Sound advice 

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Rosanne Cash

The List

Manhattan Records

Buy if you like: Johnny Cash, Patty Loveless

What would you do if Johnny Cash gave you what he titled "100 Essential Country Songs" you should know? If you're his daughter Rosanne, you might wait 35 years, then choose 12 and use your unrestricted imagination (as well as producer-husband John Leventhal) to record The List, an album of American classics that are woven into the fabric of our country like endless highways and big skies. Starting with "Miss the Mississippi and You," Rosanne Cash and friends Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy and Rufus Wainwright give all they have in service of the songs. And then there's daughter Chelsea Crowell's harmonies on "500 Miles," which threaten to steal the whole show. Gems like "She's Got You," "Girl from the North Country" and "Long Black Veil" show just how much Johnny Cash cared about their continuing influence — and make us glad that he did. — Bill Bentley

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Bob Dylan

Christmas in the Heart


Buy if you like: Burl Ives and Tiny Tim Christmas albums

Am I really listening to this? Am I really writing this? Are you really reading this? Yes, yes and, so far, yes. True, no one knows why Bob Dylan decided to make a Christmas album, but then no one knows why Bob Dylan does anything. The most absurd track here — and you knew there'd be one — is also the first out of the gate: With its bouncy jingle-bell arrangement, mellifluous backup crooners and Dylan in full nasal mode, "Here Comes Santa Claus" could stand in for a Saturday Night Live parody were it not for a Chet Atkins-style solo that dispels, however briefly, the ghost of Burl Ives. After this opening salvo, Dylan returns to his current gravel-voiced bluesy style on tracks like "I'll Be Home for Christmas." But the scales tip again with a zydeco "Must Be Santa," which suggests that Dylan really must be joking. Still, I wouldn't bet on it. — Bill Forman

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Exene Cervenka

Somewhere Gone


Buy if you like: The Knitters, X

X singer Exene Cervenka started in punk, but her heart has long been knitted to roots music. This album of folk-influenced songs showcases the purity of her voice, minus the off-kilter quality that's defined much of her work. It's matched perfectly by the honesty of her lyrics and Cindy Wasserman's harmonies. Take "Why Is It So," for example: "It wasn't something that you said / It was what you really meant instead." The eloquent strings of recently departed Amy Farris, laced throughout these 14 tracks, mesh seamlessly with Joe Terry's elegant classical piano and elemental organ, and become even more poignant on a song like "Pinpoints." Terry's boogie-woogie keys elevate "Walk Me Across the Night" into a hellacious rocker, boosting the energy level of this contemplative disc. In fact, every player contributes to what may one day be regarded as Cervenka's masterpiece. — Lynne Margolis


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