Death, Taxes, and Prozack
If you have nine bucks in your pocket, go to Amoeba and buy this album immediately. Partly because it'll be a bitch to download. Secondly, because Prozack's mom makes a cameo midway through -- sources from Foreign Legion confirm that yes, that actually is the real Carol Turner -- and hearing her spit lines like You're going to get fucked up quick messing with this 58-year-old white bitch pushing a six is worth the price of admission alone. (Out of Work) -- Rachel Swan
The Eye of Every Storm
Whereupon the Elephant in the Room stomps you pancake-flat, with a headphones album designed to make your head implode. The Neurosis metronome is permanently set on "Continental Drift," but each epic, visceral slab of art-metal these Oakland cats create easily physically dwarfs, say, Europe. Brooding, beautiful, and brutal -- "cinematic" doesn't begin to do this justice, unless the movie in question is projection-screened onto the Death Star. (Neurot) -- Rob Harvilla
The Gris Gris
The Gris Gris
The New Orleans strain of voodoo known as "gris gris" is said to have ten times the potency of traditional voodoo. That said, Oakland's Gris Gris -- led by reformed Texan Greg Ashley -- has ten times the juju of normal psych-garage rockers. Maybe it's the reverb, or the bongos and sax on "Me Queda Um Bejou." Or maybe it's that stuff Ashley's drinking out of a paper bag on the back of the record. (Birdman) --Stefanie Kalem
If Prince hung around East Oakland listening to a whole lotta James Brown 45s, he'd sound a lot like Baby Jaymes. The locally bred soul singer takes his cues from both the Minneapolis funk/pop sound of the '80s and the boogaloo R&B/soul sound of the '60s, framing his revivalist crusade through an inner-city lens. The result is the freshest thing to hit R&B since the glory days of Tony Toni Toné and En Vogue. (Underground Soul) -- Eric K. Arnold
The East Bay's answer to the Buena Vista Social Club can be found here, a super Cuban son band led by singer-songwriter Germán Donatien. From Palma Soriano (a province of Santiago de Cuba), Donatien formed the sextet in 2001, and this debut outing showcases his soulful compositions and gifted band, featuring Markus Puhvel (tres), Norman Downing (percussion), Steven Parkin (bass). Chloe Scott (flute) and Ben Krames (percussion/producer). A great group with great promise. (Palenque) -- Jesse "Chuy" Varela
Lustre Kings Meets Project Groundation
Calling All Jah Children
When PGM's Child -- arguably the wickedest reggae mix-type guy in all Creation, or at least Northern Cali -- links up with the Lustre Kings, the results are positively magnanimous. Child remixes, blends, splices, and dubs with the insanity of Lee Perry during a full moon, all over original LK riddims like "Alarm Clock," "Fortune Teller," and Talking Drum." The result is a dubplate feast you'll be proud to add to your dancehall mix CD collection. (PGM) -- E.K.A.
The Really Really Jeff Hair People
There is no greater indignity than a buncha stoners beating your ass at Jeopardy! So laugh all you want at the Whoa dude-isms of this delightfully messy psychedelic juggernaut -- the badass guitar sonatas, the keyboard-humping prog-rock breakdowns, the hilariously inscrutable lyrics. It takes sublimely oriented people to disorient you so severely; it takes serene focus to sprawl out so gorgeously. Your heart is a bong, and it needs fillin'. (Cream Cloud) -- R.H.
Here's Rebeca's follow-up to her debut, Round Trip, released a mere six years ago and well worth the wait. Mauleón's newest unleashes a superlative combo of Giovanni Hidalgo (congas), Jimmy Branly (timbales and trap drums), Gary Brown (bass), and Bill Ortiz (trumpet). From opening track "Batamambo," this ferocious combination has serious bite. As for Rebeca, it's not the piano that grabs you so much as her powerful voice. Coproduced with her husband Manolo Santana, Latin Fire cooks at both medium and high heat! (Rumbeca) -- J.C.V.
