• Cover craziness abounds with a pair of terrific new releases. This past month Chicago's punk and cornpone label, Bloodshot Records, celebrated its 100th release of authentic independent country. As a treat to the fans, the label culled its vaults for an appropriate thank-you, and the result is one of the most captivating collections I've heard in a while.

Local hard-rock quartet Circle 7 has been testing itself over the past year. The band has been playing to small-town crowds unfamiliar with its sound and its work, played an acoustic set for the first time (at the Blackthorn Pub on New Year's Eve), and has spent time in the well-regarded Catamount studio in Cedar Falls, Iowa, recording a new record.

• Do you feel like starting your own record label, boasting an artist lineup that includes Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald, and Maria Callas? A recent New York Times article by Anthony Tommasini has brought to light another weakness in the American record industry's armor - the upcoming tide of European import CDs that take advantage of Europe's copyright-protection laws that put recordings into the public domain after only 50 years.

You know the big stories of 2002: Eminem is the King of Most Media. The White Stripes, The Strokes, The Vines, and The Hives are cool (or at least music magazines think so). Springsteen can still matter (or at least newsmagazines think so).

With the rolling wheels of the record industry grinding down for a holiday break, here are more of my picks for the best of 2002. Best Spoken Word CD of the Year: Paul Krassner - Irony Lives! (Artemis Records) Recorded earlier this year in the post-September 11 dialogue, this thinking-man's comedy release comes from the fertile and skewed mind of the co-founder of the Youth International Party (Yippies) and all-around muckraker, a nail among the balloons of government and the media elite.

The big attraction at Saturday's show at RIBCO will be the Grammy-winning acid-jazz outfit Liquid Soul, but the opening act is a fresh breeze that should appeal to fans of both jazz and hip hop.

The J.

What a season under the cult of celebrity! Moby takes a beating, Lisa Marie Presley is single again, David Lee Roth is suing Van Halen, and Kid Rock is firing guns with Carson Daly on TV. Any assorted boyhood home of Eminem sets off a multi-million-dollar bidding war on eBay's real-estate site! Future Slim Shady Gracelands are popping up all over gritty Michigan hamlets.

After hearing Kurt Elling in person and listening to his CDs, I have to agree with the Downbeat magazine critics polls - something I normally do not do - that named him the number-one jazz male vocalist in 2000, 2001, and 2002.

The Quad City Symphony Orchestra (QCSO) performance on Saturday, December 7, demonstrated the sharp contrasts within classical music. From rugged romanticism to stark minimalism, the concert led by Conductor and Musical Director Donald Schleicher was balanced, and the performance was well formed, as the orchestra played pieces by Kearnis, Mozart, Respighi, and the Paganini of the piano, Franz Liszt.

For this journey to Ohio in mid-November, we have the enviable role of designated witnesses to the canonization of our friend and master life teacher Edmond (Ed) Thigpen by his peers and fellow professionals. I say "peers" to be PC, but in our opinion and in many ways Ed is in a class all by himself.