Bob Dylan - Live 1964(Columbia, 2 discs): If ever a musical event signaled "The Times They are a-Changin," it was Bob Dylan's legendary (and much bootlegged) 1964 concert at New York's Philharmonic Hall, now a dynamic sounding two-CD set. Idolized by folk fans for his searing antiwar anthems like "Blowing in the Wind" and "With God on Our Side," Dylan commanded the stage that Halloween night with one foot planted in the audience-pleasing past and the other sliding into the future of what a song could be. With just an acoustic guitar (and Joan Baez on four numbers), he delivered highly charged performances of favorites, as well as some challenging new songs, such as the chilling "Gates of Eden" that left his folk fans scratching their heads. The 19 songs reveal a writer unfettered by typical song structure or subject matter, morphing into the Dylan who would create "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Desolation Row" the following summer. As the one recording that best captures the kaleidoscope that was Dylan in the '60s, this set is indispensable. - John Kehe
David Byrne - Grown Backwards (Nonesuch): Just one year after the Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" boxed set, the disbanded group's lead singer/guitarist produces another solo album, this one hewing to his minimalist roots. David Byrne is funnier than ever, but each song carries with it ironic undertones, layering childlike and even nasal singing with lyrics so subtly sharp that each listening brings new meaning. Highlights include breathtaking covers of Bizet's "Au Fond du Temple Saint" (Rufus Wainwright guest stars) and Verdi's "Un dí Felice, Eterea." Certain to inspire music lovers of all ages, "Grown Backwards" is without a doubt one of 2004's most brilliant arrivals. - Elizabeth Armstrong
N*E*R*D - Fly or Die (Virgin Records): Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, best known for producing the likes of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears under the banner "the Neptunes," step from behind the glass control booth to perform their own music. While N*E*R*D's first record, "In Search Of," broke waves as a must-have bag of hip-hop tricks, "Fly or Die" is an unabashed pop album. The variety of sound is refreshing, from strings on "Wonderful Place" to granule guitar on "Maybe." And yet there is nothing truly experimental or exciting here; it all sounds blandly familiar, much like the big name artists the Neptunes produce. A smattering of explicit lyrics aside, "Fly or Die" is a friendly and banal collection of rehashed themes written more for teeny-boppers than serious music enthusiasts. - E.A.
Aerosmith - Honkin' On Bobo (Columbia): On the evidence of this blues album, Aerosmith has dusted off "Toys in the Attic" and once again learned to play as they did in their '70s youth. Like that classic album, "Honkin' on Bobo" is produced by Jack Douglass, and the result is a record shorn of the commercial sheen of the band's recent output. And boy does it rock. This is blues done Aerosmith style - skip it if you're a purist - and Tyler's unhinged wails and Joe Perry's string bending have seldom sounded so vibrant as on covers of "Baby, Please Don't Go" and "You Gotta Move." "The Grind," a new composition, will satisfy fans of the band's trademark ballads, but it's on the acoustic Mississippi blues of "Back Back Train" that the band with the winged logo truly spreads its wings. - Stephen Humphries