By Nicki Escudero
By Amy Silverman
By Brian Palmer
By Chris Parker
By Troy Farah
By Lauren Wise
By Lauren Wise
2. Rosie Flores, After the Farm (Hightone). Ex-Screaming Siren Flores takes us on a wild, careening ride with this top-fuel blend of beautiful ballads (This Loneliness), raucous rock (Blue Highway), fun funk (That's Me) and pork-cracklin' country (Dent in My Heart). This Magic Bus-style excursion boasts other roadside attractions, as well, all described by conductor Rosie's strong and soaring vocals. Pack yourself a barbecued-sprouts sandwich and git onboard.
3. Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On (Columbia). In a stunning upset of Her Royal Highness, Reba I, Carpenter captured the Country Music Association's crown for Female Vocalist of the Year. Although this onetime folkie from Washington, D.C., finally negotiated the broad jump from college radio to prime-time country stereos with "I Feel Lucky," a whole heap of even-luckier album buyers are going to discover a cache of great songs. Songwriter Carpenter paints musical portraits of love in all its great and gritty mutations with a rich combination of lyric, melody and delivery that Music City hasn't heard since early Emmylou Harris.
4. Marty Stuart, This One's Gonna Hurt You (MCA). Once a very young guitar-slinging sideman to legends Ernest Tubb and Johnny Cash, Stuart has long since made his own mark with the best pure-bar country around. "High on a Mountain Top," "Doin' My Time," the video hit "Now That's Country" and the title track are among the treasures here that will ensure that the Nudie-suited Stuart keeps his crown as King of Honky-Tonk. And just as he has provided calm, natural leadership in negotiating truces in Nashville's civil war between the old guard and the new breed, This One's Gonna Hurt You shows both warring factions that the music itself provides plenty of middle ground.
5. Vince Gill, I Still Believe in You (MCA). CMA's Male Vocalist of the Year flat continues to amaze the masses with his tender, transcendental tenor. This multitalented ex-lead crooner for Pure Prairie League shares or commands all writing credit on each song herein, including the poignant "Say Hello," the clever "One More Last Chance" and the big-hit title track. At a time when Nashville cats are more concerned with creating crossovers than classics, it's nice to find the real thing, baby.
6. The Mavericks, From Hell to Paradise (MCA). Sure, Miami will never be mistaken for Nashville, but it did produce Raul Malo, a guitar-totin' son of Cuban ‚migr‚s who wields a quick and clever pen, has a penchant for Hank the Elder and possesses an ethereal tenor. His quavering, high-pitched complaint "This Broken Heart" will shiver your timbers, while the title track tells the true tale of a 30-year battle for individual freedom. Add tangy, high-tone takes on Harlan Howard and Buck Owens' "Excuse Me (I Think I've Got a Heartache)" and you've got a debut disc worth climbing a palm tree for.
7. James McMurtry, Candyland (Columbia). It's clear that this son of Larry (Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show) McMurtry has inherited pop's prowess with a pen and talent for storytelling. Produced by pal John Mellencamp, the recording of James McMurtry's cool, clipped delivery fits well his tales of small-town Sturm und Drang through guitar-powered narratives like "Where's Johnny," "Vague Directions" and "Don't Just Waste Away." The down-to-the-ground realism of James' work is stark and, at times, terrifying. We want more.
8. Evangeline, Evangeline (MCA). This Cajun quintet's spicy stew of swamp-rock, country and bayou blues--delivered with choirlike harmonies--is richer than fil‚ gumbo. "Bayou Boy," "Hey Ren‚" and "Bon Temps la Louisiane" will have you craving crawfish. Equally tasty treatments of the oft-recorded Nanci Griffith-James Hooker-Danny Flowers tune "Gulf Coast Highway" and Jesse Winchester's "Rhumba Girl" are sure to please your musical palate as well.
9. Don Williams, Currents (RCA). All this veteran singer-picker does is plop on that ratty old hat, sit on a stool and positively mesmerize all in earshot with a baritone that takes good story-songs like "Standing Knee Deep in a River (Dying of Thirst)" "Catfish Bates" and "That Song About the River" and renders them revelatory. You won't hear him much anymore on country radio--no nouveau-Nashville flash or hominy pop will ooze from this fellow anytime soon. Ain't that nice?
10. Jerry Jeff Walker, Hill Country Rain (Rykodisc). Okay, so old Jerry Jeff has become something of a walking 1-800 number of late. Yet with truly fine songs like "So Bad Last Night," "Time to Stay Home" and the title cut, Walker's warm and witty tribute to his Austin, Texas, heritage proves that this mellowed marketeer can still stand and deliver with the best of the west.
Contributing jazz music writer
Best Mood Music for Psychopaths:
1. Naked City, Heretic (Avant); Leng Tch'e (Toy's Factory). If John Zorn plays what he feels, the saxophonist-composer is not a very healthy man. Both of these Japanese imports are soundtracks for a toothache--guitars and drums constantly duke it out with keyboards and horns, while vocalist Yamatsuka Eye screams Oriental curses best left untranslated. If you're going to give tunes names like "Here Come the 7,000 Frogs" and "Mantra of Resurrected Shit," the music had better be intense. It is, the wonder of it all lying in how Zorn can make cacophony sound so organized. 2. Vijaya Anand, Asia Classics I (Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.). Composer Anand scores films in his native India, his forte being the blending of ancient tradition with 70s bad taste. This collection of gem movie cuts sounds like a bad acid trip at a Bombay drive-in. Imagine a theme for a Hindu James Bond, played on surfer guitar and disco drums by Mel Blanc characters. The music is so shockingly colorful, you overlook how equally dreadful it is. Asia Classics I is the equivalent of finding a dog so ugly that it's cute.