UNPREDICTABLE
Natalie Cole

The title applies more to the commercial explosion of the LP—a half-million sold in its first month—than to the music itself, a sassy blend of disco numbers and soul ballads. But Cole's expressive, elastic voice invites comparisons to Aretha Franklin at the peak of her Lady Soul days. With this album and its hit single I've Got Love on My Mind, Cole has all but buried any notion that she is just Nat King Cole's daughter.

A HANDFUL OF BEAUTY
John McLaughlin with Shakti

The jazz-raga guitarist's second acoustic LP with three Indian musicians (on violin, a small drum called the tabla, and claypot). The spiritualized McLaughlin, typically unconcerned that his first album with Shakti created only a small cult following, uses his customized sitar-like guitar with astonishing speed and elegance.

BURNIN' SKY
Bad Company

Few surprises—rather, Bad Company policy: uncomplicated, stalking rhythms and lean guitar playing by Mick Ralphs. What saves Burnin' Sky from being just another supergroup false alarm is the urgency in Paul Rodgers' lead vocals.

LUXURY LINER
Emmylou Harris

Worth the trip. Superbly supported by studio pros, Harris' sweet sapling voice draws its strength from an affecting quaver both in ballads and rockabilly. Her sound, as Woody Allen once described himself, is "thin but fun."

VISIONS
Don Williams

The Sleeping Giant of Nashville has fully awakened on his seventh LP, and a commercial C&W monster is born. The keys: spare, immaculately mixed pedal steel and acoustic guitar tracks, a resonant Texas conviction in his voice, and a casual aloofness that has earned the respect of country's elites and outlaws.

RUMOURS
Fleetwood Mac

Glowing with invention through rock, pop and folk forms, the 11 tunes reflect the members' delicate romantic tribulations of last year, but do so tastefully. Even more difficult, they've come back with a satisfying follow-up to their four-million selling gem, Fleetwood Mac.

ANIMALS
Pink Floyd

These British space-rockers assail man's descent into a "valley of steel." Then they sacrifice all melodic life—as we know it—to gadget-dependent studio precision.