Virtual Release: If legendary 78-collector Joe Bussard could plug an iBook directly into his Victrola, he'd be making these. This is real ghostly stuff sourced from unreleased sessions, radio broadcasts, or repo'd master tapes. That's all time-honored bootleg chow, sure, but virtual releases go straight from the source to the fileshares, skipping physical media entirely. For instance: WFMU recently popularized a Faust album that never made it past a few Virgin Records promo tapes until someone copied it up to MP3. Companions to this are homemade virtual compilations — a stack of uncomped funk 45s, say — issued direct from the collector's originals to the fileshares with some kind of searchbait name like "MY HOT FUNK 45s." These albums are aimed at audiences so microscopic there's almost no profit in pressing up hard copies — and as such, they're usually pretty great.

Give It Away Now: Nobody can steal what you give away. San Francisco band Wooden Shjips put out their EP for free this year; all you had to do was ask and there was a real record in your actual hands. And it was really good, too — blown-out Les Rallizes homage with vocals echoplexed to infinity. In fact, it was so good that I bought a copy with my own actual money, just for old times' sake. Chris Ziegler

Everlasting Sounds: Ten of the year's most timeless records

This story, as originally conceived, was supposed to be a compilation of the year's best box sets and other re-issues. But then it hit us — in today's shuffle-driven iPod world, with the pace of pop culture moving at breakneck speed, it's pointless to make such temporal distinctions. The past is ever present, and the present quickly becomes the past. So, instead of a list of old music released anew, we've come up with a list of timeless music, albums that came out this year that heed no prevailing trends and sound as if they could have been recorded any time between 1926 and 2006. Or 2106, for that matter.

David Kimbrough Jr.

Shell Shocked

(Lucky 13 / BC Records)

Burnside Exploration

The Record

(Lucky 13 / BC Records)

While Fat Possum Records has all but abandoned the "Not Your Same Old Blues Crap" of people like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, both the Kimbrough and Burnside families have produced new generations of first-rate players. David Kimbrough Jr. (son of Junior) and The Burnside Exploration (featuring a son and a grandson of R.L.) both released albums very much worthy of the droning, whiskey-delic Mississippi Hill Country boogie/blues tradition of their forefathers. The Burnside Exploration album is a raucous and primal rotgut Saturday-night onslaught of guitar distortion and bashed drums with occasional tinges of Dirty South hip-hop. Kimbrough's Shell Shocked rocks just as hard in spots, but is also downright harrowing in others, like "Wild Turkey" and "I Don't Do The Things I Used To." What's more, Kimbrough's keening tenor is the finest singing voice this subgenre has ever had.

The Kashmere Stage Band

Texas Thunder Soul 1968-74

(Now-Again Records)

In the mid-1970s, faced with a flurry of band defections, James Brown made the discovery that immortal funk music did not require elite musicianship, so long as they were directed well and disciplined. The results of Brown's eureka moment eventually provided him with one of his most fertile periods. Houston high school band teacher Conrad Johnson, director of The Kashmere Stage Band, came to the same conclusion, with results that are no less funky. The luxuriant big band jazz-funk on this double-CD makes it well-nigh impossible to believe that this is the work of students from one inner city high school, or even from all the high schools in America put together.

King Curtis

Live at Fillmore West

(Koch Records)

On the other hand, elite musicians did create immortal funk, as evidenced on this King Curtis live set. Curtis, a sax player who was murdered at 41 a few months after this recording, had that squalling, harsh tone common to the black Texans of his era that dates back to guys like Illinois Jacquet, Arnett Cobb, and "Cleanhead" Vinson. Here, he unleashes it on an array of hits from all over the pop music spectrum of 1971, so alongside expected songs like "Memphis Soul Stew," you also get funkified renditions of country and folk fare like "Ode to Billy Joe" and "Mr Bojangles," and classic rock staples "A Whiter Shade of Pale," "My Sweet Lord," and even Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love." And, oh yeah — we mentioned that Curtis had some musicians...How about the Memphis Horns, Billy Preston on the organ, and guitarist Cornell Dupree?

James Hunter

People Gonna Talk

(Rounder Records)

It was the roots music story of this year: James Hunter stepped out of the shadows of Van Morrison, for whom he had served as lead guitarist for the past few years, and emerges front and center as the leader of his own band. On People Gonna Talk, the suave Englishman wraps his honeyed, Sam Cooke-ian tenor equally around early ska and rocksteady, the proto-funk of James Brown's early career, and suave, 1963-style big city blues, all framed by tight, spry horns and occasional pizzicato strings. The complete package is as smooth and thrilling as a fast, moonlit ride in a vintage T-Bird convertible on an open stretch of coastal highway.

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