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Delta Spirit
Ode to Sunshine
Rounder Records

Sounds like: Fire and brimstone, sans guilt
Short take: A rock resurrection

This mesmerizing album, the debut of the year, could be the best release of 2008. Delta Spirit, a fivesome from Southern California, San Diego-style, is powerfully possessed by the high holy spirit of rock 'n roll. It recorded Ode to Sunshine in a cabin and doesn't appear to worry about perfection. With a semi-ragged instrumental attack and Matthew Vasquez's stabbing vocals, Delta Spirit captures the intensity of brimstone preachers minus the bombastic platitudes of organized religion, taking us down the path to baptism in the clear warm water of humanism. While no one knows exactly why, it is true that the seventh song on most albums holds the deepest clues: "People, Turn Around" feels like open-heart surgery, and anyone who can listen and stay sedate should trade this album in for ABBA's Greatest Hits immediately. Really. Bill Bentley

B.B. King
One Kind Favor

Sounds like: Greatness a lifetime in the making
Short take: The King rides again

With Eric Clapton and U2 nowhere near the recording studio, B.B. King digs at his roots with his legends cover album One Kind Favor, which is, without doubt, his best album in decades. Instead of hinting around for more mainstream commercial success, the 82-year-old Riley B. King eschewed shiny artifice and went back to his blues base. With Dr. John (piano), Nathan East (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums) supporting, and uber-producer T-Bone Burnett at the helm, One Kind Favor succeeds from top to bottom. This includes the old-school rhythm-and-blues swing to Oscar Lollie's "Waiting for Your Call" and T-Bone Walker's "I Get So Weary," as well as the blues-guitar magic of Lonnie Johnson's "My Love is Down" and John Lee Hooker's "Blues Before Sunrise." One Kind Favor proves that, for King, the thrill is far from gone. John Benson

The Gabe Dixon Band
The Gabe Dixon Band
Fantasy Records

Sounds like: The heart of soul
Short take: Piano man hits his stride

Soul music has no color, really, though there are those who'll fight that notion to the end. They'll lose, because the idea that we're separated by race is finally dying a long-destined death. Being a world-class pianist, Gabe Dixon quickly joins a league with Elton John, Bruce Hornsby, Ben Folds and other bandleaders who sit behind the keyboard. Which is all well and good, but Dixon is different and very much his own man. He has an unerring ear for melodies that sound familiar but are fully original, and a playing style so strong Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Alison Krauss have all worked with him. Songs like "Further the Sky" and "Far from Home" on The Gabe Dixon Band mark him as someone who, given an equal chance, will make a big mark on music, because everything he does reflects someone burning with quiet but undeniable soul. Bill Bentley

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