Mark Knopfler - Shangri-La (Warner Bros.): Unlike most rock stars, former Dire Straits leader Mark Knopfler isn't entering middle age kicking and screaming. Instead, he's making wise and wonderful music for adults like 2002's memorable "Ragpicker's Dream" and this new collection of signature songs. With nothing left to prove, Knopfler is making some of the best, most personal music of his career - for the pure love of it. And with his storyteller's gift and a keen eye for the travails of the working man, he and his cohorts deliver elegant, understated, and rootsy music led by Knopfler's authoritative vocals and majestic guitar. By John Kehe
Madeleine Peyroux - Careless Love (Rounder): A self-confessed "old soul," the 30-year-old chanteuse delivers a stunning second album - soulful and inviting, intimate and poignant, with a voice for the ages. An eclectic mix of country, jazz, blues, and cabaret seems effortlessly tossed off by Peyroux and her talented backing musicians, as if they stepped out of a smoky late-night jazz club and right into the studio. The great beneficiaries of this marvelous work are songwriters like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Hank Williams, whose work never sounded so luminous, and, yes, swinging! It will take a power outage to stop me from playing this CD morning, noon, and night. J.K.
Keith Urban - Be Here (Capitol Records): If there's such a music genre as "smooth country," look no further than Keith Urban as its source. "Be Here" blends intricate electric guitar riffs with relaxed finger picking on banjo or acoustic guitar. Urban's voice, a rich alto, glides easily over this mix because the Australian native lacks the heavy Southern drawl most country stars possess. Lyrically, the songs mostly delve into male-female relationships - good ("You're My Better Half") and bad ("Tonight I Wanna Cry). Urban is at his most introspective, however, when he addresses his personal battle with alcohol in "Nobody Drinks Alone." By Vic Roberts