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The Handsome Family: In The Air (Carrot Top Records)
Murder ballads, pitch-perfect harmonies, and surrealist prairie music recorded in a garage on a Mac. Literate, accomplished and just a little bit scary.
Art Ensemble of Chicago: Full Force (ECM)
A sonic hurricane improvised by the greatest avant-garde band ever assembled and one of the most politically militant, too.
Iris Dement: Infamous Angel (Warner)
Like no other voice in the Ozarks.
The Manhattans: Kiss and Say Goodbye (Sony)
If you dig soul ballads, you can’t go wrong with The Manhattans, one of the most consistent and steady male vocal groups of the 1960s and 1970s. Not as sweet as The Delphonics, not as adventurous as The Temptations–they exploited a glorious middle.
Smokey Robinson: My World (Motown)
There may be a better song than Smokey’s Cruisin’ to play over and over on the cd as you drive across the deserts of the American West on a summer night, but I’ve yet to hear it.
Fenton Robinson: Somebody Loan Me a Dime (Alligator)
A true heir of T-Bone Walker, the mercurial Fenton Robinson was one of the most under-rated guitarists in the modern blues, perhaps because he didn’t cleave to the tired Chicago formula but allowed his playing to be influenced by the smoother tones of Texas swing and the jazz innovations of Wes Montgomery.