THE PERSUASIONS. What Ted Williams was to hitting, the Persuasions are to a cappella singing. Although the Persuasions' 40-year dedication to vocal-only music and incredible skill are enough to cement their legendary reputation, the group's dazzlingly imaginative, beautiful arrangements and eclectic repertoire (gospel, doo-wop, the Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa) make them the undisputed masters of the genre. The quintet's latest CD "The Persuasions Sing the Beatles" (Chesky) is an ear-opening delight whether you're a fan of a cappella, the Beatles or simply appreciate magnificent artistry.
BONE THUGS-N-HARMONY. Yo! Check it out! Phil Collins is boo-yaa! That's right, Phil "Ghetto Dog" Collins' hit "Take Me Home" gets extensively sampled on Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's new CD "Thug World Order" (Epic). Elsewhere on this infectious disc, the groundbreaking Cleveland rap crew tosses gangsta cred aside by blending its distinctive, rippling, rapid-fire ghetto rhymes with children's choruses, sleek Philly Soul settings and other smooth pop backdrops. The result is a smart, if risky, merger of mainstream and back street.
JIMMIE DALE GILMORE. Of all the talented, fiercely independent songsmiths to emerge from Texas in the last 30 years, none is more mercurial, more adventurous or more compelling than Jimmie Dale Gilmore. The two constants in Gilmore's long career have been his unique, warbling tenor and his penchant for exceptionally lyrical tunes, which have made him the gentlest, most introspective crooner to emerge from a notoriously rambunctious state.
BIG HEAD TODD AND THE MONSTERS. Sometimes, you don't want a pint of suds brewed by Belgian monks or an unpronounceable pilsner from Java, you just want a mug of ice-cold American macro brew. Well, Big Head Todd and the Monsters' dependably tuneful, approachable, non-trendy guitar-rock seems to exert the same attraction. As hip as overalls, the band's 2002 CD "Riviera" (Big) again showcased its knack for pleasant, well-crafted tunes that emphasize a comfortable, old school catchiness over innovation and fashion.
MORCHEEBA. Contradicting every law of physics, the more items Morcheeba adds to its musical hot air balloon, the lighter the whole thing becomes. This British trio (the Godfrey brothers and silken-voiced singer Skye) began as a pop-leaning trip-hop contender but has evolved into a purveyor of airy tunes that mix of hip-hop, soul, pop, electronics and Tropicalia, and its new CD "Charango" (Reprise) is a fluffy yet richly tuneful soufflé of featherweight hooks.
OPETH. As is true of peanut butter and jelly, death metal and progressive rock can be enjoyed individually, but, oh, what a musical sandwich they make together. At least that's the thinking behind the Swedish prog-metal quartet Opeth. The band's latest offering, "Deliverance" (Koch) perfectly crosses the tuneful growl-and-grind riffing of Witchery with Porcupine Tree's brooding art-adelic melodies to produce some paradoxically brainy headbanging.
Reger is a Chicago freelance writer.
Originally published Jan. 23, 2003.