Mandel Maven's Nest Music Tips: Radio Not Just For Listening
My Best of 2009
My Best of 2008
My Best of 2007
My Best of 2006
My Best of 2005
My Best of 2004
My Best of 2003
My Best of 2002
My Best of 2001
My Best of 2000
My Best of 1999
My Best of 1998
My Best of 1997
. . .as you get older, one day you wake up and they don't make anything you like, or play anything you like, and that's the day you realize you're a senior citizen. - Al Kooper in Billboard, 7/16/2005 on his song "Going, Going, Gone" on Black Coffee, in an interview with Wayne Robins.
With the younger generation, the tendency is to dismantle, to dispense with melody at the expense of energy. And you'll often find that the more melodic stuff is appreciated by a slightly more long-in-the-tooth crowd. -- DJ/producer Ben Watt in Billboard 7/29/2006 to Kerry Mason in "Watt Captures Brave New Sounds on Latest Comp"
My own Younger Generation LOL that I still listen to radio, even online. I used to get called by market researchers about my radio listening habits -- only to be rejected for the surveys once I answer their demographic questions as to Nora Lee Mandel's age and race. Sure, why would they want to know about someone who actually listens to the radio and purchases music in a physical form? The Brits have a (gender-stereotyped) term now for me - "the 50 quid man" -- someone who listens to new music and will go spend 50 quid in a bricks-and-mortar "record" store to buy what "he" liked hearing. [Journalist Linda Ellerbee talks about what it's like for us over '50's to be invisible, like Woody Allen's Alice] Ah, the stereotypes a woman who keeps her hair gray like Emmy Lou faces! So here market researchers is what you're missing by not asking me what I'm listening to!
New York City radio is not a wasteland! And the best is now (mostly) available online!
Listen to 90.7 FM WFUV--mostly available on streaming audio here on the Internet. (Hopefully their terrestrial reception will improve shortly when they boost their new tower on top of Montefiore Hospital.) I get my voluminous knowledge of new and obscure multi-genre music from this AAA station (and part of the blame for my huge, now old-fashioned CD collection), including Public Radio International's Mountain Stage from West Virginia, American Routes from N'Orlins (an aural demonstration of why the people of that great city and region are critical to the very essence of America's cultural heritage and every one who has ever listened to a note of the great music emanating from there must pay back in their time of need.). Also check the Celtic shows live and in the archives on Saturday mornings (for Kathleen Biggins's traditional tour in "A Thousand Welcomes") and Sunday afternoon's "Ceol na nGael" (somewhat more schmaltzy selections) that keeps me on the same wavelength as my brother Richard the Celtic banjo-playing/guitarist.
I volunteer to answer phones for new and renewing members at the Fall and Spring Membership Drives, and as needed. Photo and transportation provided by Gordon Nash. (updated 9/15/2009)
Farwell to hearing on the radio Vin Scelsa whose free-form Idiot's Delight interpreted David Fricke's motto:
There are three essential Commandments:
Respect The Elders.
Embrace The New.
Encourage The Impractical and Improbable, Without Bias. (updated 5/3/2015)
Vin was, of course, the first DJ in NYC to play Russell Crowe's band TOFOG, particularly on Memorial Day, and he also interviews a lot of writers (and our monthly fiction group enjoys his book recommendations) and movie directors, as well as musicians. (revised 3/30/2006)
For a blues education catch "The Blues Hour" 3 - 4 pm ET weekdays on WBGO from Newark, NJ and the incredibly knowledgeable, cool-voiced Bob Porter, 7 am – 10 am ET in both his syndicated "Portraits in Blue" followed by his local new and classic R & B show. For a classic soul music education, stay tuned on Saturdays for Felix Hernandez. (Yeah, it's confusing that they call themselves "Jazz 88" when I only listen for their blues shows). Unfortunately they no longer carry Beale Street Caravan from Memphis, so their reduced blues hours have reduced my contribution to zero.(updated 9/15/2009)
For a world music education, Afropop Worldwide is both on radio (including back in NYC on WNYE-FM 91.5 for the hour 11 pm – midnight ET Monday through Saturday) and various online options.(updated 9/15/2009)
From outside of NYC, middays I listen to (particularly for Latin rock and electronica, among other obscurities) Morning Becomes Eclectic from public radio KCRW in Santa Monica, CA. Live guest performances are archived in more formats than I can understand. The weekend syndicated version "Conversations from the World Cafe" is just a very edited summary of World Cafe. Listen Fridays at noon ET at WXPN for the full guest concerts as "Free at Noon". I can't keep up with more of the live offerings on NPR music. To think you're at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival year-round there's WWOZ. (updated 9/15/2009)
For commercial sources of new interesting music, on radio there's Little Steven's Underground Garage, with a mix of classic, obscure and contemporary garage rock curated by my fellow Jerseyite E Street Band-er/Soprano Steven Van Zandt.
