Keeping up with what's fresh in pop music on a budget of $25 a month ($40 for CD enthusiasts).
Jane's Addiction's "Ritual de lo Habitual" (Warner Bros.)--The themes here aren't as consistently arresting as on the Los Angeles hard-rock band's first Warner Bros. album, but the music and Perry Farrell's vocals continue to convey quite masterfully traces of psychological obsession and abandon.
Urban Dance Squad's "Mental Floss for the Globe" (Arista)--"Prayer for My Demo," the most inviting track in this 13-song collection, is also a fitting title for the album. There is such an experimental, understated quality to so many of the selections that the package seemed like rough musical sketches when released earlier this year, but there's a refreshing independence to this Dutch band that is ultimately winning. The blend of rock and hip-hop draws equally from such diverse influences as the Sex Pistols, Public Enemy and James Brown.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse's "Ragged Glory" (Reprise)--Second only to Sinead O'Connor's "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" in the race for year's best album, "Ragged Glory" is a collection for all rock generations, a work that looks back to lost ideals and forward to new possibilities. Sample lines:
\o7 Talk to me my long lost friend
Tell me how you are
Are you happy with your circumstance?
Are you driving a new car?
Does it get you where you want to go
With a seven year warranty
Or just another 100,000 miles away
From the days that used to be?\f7
Robert Johnson's "The Complete Recordings" (Columbia)--It's rare that a reissue (especially a double album) makes the $25 Guide, but this is a rare reissue and you begin to understand why when you see that Eric Clapton and Keith Richards both wrote appreciations for the booklet that accompanies the album. Declares Rolling Stones guitarist Richards, "(Johnson) was like a comet or a meteor that came along and, boom, suddenly he raised the ante, suddenly you just had to aim that much higher."
One of the first "forefathers" inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Johnson--whose "Love in Vain" has become a staple for the Rolling Stones--was arguably the most respected and influential figure in all of the Delta blues, even though his recordings were all drawn from just two late-'30s sessions in Texas.
Paul Simon's "The Rhythm of the Saints" (Warner Bros.)--The wait was worth it. It'll take time to see if this album proves as ultimately satisfying as "Graceland," but the freshness of the Brazilian drum rhythms and the intimacy of Simon's new tales about various matters of the heart stamp this album as another work of substance and charm.