If you haven't heard of this Brit blue-eyed soul singer don't worry because almost everyone whiffed on "Stoned" when it was released a few months ago. Quite simply, as the year draws to a close, if this is not on lists of the finest records of the 2005, those lists are incomplete. Taylor is a cult artist in Great Britain and this disc is an expanded version of a CD that's only been available in the States as an import. It's a seamless mix of organic soul that is remarkably refreshing to hear in an era of so much processed, vacuum-packed R&B with no, well, soul. Taylor plays all the instruments and produces the 14 song set that nods heavily toward Marvin Gaye, Bobby Womack, and Stevie Wonder with hints of the pop smarts of Brian Wilson and Daryl Hall. But Taylor is more than just the sum of his sources. The songs are sweetly arranged and sharply executed. Like Jamiroquai and Terence Trent D'Arby before him, Taylor absorbs his influences and creates a record that stands on its own. Songs like "Positively Beautiful," "Stop, Look Listen (To Your Heart)," (which really evokes D'Arby at his sweetest) and "Till the Mornin' Light" are irresistible pop ballads light on sugar. Taylor's got a lithe, flexible voice. He underplays each song and caresses his lyrics with just enough finesse. As a producer he lets the tracks breathe, and when he needs to muscle up as on "Shame," which features some taut, explosive guitar, he generates plenty of heat. With more records like this Taylor won't go unheard for very long. The time to tune in is now.
In the decade spanned by this new retrospective, the Cincinnati-based Greenhornes have wooed fans with their authentic R&B and British Invasion-flavored blues rock, but it's been slow going. Drummer Patrick Keeler and bassist Jack Lawrence have gained greater attention for providing the rhythm section for Loretta Lynn's 2004 Grammy Award-winning album, ''Van Lear Rose," and playing in the Raconteurs (friend Jack White's much-anticipated collaboration with indie-rock crooner Brendan Benson), who drop an album early next year. But the band's star is finally on the rise, thanks partly to the group's opening slot on the White Stripes' latest tour. This 20-song collection, culled from three full-length albums and numerous singles, is a great introduction. They knock out rock rave-ups such as ''It's Not Real," with harmonica and guitar wailing over a twist-and-shout beat, and invoke the chirping harmonies of mid-'60s Brits such as the Yardbirds on ''Pattern Skies." Their ballads are believably tortured, from the subtle ache of singer/guitarist Craig Fox's vocals on the previously unreleased, Jack White-produced ''Shadow of Grief" to the sultry melancholy of ''There Is an End," recently featured in Jim Jarmusch's ''Broken Flowers." Having proved their dexterity, the Greenhornes reveal their knack for electrifying old-school blues.
THA CARTER II
Lil' Wayne glorifies his native New Orleans (''I'm so 504, you gotta kill me here") and its pre-hurricane hip-hop image as a hotbed of violence and a hustler's paradise -- all of which was the fodder for his earlier work in the Cash Money crew and his five-album solo career. At 23, with his laid-back, croaky flow, he has blossomed; for all his tough poses, he comes across as an amiable thug, and lines such as ''eat a catastrophe, swallow the truth, belch reality" have a gonzo appeal that helps make up for his lack of lyrical wizardry. He's at his best discussing his success and revenue (''You smell me, girl, I smell like money"). But at 22 tracks, there's time for a few ventures that pay off (''Tha Mobb," the reggae-fied ''Mo Fire") and plenty that don't. Misogyny is rampant, as on the awful ''Money on My Mind." Still, Weezy Baby, as he's called, plays the charmer, inviting you to ''put your panties and your pants by the trash can" so he can get his ''grown man on." Hey, it works for him.
THE RISING TIED
Machine Shop/Warner Bros.
Linkin Park MC Mike Shinoda takes a solo turn with this overlong effort that attempts to establish his hip-hop credibility and distance him from some of the rock bombast and sloganeering of his millions-selling meal ticket. The tracks are highly melodic and stripped down and feature Shinoda playing every instrument and producing the whole shebang. As with his previous work, the MC is concerned with the plight of the common man fighting against the corporate machine and the spiritual bankruptcy of contemporary culture. Sometimes, though, he sounds defensive about his platinum success, and his frequent boasting about his lyrical skills comes off sounding hollow. But to up the ante he recruits Black Thought and Common to add some verses, and, as usual, they acquit themselves with style. The best song is ''Kenji," Shinoda's account of his father's internment during World War II. There, the rhymes feel intensely personal and highly specific, avoiding some of the tendencies to vagueness that mar much of his work. Side projects are usually redundant or indulgent, but Shinoda avoids those pitfalls and rises to the challenge with this CD.
A LITTLE MORE PERSONAL (RAW) Casablanca/Universal
When teenage pop queens want to show how grown-up they've become, they often try to sex up their image (think Britney Spears). But on her second album, actress Lindsay Lohan aims for emotionally mature rather than sexually provocative. Unfortunately, it's just as uncomfortable as watching a child actress vamp for the camera. Lohan's voice is strong enough to support more sophisticated material. But even with more than a half-dozen songwriters, including coproducer Butch Walker, helping her pen material, there's nothing here that warrants a closer listen. Album opener ''Confessions of a Broken Heart (Daughter to Father)" has drawn attention for its candor about Lohan's stormy relationship with her dad. Although she sings with feeling, the lyrics and arrangement don't have much dimension. Even amped-up dance rock numbers here lack the bubblegum brightness to be a guilty pleasure, and the resonance to engage more deeply. As if sensing that something's missing, Lohan tackles two covers, Cheap Trick's ''I Want You to Want Me" and Stevie Nicks's ''Edge of Seventeen." Neither improves on the original or showcases Lohan's voice in a new way. More than anything else, the album feels safe. That's not the version of adulthood most pop tarts aspire to.