Lilith Watch: Jewish Women in Pop Music
Impact of 9/11 on NYC through Song
I listen to TV while I watch. Wende Crowley, the music supervisor of Cold Case: Whenever I approach a band for licensing, I tell them: TV is the new radio. (from The New York Times, 1/7/2005, by Jonah Weiner, in "'Cold Case,' Hot Tunes: Springsteen's Soundtrack".) I also buy music I hear on such TV shows as Grey's Anatomy or that I otherwise only watch as rating on My Hunk O' Meter. (So I was late finding out that the episode titles of One Tree Hill come from song titles - like the titular U2 song for Joshua Tree. And wasn't it cute when the "It was a teen-age wedding and the old folks wished them well" as told by the Chuck Berry story line almost fell apart when "Haley" sobbed as she filed her Wilco CD before "Nathan's" Wu Tang CD because she saw they had none of the same CDs so therefore they had nothing in common to keep their spur-of-the-moment marriage going?) I also treated Music on "The O.C." as radio. (When I went to see The Decembrists's Colin Meloy, at Town Hall 1/26/2006, not only did he look and act like "Seth Cohen" if he sang with a marvelous baritone and wrote literate and moving lyrics with startling images attached to catchy melodies that cross TMBG with Richard Thompson, but the whole audience was filled with young guys who looked like "Cohen"!) While watching The CW shows streaming online, music selections are identified next to each scene. (updated 9/15/2009)
For quality commercial country that's not Nashville Business As Usual: There was the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of country music TV Barely Famous - The Warren Brothers, who I first fell for them when I saw them on non-commercial Austin City Limits even if they spend so much time fooling around they don't get to much music -- as when they ruefully realize after the fact that in pitching a song for Friday Night Lights they should have first read the Buzz Bissinger book to get the tone right. At least they're getting royalties from their hit single for their friend Faith Hill as compensation. I also catch the Edge of Country videos on GAC, despite the insipid interviews. There is a country radio station worth listening to despite commercials KGSR from Austin. (updated 8/2/2006)
My inspiration for writing reviews was the musically passionate and erudite Timothy White, Editor-in-Chief of Billboard magazine who dropped dead in 2002. Not only did I buy virtually every diverse CD he recommended, I discovered that he was exactly my age and had grown up right near where I lived too. I hope he gets to hear plenty of new music he loves wherever he can hear it now. Too bad the magazine is nowhere as interesting without him. (updated 2/19/2006)
As I'm honor bound to recommend only albums (album meaning a collection of songs) that I've listened to all the way through twice (though there's a bias here to the albums that I can listen and re-listen to while working), here's my recommendations with more to come as I catch up with all that I buy (For musician background and discographies.):
My Best of 2009
BEST "SINGLES" or "album cuts" or maybe just call it BEST SONGS
"Ain't No Rest For the Wicked" - Cage The Elephant from their eponymous album.
"Wavin' Flag" - K'Naan from Troubadour.
"Taller Children" - Elizabeth & The Catapult from Taller Children.
"I And Love And You" title song from the album by the Avett Brothers, for the plaintive chorus of “Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in.” I saw them in concert Summer 2008 and they were great and their fans were adoring.
