Norah Jones - Come Away With Me (Blue Note Records): The young singer's debut release, a blend of jazz, pop, country, and soul, has earned her five Grammy nods, including album of the year and best new artist. Not bad for an album that wasn't expected to go platinum (it's now sold about 3 million) and initially got little radio airplay. With her soothing, beautiful, and unusual voice, it wouldn't be surprising if Jones walked away from the Grammys with a clean sweep. - Lisa Leigh Connors
Kronos Quartet - Nuevo (Nonesuch): The Kronos Quartet is like a Robin Williams stand-up routine - unpredictable and always an adventure. On "Nuevo," they bravely create a colorful Mexican crazyquilt from familiar pop melodies like "Perfidia" (a Ventures hit in 1960), and modern, hip-hop-infused tracks by cutting-edge producers, as well as classical pieces by some of Mexico's finest composers. You'll hear choruses sung by schoolchildren and the chaotic clatter of street festivals, melodies played on toy instruments, and the scratchy sounds of old 78 records. It all comes together as a rollicking, exuberant, and heartfelt love letter to Mexico's music and people. An unqualified delight. - John Kehe
Missy Elliott - Under Construction (Elektra): On the first track, the rap diva opens with straightforward commentary. She states bluntly that "Under Construction" means that she's a work in progress, working on herself. The death of singer Aaliyah obviously had a huge influence on her, and she views life as more valuable now. But she also longs for the old-school days of hip-hop. In the hummable "Back In the Day," featuring Jay-Z, she questions, "What happened to those days when hip-hop was so much fun? It was all about good music." She overdoes it with the words "This is a Missy Elliott Exclusive" in too many of her songs, but this artist/producer/writer/businesswoman brings her own special style to hip-hop and R&B. Several songs contain explicit lyrics. - L.L.C.
Susan Tedeschi - Wait for Me (Tone Cool/Artemis): This lady can sing, no doubt about that. In a husky and commanding voice reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt with an extra side of grit, the Boston native rips through 11 original soul tunes that would have made a memorable Al Green record - 30 years ago. The smash single "Alone" shows off her formidable vocal prowess, backed by a sympathetically funky house band that could be easily mistaken for the Muscle Shoals units that helped make Aretha, Dusty Springfield, and Wilson Pickett stars of the sweet soul genre. Despite the liberal borrowing from her inspirations of the past, Tedeschi is the real deal - and she'll only get better. - J.K.
Shania Twain - Up! (Mercury): Thumbs up for "Up!" the long-awaited double CD from Shania Twain. Each CD contains the same 19 songs, but they are arranged and produced in different styles by Ms. Twain's husband, Robert John "Mutt" Lange. Songs on the "green" CD are slick country versions with fiddles and pedal steel guitars; the "red" CD has more electric pop versions without the country twang. Regardless of which version you listen to, nearly all songs are upbeat. In the end, it's a fun follow-up to her last CD, "Come On Over," which has sold more than 34 million copies since its release in 1997. - Vic Roberts
Talk To Her - Alberto Iglesias (Milan): Settle down ladies, it's not another hunk from the Julio Iglesias family tree. Here we're talking about Alberto, the gifted composer, most noted for his work with Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar. This, his fourth film soundtrack for Almodóvar, is - start to finish - deeply soulful, indelible music. Brazilian superstars Caetano Veloso and Ellis Regina make memorable vocal contributions, but it is Iglesias's stirring original compositions that rank this CD alongside classic scores by Morricione (think "Cinema Paradiso") and the film music of the great Argentine composer Astor Piazzola. This is serious Latin soul music del corazón. - J.K.
Joseph Arthur - Redemption's Son (Universal): Until now, Joseph Arthur's albums couldn't be exposed to daylight. Sparse and brooding - each word casting a shadow - Arthur's stellar songs were suitable listening only for the curfew hours. The surprise of "Redemption's Son" is how many tunes wouldn't sound out of place in a convertible with the top down. Here, songs such as "I Would Rather Hide" and "In the Night" come packaged with a bright, singalong pop sensibility. The arrangements are delightful: on the sublime title track, for instance, the bridge comes after the chorus. As for the vampire set? There's plenty here for them, too. - Stephen Humphries