MARE WINNINGHAM Refuge Rock Sublime (Craig N Co) A Los Angeles entertainment media staple, Mare Winningham has been nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe, has won two Emmy awards and is a TV mainstay (you might remember her as Meredith's mom in Grey's Anatomy, but she has held bit roles in everything from Starsky and Hutch to the 2006-07 season of Boston Legal). She has also appeared on stage with the likes of Sean Penn and Kevin Spacey and has been in several big-name movies, including Wyatt Earp and St. Elmo's Fire. Searching for spiritual meaning, Winningham decided at one point that she probably didn't believe in God. Her friends suggested that she check out Judaism, and in 2003, she became a Hebrew herself. Hence, she "came to [Judaism] as an exploration of atheism," as she recently told the press. Fellow West Coast song man Craig Taubman's Craig N Co label has recently released Refuge Rock Sublime, a suite of Jewish-themed country-folk Americana tunes recorded in Arkansas. The album is nothing but vocals, keyboards, percussion, bass, banjo, mandolin, guitar and fiddle, and the backwater sound is anchored by Winningham's unassuming alto delivery, not unlike that of Emmylou Harris. Thematically, the disc reconciles its Jewish heart with its sound by drawing from Old Testament imagery and personae - a common backwater folk inspiration. One composition is appropriately titled "Oh Moses," while the strongest song, "Valley of the Dry Bones," features the refrain, "Only You know, Lord." Elsewhere, the title track sets a translated poem by Shlomo Ibn Gavirol to a new, straight-up country tune, while Israel's national anthem, Naomi Shemer's "Al Kol Ele" and the haunting "Karev Yom" - a traditional Seder night melody - all go Americana as well. The two most defining tracks, however, are probably "What Would David Do," a Jewed-up version of the Christian query designed to inspire the asker to think twice about his or her actions, and "A Convert Jig," a charming memoir of Winningham's path to self-discovery. SARAH AROESTE BAND Puertas (self-release) New Yorker Sarah Aroeste founded her eponymous musical project in 2001, shortly after she quit her day job. As part of the staff of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, she had grown frustrated with the organization's unwillingness to support any initiatives that weren't steeped in Ashkenazi tradition. Therefore, SAB takes traditional Ladino tunes and updates them with loads of New York sass and edgy attitude. "When you think of Jewish music, I don't think the first things that come to mind are sexy or sensual," Aroeste recently told The Chicago Tribune. "But this music is incredibly sensual, and the way we present it doesn't shy away from that." Also key to the band's identity are the heavy contributions of Yoel Ben-Simhon, also of the Sultana Ensemble, who serves here as musical director, oud player and often arranger. The band's debut, A la Una, sold well and set the stage for many live performances - including two key appearances at the Sephardic Music Festival - and now the band has released Puertas. Coproduced by Aroeste, Ben-Simhon and the Klezmatics' Frank London, who has been known to appear on stage with the band, the sophomore effort took over a year to record. The title means "doors," a reference to the Spanish Jewish families who took their keys with them when they were exiled back in the 15th century, hoping to need them again some day. Here, rock styles mix with Sephardi tradition. On "Los Bilbilicos," what starts off sounding like a Shabbat table hymn goes down the rabbit hole and turns into a Floyd-like Hammond and electric guitar jam. "Me Siento Alegre" opens slow and quiet, but it explodes at points into metal-like power chords. Other styles make appearances too, like the understated Arabian classicism of "Avre Tu Puerta," the polyrhythmic "Una Matica De Ruda," the Flamenco guitars of "Shabat" and the regal Spanish horn play on "Si La Mar." There's even a blippy, breaky "Puertas Remix," care of Balkan Beat Box front man Tamir Muskat. Ben Jacobson can be reached at email@example.com.