10. Erykah Badu, Mama's Gun (Motown) I have never understood why there isn't general rejoicing in the land each time Erykah Badu puts out a new album. Mama's Gun shows a tougher side of Badu -- the cover portrait, with toothpick dangling carelessly from the side of her mouth, broadcasts what you'll find inside -- and she slips into cool-soul mode effortlessly throughout. In a year where virtually every prominent hip-hop and R&B act was cut from the same boring, fake-ass, testosterone-soaked, pec-flexing mold (I don't care how many awards he came away with, Sisqó suqs; aren't we over this guy yet?), Badu sneaks into 2000 with just a few weeks left, to deliver her creative commentary on these forms and more, utterly without fanfare or posturing. The music speaks for itself. You ask me, Badu is Nina Simone reborn.
Best Remaster: The Residents, God in 3 Persons (East Side Digital) The Residents poke fun at the rock concept album and the erotic derivation of religious iconography on this 1988 release, for which the word "highbrow" does but the barest justice. The song cycle tells the story of "Mr. X" and his misguided passion for a set of miracle-working conjoined twins of indeterminate and apparently shifting gender; the sequence in which X attacks and separates the twins in a jealous rage is one of the most disturbing pieces of music ever filed under "rock." The whole thing is done in a talking blues format with poetic rhythms based partly on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." It's even weirder than it sounds on paper. I guarantee you there's nothing in your collection like this.
Best Boxed Set: Miles Davis & John Coltrane, The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961 (Columbia/Legacy) Thank God for this six-disc collection of all the album tracks, plus alternate and unissued takes, from what is arguably the most important collaboration in the history of jazz. A lot has been made of Davis' influence on the young Coltrane, but Coltrane's unbridled and uncommon talent pushed Davis' arrangements into places they hadn't been previously, places they'd never go again. This set is the perfect example of synergy, of the whole being much more than the sum of its parts. The history starts with Round About Midnight, Milestones and Kind of Blue, but that's just the beginning. Thank you, Jesus, for this set. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Best non-music boxed set goes to Richard Pryor's . . . And It's Deep, Too! The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings, 1968-1992 (Rhino).
Best Reissue Six Years Overdue: Jimmy Smith, Root Down/Jimmy Smith Live! (Verve) When the Beastie Boys rapped over Jimmy Smith's "Root Down (and Get It)" to concoct one of 1994's most-played cuts, it should have ignited a Jimmy Smith revival, or at least a serious reappreciation of the role of the organ in soul music. Smith's 1960 opus Back at the Chicken Shack should have been rereleased with alternate cuts, new liner notes, the works. Booker T. and the MGs' "Hip Hug Her" should have been bumping out of every sound system from Lake Havasu to Presque Isle, Maine. None of that happened, of course. But this year Verve records, bless 'em, rereleased Root Down, recorded in 1972 at the Bombay Bicycle Club in Los Angeles, in its unedited form. Seven of the sweetest slices of early '70s funk/soul to emerge from the West Coast, featuring an instrumental version of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" that'll have you lighting candles just in case someone you've been thinking of putting the moves on happens to drop by. Run, don't walk.
1. The Jayhawks, Smile (Columbia) One of alt-country's better bands gets the good-sounds treatment from arena-rock producer Bob Ezrin with near perfect results. There's a sense of nature that hangs near every note, and when the sky's not falling with "clouds turned to stone," it's described as "eight shades of gray and (you) can taste the rain." The title cut is a sophisticated gem followed by the joyously mindless "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," with its wonderful vocal waterfalls. Even better is the slower, quieter "What Led Me to this Town," and the equally emotive "Broken Harpoon." Think of Smile as Fleetwood Mac's Rumours in the great outdoors.