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Sheryl Crow

100 Miles From Memphis

A&M

Buy if you like: Aretha Franklin, Etta James

The distance from Sheryl Crow's on-the-market Nashville spread to Memphis is more like 200 miles, but the title of her new CD actually refers to her hometown of Kennett, Mo., which is 100 miles from Memphis. And Memphis, of course, is where Sun Studios and Ardent Records lived and the Stax sound originated. That's where Crow's roots grew, so it's no surprise that she can create a barn-burner of a soul song if she wants. She pulls off that feat repeatedly here with help from co-writers/co-producers Doyle Bramhall II and Justin Stanley. She also does a reggaefied "Eye to Eye," with Keith Richards contributing, and brings in Memphis native Justin Timberlake to duet on a sultry, sexy cover of Terence Trent D'arby's "Sign Your Name." But her tour-de-force moment here is her one-take cover of former boss Michael Jackson's "I Want You Back," which she does every bit as well as the 10-year-old Jackson did. — Lynne Margolis

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R.E.M.

Fables of the Reconstruction

EMI/Capitol

Buy if you like: Hindu Love Gods, the Minus 5

By the time of this third album, R.E.M. had grown into a well-meshed unit of accomplished musicians. The result is a disc of gorgeous, densely layered instrumentation and harmonies, with Southern gothic themes that emerge after repeated listens. Peter Buck's edgy minor-chord guitar on "Feeling Gravity's Pull" sets the album's foreboding tone. If there's one thing Fables makes clear, it's that no other band has been able to imitate R.E.M. — and that's a good thing. "Driver 8," "Old Man Kensey," "Green Grow the Rushes" and these other cuts convey their skill at creating melodies so compelling, it doesn't matter that Michael Stipe's elliptical lyrics are sometimes hard to penetrate. They also belied their serious reputation with the pop-funk-soul "You Can't Get There From Here," complete with Stipe doing his best Elvis. Even without the reissue bells and whistles, Fables withstands the test of time. — Lynne Margolis

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Terri Hendrix

Cry Till You Laugh

Wilory

Buy if you like: Diana Krall, Cassandra Wilson

As a singer-songwriter, Terri Hendrix has suffered through more than her share of mislabeling. That's partly because she's so versatile; she can fit into — or break — just about any mold. In this case, she set out to make a jazz album, but claims to have gotten derailed. If that's the case, she should do so more often. Her supple voice is absolutely sublime on "Automatic," while the torchy, bluesy "Sometimes" proves she could go toe-to-toe with any jazz singer on the planet. Her effortless scatting around the horns on the swingin' Ike Eichenberg tune, "You Belong in New Orleans," is just wickedly wonderful. She makes you feel the chill of lovers divided in "Berlin Wall," and the pain of suffering the affliction of epilepsy in "Einstein's Brain." Hearing her indulge her musical genius, abetted by producer/playing partner Lloyd Maines and one of the best bands in Austin (or anywhere), is pure joy. — Lynne Margolis

  • Sheryl Crow, R.E.M., Terri Hendrix

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