December 12, 2005 12:00 PM

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Just under the wire for 2005, Anthony Hamilton delivers the best R&B album of the year. Building on his platinum 2003 breakthrough, Comin’ from Where I’m From, the southern-fried soul man returns with a disc that takes him to another level as a singer and songwriter, establishing him as one of the most important R&B artists of his generation. The socially conscious title track takes the sound of a Bill Withers and the vision of a Marvin Gaye and turns out something

all Hamilton’s own. It’s an instant classic. Almost as good is “Preacher’s Daughter,” on which, against a dramatic arrangement complete with soap-opera piano, Hamilton shines a light on the hypocrisy that can exist in the pulpit. His church-trained delivery, both tough and tender, also brings real power and passion to the straight-up gospel of “Pass Me Over” and the romantic testifying of “I Know What Love’s All About.” And the Charlotte, N.C., native injects songs such as “Sista Big Bones,” a deliciously funky tribute to full-figured women, with healthy doses of down-home flavor.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Ain’t Nobody Worryin”

NEW AGE

Enya

Amarantine

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Break out the crystals and the aromatherapy candles: Enya is back. After five years since her last disc, 2000’s Grammy-winning A Day Without Rain, the New Age priestess returns to enchant listeners with her atmospheric soundscapes. The Irish singer’s style has always been a bit of an acquired taste. But if you’re already an Enya fan (and with sales of 65 million albums worldwide, there are many of you), you’ll probably want this CD too. To others, though, some songs may sound too much like music from a film score, while the lullaby like effect of tunes such as “Long, Long Journey” maybe a little too sleepy. Still, the beauty of tracks like the longing “If I Could Be Where You Are” shines through the ethereal mist.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “If I Could Be Where You Are”

BLUES-POP

John Mayer Trio

Try! John Mayer Trio Live in Concert

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“Play that funky music, white boy.” Whoever would have thought that the immortal words of Wild Cherry’s 1976 disco classic “Play That Funky Music” would apply to John Mayer? After all, his most recent hit, “Daughters,” was about as vanilla as it gets. But the singer-songwriter and guitarist reveals surprising new blues, funk and jazz colors on this side project with drummer Steve Jordan (Bruce Springsteen) and bassist Pino Palladino (The Who). This exciting live disc, recorded during a fall tour, showcases Mayer’s soulful side on seven strong new songs, including the Steely Danesque “Vultures” and the old-school blues “Out of Mind,” on which the frontman seems to be channeling Clapton. Elsewhere the trio covers Jimi Hendrix and Ray Charles in convincing style, while bringing the funk to Mayer’s own “Something’s Missing” and, yes, even “Daughters.” Here’s hoping Mayer keeps this new groove going for his next solo disc.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Gravity”

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