» Steven Bernstein
» Diaspora Soul (Tzadik)

This spectacular record tops my list of 1999 releases. I don't know if there are
any synagogues left in Havana, but it seems in trumpeter Bernstein's mind there are, and this is what they sound like. Delivering Chanukah hits, Ashkenazi wedding standards, and cantorial songs like you've never heard before, Diaspora Soul is a smoldering masterpiece of Semitic/Afro/Cuban roots music for the ages.
» 00-Soul
» The Solid Sounds of the 8-Piece Brotherhood (Manteca)

Stock up your cast-iron cooker with equal parts Latin soul, sweet samba and
psychodelicious funk. Sprinkle in some off-the-wall spoken word samples, then
bring to a rolling boil. Three hours later the caked on gunk at the bottom of the
pan is this record.

» Los Zafiros
» Bossa Cubana (World Circuit/Nonesuch)

Who knew doo-wop was such a big deal in Cuba? Before the group's over-inflated egos and under-exercised restraint for drink ripped it apart, these '60s heartthrobs were as big as the Beatles on -- and in some places off -- the island.
» Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band
» The Mountain (E Squared)

The world of contemporary country music can be a downright scary place. If
Nashville's "hunks in hats" don't get you, the alt-scenesters (who're prouder of what they ain't than of what they is) surely will. Then comes along this exquisite set of songs, delivered with a ton of hillbilly heart and without a trace of treacly nostalgia. Oh yeah, and Iris DeMent is on the record, too!

» Various Artists
» Saints' Paradise: Trombone Shout Bands From the
» United House of Prayer (Smithsonian/Folkways)

If you've been moved by the steel-guitar-based gospel emanating out of Florida's House of God churches (check out the "Sacred Steel" releases on Arhoolie), you'll
be blown away by these powerhouse trombone choirs.

» Max Nagl Quintet
» Café Electric (November Music)

The word critics like to use for records like this is "atmospheric." Actually, Café Electric is a series of vividly drawn audio vignettes so richly visual as to be a collection of scenes rather than songs. How good is it? If this were a soundtrack,
its film would automatically make my Top Ten list.

» Dirty Dozen Brass Band
» Buck Jump (Mammoth)

On this joyously schizophrenic album, the top brass of NOLA's good-time tunesters career headlong from one identity to the next. Take your pick: charming calypso combo, grease-pit groovemeisters, or sanctified soldiers of skronk. Wherever you drop the needle, the Dirty Dozens will get your foot patting and your booty shaking faster than a hardware store paint can mixer.
» Ondar
» Back Tuva Future (Warner Nashville)

You'll come for the throat singing, but you'll stay for the goose-bump-inducing "performance" of physicist (and early Tuva booster) Richard Feynman. Listen in
as one of the great minds of the twentieth century bangs a drum while chanting "Orange Juice" in a fake foreign accent. Also appearing: Popeye (sort of) and
Willie Nelson (for real).

» Various Artists
» Caribbean Voyage: Dominica (Rounder)

It's almost too difficult to pick just one of the astounding recordings culled from the Alan Lomax archives. Rounder's series of releases, presenting music recorded by Lomax during his fifty-year odyssey of folk song hunting, will swell to more than
a hundred discs when the collection is complete. If you buy only one, make it this compilation of breathtaking field recordings made in 1962 on the tiny Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica.

» Hugh Ragin
» An Afternoon in Harlem (Justin Time)

Have you heard Hugh? He's probably best known as the trumpeter in Roscoe Mitchell's Sound Ensemble. Every once in awhile, though, he steps out front and makes his own thrilling records. Soundcheck: The tone of Hugh Ragin's horn is one
of the sweetest sounds I've ever heard.

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