Tinariwen - Amassakoul (World Village): In the Tamashek language of the southern Sahara, "Tinariwen" means "deserts" or "empty places." This seven-piece band of nomads beautifully conveys the solitude of life among the African sand dunes by fusing traditional Tuareg music with electric guitar. The result is a thrilling form of blues in which primal call-and-response vocals are shadowed by liquid guitar solos that shimmer like the heat of a distant mirage. Utterly unique and wholly accessible. By Stephen Humphries


Jane Monheit - Taking a Chance on Love (Sony Classical): Jazz singer Jane Monheit puts her golden pipes and exquisite technique to work on tunes from old Hollywood musicals. It's a perfect blend, from her lively vocal ornamentations on "Honeysuckle Rose" to the aching storytelling of Cole Porter's "In the Still of the Night." Her bubbly duet with fresh-faced crooner Michael Bublé ("I Won't Dance") is full of coquettish charm. And while "Over the Rainbow" must forever belong to Judy, Monheit's darker rendition has the makings of a classic all its own. By Gregory M. Lamb


Craig Armstrong - Piano Works (Sanctuary):Blessed with an angel's touch on the keyboard and a gift for gorgeous melodies and atmospheric settings, this multifaceted composer/pianist is as at home collaborating with Madonna and U2 as he is scoring films like "Moulin Rouge" and writing chamber symphonies. On this, his fourth solo recording, Armstrong presents 19 solo piano works - spanning his career - that evoke the understated beauty of Debussy and Satie, and yet sound as modern as this minute. And it takes far less than a minute to be swept away by Armstrong's aural dreamscapes. By John Kehe


Razorlight - Up All Night (Universal): Here's a garage band that knows more than three chords. The debut album by Razorlight - perhaps the world's only Anglo-Swedish rock group - easily eclipses other recent releases in the genre through its sheer diversity of moods and textures. From the tenderly romantic title track to the two-pronged guitar attack of "Rip It Up" to the jaunty "Golden Touch," this recording captures the exuberant sound of a band reveling in its own dynamism. By Stephen Humphries

Gwen Stefani - Love, Angel, Music, Baby (Interscope Records): Does the world need a hip-hop version of Madonna for the masses? With her solo album, "L.A.M.B.," the vocalist of No Doubt sacrifices her band's ska and rock influences for the head-pounding bass and the sexual banter of today's rap music. It's difficult to understand what Stefani was thinking by joining hip-hop artist Eve to run roughshod over a classic song from "Fiddler on the Roof." She also turns into a profane cheerleader, chanting out "Hollaback Girl" - a song so awful it makes you yearn to hear Toni Basil's "Mickey." Fortunately, a few songs in this mess carry strong melodies, in particular, "Cool," which allows Stefani's urgent vocal quality to shine. By Vic Roberts


Alison Krauss and Union Station - Lonely Runs Both Ways (Rounder Records): Over the years, Alison Krauss and her band Union Station have moved from a purer bluegrass to a highly produced Nashville country sound. Along the way, Krauss has been fiddling less and singing more. All of this is evident on "Lonely Runs Both Ways." The songs here are more introspective, darker, reminiscent of the roots from which they spring. But they're lacking in the kind of close-to-earth rawness and risk-taking of, say, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, which is unfortunate. But for what it is - beautiful, thoughtful songs performed without flaw by a child prodigy who's become a mature woman - it's terrific. By Brad Knickerbocker

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