Ronald Dregan: Dreganomics
The competition was tight for this year's most ghetto sublime Bay Area album, which saw strong efforts by San Quinn, Bullys wit Fullys, and the "Jeah" guy who hawks his CDs outside Walgreens at the 12th Street Oakland BART. But the 2004 really-real-deal award goes to Ronald Dregan: Dreganomics, which was one of two solid albums released by this Bay Area standard-bearer the year of his untimely death. Better, even, than Mac Dre's self-irony are his jangly slumper beats, especially on "Feelin' Myself." (Thizz Entertainment) -- R.S.
J-Boogie's Dubtronic Science
Live! In the Mix
If you like live music but also dig DJ mix CDs, Live! In the Mix offers the best of both worlds. Here's the set-up: J-Boogie plays downtempo, funk, hip-hop, and house jams, while the Dubtronic Science crew adds live instrumentation (sitar, flute, saxophone, and vocals). The two original songs -- "You're the Murdera" featuring Zion, Deuce Eclipse, and Tony Moses; "Purple Perpendicular Phonics" featuring Rashaan Amad and P.E.A.C.E. --more than hold their own with the likes of Goapele, Amp Fiddler, and Mark Rae. (Om) -- E.K.A.
Maybe some folks don't like this as much as Holland's legendary home-recorded Catalpa. But SF's favorite bodacious country-jazz-blues mama can pull diamonds from mud, and Ara Anderson's trumpet is a perfect match for her plush, carefully shaded voice. The lovesick and road-weary tales she spins are precisely and sincerely wrought, and the lighter moments -- the instant classic "Old Fashion Morphine" and the traditional "Mad Tom of Bedlam" -- show that Holland knows how to swing, too. (Anti) -- S.K.
Imagine the toughest of gangsta rappers spitting spoken-word poems in a guttural, Bugsy Siegel-ish growl, and setting them to glacial boombap beats. Already hooked? Then imagine the metaphors take you in ever-funkier directions -- that Mary Cali Chronic is a harlot who is best served with the tip-o-the tip-o-the tip-o-the teeth, and that MCs who want to ground their authenticity by "keeping it real" need only visit a "Thug Macologist" for the scars on their cheeks and dead names on their bodies. Sounds delicious. (Bomb Hip-Hop) -- R.S.
10 Años de Salsa
From Lima, Peru, singer and bandleader Julio Bravo got excellent props for his debut CD this year. A fixture at Montero's in Albany and other salsa nightclubs in the Bay Area, he showcases his top-notch Orquesta Salsabor and highly danceable compositions with a clear, strong, and well-seasoned voice. From "Mi Esquina" (about his old neighborhood in Lima) to the gorgeous bolero-cha "Por Culpa del Destino," Julio is at the top of his game! (JB) -- J.C.V.
Demolition Men Featuring Balance
There's crazy hotness all over this mix's 41 tracks of collar-poppin' street anthems, perhaps none more off the chain than "Real Life," an as-yet-unreleased song featuring Talib Kweli and E-40 together for the first time (!). More hotness: Maino of 11/5 and Balance contribute blazing freestyles, and the D-Men remix Frontline's "What Is It" and Balance's title track. (Demolition Men) -- E.K.A.
As Lil Jon once counseled, "Rep Your City." This "rock opera" business is 97 percent PR, and it'll be fascinating to see what all our Punkvoter friends do now that school's out for an endless summer. So ignore the obvious angles and credit our hometown antiheroes with a simply inspired, intense, and occasionally even innovative pop-punk album wherein, for once, the poop doesn't flow like water. These boys are still around, and still better than you think they are, or wish they were. (Reprise) -- R.H.
Iron and the Albatross
Iron and the Albatross
Bay Area composer Ara Anderson leads his small chamber group through sonic circus grounds, haunted junkyards, silent movie screenings, and psychedelic Brazilian street fairs, showing off what he's learned from playing with Tom Waits, the Brass Monkey Brass Band, Jolie Holland, and even the Killing My Lobster comedy troupe. (Self-released) -- S.K.