Rare Bird Alert, by Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

Steve Martin’s novelty song “King Tut” contains the line “could’ve won a Grammy.” Now this disc by the actor-comedian is indeed Grammy nominated, in the bluegrass category. A deft banjo picker, Martin gets A-list help from Paul McCartney (who takes the lead vocal on “Best Love”) and the Dixie Chicks (who sing lovely, tight harmonies on the ballad “You”).

Ray Charles: Live in France 1961 (DVD)

Watching this 16 mm footage—lost for 50 years—in its black-and-white glory is a revelation. The goosebumps begin the second Charles and his band (featuring David "Fathead" Newman on sax) fire up the head-boppin' riffs and rhythms. The eight-piece band nails "One Mint Julep" (though without music stands—they have to use chairs to prop up their sheet music).

Ancient & Modern by the Mekons

One of the UK's pioneering punk groups, the Mekons got together in Leeds in 1977. Leader Jon Langford now calls Chicago home, and the group still produces music at a prolific pace.

Modern Art, by Matthew Sweet

On his first album since 2008, Sweet employs vinyl in the mastering process to sweeten the sound—a sign of his '60s-pop infatuation. Fans of Girlfriend-era Sweet may wish that this record rocked more; others may find its introspection a sign of growth.