Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (RCA Victor): "There's not much I can say about myself that the music doesn't," Amy Winehouse said recently. If we take her at her word, this means the 23-year-old is currently mired somewhere in a spiral of rehab assignments, anger, anorexia, sadness and one seriously dodgy relationship. Is she exaggerating? Does it matter? Winehouse's throaty drawl is still more convincing than that of fellow-Brit chanteuse Lily Allen; when she sings on "You Know That I'm No Good" that she is "trouble," you're inclined to take her word for it. Stateside, most press accounts of Winehouse's career have centered around the singer's, er, extracurricular activities. Too bad. Winehouse's second album, which bounces between gritty ballads and vintage soul anthems, has the potential to do more for modern R&B than Macy Gray and Alicia Keyes put together. Grade: A
– Matthew Shaer


Tinariwen – Aman Iman: Water Is Life (World Village): Tinariwen is Tamashek for "empty places," a reference to the 11-piece band's home in northern Mali's desert. Of late, though, this group of Tuareg rebel fighters has been playing its primal electric blues to full houses across the globe, drawing praise from the likes of Thom Yorke, Carlos Santana, and Robert Plant along the way. "Aman Iman," their third, and best, album is more sonically direct than previous records. Spiky guitar phrases punctuate tribal call-and-response vocals and hand claps to create a hypnotic effect – especially on the trance-like "63" and "Izarharh Ténére." If anything, Tinariwen's only limitation is its lack of rhythmic variation. Perhaps they could consider adding a drummer as a 12th member? Grade: B
– Stephen Humphries


Neil Young – Live at Massey Hall (Reprise/WEA): This long-anticipated, historic CD/DVD captures, with superb sound, Neil Young's triumphant return to his native Ontario on a winter's night in 1971. Alone in the spotlight, so deep in the songs that he barely makes eye contact with his adoring audience, his distinctive quaver evokes the high, lonesome sound of the Canadian plains as he sings from his rapidly growing list of classics such as "Down by the River," "Helpless," "I Am a Child," "Cowgirl in the Sand," and the searing "Ohio," accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and piano. "I've written some new songs ... might as well sing 'em," he casually informs the audience before launching into riveting acoustic versions of "Heart of Gold," "Old Man," "A Man Needs a Maid," "The Needle and the Damage Done," and six more as-yet unheard gems. Must be nice to be able to pull songs like that out of your flannel shirt pocket. Grade: A
– John Kehe

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