Joan Armatrading, 20th Century Masters The Millennium Collection: The Best of Joan Armatrading (Uni/A&M) Though always a bigger star overseas than in the States, the West Indies-born Armatrading has retained a certain cult status among lovers of intelligent folk-rock. This is a 12-track, digitally remastered compilation.
Austin Lounge Lizards, Never an Adult Moment (Sugar Hill) The wisecracking Texas band's sarcastic parodies are supported by unexpectedly smart, deftly played bluegrassy instrumentals. Marcia Ball guests on their latest; songs include "Hillbillies in a Haunted House," "Forty Years Old and I'm Living in My Mom's Garage," "Rasputin's HMO."
The Band, Music From Big Pink; The Band; Stage Fright; Cahoots (EMI/Capitol) Reissue of the first four albums by Bob Dylan's former backing band, remastered with bonus tracks. Their 1968 debut, Music From Big Pink, comes with nine bonus tracks, including guitarist Robbie Robertson's "Ferdinand the Imposter" and, intriguingly, a rendition of the Stanley Brothers' "If I Lose." On 1969's The Band, "Get Up Jake" is the only bonus track that's not an alternate take. Bonus tracks on 1970's Stage Fright include three alternate takes. 1971's Cahoots offers four bonus tunes.
D.C. Bellamy, Water to Wine (Rooster Blues) Heavily influenced by half-brother Curtis Mayfield as well as the blues he heard around his Chicago neighborhood, Bellamy started playing guitar as a child and later apprenticed with artists such as Jimmy Reed, Donny Hathaway and Brook Benton. Now relocated, he recorded this collection of nine originals and three covers at Blue Heaven Studios, a renovated church sanctuary in Salina, Kan.
John Ellison, Missing You (Louisiana Red Hot Records) Latest blues outing from the gent who penned "Some Kind of Wonderful," which graced the soul/pop charts in the '60s and became a huge hit for Grand Funk Railroad in the '70s.
John Wesley Harding, The Confessions of St. Ace (Mammoth) With a title that plays on his given name (Wesley Harding Stace), the articulate English artist's latest endeavor features guest appearances by Steve Earle and Jimmie Dale Gilmore as well as the song "I'm Wrong About Everything" from the "High Fidelity" soundtrack.
Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, Beatin' the Heat (Surfdog) The enduringly quirky San Francisco Bay Area artist returns after a very long hiatus from recording, backed by admiring buds such as Brian Setzer, Elvis Costello, Bette Midler, Rickie Lee Jones and Tom Waits.
Flaco Jiminez, Sleepytown (Back Porch/Narada) The beloved accordionist returns with a Tex-Mex-flavored Americana platter that features guest performances by Lee Roy Parnell, Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens.
Barbara Kessler, Barbara Kessler (CD Freedom/Redeye) Latest offering from award-winning contemporary singer-songwriter offers 11 songs, including "Confession," "Angels Are Crying" and "Grown-Up Love Songs and Other Oxymorons."
John McCusker, Yella Hoose (Temple/Rounder) Second solo album by the Battlefield Band fiddler finds him with the likes of Tim O'Brien, Darrell Scott, Kate Rusby and Celtic flutist Michael McGoldrick.
Mollie O'Brien, Things I Gave Away (Sugar Hill) The Colorado artist's follow-up to 1998's acclaimed Big Red Sun reaffirms her formidable vocal and interpretive gifts as she covers material by a diverse array of songwriters, including Percy Mayfield, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, California folkie Kristina Olsen, jazz diva Abbey Lincoln, former Subdude member John Magnie and Nashville lawyer/songwriter Henry Hipkins.
Kid Ramos, West Coast House Party (Evidence) The pompadoured California guitarist has established a respected reputation for his work with James Harman and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, among others. On his latest solo venture he's joined by lead T-Bird Kim Wilson as well as Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Duke Robillard.
Jason Ringenberg, A Pocketful of Soul (Courageous Chicken) Second solo outing by Jason and the Scorchers frontman finds him mining the vein of traditional folk for inspiration. Primarily acoustic, 12-track album features multi-instrumental accompaniment from Fats Kaplin and George Bradfute.
Martin Simpson and Jessica, True Dare or Promise (Fledg'ling [UK]) Reissue of 1987 album by the formidable finger-style guitarist and his lyrical wife. Twelve tracks, including two originals by Jessica, and several traditionals arranged by the couple, such as "Man Smart, Woman Smarter," "Black Is the Colour" and "The Keel Row."
Ralph Stanley, While the Ages Roll On (Rebel) Twelve tracks of bluegrass gospel from the venerated bluegrass icon, who also produced. Songs include "Because He Loved Me," the sparkling "A Robin Built a Nest on Daddy's Grave" and the moving a cappella numbers "Gone Away With a Friend" and "Waiting for Me."
George Thorogood and the Destroyers, George Thorogood and the Destroyers Anthology (Capitol) Double-disc anthology chronicling the Delaware slide-guitarist's gear-clutching brand of party-time blues-rock includes 23 studio recordings, six live tracks and one previously unreleased tune.
Various artists, Big Mon (Skaggs Family Records) A starry crew of bluegrass, country, folk and rock artists assembled to tip their musical hats to the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe. Participants include organizer and label owner Ricky Skaggs, Dolly Parton, Bruce Hornsby, the Dixie Chicks, John Fogerty, Dwight Yoakam and Mary Chapin Carpenter.
Various artists, Harps, Pipes & Fiddles (Temple/Rounder) Traditional Scottish and Irish instrumentals played on who would've guessed? harps, pipes and fiddles by an array of noted traditional musicians, including harpist Maire Ni Chathasaigh, Battlefield Band piper Duncan MacGillivray, and fiddlers John McCusker and Aly Bain.
Various artists, Route 50: Driving New Roots for 50 Years (Vanguard) Two-disc, 39-track retrospective culled from Vanguard's extensive folk-and-blues archives. Doc Watson, Mimi and Richard Farina, Junior Wells, Odetta, Skip James, Eric Andersen, Peter Case, Patty Larkin, Ian Tyson, Bill Miller, Mississippi John Hurt, and Maria Muldaur with Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band are just some of the artists featured.
David Wilcox, What You Whispered (Vanguard) Jars of Clay, Nance Pettit and fellow literate folkie Ellis Paul lend backup vocals to what may be Wilcox's most relaxed album. The recording location his house and instrumental flourishes on banjo, djembe, acoustic and National steel guitars bring an inviting warmth to songs such as "Deeper Still" (a co-write with Beth Nielsen-Chapman), "The Whisper of the Wheels" (a co-write with Tom Prasada-Rao) and "Rule Number One."
(Click here for a full report on this week's releases.)