Mark Ronson, "Uptown Special" (RCA)

Producer/composer Ronson goes beyond his most famous work — the warm, updated soul sound of Amy Winehouse — to find a fired-up sonic mix for his solo efforts. With its buoyant live-band blend of electro, disco, new wave and R&B, Ronson's 2010 "Record Collection" came close to perfection. "Uptown Special" goes just a little further. You have the lava-lamp psychedelia of its trippy tracks, with Tame Impala's Kevin Parker. You have a grittier groove, as in "Uptown Funk," with Bruno Mars. And you have nastier stuff, as in the James Brown-like "Feel Right," featuring the shouted-out soul of New Orleans' Mystikal.

Ronson's instrumentalists are a huge force in the album's melodic funk: Bowie guitarist Carlos Alomar, rhythm giants Steve Jordan and Willie Weeks, harmonica star Stevie Wonder. These guys lay an exquisite groundwork for Ronson, author-turned-lyricist Michael Chabon, and their team of interpretative singers. Parker adds a cottony sound to "Daffodils," and powerhouse Keyone Starr gives "I Can't Lose" a sensual dynamic not heard since the reign of Chaka Khan.

A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer

Soundtrack: Pop

Henry Mancini, "The Classic Soundtrack Collection" (Legacy)

Audiences familiar with the cocktail jazz of composer Mancini's theme for 1963's "The Pink Panther" will thrill to 18 full soundtracks, with accompanying rarities (e.g., Julie Andrews singing the "Nothing to Lose" samba of "The Party" rather than the film's co-star, Claudine Longet). Yes, the music on the nine CDs is often dated and corny. Yet, there's subtle musicality found on the dark, Euro-jazzy likes of "Two for the Road" and "Charade," the noir flourishes of "Experiment in Terror," and delicious, hokey romance of "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer


Various artists, "The Soul of Designer Records" (Big Legal Mess)

Outside of James Ingram, nobody here is even well-known. But oh, what music was made by these black gospel groups that traveled to Memphis from the late '60s to the late '70s to record at Designer Records. Roland Janes, the great Sun Records guitarist and an excellent producer, engineered most of these sessions. Yes, this is gospel, but across these 101 tracks you also hear strong elements of soul, R&B, blues, and funk. The group names sometimes come with adjectives such as "Dynamic" and "Sensational," and that's how you can describe the music.

Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer