• Neil Young's new album, Are You Passionate?, is set for release on March 26. The highly anticipated record will feature the single "Let's Roll," written in response to the chilling last words of the September 11 airline passengers who charged the cockpit.

Take a fairly intelligent three-chord progression and pair it with minimalist vocal melodies executed at a snail’s pace, and you’ve accomplished 90 percent of what decent “slo-core” music requires. The other 10 percent isn’t so easy to pull off, but smart lyrics, musicianship, and the power to evoke an emotional response bring the package to completion.

It’s doubtless Beethoven was a genius of rare proportion and that his music stands as a monument in the canon of classical music, yet his placement on the musical timeline put an unusual burden on his output. On one hand, he was a classicist, falling at the end of the classical period and tutored by one of its masters, Franz Joseph Haydn.

• This Tuesday brings the two-DVD version of The Concert for New York City, recorded October 20 with more than five hours of footage capturing all the night's performances and special presenters not found in the recently issued CD version.

• Raise a cocktail to the sky and nod in sad salute to the passing of Juan Garcia Esquivel, the "mood music" composer and visionary of lounge electronica. As mono LPs went stereo, Esquivel made bold musical explorations to excite the emerging hi-fi culture.

• I've got to share the good word on a terrific new release this coming Tuesday: Jon Dee Graham's Hooray for the Moon on the New West label. This is the third solo album from this former member of True Believer and a senior statesman of alternative-country royalty, recently honored as the 2000 Songwriter of the Year at SXSW's Austin Music Awards.

Variety is the order of the day on the local music scene. Two new releases by local bands are now available, and fans of electronic music and straight-ahead heavy metal should have a good time with both albums. Also, we finally caught up with a recent recording by a local singer that should please people who like soft ballads and light country.

As the year wraps itself into a nice little bow, here's my "best of 2001" to perhaps tickle your ear and set you in search of these under-the-radar favorites. Yes, none of these found a home among the Lolitas, pretty boys, and thuggish bravado that continues to dominate the charts, but you, dear reader, are one of the enlightened ones, eh? In no particular order, here are the albums that made my heart soar, stretched the space between my ears, and totally captured my attention.

As the record industry cools down the factory boiler for the holidays, let me share with you my picks for the best of 2001. Favorite Single: Sugarcult, "Stuck In America" (Ultimatum Music). An energetic power-pop anthem that mixes up 1970s punk and 1980s power-chord pep spiked up with new-millennium swagger.

• It's time for holiday music to get the mood - or the party - started right. No muzak or Mitch Miller here, mates. So allow me to share my highlights of this season's funkiest new Christmas CDs. Cut right to the chase of the bitchin'-est of the bunch: the power rawk girl-power duo of Evil Beaver and its Smells Like Christmas Spirit on the Johann's Face record label.

Pages