Tara Nevins, Mule to Ride (Sugar Hill) Billed as a solo project from Donna the Buffalo fiddler Tara Nevins, this bluegrass album has nothing to do with flying solo; every track is a testament to the collective excellence of the group she's assembled to play with her. Though Tara's smoking fiddle is everywhere, she frequently hands the vocal reins over to guitarist Jim Miller or simply lets the album's varied instrumentations speak for themselves. Standouts include the American Indian vocals of "Troubles," the old-time stomp of "Lost John," and a countrified version of Bob Marley's "Talkin' Blues."
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Buck Jump (Mammoth) Founded in 1977, the Dirty Dozen is to traditional New Orleans jazz what Parliament/Funkadelic was to R&B: grungier, funkier, and a lot more fun. In the higher registers, their horn playing approaches virtuosity; at the low end, it moves butts. Buck Jump, their eighth album, kicks off with the steamroller bass line of "Unclean Waters," parties its way through several Mardi Gras street jams, and rolls out into a series of brass-balls vamps that leave no doubt as to why these guys are still packing houses.
G. Love & Special Sauce, Philadelphonic (550) Why there aren't more hip-hop acts like G. Love is a mystery. Rhyming over a largely acoustic live-instrument bass line and the snap-crackle-pop of a real snare, G. Love achieves an intimacy the big-production rappers can't touch. Listening to Philadelphonic, you can practically see him on stage, looking like a young, white John Lee Hooker, giving shout-outs to the 800-pound gorillas of rap's old school. This album is his mellowest and bluesiest yet, a fine segue from that tired Van Morrison-or De La Soul-tape in your car.
Best album for driving I-94 to go ski-bum in Montana:
old school Neil Young, Harvest
new school Darrell Scott, Family Tree
Best album for a late-night detox in the hot tub:
old school Alex de Grassi, Altiplano
new school Michael Hedges, Torched
Best album to earnestly discuss at the base-area espresso bar:
old school The Smiths, Meat Is Murder
new school Kristin Hersh, Sky Motel