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6. Gary Stewart, I'm a Texan. Gravel-voiced, big-hearted Gary pours out the blues here--Texas-style, natch--like the smoky "Stompin' Grounds" (featuring Charlie McCoy's timeless mouth-harping) and the two best drankin' songs of the annum: "Hand Me Another" and "Make It a Double."

7. Run C&W, Into the Twangy-First Century. The Burns brothers--that would be Crashen, Wash, Side and, of course, Rug--have hightailed it from Kentucky to the Motor City to build Cadillacs and make hillbilly rap for the deprived masses. Go ahead and guffaw, but your toes'll tap to the Burnses' clever treatments of Rufus Thomas' "Walkin' the Dog" and Sam Cooke's "Sweet Soul Music."

8. Walter Hyatt, Music Town. Hyatt's ultrasmooth baritone and classy songwriting simply continue to amaze. Within his Music Town dwell cool Forties and Fifties couples who sway cheek to cheek to a smoky clarinet on "Must I Fall" and swing to the fiddle-filled "Teach Me About Love." But some nights, you know, they're down and alone--Out Where the Blue Begins," perhaps. Some town, Music Town.

9. Rhonda Vincent, Written in the Stars. Sweet-corded newcomer Vincent spent 27 years performing with her musical Missouri family before going it alone. Already an accomplished and talented singer, Rhonda has created a debut disc featuring exceptionally strong material, including Lefty Frizzell's 1974 "I Do My Crying at Night," but ballads best allow her wide range to rove.

10. Mark Collie, Mark Collie. Country-blues purveyor Collie continues an impressive balancing act there on the fence betwixt the Nashville norm and quasi-outlaw. With the former represented by three minutes and 40 seconds of outstanding country music in "Even the Man in the Moon Is Cryin'" and the latter in a passel of sharp blues--especially "Keep It Up" and "Shame Shame Shame Shame"--Collie shows us that his is a rare voice in milquetoast Music City. Dave McElfresh, New Times contributor (jazz)

Ten underrated discs of 1993:
1. Tony Rice, Tony Rice Plays and Sings Bluegrass. Fans of amphetamine ax men like Joe Satriani should check out the frighteningly fleet fingers of acoustic guitarist Tony Rice. This sleek and terminally melodic solo disc from Rice is miles from the often-deserved stereotype of bluegrass as boring, bucktoothed mountain music.

2. Last Exit, Headfirst Into the Flames--Live in Europe. Could be that the best metal band in the world is this all-star group of grandparent-aged jazzmen. Guitar masochist Sonny Sharrock rants alongside the schizo sax of Peter Brotzmann; Last Exit's vicious improvisations are as subtle to the ear as a wire brush, and prove that real meanness comes with age.

3. Tom Waits, The Black Rider. Yeah, rave reviews were given to this latest disc by Tom Waits, but not much was made of its perfect coupling of Waits with fascinating literary loon William S. Burroughs. Waits understands and matches Mr. Naked Lunch's weirdness like the Siamese twin Burroughs never had.

4. Black 47, Fire of Freedom. Now that ex-Pogue Shane MacGowan is dueting with a bottle of Jim Beam, Black 47 is left to represent the ire in Ireland. Fire is far from a perfect disc, but is much more in-yer-face than any of the bands on the Straight Outta Ireland compilations or the latest Pogues release.

5. Various Artists, Johnny Otis Presents the Best of Rhythm and Blues, Volumes 1-5. Five discs of classic R&B, first issued on Otis' Blues Spectrum label in 1977. Fifties West Coast R&B greats like Charles Brown and Pee Wee Crayton are here, as is the Johnny Otis version of "Willie and the Hand Jive," and "Louie, Louie," done by its writer, Richard Berry. 6. Various Artists, Modern A Cappella. Rhino has put out the ultimate sampler of a cappella. The usual names are here--the Nylons, Bobby McFerrin, the Persuasions--but the less obvious inclusions are what make this disc a treasure. The Roches' version of "The Hallelujah Chorus" and a cut from Todd Rundgren's little-heard 1985 a cappella album both get a second chance. Best of all is "Only You" by England's matchless Flying Pickets.

7. Various Artists, Black on White: Great R&B Covers of Rock Classics. If you think Ike and Tina Turner's cover of Creedence's "Proud Mary" is preferable to the original, here's a whole compilation of other R&B artists' smoking versions of rock tunes. Al Green does the Bee Gees' "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" and Otis Clay kills Sir Douglas Quintet's "She's About a Mover." Check out how Howard Tate turns "Girl From the North Country" into a beautiful soul ballad that even Dylan must find an improvement on his original.

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Ted Fuss
Dave McElfresh
Ted Simons
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