The great Ray Charles, 73.
Bruce Springsteen, 54. There are those who can't stand his stuff, for whatever reason, but I'm not one of them. He does have some annoying mannerisms, and often goes to the same well too often when writing songs, but he's down-to-earth, literate, and often rocks like a mutha. Favorite album: difficult choice, but I tend to listen to 1987's Tunnel of Love a lot. Heck, I like the usual suspects a lot as well: Born in the USA and Born to Run. Most underrated: again, difficult...but there's a lot of good stuff on The River that gets lost in the sprawl. For some reason, I've been playing Nebraska a lot lately...
The great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, who would have been 77 today. Hard to pick out any one favorite album, because to be honest, as a newish convert to jazz I haven't heard that many of 'em. But A Love Supreme is an amazing record, and I flat out love his version of "My Favorite Things".
Ani DiFranco, 33. I first saw her perform on one of those "Live from the House of Blues" specials that used to come on, and was absolutely blown away. She was performing songs from her then-recent Little Plastic Castles album, and seemed to be jittery and uncomfortable, causing her to belt out the tunes with a sincere type of aggressiveness, like she was trying to overcome great obstacles to get her music out there. Two songs especially stood out in that set: "Fuel" and "Swan Dive". I don't know whether she was really all that nervous, or if that was just her style, but I rushed right out and bought Castles (the CD on which those songs could be found) a few days later- and was incredibly disappointed. The studio seemed to suck the life right out of her. Still curious, I picked up her next release Up Up Up Up Up Up...and was unimpressed as well. So much for Ani with me. However, my son sings her praises, and I realize that she has a large following, so I can't dismiss her totally and should probably try to get something else one of these days.
Credit where credit is due dept: The photo of Ani is by one Susan Scott.