My Best of 2008
BEST "SINGLES" or "album cuts" or maybe just call it BEST SONGS
"Charlie Darwin" - Low Anthem from Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
"Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" - Beyoncé from I Am...Sasha Fierce. The chorus and that fierce clapping rhythm (which one of the credited writers Thaddis Kuk Harrell/Beyoncé Knowles/Terius "The-Dream" Nash/Christopher Stewart came up with that ear worm?) was just so much in the air this year that I didn't think of it more until the "Preggers" episode of Glee, written and directed by Brad Falchuk, led me to check out its irresistibly sexily danced VMA award-winning video, as directed by Jake Nava with Fosse-inspired choreography by Frank Gatson and JaQuel Knight, and edited by Jarrett Fijal.
My Best of 2007
BEST "SINGLES" or "album cuts" or maybe just call it BEST SONGS
"Tammany Hall" - Kill Henry Sugar from Swing Back and Down
My Best of 2006
The Animal Years - Josh Ritter - Has two of my favorite songs of the summer - "Girl in the War" and "Wolves", each featuring two of the recurring themes in the album, political commentary with a gentle sound belying bitter lyrics and animal metaphors (wolves (3X) as well as horses (3X), dove, dragon, albatross, pun on Katy-did, dogs, moths, cicadas - one of the two with no animal imagery is the weakest song, "In the Dark"). There's shot-outs to literature (Hamlet, Huck and Jim, images out of Cormac McCarthy books), movies (Tom Nix Westerns, Laurel & Hardy - usually referring to the Bush administration) and bows to Dylan ("Best for the Best" recalls "Tangled Up in Blue", "Thin Blue Flame", the most vengeful song, does the same with "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall"; "Lillian, Egypt" name checks "Lily of the West" and relationships in "Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts", which live he does as an audience sing-along chorus, when I saw him at South Street Seaport on August 11 with a very collegiate crowd that I was wondering where they heard his music to get so enthusiastic as they weren't WFUV listeners). Some also feels like a tribute to Springsteen's Nebraska, drawing on his own Western roots, with a lot of geographical references to his native Idaho moving south to Texas and east to Illinois, particularly "Good Man". The album concludes on its most optimistic note in "Here at the Right Time", as a damaged but wiser lover is hopeful, in Iowan Greg Brown-ish way. It's a mature, sweet song that isn't getting the radio play of the upbeat tunes with the regretful lyrics - and has no animals. (9/2/2006)
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions - Bruce Springsteen - Not only was I surprised when I first heard about this project, but then to learn in the liner notes that it was his contribution to the 1998 tribute album Where Have All The Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger that not only inspired it but had been his first exposure to Seeger's oeuvre, though clearly Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad had been influenced by compatriot Woody Guthrie, and he includes reinterpretations of those songs on the supporting tour (as well as last year's Devils and Dust which now can be seen to be related to his Seeger research). I've been singing Seeger and Weavers songs since 1962, when I started going to summer camps where Seeger would regularly perform (including where my sister's bunkmate Bonnie Raitt first learned the same songs). Then the song list was announced and I was even more surprised -- it is an esoteric tour through American and British Isles folk music and history from colonialism to the 20th century, from traditional to rooted from different parts of and groups in the country to authored to adapted for a cause to children's ditties, and ranges from the well-known to the more obscure, in what might not be the most effective track order. The liner notes include Dave Marsh's historical background research on each song, including carefully identifying authors and adapters. Just as first hearing the Rolling Stones led me to Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and the blues, I hope this leads fans to the original Seeger. From a Q & A with Leo Sacks, in Billboard, 7/1/2006 (fair use excerpts): "Seeger hopes the album will inspire other popular performers to explore the great American songbook. Of music with a message, he says: 'There aren't hundreds of songs—there are thousands. You don't have to reinvent them. Just sing them the best you can.' . . .
