Compact disc me to cloud nine

It seems as though all are talking about movies these days, not without reason. It’s the time of year when there is much blab circulating about award-winning performances, what with that feller Oscar looming in the near future.

But leave us not forget the formidable entertainments available to us all via the compact disc. In the last few months, loads of meritorious CDs have been unleashed, and, as always, one ignores their treasures only if one wants to be a really stupid nut-head.

Al Green—I Can’t Stop. Actually, Al did stop. Making fantastic records, that is. Sidelined by Jesus for about 25 years, Al finally re-teamed with his ole buddy and producer Willie Mitchell and tried to get back some of that early ’70s Memphis magic that quite rightfully gained them entry to the Great Hall of Soul Giants. The very good news here: mission accomplished. This is the Al Green we’ve been missing for decades, and the music he and Mitchell get on this disc is every bit as simple, solid and soulful as their milestone hits from 30 years ago. Loaded up with that trademark tub-thumpin’ beat, punchily perfect horns and impeccable background vocals, I Can’t Stop is not just sensationally supercalifragilistic, but delightfully expialadocious as well.

Rickie Lee Jones—The Evening of My Best Day. While not quite the legendary icon of American pop/jazz that Joni Mitchell is, RLJ ain’t that far off the mark, either. Evening will do no damage to her reputation as a thoughtful writer and daring arranger. It’s a strong piece of work that is alternately poppy, moody, funky, morose, playful, suicidal, jazzy and grateful; ultimately, a tip-top collection of songs.

The Soft Boys—Nextdoorland. The 2002 reunion of the terrific British rock band from which came the extraordinary Robyn Hitchcock, this is simply the coolest, funnest, snappiest rock ’n’ roll record I’ve heard in the last few moons. The now silver-haired Hitch is the man who … well, if Pink Floyd’s original guitarist-singer, Syd Barrett, had managed to keep his head from dribbling into the front pocket of his paisley shirt, he might well have grown up to be Robyn Hitchcock. The songs here are smart, catchy, lyrically outrageous (“It’s only a poisonous plant, and it’s calling your name” or “You can tell what time it is by looking yourself in the eye”) and filled with terrific guitar-bass-drums arrangements that remind you that good rock bands possess the power to thrill, and how that’s an important thing for a rock band to do. A disc that’s every bit as good as the latest by U2 and Coldplay, and I swear I’m not yanking your chain when I say that.

Lyle Lovett—My Baby Don’t Tolerate. By now, Lyle has his country-blues swing thing down colder than Santa’s antenna ball. His new tunes come at you in all the voices a Lyle-o-phile would want—the slick hick, the sly guy, the melancholy man and the mischievous hell-raiser who gets saved every Sunday by some ultra-righteous hand-clappin’ foot-stompin’ soul-savin’ Texas gospel.