- OutKast – Speakerboxxx / The Love Below In their ambitious multigenre dual-sider, André 3000 took on love; Big Boi provided the hip hop hot sauce, and America danced with glee. Hey ya! These guys had better get Grammys.
- The White Stripes – Elephant Finally. Jack lives up to the hype. With drummer Meg, the young guitarist makes music that delivers joy and tears — just terrific stuff.
- Emmylou Harris – Stumble into Grace Emphasis on the “grace”: This gorgeous set of songs, most written or co-written by the artist, pushes the boundaries of country-folk and shares important, often melancholy, stories of life’s travails. Harris’ voice, as always, fills this listener with rapture, and guest appearances by artists such as the McGarrigle sisters, Jane Siberry and Luscious Jackson’s Jill Cunniff make the experience even more memorable.
- Annie Lennox – Bare The erstwhile Eurythmics singer’s agonizing divorce is the force behind this passionate collection of songs. Her pain is our gain.
- The Strokes – Room on Fire I love these guys without apology. Yeah, they’re poseurs, and this album will take a few listens before one can truly appreciate it. But once dug in, wow — we knew these boys were immensely talented after Is This It, but the outfit has matured since its release, and its hard-won experience has infused pop gems such as “The End Has No End,” “12:51,” and “Reptilia” with a heretofore nonexistent depth that makes each listen an adventure.
Honorable mentions: The Diary of Alicia Keys, Dan Fogelberg’s Full Circle, Live’s “Heaven,” Ryan Adams’ Rock ‘n Roll, Jay-Z’s The Black Album (Don’t go, Jigga!), Jason Mraz’s Waiting For My Rocket To Come, Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief, Warren Zevon’s The WindPowered by Sidelines