The Best Country Albums
1 Fly Dixie Chicks (Monument) ”Okay, y’all, listen up,” this spunky trio seems to be saying on an album that shatters stereotypes and still sells platinum. ”We’re Southern girls. We can sing like angels, write great songs, play our own damn instruments, look darn hot, and, by golly, be pop and country, too!” And even more amazing, make the banjo cool.
2 Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris (Asylum) On their long-promised duet album, these queens of country-folk mix offbeat gems with reworked classics and startling Harris originals. An eclectic outing with tons of integrity, bold instrumental surprises, and harmonies from heaven.
3 The Mountain Steve Earle & the Del McCoury Band (E-Squared) Earle will never be mistaken for Bill Monroe, but this acoustic effort with one of bluegrass’ tightest ensembles draws on his greatest songwriting gift: capturing the pride and pain of America’s forgotten poor. — Alanna Nash
The Best Jazz Albums
1 Jim Hall & Pat Metheny Jim Hall and Pat Metheny (Telarc) This felicitous meeting of two of jazz’s most original guitarists is an unexpected triumph. Their intertwining lines on standards like ”Summertime” are glorious, but it’s their free-jazz inventions that demonstrate how in tune both men are with each other and the true spirit of music making.
2 Another Shade of Blue Lee Konitz (Blue Note) For sheer brilliant improvisation, few discs this year come close to this live recording from 1996, mating the illustrious alto-sax stylist with bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Brad Mehldau. Konitz — quiet and deliberate — is simply devastating.
3 The Illinois Concert Eric Dolphy (Blue Note) This never-before-released recording of a 1963 performance gives us a privileged peek at one of jazz’s most luminous stars. With a cutting-edge trio featuring a young Herbie Hancock on piano, Dolphy exhibits spectacular agility and inventiveness on alto sax, flute, and bass clarinet.