Q: Tell us about The Seeger Sessions. A: Three weeks before it came out, Bruce phoned me to say the project was being released. I was honored, but I would have suggested another title. I didn't pick the songs or craft the arrangements. [For a couple of songs] I only added lines— "Jacob's Ladder" and "We Shall Overcome." And, good heavens, I don't need the publicity.
Q: Springsteen says he's attracted to your work because it represents the scope of the American experience. A: Bruce once said, and I never forgot this, 'A rock singer can last as long as he can look down in the crowd and see his own face looking back.' I liked that.
Q: What about the songs he selected? Some critics wished for a more political slant, like "Bring Them Home," "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" or "King Henry." A: The one I wished for was "Walking Down Death Row." It's a wake-up call to the human race. It goes: "If we could learn to love each other's lives, we'd not be sitting here!/And if only this we could believe/We still might, we might still be reprieved."
Q: Did you see any of the shows on Springsteen's current tour? A: Had I found a disguise to wear, I would have.
Q: Springsteen put on a particularly powerful performance at the Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans this year. He restored an old verse to "The Saints": "Some say this world of trouble is the only world we'll ever see/But I'm waiting for that morning when the new world is revealed." A: I sang those words with the Weavers in 1950!'"
What may be the oldest song on the album is the bitter mother's anti-war lament "Mrs. McGrath", which seems to work better in concert with theatrical dramatics, from the bass drum recalling its Napoleonic Wars or Irish Rebellion origins and the lighting, than it does on record. Also surprisingly ineffective is the title song, but it's a carry-over from the original recording session. He misses an opportunity to emphasize that "Old Dan Tucker" is intended as a square dance call, but I may be the only one saddened that square dancing is no longer taught in schools as an American tradition (we learned the steps during winter months for gym class; kids nowadays maybe just learn the Virginia reel as part of a multi-cultural dance festival).
Most effective are the "Negro spirituals", "Oh Mary Don't You Weep" (which fits in with Bruce's frequent, increasingly mature invoking a "Mary" from "Thunder Road" to "The River" to "Meet Me At Mary's Place"), "Jacob's Ladder" and "Eye on the Prize"; the latter was adapted for the civil rights movement. But they each have contemporary political resonance, particularly with his unique re-arrangement with N'Orlins-style horn section that speaks to the post-Katrina spirit (Ed Manion- saxophone, Mark Pender-trumpet, Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg -trombone) and its historic centrality to American music that I don't recall Seeger emphasizing as much as Sonny Landredth and the Neville Brothers have (I do remember Seeger opining in the PBS History of Rock n' Roll that it comes out of the confluence of Appalachian and blues traditions).
There's the surprising selections from particular places and times in American history - "Erie Canal", "John Henry," "Pay Me My Money Down," "Jesse James" and "My Oklahoma Home" (the latter two not in their Guthrie iteration) that fit into Bruce's long-time themes of the working man not getting a break, recalling his frequently used line in his own songs of "having debts no honest man could pay." Recorded spontaneously over three days in the barn on his NJ farm (the DualDisc CD includes "Making of" documentation as did a CMT-broadcast special), his arrangements are enthusiastically fresh interpretations which must have been pre-thought out, with wonderful use of upfront banjo (Mark Clifford) and rock 'n' roll drums (Larry Eagle), and lots of Soozie Tyrell's fiddle, Patti Scialfia's old friend who was also part of The Rising tour concerts I saw and who brought in her friends for the band. (He lets each of the Seeger Sessions band members shine, particularly in concert, just as he does with the E Streeters.) Though Bruce doesn't have down Pete's genius of timing the calling out of line lyrics in advance to make it more a call and response with harmony than just a sing-along, they are great sing-alongs in the car (even The Grouch and The Younger joined in to and fro The Scion's graduation).
