Bruce Hornsby - Halcyon Days (Columbia): After 18 years at RCA and but one hit ("The Way it is") to show for it, the singer/pianist's first disc for his new label is a schizophrenic affair, saved by tracks like the radio-friendly "Gonna Be Some Changes Made" and the lovely, gospel-infused "Dreamland," a duet with Elton John. The rest is a mixed bag - including two quirky Randy Newman-style songs, and an odd one bemoaning the fact that he isn't as famous as he should be ("Gettin' 'bout as much attention as a circus on the moon"). As a musician, Hornsby is peerless. As a song-writer, still a work in progress. - John Kehe
The Blue Nile - High (Sanctuary): Every eight years or so, Glasgow's melancholy men known as the Blue Nile quietly release a CD of dramatic, haunting tales of alienation and loneliness. Simple, trancelike beats and elegant synthesizer chords percolate behind singer Paul Buchanan's world-weary voice, an instrument that moves from quiet murmur to agonized cry with goosebump-inducing effectiveness. This music's subtle emotional power leaves one transformed by the listening. "High" is proof that good things are indeed worth waiting for. - J.K.
Ray Charles - Genius Loves Company (Concord Records): Duet albums can betray performers, stretching them into material where they don't belong. But Ray Charles could jam with anyone. In this last album before his passing, he double-teams Sinatra's "It Was a Very Good Year" with Willie Nelson and bursts with folksy goodness in "Sweet Potato Pie" with James Taylor. Topping the list may be "Here We Go Again" with Norah Jones, a bit of bittersweet torch-song perfection, and "Heaven Help Us All" with Gladys Knight, which soars on high. What a sendoff for Ray. - Gregory M. Lamb