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Top CDs of 2005
THE REVIEWERS Click on a photo to read each reviewer's Top 10 list.
Scott Alarik
Joan Anderman
Bill Beuttler
Richard Dyer
Renee Graham
Siddhartha Mitter
Steve Morse
Christopher Muther
James Reed

This year in music had a decidedly old-school vibe, even with such compelling new albums as Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A.'s ''Arular" and Leela James's defiantly soulful ''A Change Is Gonna Come." And Globe critics certainly took notice.

In 2005, youth wasn't so much served as aced by wily veterans who put out great music at a time when some were ready to put them out to pasture. Madonna's frisky ''Confessions on a Dance Floor" was a full-on disco return to the onetime Material Girl's mirror ball roots. Paul McCartney released his strongest album in years with ''Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," proving yet again that there's always been more to this former Beatle than silly love songs. (And even if there weren't, what's wrong with that?)

After years of a career that seemed submerged in Vegas glitter and cheese, Neil Diamond got back to simple but stellar basics with the Rick Rubin-produced ''12 Songs." And after his father's death and his own recovery from a brain aneurysm, Neil Young, reviving his country-rock form, released ''Prairie Wind," a tender, reflective album about family, life, and mortality.

Another welcome return came with Beck's ''Guero." After the brokenhearted dirges of 2002's ''Sea Change," the California singer-songwriter released a collection that rivaled his seminal 1996 ''Odelay" in its eclecticism but also managed to be a more solidly mature work.

Perhaps no one had a more surprising comeback than Bettye LaVette. For the better part of the past three decades, she eked out a living as a singer in out-of-the-way clubs. Now 59, she released the album of her career, ''I've Got My Own Hell to Raise." It's an all-covers affair, but make no mistake, with a voice cured with gritty survival and purpose, LaVette makes every song her own.

Making their case for careers that may prove just as lasting were two artists who broke big in 2004 and shrugged off any notions of a sophomore jinx. We were still humming their breakout single, ''Take Me Out," when Scotland's Franz Ferdinand's ''You Could Have It So Much Better" hit stores with just as much cheeky insouciance. And then there was Kanye West's ''Late Registration." Aided by a sample of Ray Charles's ''I Got a Woman" and Jamie Foxx's spot-on imitation of the late soul great, the album's delicious first single, ''Gold Digger," became one of the biggest songs of the year.

On the hip-hop front, 50 Cent seemed to be as ubiquitous as Paris, Jessica, and Britney combined, yet other rappers released superior albums. Boston's own Perceptionists -- Mr. Lif, Akrobatik, and Fakts One -- proved with their debut, ''Black Dialogue," that hip-hop can be provocative without being pedantic, and fun without being cheap and stupid. Straight outta Houston, Chamillionaire emerged from the mix-tape underground with ''The Sound of Revenge," the latest salvo from a vibrant scene that has already produced Mike Jones, Slim Thug, and Paul Wall. And the year's best collaboration had to be ''The Mouse and the Mask" from DJ Danger Mouse and MF Doom, collectively known as Danger Doom.

Audioslave shook off the shackles of its members' former bands -- Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden -- and came into its own with ''Out of Exile," which, in its power and assured execution, was everything this rock supergroup's debut should have been.

Another highlight was ''Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs." Bird, a Chicago singer-songwriter and violinist, established himself during the mid-1990s retro-swing revival, and he's been dancing away from narrow genre classifications ever since. His latest album -- his first released on Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe label -- is an atmospheric collection of adult pop songs that are as captivating as they are refined.

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