The album was just the revving up point. Not only are the concerts even livelier, with expanded use of that terrific horns section into more of the songs, as evidenced in AOL's 18 Nights of Bruce videos and on PBS's Great Performances, recorded for TV at a small venue in London, but he's added his updates of Seeger's anti-war "Bring 'Em Home" and the N'Orlins blues "How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?" at Springsteen's official site, the latter introduced at JazzFest (and Billboard is reporting: On the last three shows, a new song, "American Land," began appearing in the set list as the opener. Although details have yet to be announced, an expanded edition of We Shall Overcome subtitled "American Land," is due September 5 via Columbia. Springsteen told CNN last month that the new version would include "Bring 'Em Home," which was a constant during the tour's encore.") (I heard a bootleg of the Oslo concert and it was very odd to not hear cries of "Bruuuuuuuce!" and hear how he incorporates that European rhythmic clapping into the show, but nice to hear again that Seeger's songs appeal to the whole world.) (updated 7/13/2006)
The Bronx is Blue - Dion. Thanks to Bonnie Raitt for convincing Dion to make this album as well as a producer hearing his 9/1/2003 interview on NPR's Fresh Air. This is a marvelous tour into the roots of an artist. As good as this album is at showing the roots of doo wop (as street corner rock 'n' roll) in the blues, Dion as a storyteller is even better. Unfortunately, when World Cafe played its nationally syndicated version of his visit, it didn't play the full concert he did live at their studios at WXPN's Free At Noon Concerts that was a full hour of commentary and musical illustration, as he explained when he first heard each song he selected, or, frequently, met and played with the blues musicians themselves back in the day. Instead, they cut back and forth between the concert and an in-studio interview.(2/3/2006)
People Gonna Talk - James Hunter. He will inevitably be called the male Joss Stone - another white Brit channeling American soul singers. Rather than the raw Stax sound that the Irish band lionized in The Commitments, though, Hunter sounds like Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield, Gene Chandler, etc, such that specific tracks recall specific love songs, like "Cupid". The very formal, clean production by Liam Watson emphasizes the Memphis sound of the horns, as well as organ and piano on a couple of tracks. The saxes get full rein on a few tracks, to channel the King Curtis sound. While Hunter sounds like Van Morrison influenced his inflexions and timing as well, he wrote all the polite songs and plays a rockabilly lead guitar. If he weren't white and on indie label Rounder, he could give neo-soulster John Legend a run for his money. (2/26/2006)
Pay the Devil - Van Morrison. Another in his series of tribute albums to his musical roots (he's done Mose Allison's jazz, skiffle, traditional Celtic with the Chieftains, etc.), from Hank Williams to the Nashville Sound of producer Chet Atkins. (I have a promo copy with no credits or background so I'll have to look those up when I get a chance.) He revels in performing with the fiddles and steel guitar in particular, as chuckling in pleasure is left in a few times. While these are faithful covers, what makes them a unique tribute is his voice which is so much more emotive and rough than the originals. Instead of the bland country that originally crossed over to the pop charts by smoothing out hillbilly rough edges, though there are female back up singers on a few numbers, mostly Morrison rediscovers the emotion in the ballads and jukebox in the bar standards. He is a superb song stylist. I hope he performs these in front of cameras at the Ryman for posterity, like Neil Young did with Prairie Wind. (2/26/2006)
My Best of 2005
I Believe to My Soul - Ann Peebles, Billy Preston, Mavis Staples, Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint. Thanks to producer Joe Henry for providing the base for old schoolers to show 'em how to do it! Ranging from traditional gospel to covers (of Dylan to Curtis Mayfield) to original tunes by the creative founts themselves, this is soul music supreme. How delightful to hear this on rich sounding CD and not on my old crackly AM radio or 45's where I first fell in love with soul music. The "neo-soul" children don't hold a candle to these folks. The backing band is almost as good as the old Stax Hall of Famers, here including Doyle Bramhall II on guitar and superb drumming by Jay Bellerose. The backing West End Horns recall the classic sound of the Uptown Horns (arranged by Toussaint). Of course Preston and Toussaint on piano/organ, providing that extra warmth. I've seen most of these national treasures (humph, these are not oldie acts!) in person and it's so wonderful to hear them get to interpret new, hopeful work on record at the level the audience adores them in concert. (2/19/2006)
