Audiofile reader favorite Andrew Bird's list of current listening favorites:
1 and 2. Various Artists, "Ghana Soundz Afrobeat Funk & Fusion '70s," Vols. 1 and 2 (Soundway)
"These compilations from Miles Cleret have been the biggest hit for me this last year, a collection of bands from Ghana in the early '70s that retains much of what is great about traditional West African music. They're hopelessly danceable and the arrangements are creative and strange, similar to Fela Kuti but a lot more diverse and recorded more like Motown hits or James Brown-influenced funk. I like the idea that this is where the Delta Blues came from, with Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson, and then 40 years later it returns to Africa via James Brown while also mixing with Afro-Cuban music. Amazing bass lines and rhythm sections. Track two on Vol. 1 is a highlight."
3. Lester Young, "Jazz Giants '56" (Verve)
"Young was one of the great tenor players from the Kansas City crew in the '30s, alongside Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, Don Byas. Really cool, fluid, mellow ballads. No stock licks here, he totally transcends the genre. It seems like he got so caught up in his own swing-based language that the bebop scene meant little to him as he developed this really unique sense of melody and phrasing. By the mid '50s, he was in his prime, playing these super-relaxed Verve sessions with Teddy Wilson and others."
4. Various Artists, "Ethiopiques, Vol. 10: Tezeta" (Buda)
"'Tezeta' is one of those words that doesn't have an appropriate translation from Ethiopian to English. 'Melancholy' or 'Blues' may approach it. This is Vol. 10 of this 19-volume series of Ethiopian groove from an especially vibrant period between '69 and '74 as traditional African musicians were again checking out James Brown. This record focuses on these mournful blues-like ballads and is a standout, as are 'Ethiopiques' Vols. 4,5 and 9."
5. My Morning Jacket, "Acoustic Citsuoca" (ATO)
"I'm really into ballads these days: long, drawn-out melodies using the voice as an instrument to carry a simple melody; distant, without too much close, personal emotion. One of the most insufferable things for me to be subjected to is some new blue-eyed soul singer whose voice is so closely miked you can almost feel the condensation in your ear. Jim James is the antidote to this, a beautiful singer with an excellent sense of melody, and on this live CD you can especially hear how he uses reverb as an instrument. There are lots of vowels and round sounds, as on the first track, 'The Bear,' opening with the two words: 'bad idea.' MMJ is a great live band."