James Brown

The King of Soul knows his niche, and most of this LP is comprised of the uptempo tracks that are undeniably Brown. His current concern for ecology is woven throughout and works well, but Brown is at his bluesy best on the updated version of Gershwin's Summertime.

Elvin Bishop

"Now remember," shouts rowdy rocker Elvin Bishop between tunes, "this is not a rock concert, this is a cultural event." Sure, if blues/rock/jazz/soul/ country fusion is your cultural kick. That blend should produce musical schizophrenia, but Bishop doesn't have any identity problems. He shines in the 12-bar format, like the nice 'n' nasty Little Brown Bird, co-written with McKinley Morganfield (a/k/a Muddy Waters). Purists may prefer the original unadulterated article from black musicians, but Bishop's brand is infectious, get-down funky fun.

Carole King

Since her Tapestry, one of the biggest-selling rock albums in history, six of Carole King's LPs have gone gold. Simple Things showcases her soft, liquid voice and her outstanding talent at composing. It also marks the debut of her own record label and of a six-man backup group called Navarro. Although Simple Things is filled with just that—quiet, introspective songs—it is the energetic Hard Rock Cafe that takes off.

Alicia de Larrocha

The diminutive, 54-year-old Spanish pianist has managed what few other living pianists could: she makes Enrique Granados' murderously difficult masterworks, inspired by Goya's paintings, blaze with tone and authority.

Linda Ronstadt

The First Lady of country-rock has delivered a sweet and simple work—her finest, most focused to date. Ronstadt's voice is a consistent and precisely tuned instrument of vast range and feeling. Less reliable over the years has been her selection of material (she does almost no writing), but here she wisely sidesteps her weakness for bland pop commercialism. She does a Buddy Holly classic, It's So Easy, Warren Zevon's sardonically lachrymose ballad Carmelita and addictive Poor, Poor Pitiful Me and the Stones' Tumbling Dice. Ronstadt is strongest in the company of acoustic and pedal steel guitars, C&W harmonies with Dolly Parton and simple rhythmic arrangements. It's all here.