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Friday, Dec. 14, 2007


From Nashville, Okinawa and L.A.

Special to The Japan Times

Miranda Lambert, Gretchen Wilson, and Lori McKenna

A trio of country albums for people who may wince at the term. These three women rock harder than a lot of the ostensible rock acts that released albums this year, and not in the Eagles or Lynyrd Skynyrd modes that have become de rigueur in Nashville. With "One of the Boys" (Song-BMG), Wilson sparked the trend with her beer-guzzling persona, and on her "Unglamorous" (Warner Brothers) album, McKenna represents the more mature side of the trend. But it's Lambert who takes the ultimate prize this year. As volatile as its title suggests, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" (Sony-BMG) is an emotional roller coaster and one of the best records of the year in any category.

Shoukichi Kina, "Asia Classics Vol. 2: Peppermint Tea House" (Luaka Bop)

If you want to give somebody this Christmas a musical taste of Japan but are afraid the recipient might find J-rock too derivative and J-pop too much of an acquired taste, wrap up this one-CD retrospective of the godfather of Okinawan rock (and current Upper House member) selected by David Byrne. Originally released in 1994, it was reissued this year, so you don't have to hunt it down on eBay.

Kina's 1977 debut is still his best, but this one covers the 1980s, too, so it includes "Subete no Hito no Kokoro ni Hana wo," a pan-Asian standard that's been covered by artists from Madagascar to the Philippines. But it's the karcharsee rockers that make the record: buoyant, manic, propelled by Kina's drunken good humor and the staccato persistence of his backup band Champloose, who are mostly family.

"The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 8: 1968" (Hip-O Select)

The completist baby boomer on your Christmas list may have already ordered this six-CD box set, even if ultrapurists think Motown peaked in 1967, after which Holland-Dozier- Holland, the label's best songwriting team, left and founder Berry Gordy abandoned Detroit for L.A.

But 1968 was as revolutionary a year for Motown musically as it was for the United States politically and socially: Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," The Temptations' "Cloud Nine," and the most socially relevant hit the company ever recorded, "Love Child" by The Supremes. And there's 147 more like that.

MORE OF 2007'S BEST >>

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