator Ben Mink have fashioned lush washes of sound that give lang's voice the room it needs to soar.

Best Recordings Still to Come in Early 1993:
1. Fudge, The Ferocious Rhythm of Precise Laziness (Caroline)
2. Pond, Pond (Sub Pop)

Larry Crowley
Contributing country music writer

1. Delbert McClinton, Never Been Rocked Enough (Curb). "Good Man, Good Woman," the Grammy Award winner for Best Rock Vocal Duo McClinton shared with Bonnie Raitt (from Raitt's Luck of the Draw album), is on here, too, but that's just a single course in this banquet of blues-rock. The fueled-by-funk "Everytime I Roll the Dice" and the jazzy, Delbert-penned "Cease and Desist" are among the spicier offerings, with Bob Marley's "Stir It Up" providing cool-mon island flavors. Few folks have ever manipulated a mouth harp as juicily as McClinton does, and his mastery herein makes this veteran rockabluesabilly boy's latest his greatest.

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