Cool Spins: The Mix Staff Picks Their Current Favorites

Bill Monroe Live From Mountain Stage (Blue Plate Music) This is the 20th CD release Blue Plate has culled from the exceptional syndicated live radio program

Bill Monroe Live From Mountain Stage (Blue Plate Music)This is the 20th CD release Blue Plate has culled from the exceptional syndicated live radio program Mountain Stage (produced by West Virginia Public radio), but the first to focus on just one artist. The nearly 40-minute set, recorded in May 1989, offers a spirited collection of mostly well-known bluegrass and old-time country tunes, including "My Sweet Blue Eyed Darlin'," "Muleskinner Blues," "Uncle Pen," "Blue Moon of Kentucky," "I'm Working on Building" (done in gorgeous four-part country gospel harmony) and "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms." Monroe is the chatty, convivial host, and his pickin', along with that of this edition of the Blue Grass Boys, is superb throughout. Monroe's lead vocal on "Blue Moon of Kentucky" is a little flat in places, but that's about the only flaw I'd care to point up on this consistently fine live outing. A fitting memorial to one of the greatest musicians, songwriters and bandleaders America has ever produced.

Executive Producers: Al Bunetta and Dawn Einstein. Engineer: Francis Fisher. Recorded at the Capitol Plaza Theater (Charleston, West Virginia). Mastering: Erik Wolf/Wolf Mastering.

-Blair Jackson

Naughty By Nature: Nineteen Naughty Nine-Nature's Fury (Arista)As much as I love hip hop and rap, there are relatively few albums in those styles that I can tolerate listening to from start to finish. So I always take notice of the ones that I can, such as Naughty By Nature's Nature's Fury. After an absence of four years, the trio is back, picking up right where they left off. All the tracks are classic Naughty-lots of uptempo grooves, stories about street life and clever vocal play. The beats and the lyrics seem to be of equal importance to this group. The interjection of creative samples on top of piano riffs and altered drum patterns provide a nice touch. Guest appearances on Nature's Fury include the likes of Master P, Mistikal, Big Pun and even R&B singers Next. The highlight of the album is "Work." With it's '70s feel, funky hook, classic strings, and sing-along chorus, it's sure to be a song we're going to hear everywhere this summer. Also worth mentioning is the catchy party song, "We Can Do It," featuring Big Pun.

Producers: Naughty By Nature, Donald Robinson, Falonte Moore, Kaygee and Platune Sounds. Engineers: Darren Lighty, Kaygee. Studio: Mill Studios, (NJ). Mastering: Chris Gehringer/The Hit Factory.

-Mark Hopkins

Javon Jackson: Pleasant Valley (Blue Note)On his fifth Blue Note release, the gifted tenor saxman Jackson fronts a slightly unusual lineup of electric guitar (Dave Stryker), organ (Larry Goldings) and drums (Billy Drummond); there's no bassist. The group tackles quite a range of tunes, from Duke Ellington's obscure "Sunswept Sunday" and Joe Zawinul's "Hippodelphia" (from JZ's Cannonball Adderly days) to Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" and Al Green's "Love and Happiness." But Jackson's originals, like the funky "In the Pocket" and the bopping "For One Who Knows," show his own songwriting chops, as well. Whether blowing sweetly and lyrically or hard and fast, Jackson communicates much emotion with his playing. And Stryker and Goldings show they are up to the challenge of providing different voicings for the many styles Jackson explores on this effervescent outing.

Producer: Craig Street. Engineer: Danny Koppelson. Studio: Sear Sound (NYC). Mastering: Greg Calbi/Sterling Sound (NYC).

-Blair Jackson

Bill Kirchen: Raise a Ruckus (Hightone)This album is pure pleasure. Bill Kirchen's been at it a long time, writing songs, making records and playing out in probably dozens of configurations since his days with Commander Cody, but he seems to have lost absolutely none of the joy of it. He sounds especially gleeful playing and singing the title track, and the wonderful "Little Bitty Record," a tribute to vinyl singles ("still makes me feel like the first time I felt/A little bitty record with a great big hole...") sounds more than a little like older stuff by Kirchen's friend Nick Lowe. This is a parade of great American roots sounds-Cajun, Texas swing, country, blues and plenty of rock 'n' roll-in which Kirchen's sweet singing, and guitar and trombone (!) playing are supported by a superb group of musicians, including the album's producer, Austin de Lone, and accordion great Flaco Jimenez.

