Thievery Corporation - The Cosmic Game (ESL Music): Thievery Corporation continue to forge a uniquely identifiable sound that blends music from Jamaica, Brazil, and the far East into ambient, chill-out anthems. For their fourth album, their best yet, the duo from Washington, D.C., have flipped through their rolodexes to call in a few guest stars. "Marching the Hate Machines (Into the Sun)," featuring The Flaming Lips, opens the album with the aural impact of a majestic sunrise. Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction is barely recognizable as he adopts a reggae voice for "Revolution Solution," but David Byrne's guest spot impresses with a jittery vocal complemented by bursts of trumpet and a quickstepping rhythm. Corporate mergers of this sort are welcome anytime. By Stephen Humphries
Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak (RCA): Kings of Leon is a Tennessee quartet with two guitarists in its lineup. That's led a few lazy journalists to label them as a "Southern Rock" band even though the group's sound owes more to the Stones than it does Skynyrd. On sophomore album "Aha Shake Heartbreak," the Followill clan (three brothers, one cousin) has honed it's garage rock to maximum effect - the longest song here clocks in at four minutes. Yet, despite a clutch of killer riffs that will sound fantastic during the group's support slot for U2 this Spring, the album is just a few memorable choruses short of greatness. As evidenced by the acoustic ballad "Milk" and rocker "Taper Jean Girl," the band has the right stuff to fulfill its potential. - S.H.
Joe Cocker - Heart & Soul (New Door Records): Songs must feel really lucky when Joe Cocker chooses to interpret them, like an actor landing an unexpectedly great part late in a career and stepping back out in the limelight, reborn. Nobody sings a lyric like Joe, and no one has a better sense of which songs are worthy of his time, or ours. Sometimes it's by wrenching every emotional drop from R&B chestnuts like "I Who Have Nothing" or "I Put a Spell on You," where his anguished wail inspires fiery fretwork from Eric Clapton. But more often it's his surprisingly fresh takes on contemporary pop classics that define Cocker's gift. U2's "One" has never sounded as moving, or romantic. And when he has us hanging on every dramatic word of R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts," it's suddenly hard to remember the original. This CD demonstrates why we still love this guy, even if radio has forgotten him. By John Kehe
Tori Amos - The Beekeeper (Epic Records): Somewhat mellowed by marriage and motherhood, Tori Amos hasn't quite hung up her firebrand mantle. These days, though, the female rage is more of a growl than a roar. Amos has yet to meet a vowel she can resist contorting and her trademark melancholic warbling still dominates enigmatic tunes like the title track and "Original Sinsuality." But on the many songs in which she's in the mood for love, Ms. Amos embraces her inner funkiness, giving voice to a more laid-back, groovy style. Ethereal ivory tickling still drives her compositions, but the piano has been joined by a muscular organ, on which Amos lays down some torchy riffs for "Sweet the Sting" and "Witness." By Maud Dillingham