COUNTRY ROCK Bramble Rose by Tift Merritt (Lost Highway). A slight ache is the secret ingredient in every great country crooner’s voice. Merritt’s got it, sounding like a credible cross between Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams. Several of this newcomer’s self-penned songs already sound like twang-pop classics.–Keith Goetzman
Jerusalem by Steve Earle (Artemis). A controversial, harrowing, and ultimately brilliant portrait of America today. Earle gets inside the mind of John Walker Lindh, offers a spiritual benediction over the ashes of the World Trade Center, and skewers the conceit of compassionate conservatives with enough energy left over for a couple of good love songs- all done with his usual mastery of rock, country, and beyond. —Jay Walljasper
CLASSICALThe Complete Goldberg Variations (1955 & 1981): A State of Wonder by Glenn Gould (Sony). Listening to Gould’s two recordings of Bach’s exquisite composition, you wonder if he is even playing the same notes. Although his unconventional style is recognizable on both versions, they differ wildly in spirit, revealing the Canadian pianist’s genius for the art of interpretation. —Karen Olson
FOLKFashionably Late by Linda Thompson (Rounder). Her voice more plaintive than ever, Thompson returns after a long absence with this wryly titled album. Still strongly influenced by traditional British tunes, she penned several songs with son Teddy Thompson and brings them to life with talented friends like Van Dyke Parks, Rufus Wainwright, and even ex-husband Richard Thompson. —K.G.
ROCK Now You Know by Doug Martsch (Warner Bros.) The meandering guitar mastermind of Built to Spill goes mostly acoustic with impressive results. Martsch’s introspective lyrics constantly drop memorable phrases, and his blues- and folk-tinged bottleneck slide rings clear and true.–K.G.
AFRICAN The Radio Tisdas Sessions by Tinariwen (World Village). Historically nomads and more recently rebels against the government of Mali, the Tuareg, or Kel Tamashek, people of the Sahara have recently made peace, which comes through here in Tinariwen’s mellow music. Circular electric guitar melodies buoy call-and-response singers like dunes slowly shifting in the distance. —K.G.
DREAM POP November by Azure Ray (Saddle Creek). This deceptively bare-bones female duo recently relocated from Athens, Georgia, the indie hotbed of the 1980s, to Omaha, the new hipster haven on the plains. Aptly enough, the delicate tapestry created by former Bright Eyes members Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor–airy vocals, sparse guitar, and resonant strings–evokes the feeling of sitting in a cozy Midwestern apartment watching the winter snow swirl.–Anjula Razdan
PSYCHEDELIA The Isness by The Future Sound of London (Hypnotic). Anyone with a soft spot for good old trippy psychedelia will find lots to like on the new album by the former dance-electronica wizards. The sitar-drenched music verges on parody at times but is often transcendent, especially the combination of bleeps, bloops, and mellow string sounds on “Go Tell It to the Trees Egghead.” —K.G.
MIDDLE EAST Forbidden Truth: U.S.-Taliban Secret Oil Diplomacy, Saudi Arabia and the Failed Search for Bin Laden by Jean-Charles Brisard & Guillaume Dasquié (Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, $12.95). This stunning exposé should silence any doubts about the links between the so-called war on terrorism and our country’s fanatical dependence on cheap oil. Brisard and Dasquié provide irrefutable evidence of America’s complicity in the rise of the Taliban and reveal how our dependence on a corrupt Saudi Arabian dynasty makes it impossible for the United States to squelch Islamic terrorism at its source. –Craig Cox
HUMOR One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry (Sasquatch Books, $24.95). Cartoonist Barry remembers what it’s like being a kid. Her new book of “autobifictionalography” features vivid color illustrations and tales about dogs, head lice, kickball, security blankets, drug experimentation, and the importance of songs, reading, and the imagination. Alert as always to life’s darker side, Barry reveals the mysteries of resilience. –Chris Dodge
FILM Crying at the Movies: A Film Memoir by Madelon Sprengnether (Graywolf, $15). Sprengnether was 9 when she watched her father drown in the Mississippi River, but she never grieved until she found herself crying inconsolably during movies as an adult. In this probing, assured, and critically astute memoir, she looks at how the flickering screen reflected back the profound impact her father’s death had on her life. –Jacqueline White
ENVIRONMENT When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution by Devra Davis (Basic, $26). In the literary tradition of Silent Spring, this groundbreaking book by Davis, a noted epidemiologist, is a powerful argument for breaking the silence that shrouds 300,000 pollution-related deaths each year. –Karen Olson
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart (North Point Press, $25). Unlikely as it sounds, a primer on industrial design has emerged as one of the year’s most progressive and thought-provoking books. An architect and a chemist show how modern society can mimic nature by making products–from sports shoes to office buildings–that do no harm to the earth. –Jay Walljasper
GRAPHIC NOVEL Blood Song: A Silent Ballad by Eric Drooker (Harcourt, $20). Using no words and a simple expressionist stroke, graphic novelist Drooker tells a moving, elegaic tale of a young girl’s journey from the country to the city. –Anjula Razdan
PSYCHOLOGY Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life by Andy Fisher (State University of New York Press, $24.95). Fisher sets out to apply some critical rigor to this young field without falling back on the orthodox standards of mainstream science. The result is a provocative look at the philosophical concepts (and conceits) that underlie what truly is a radical new form of social thought. –Jeremiah Creedon
SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORTATION Car Busters A feisty voice for green cities and human power published in English (mostly) by an upbeat Prague-based collective. It’s a good way to stay on top of the burgeoning sustainable transportation movement around the world. ($15/yr. [4 issues] from Krátká 26, 100 00 Praha 10, Czech Republic)–Jay Walljasper
CREATIVITYHalfBakery (www.halfbakery.com) is an interactive “communal database of invention and speculation” for people with playful minds. Arranged by category and subcategory, hundreds of ideas ranging from the absurd (culinary taxidermy) to the plausible (folding chopsticks) are rated by popular vote. (Two-and-a-half croissants denote the highest approval, two-and-half fish bones the lowest.)–Chris Dodge
MUSICOdd Music (www.oddmusic.com) celebrates “unique, unusual, ethnic, or experimental music and instruments,” from thumb pianos made of aspirin tins to brass Hmong mouth harps. The site includes photos, sound files, fascinating links, and an annotated bibliography. –C.D.