Producer: Austin de Lone. Engineers: Tommy Detamore, Peter Fox, Mike Harvey. Recording Studios: Tommy Detamore's Cherry Ridge Studio (Floresville, Texas), Groovetown USA (Washington, D.C.), Actiondale Studio (Annandale, Va.). Mastering: Dave Glasser/Airshow (Boulder, Colo.).

-Barbara Schultz

Various: Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons (Almo)I've grown leery of tribute albums, but this has an excellent pedigree: It was co-executive produced by Parsons' one-time singing partner, Emmylou Harris, who has done so much to keep his spirit and his songs alive in the 25 years since his death. The 13-track CD draws songs from Parsons' days with The Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers and from his two excellent, still underrated, solo albums, GP and Grievous Angel. Emmylou and Almo's Paul Kremen have assembled a stellar cast of great singers to tackle Parsons' songs: My favorites are Beck and Emmylou's dreamy take on the Burritos' "Sin City," The Mavericks' version of "Hot Burrito #1," Elvis Costello's passionate reading of "Sleepless Nights" (one of the few tunes on here not written by Parsons); Gillian Welch's and David Rawlings' faithful "Hickory Wind," Evan Dando and Julianna Hatfield's nicely nuanced "$1,000 Wedding" and the Rolling Creekdippers' "In My Hour of Darkness." The Cowboy Junkies' lethargic "Ooh Las Vegas" is the only obvious misstep on an album that does show the breadth and depth of Parsons' songwriting genius. Still, I'd much rather listen to the excellent Burritos anthology, Farther Along, and the two-fer CD of GP and Grievous Angel-discs that belong in any serious collection.

Executive Producers: Paul Kremen, Emmylou Harris. Producers: Stephen Street, Michael Timmins, Allen Sides, Glyn Johns, Don Cook & Raul Malo, Herb Pedersen, Sheryl Crow & Emmylou Harris, Wilco, Ethan Johns, Buddy & Julie Miller. Engineers: Glyn Johns, Darryl Smith, Chris Lord-Alge (mix), Allen Sides, Mike Bradley, Bernard Matthews, Trina Shoemaker, Dave Trumfio & Mike Hagler, Jonathan Pines & Jay Bennett (mix), David Rawlings, Ethan Johns (mix), Buddy Miller & Meghan Ahern. Studios: Chemical Sounds (Toronto, Ont.), Oceanway (L.A. and Nashville), Image (L.A.), Fort Apache (Boston), The Soundshop (Nashville), Sunset Sound (L.A.), Globe (N.Y.C.), Kingsway (New Orleans), King Size Sound Laboratories (Chicago), Dogtown Studio (Nashville), Dreamland Studios (NY).

-Blair Jackson

The Wild Magnolias: Life Is a Carnival (Metro Blue)One of New Orleans' venerable Mardi Gras "Indian" tribes (actually African-American), the Wild Magnolias perform and record only sporadically, but when they do it's always a funky party, and this disc is no exception. The date is dominated by the gravely, rough-hewn vocals of Big Chief Bo Dollis, who stomps his way across a variety of new and old N'awlins party tunes by the Magnolias and Crescent City stalwarts such as Dr. John (four fine new tunes, plus "All on a Mardi Gras Day" and "Pock-A-Nae"), Cyril Neville and Allen Toussaint. A version of The Band's "Life Is a Carnival," (originally produced by Toussaint), features Robbie Robertson and Bruce Hornsby. Dollis duets powerfully with Dr. John "Black Hawk" and with Marva Wright on Toussaint's "Hang Tough"; both were produced by the great New Orleans arranger Wardell Quezerque. Dollis' sandpaper vocals are sometimes grating, but the sure funk and second-line rhythms and the outstanding instrumental support of Dr. John (piano), June Yamagishi (guitar) and others always keeps the session lively. File next to your Wild Tchoupitoulas and Professor Longhair discs.

Producers: Glenn A. Gaines, June Yamagishi (one song), Cyril Neville (two songs), Wardell Quezerque (three songs). Engineers: Marc Hewitt (tracking and mixing), June Yamagishi (mixing). Studio: Sound Services (New Orleans); additional studios: The Boiler Room, Magazine Sound, Side One, American Sector (all in New Orleans), Clinton (NYC). Mastering: Kurt Lundvall.

-Blair Jackson