Singer/songwriter

Phil Roy

also prepares and serves a great meal. If you're a fan of this multi-talented Philadelphian, you should attend one of his intimate, dinner-and-solo-show affairs sometime. (Hey, he might even stage one in your house!)

But old-school music fan that I am, I still prefer the fleshed-out CD product that this craft-conscious musician occasionally dishes up for the world, wherein his yearning, from-the-heart epiphanies bubble up in full band (though still-soothing) treatments.

"The Great Longing" (Decca, A) a self-financed Roy labor of love happily enjoying its major label debut today, is chock full of such tasty delights. It's a classic study in adult-alternative comfort music - songs about getting on, making the best of the situation - seasoned with muted flavors of jazz, folk and even (on "Day to Day Thing") light hip-hop inflections.

And not enough good stuff can be said about the emotionally attuned backup vocalists, like Mutlu and Antje Duvekot, who complement Roy

The sweet, soulful "Busy Thinking 'Bout Today," gets an especially cool groove going with vocalist Amos Lee, keyboardist Joel Bryant and harmonica master Howard Levy.

Of equal charm is the tongue-in-cheek, ragtime shuffle "Exceptionally Ordinary," done up with New Orleans- style piano and horn players and, the oh-so-wry vocal harmony of Madeleine Peyroux.

MORE SENSITIVE NEW AGE GUY FARE: Check out the debut from Keaton Simons, "Can You Hear Me" (CBS, B+). He sounds a bit like (and is likely to connect well with the fans of) John Mayer.

And if you don't mind the guy's mush-mouth articulation (I think it's part of his charm), give a listen to the latest mumblings from Jeb Loy Nichols, "Days Are Mighty" (Compass, B). His tenor tones evoke a younger James Taylor.

NEWBIES ON THE BLOCK: Apple is making stars of its TV commercial scorers, recently the offbeat French/Israeli pop chanteuse Yael Naim (heard on that "New Soul" spot for Apple's MacBook Air).

This week, hear more from that brash female/male duo that shouts "Shut Up and Let Me Go!" as silhouettes bounce on screen in that infectious spot for iTunes. They're the Ting Tings, and there's plenty more cute, dance-pop stuff whipping up in Bananarama style on their self-titled album (Columbia, B).

Ready for rapid-fire, politically conscious white-boy rap with dynamic, progressive-rock overtones? Come and get it from Flobots, knocking me on my butt on "Flight With Tools" (Universal Republic, A-). If the innocence-lost themed "Handlebars" and brainwash shout-out "There's a War Going on for Your Mind" don't grab you, it's time to check the pulse.

Carolina Liar works up a sweeping, cinematic rock sound (think Tears for Fears meets Coldplay) on "Coming To Terms" (Atlantic, B). They could last for a spell.

I'd love to be hanging out in a recording studio with Scarlett Johansson for a month. Still, I don't think I'd have been smitten enough to let the actress record an entire album of Tom Waits songs, "Anywhere I Lay My Head" (Rhino/ATCO, C-). All the atmospheric twiddling producer David Sitek has applied still can't hide the thinness and odd lack of emotional commitment in her singing.

Just their name suggests old Americana flavor. And the music on the self-titled Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet album (Nett werk, B) follows suit, an interesting combo of traditional and contemporized bluegrass done with such finess it could qualify as chamber music.

Esperanza Spalding has "the X factor," proclaims admirer Pat Metheny. She's a fresh, dynamic jazz bass player, composer and singer, with a throaty, imperfect voice that could grow on you.

Her debut album is called (what else?) "Esperanza" (Heads Up, B), and it won me over with her first selection, a Milton Nascimento tune sung in Portuguese.

BLASTS FROM THE PAST: Donna Summer hasn't put out an album in 19 years. Clearly, she's trying to make up for lost time on "Crayons" (Burgundy, B-), reaching for every color in the box. Nothing else seems quite as good as the title track, though, a reggae-inflected ditty featuring (OK, dominated by) Ziggy Marley.

While Steve Miller is touring, he hasn't scored a Philly date this summer. But good news for admirers is a rip-roaring DVD concert package, "The Steve Miller Band - Live From Chicago" (Coming Home Media, A) , which finds the blues-tinged rocker doing all his hits (like "The Joker," "Jungle Love" and "Rock 'N Me") in fresh, extended treatments.

Shot in high def at the Ravinia summer shed, its visuals are razor sharp and colorful, while the crisp, stereo/multichannel mixes show the fine hand of Andy Johns.

MORE TO SCORE: Sonny Landreth is arguably the best slide guitar player in the land. Proving the point anew, "From the Reach" (Landfall, A), which finds the likes of Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton and Robben Ford giving Sonny "props" by playing along.

Danielia Cotton leans to the harder side of the blues on her bristling "New Child" (Adrenaline/Cottontown, B).

Riveting Brazilian singer Rosa Passos sure filled my bossa-nova-lovin' heart with "Romance" (Telarc, A). Even Gary Giddins' liner notes are a work of art.

Also ripe for world music travelers is the festive, highly lyrical collection "Ayombe! The Heart of Columbia's Musica Vallenata" (Smithsonian Folkways, A-).

The Dresden Dolls, demons of their own dark cabaret world, gather songs lost and new, perverse and worse on "No, Virginia" (Roadrunner, B+).

At the other extreme, get your little ones a-rocking with the sunshine-bright toons on "Ralph's World: The Rhyming Circus" (Disney, B+).

The only downer (but not really) is Ralph's Johnny Cash adaption, "Folsom Daycare Blues." *