Abra Moore, Strangest Places: Fortunately for us, when Poi Dog Pondering split for Chicago and Discoland, they left Ms. Moore in Texas, where she conceived a remarkable major-label debut that negotiated the crooked line between cute and cantankerous.

Bad Livers, Hogs on the Highway: The Livers continued to take bluegrass to places it's never been before.

Buick MacKane, The Pawn Shop Years: Alejandro Escovedo and band made garage-glam an art form.

The Derailers, Reverb Deluxe: Ushering the Bakersfield sound safely and slickly into the '90s -- and beyond. (Compiled by Hobart Rowland from suggestions by Jim Caligiuri, Stephen Gershon and Hobart Rowland)

The Best R&B and Hip-Hop
Warren G, Take a Look Over Your Shoulder: Yes, the "Regulate" guy cut a CD this year. It was undervalued, underhyped and overflowing with four-star hip-hop.

Erykah Badu, Baduizm: Leave it to a singer from (Dallas?) to come up with a sound that can only be described as retro-meets-boho.

EPMD, Back in Business; Rakim, The 18th Letter/The Book of Life: A pair of icons from rap's past returned with two releases so phenomenal that somehow it's best to lump them together rather than set them apart.

Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Supa Dupa Fly: This sister did it for herself on this bouncy debut CD, and she wasn't forced to dress like a hoochie mama to do it.

MJG, No More Glory: Among the '97 R&B or hip-hop releases with ties to Houston, this coolly charged outing from the back half of Eightball & MJG topped the list.

Rashaan Patterson, Rashaan Patterson: As slinky as D'Angelo and as stimulating as Maxwell, this recent initiate to the new-jack soul brigade arrived toting a debut CD designed to knock Tony Rich's block off.

Common, One Day It'll All Make Sense: In a year of fashion-conscious poseurs, this South Bronx rap veteran's fusion of eclectic beats and swift urban poetry made perfect sense.

Robyn, Robyn Is Here: Surrendering to the cute soul stylings of this Swedish sweetie was the guilty pleasure of the year. (Craig D. Lindsey)

The Best Jazz, Blues, Etc.
Ralph Towner, Ana: This brilliant solo performance ought to be required listening for any guitarist.

Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny, Beyond the Missouri Sky: Two of the premier jazz artists of our time lived up to their billing with a serene, intelligent and subtly dramatic statement.

McCoy Tyner, What the World Needs Now ... The Music of Burt Bacharach: Bacharach's music as performed by Tyner and orchestrated by John Clayton was a fine hybrid of easy listening and classic jazz.

Larry Coryell, Spaces Revisited: Thought fusion was a dead art form? Guess again.

Jelly Roll Morton, The Piano Rolls: Artis Wodenhouse's historic performance annotation restored the nuances missing from Morton's cheaply produced piano rolls, creating the closest approximation yet of what Jelly Roll intended over 70 years ago.

Various Artists, Beg, Scream and Shout!: Classic soul sides, famous and obscure, 144 in all -- talk about a hoot.

Various Artists, Southern Journey, Vol. 3: 61 Highway Mississippi : In 1959, folklorist Alan Lomax carried his tape recorder to the Sunflower State to chronicle the country blues, spirituals, work songs and dance music of local folks. These five volumes in his ongoing series were all wonderful.

James Hunter, ... Believe What I Say: Largely unknown in the States, this London-based singer came on strong, like a Ray Charles for the new millennium.

Charles Musselwhite, Rough News: The best blues harpist on the planet gave it his cross-country all, with studio tracks cut in Chicago, New Orleans and on the West Coast.

Lou Pride, Twisting the Knife: This undervalued bluesman lamented about spoiled love while being expertly backed by Bob Greenlee's stable of Florida musicians. (Frank-John Hadley and Paul MacArthur)

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