Keith Drummond Kornfield Invalid Love (King of the World Music)
He's a surly man, this Mr. Kornfield. No matter: On this disc, it's working for him. The country-fried singer/songwriter smothers typical twang with killer lyrics, the perfect balance of heartfelt and cynical. Like only the best bards can, this guy strings you pleasantly along only to turn on you with a suckerpunch of melancholy. Drummond's been in this town for a while, a part of acts like Saddlesores, Speed Queens, Jet Girls and Dueling Keiths. Maybe that history's got something to do with my favorite track on Invalid Love, "Rock-n-Roll Sucks." Check out www.kingoftheworldmusic.com or head to Natural Sound for a copy.
Tom Waits Orphans (Anti)
It's not a great Waits starter kit, but the 54-song pileup he's serving has got nothing but nutrition for fanatics and regular old fans alike. Orphans is three discs, though each stands complete on its own. Brawlers is a weird collection of rowdy, gospel-induced tracks, with Waits' infamous whisky, sandpaper voice at its howling best. No one does a ballad quite like Waits—the tunes on Bawlers are no exception. His stumbling lilt evades cliché, though he approaches each with just the right "shiny eyes in the moonlight" kind of wonder. Bastards is, well, everything else. The first couple of tracks jangle and jam, but the wandering spoken-word narratives just aren't my glass of gin.
Jay-Z Kingdom Come (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
Jay-Z trumpets his second coming as a nearly altruistic attempt to save hip-hop. Plenty of folks, underground or above, can tell you hip-hop isn't the kind of thing that starts searching the skies for a superman ("Superman is alive," he raps)—even after a dowdy spell. There were only a few head-turners this year, and Jay-Z shelled out infinite bucks to draw down the production heavies and turn one out. But this money-gorging baby—even sporting Dr. Dre's lipstick and a miniskirt by Pharrell—isn't likely to elicit hoots and hollers from any but the most fervent Jay-Z fans.