Hope and Desire - Susan Tedeschi. I've been a fan of hers for years from her previous albums, but my gosh she's an all grown up blues singer here! She sounds like she has truly absorbed Etta James, Mavis Staples, Rory Block, Mary Wells, Martha & the Vandellas (there's a Motown cover of Stevie Wonder by way of Ivory Joe Hunter in "Loving You Is Sweeter than Ever"), etc. into an updated, smoother 21st century mode while still retaining all the feel for the roots of the blues, soul music and R & B so a tip of the hat to producer Joe Henry, who has been busy reviving soul music with other artists this year too. She even finds the soul in Iris DeMent's "Sweet Forgiveness" and the gospel in a Dylan rarity "Lord Protect My Child". And of course Aretha Franklin who she covers with "Share Your Love With Me", an earthier take on Fontella Bass's "Soul of A Man," and an oldies sound to the Ray Charles cover "Tired of My Tears," though her take on Otis Redding's "Security" is a bit too smooth. I had completely forgotten the "You Got the Silver" track from the Rolling Stones's Let It Bleed that makes one remember Jagger and Richards's inspirations, and I hadn't realized that Richie Havens's crooning chestnut with the "I ain't nothing but a dream" chorus is called "Follow." It's nice to see young 'uns remembering Percy Mayfield too. That tug in her voice really gets the songs across, from tender ballads to belters. This may be the best blues album of the year. The backing band-- Southern rockin' blues guitar (her husband Derek Trucks on three tracks and Doyle Brahmhall III throughout), piano and that wonderful B3 organ sound, even gospel tambourine (accompanied by yeah, "the colored girls go. . ." several times and on one, a somewhat bland gospel track, the Blind Boys of Alabama) is her most sophisticated yet. She really shows Joss Stone how to do it! This is getting up and dancing and singing along in the car music. Sing it girl! About no good men, motherhood, and, of course, heart ache and love. This is the equivalent of air guitar music for the girls. Eat your heart out Eric Clapton! (10/31/2005)
Transistor Radio: Memories of A Utopian Radio Power - M Ward. I saw him at a crowded concert this summer at Castle Clinton filled with adoring college age fans and clearly I was late to the party in not knowing his earlier albums (Other folks have noticed him too; Howie Gelb and Vic Chestnutt help out on cuts here). This is a concept album meant to sound like it's programmed by a DJ inside your head who recalls all nighters goin' cross-country radio with the segues of early FM but recreates a kind of tinny mono hi fi sound, with instrumental interludes amongst the 16 tracks to create a completely original dreamy sounding album. It's simply lovely. "Hi-Fi" and "Fuel for Fire" are so beautiful and use musical metaphors amidst the reverb: "One Life Away" envisions bodies in the cemetery "listening to a sound of the living people breathing the air today/One of them is mine." "I've dug beneath the wall of sound" and comparing his love to a "Radio Campaign," even as he protests "I'm not your DJ on late night radio" in "I'll Be Yr Bird." But there's other poetic images too: "I have lonesome fuel for fire," "Come back my little peace (piece? There's no lyric sheet.) of mind." "Four Hours in Washington" is a terrific tossin' and turnin' insomnia bout. "Big Boat" breaks out into rockabilly mode, with a Jerry Lee Lewis piano percussion around the Jaws theme. Nice pickin' and organ on "Deep Dark Well" segueing into a sittin' around the mike and strumming take on "Oh Take Me Back." (10/2/2005)
