TIN HAT TRIO The Rodeo Eroded (Ropeadope) If Orson Welles had set The Third Man in San Antonio instead of Vienna and had locked Anton Karas in a San Antonio cervezería with Calexico, the resulting soundtrack still wouldn't have sounded as Texas twisted as this Tin Hat Trio romp -- with Willie Nelson no less.
CLASSIC MOUNTAIN SONGS From Smithsonian Folkways (Smithsonian Folkways) A stellar old-time mountain collection from greats like Ola Belle Reed, Dock Bogs, Roscoe Holcomb, Hazel Dickens, Clarence Ashley and other folks who inspired the O Brother soundtrack. The real deal.
MARY GAUTHIER Filth & Fire (D7) Why wait for a new Lucinda Williams recording? Mary Gauthier's harrowing Filth & Fire -- brilliantly produced by Lucinda's ex-sideman Gurf Morlix -- cuts closer to the bone than anything Willams has done in years. Scary good.
CHérif MBAW Kham Kham (Detour) Senegalese country? You bet your balafon, and Dakar guitar star Chérif Mbaw doesn't stop there on a sensually slinky swing through flamenco, blues and son blends backed by accordion, tabla, flute and fiddle. Wonderfully hypnotic.
Jesse Sykes and the sweet hereafter Reckless Burning (Burn Burn Burn) If you thought the chilling country voices coming from the great Northwest began with the Walkabouts' Carla Torgerson and ended with Neko Case, Jesse Sykes and her hauntingly beautiful Reckless Burning will make you reconsider.TP
K-OS Exit (EMI) Righteous crooning from Canada's answer to Common.
THE STREETS Original Pirate Material (Warner) Triple-time Brit beats straight out of the garage. The funniest and freshest hiphop record you'll hear all year.
BLACKALICIOUS Blazing Arrow (Universal) Hiphop's equivalent to What's Goin On misses the mark occasionally, but Blackalicious remain hiphop's essential one-two punch.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ Instant Vintage (Universal) Old soul from R&B's rootsiest songwriter.
JAY-Z The Blueprint2 (Roc-a-Fella) Bloated by a third, but still stunning in parts. The lyricist's lyricist.
ORCHESTRA BAOBAB Specialist In All Styles (Nonesuch) Senegal's slinkiest house band, back in business 20 years later.
DENNIS BROWN The Promised Land (Blood & Fire) Roots control from the people's Bob Marley.
CAETANO VELOSO AND GAL COSTA Domingo (Universal) Samba and bossa nova so light and breezy it practically floats by.
RED HOT + RIOT (Universal) Fela's Afrobeat, hiphop-style. The dance floor awaits.
SUSANA BACA Espiritu Vivo (Luaka Bop) Peruvian soul jazz recorded in New York City on September 11, 2001.MG
DJ HYPE Fabriclive.03 (Fabric) For the drum 'n' bass fan on your list, you can't really go wrong with this mix disc from DJ Hype. A true pioneer in the genre, Hype specializes in hiphop scratching over frenetic rhythms.
HERBERT Around The House (K7) Although originally released in 1998, this seminal album didn't come out domestically until this year. It still sounds miles ahead of everything else, a beautiful and challenging statement that only Herbert could pull off.
AKUFEN My Way (Force Inc) Montreal techno hero Akufen is increasingly cited as one to watch by the scene's key tastemakers, and for good reason. His sound is immediately recognizable and has injected a much-needed dose of creativity into the genre.
PEACE ORCHESTRA Reset (K7) Peter Kruder (of Kruder and Dorfmeister fame) offers up his classic Peace Orchestra album for remix to a who's who of downtempo producers. Rainer Trüby, Zero dB and Chateau Flight are among the contributors, and the results are pleasingly varied and forward-thinking.
DESORMAIS Climate Variations (Intr_version/Fusion3) Up-and-coming Montreal-based minimalist Mitchell Akiyama teams up with Cincinnati's Joshua Treble (a.k.a. Tony Boggs) on a gorgeous album of melancholic glitch-informed ambient music. Requires a bit of patience, but it's worth it. BB