Kenny Chesney - be as you are (BNA Records): From "She's Got It All" to "The Good Stuff" to "There Goes My Life," Kenny Chesney has turned many tunes by other songwriters into smash hits. But with "be as you are" the artist truly sings from his soul, writing all of the tracks on this laid- back record. To fans, it's no surprise that Chesney loves the stress-free life of the Caribbean where, as he sings in the title track, "you can be a tourist, beach bum, or star." The CD mostly forgoes booming drum beats and driving electric guitars of previous works in favor of bongos, acoustic instruments, and a dash of steel drums. Overall, it's an ideal piece of escapism for anyone stuck in traffic during a winter commute. By Vic Roberts
Ladysmith Black Mambazo - No Boundaries (Heads Up): Sixteen years ago they shone like diamonds on Paul Simon's seminal Graceland album, gaining world acclaim and charming the hearts of millions with their unique South African soul. Still going strong, this recording finds the 10-man Zulu chorus collaborating with a Finnish producer and members of the English Chamber Orchestra. It's no surprise that the resulting disc sounds nothing like your basic classical collection. Cross-cultural projects like this can sound fine conceptually and prove dissonant in reality. But there are, indeed, no boundaries here. Lead singer Joseph Shabalata's warm, caressing voice and the murmuring call and response from the LBM chorus rounds off any vestige of square corners from sacred material by Bach, Mozart, Shubert, and others, creating a folksy, intimate, and moving experience. By John Kehe
Hubert Sumlin - About Them Shoes (Tone-Cool Records): Aren't the blues supposed to be sad? I guess nobody had the heart to tell 73-year-old Mississippi blues guitar legend Hubert Sumlin, who seems to be having the rollicking good time of his long and prolific career on this disc. And who wouldn't in this stellar musical company? Inspired vocals and guitar-slinging by guests Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, The Band drummer Levon Helm, Muddy Waters's harmonica ace Paul Oscher, and other luminaries breathe new life into familiar blues chestnuts (the majority by Waters and Willie Dixon), and the results will have your speakers imploring you to take off 'them shoes' and dance. - J.K.