If I had to pick five:
1. Los Lobos, Kiko. The best album from the best U.S. band of the last 25 years, in my opinion. Kiko stretches out Los Lobos’ wonderful rootsy formula, although the band’s next two albums — Colossal Head and This Time — went further down the road of oddness and pretty much pushed the band out of the popular spotlight.
2. Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. It’s her best album and a genuine American masterpiece. In addition to the sensitive songwriting and emotional singing, the album features some of the best in-control guitar tone from side musicians that you will find anywhere.
3. Magic Sam, West Side Soul. This is a great blues album to give people who don’t know whether they’d like the blues. Optimistic, filled with great singing, lots of fun, and a perfect example of Chicago blues at its finest.
4. Lone Justice, Lone Justice. Maria McKee’s voice has really changed over the years (and still sounds great), but here’s her cowpunk stuff from the early days, when she sounded like Dolly Parton on Black Beauties. Plus — let’s be honest — she was hot-looking in those gingham dresses she wore on stage in the 1980s.
5. R.E.M., Reckoning. My favorite album from my favorite 1980s band. It pissed me off when they hit it big — I felt like I was sharing a little secret that me and a few hundred thousand other people had been closely holding.
BTW, the last album I bought (I guess it’s still considered an album, although I buy all my music digitally now): Otis Redding’s The Very Best of Otis Redding. I’ve always been a huge fan but for some reason I’ve only gathered up a few singles here and there, and I am gonna sing “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” on stage one day. It’s my destiny (grin).