Hector Qirko shouldn't need an introduction. He's played guitar around town for more than 30 years, most notably as a member of post-punk/prog pioneers Balboa, as part of R.B. Morris' band, and, since 1985, as leader of the Hector Qirko Band (or HQ Band, frequently), a loose amalgamation of blues, jazz, country, rock, and more blues.
Little Walter, His Best: The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection (Fontana MCA, 1997)
I heard he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so I pulled this one back out. Total command of the harmonica, no less, and with the sound to match. Plus great singing, songs, and grooves. One of the true greats, and that's without even taking into account his work with Muddy Waters.
Ozomatli, Ozomatli (Almo Sounds, 1998)
Their first one, 10 years old, and how I imagine the music world should be. Everything here: hip-hop, cumbia, funk, you name it, supposed cultural and marketplace collisions that are instead pulled together with energy and beauty. Not the best singers in the world, but they mean it, and that goes a long way.
Y'uns, Y'uns (PMF Productions, 2008)
They let me play on one song, but that's not why I like it. Fun, very musical, and terrific arrangements. My favorite is still the remake of "Mr. Spaceman"—I can't believe they thought of it, or how well it works.
Dorival Caymmi, Meus Momentos (EMI, 2003)
He just died (at 94!), which is why the CD is in my car. I grew up listening to him, and it's been great to hear him again. His gentle, clever sambas are hard to beat, and he wrote some really soulful acoustic ballads, too.
Elliott Smith, Figure 8 (Dreamworks, 2000)
Heard it for the first time at a friend's house, and just bought it. I can't get enough of his quietly devastating acoustic songs, but this highly orchestrated and layered record is great, too. Either way, his one-of-a-kind perspective is right at the center of it all.