In the universe of popular music, there are a lot of galaxies. Sun pop music critic J.D. Considine has boldly gone through 15 of them and picked out the brightest stars in each.
Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach, "Painted from Memory" (Mercury).
A brilliant (if unlikely) collaboration that vividly evokes how difficult grown-up romance can be. Shortlisted: Barenaked Ladies, "Stunt" (Reprise); Rufus Wainwright, "Rufus Wainwright" (Virgin); Brian Wilson, "Imagination" (Giant).
Dave Matthews Band, "Before These Crowded Streets" (RCA).
Great songs framed by inspired playing make this album shine. Shortlisted: Rob Zombie, "Hellbilly Deluxe" (Geffen); Stabbing Westward, "Darkest Days" (Columbia); Goo Goo Dolls, "Dizzy Up the Girl" (Warner Bros.).
P.J. Harvey, "Is This Desire?" (Island).
Moody and emotionally complex, Harvey's songwriting is a perfect blend of lyrical insight and musical ingenuity. Shortlisted: Sean Lennon, "Into the Sun" (Grand Royal); Elliott Smith, "X.O." (Dreamworks); Garbage, "Version 2.0" (Almo Sounds).
Jay-Z, "Hard Knock Life" (Rockafella).
As sharp as Jay-Z's wordplay can be, it's the musicality of these raps that makes this album indispensable. Shortlisted: A Tribe Called Quest, "The Love Movement" (Jive); Rakim, "The 18th Letter" (Universal); various, "In Tha Beginning ... There Was Rap" (Priority).
Maxwell, "Embrya" (Columbia).
Sultry and sophisticated, Maxwell's alluring soundscapes recall the best of both Marvin Gaye and Prince. Shortlisted: R. Kelly, "R." (Jive); Gerald Levert, "Love & Consequences" (Elektra); Lauryn Hill, "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" (Ruffhouse/Columbia).
Lyle Lovett, "Step Inside This House" (MCA).
A touching evocation of Lovett's roots in the Texas singer/songwriter tradition.
Shortlisted: Dwight Yoakam, "A Long Way Home" (Reprise); Faith Hill, "Faith" (Warner Bros.); The Lynns, "The Lynns" (Reprise).
Geri Allen, "The Gathering" (Verve).
One of the most original instrumental voices in jazz shows her strength as a bandleader and composer in this fiery, small-ensemble session. Shortlisted: John Scofield, "A Go Go" (Verve); Bill Frisell, "Gone Just Like a Train" (Nonesuch); Joe Lovano, "Trio Fascination: Edition One" (Blue Note).
B.B. King, "Blues on the Bayou" (MCA).
A solid album of straight-up blues, with a touch of Louisiana spice. Shortlisted: Delbert McClinton, "One of the Fortunate Few" (Curb/Rising Tide); John Lee Hooker, "The Best of Friends" (Point Blank); Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, "Acme" (Matador).
Bob Dylan, "Live 1966: The 'Royal Albert Hall' Concert" (Columbia).
The first legitimate release of one of rock's most celebrated bootlegs delivers sound so vivid, you'd swear you were there. Shortlisted: Miles Davis, "The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions" (Columbia Legacy); various, "Nuggets" (Rhino); Ray Charles, "The Complete Country & Western Recordings, 1979-1986" (Rhino).
Dru Hill, "Enter the Dru" (Island Black Music/University).
You won't find better R&B harmony singing in any city, which is why Baltimoreans are so proud of this quartet. Shortlisted: Love Riot, "Heaven Can Wait" (Deck Music); Love Nut, "Baltimucho" (Right Stuff); Robert Macht, "Suite for Javanese Gamelan & Synthesizer" (Dorian).
Talvin Singh, "OK" (Island).
Drawing from sources as far-flung as London club music and Okinawan pop -- but mainly from Indian folk and pop traditions -- Singh creates a wondrous world of his own. Shortlisted: Gilberto Gil, "Quanta" (Blue Mesa); Sierra Maestra, "Tibiri Tabara" (Nonesuch/World Circuit).
Marc Anthony, "Contras la Corriente" (WEA Latina).
Between the sweetness of Anthony's voice and the brassy punch of the arrangements, this is everything a classic salsa album should be. Shortlisted: India, "Sobre El Fuego" (RMM); Los Super Seven, "Los Super Seven" (RCA); Ruben Gonzalez, "Introducing ... Ruben Gonzalez" (World Circuit/Nonesuch).
"Bulworth: The Album" (Interscope).
Between the sweet pop appeal of Pras, Mya and Ol' Dirty Bastard in "Ghetto Supastar" and the powerhouse pairing of L.L. Cool J and Dr. Dre in "Zoom," this represented hip-hop at its finest. Shortlisted: Public Enemy, "He Got Game" (Def Jam); "Dance With Me: Music from the Motion Picture" (Epic/Soundtrax); "54: Music from the Miramax Motion Picture, Vol. 2" (Tommy Boy).
Sylk 130, "When the Funk Hits the Fan" (Ovum/Ruffhouse/Columbia).
In which DJ King Britt brings back the '70s in all their cultural richness. Shortlisted: Armand Van Helden's Sampleslaya, "Enter the Meatmarket" (Columbia); Grooverider, "Mysteries of Funk" (Columbia); Fantastic Plastic Machine, "The Fantastic Plastic Machine" (Emperor Norton).
Jubilant Sykes, "Jubilant" (Sony Classical).
Offering classic spirituals in lively, jazz-tinged settings, Sykes' big, lustrous baritone has authority enough to give any listener that old time religion. Shortlisted: Jars of Clay, "Much Afraid" (Essential/Provident); CeCe Winans, "Everlasting Love" (Pioneer); Michael Crawford, "On Eagle's Wings" (Atlantic).
Pub Date: 12/30/98