Cost of Living - Delbert McClinton - A classic honky tonk album by a master. He co/or wrote all the tracks, a deft change-up of blues ("Your Memory, Me, and The Blues" should become a standard), cry-in-your-beer country about a divorce ("Kiss Her Once for Me") and cowboy hats-off to the "Two Step Too" ("They even do some James Brown/We can dance to the boogaloo/I like to listen to rock 'n' roll/ But honey I like a two step, too"), and a story song, that could've been done by Dave Alvin or Ramblin' Jack Elliott ("Down Into Mexico" with terrific flamenco-style guitar by co-producer Gary Nicholson). But noteworthy for the genre this is a gentleman's honky tonk -- he loves and respects women and even acknowledges the blame for them walkin' out or scheming against him. Even one of the sexiest, rockingest songs ("The Part I Like Best") acknowledges a woman's independence even though "She's at her best when she makes love to me." The pacing of the album of the whole is particularly entertaining, even though it trails off a bit at the end. (7/31/2005)
Get Behind Me Satan - The White Stripes - Yes, I'm late to their party (just in time for Jack White to turn rock star, what with marrying a model in the Amazon), but "My Doorbell" is my other Song of the Summer of 205, completely irresistible rock ditty; cute that its video debuted on Nick. "Little Ghost" shows they are still hearing the Carter family in their heads. It's not quite the blues album that Jack claimed it is on Charlie Rose but in the midst of rockin' out, the album gets moving with almost ballads that are quite poignant and lovely. (updated 11/3/2005)
Devils and Dust - Bruce Springsteen - (DualDisc DVD that I haven't watched yet, partly because the damn case was hard to open without breaking, nor have I watched the edited or full Storytellers version yet and these are very much stories) While not as spare as the characters from Nebraska, these grown-ups have lived through post-9/11's rockin' The Rising as they have gone cross country: "What if what you do to survive/kills the things you love". The credits don't say that's Bruce on the harmonica, but I presume it is. Bruce does wonderful experimentation with his voice, including falsetto, as he frankly takes on different characters, like Olde English first-person narrator ballads that focus more on emotional and psychological realism than narrative stories. This is his most Dylan-esque album in all the permutations that means. The love songs (with the sweet, nostalgic refrain about "taking you home") and social commentary, like the closing "Matamoros Banks" are both strikingly melodic and moving. Terrific proof that rock 'n' roll is not just for and about rebellious teen-agers who are born to run. (7/25/2005)
Okemah and the Melody of Riot - Son Volt (but it's really Jay Farrar and I would just about love him singing the phone book). It's a theme album that has something to do with the legacy of Woody Guthrie (that's his home town in the title), but basically That Voice just IS Americana. "Afterglow 61" is my Summer of 205 song for dancing around the kitchen, and when I saw them perform it live July 14 at South Street Seaport. It's full of populist images -- of Bob Dylan's electrified Highway 61, the Civil War, prison and coal miners in the lyrics: "There's no reason to be downhearted/There's music in the wheels there to be found." He sounds like Carl Sandburg (or even our family) as he sings about America today with its "robber baron ghettoes," "laborer's toil," "wants to raise a Harvard son," "thinking about lead," "living on medication" (to the tune of a sitar-sounding slide dulcimer), "rock 'n' roll around my head like a 6-string belief," but the repeating conclusion of "the world waits for you" somehow fades into pessimism. Best Buy offered a version of the DualDisc DVD with an additional bonus DVD that I haven't watched yet. (7/25/2005)
Amos Lee While I got a preview copy late in 2004 without lyrics, that aren't on his web site either, this will have to be the most romantic album of the year. It's so luxurious these days to hear a man who "is at ease in the arms of a woman" and feels that "Nothing could be more powerful than beauty in a wicked world." Sigh. "Black River" is one of maybe two songs not about love, but is also sung achingly.(3/20/2005)
Who Killed the Zutons? - The Zutons - Yeah, it's fun that the album opens up with an eponymous theme song a la Bo Diddley ("Got the Zuton Fever in My Head"). The rollicking Clash-like songs (such as "Pressure Point," "You Will You Won't You Do You Don't", "Moons and Horror Shows", "Don't Ever Think (Too Much)") have irresistibly rock 'n' roll beats, but the album as a whole is fun, though the Beatles-light romance efforts are too 1960's British invasion. I saw them do two tracks live at a taping of Last Call with Carson Daly and the Young People responded, especially to the leggy back-up women in the band as well as the call and response choruses, but were befuddled as they hadn't heard them on commercial radio. I'm not sure why they're not being taken up as the next Brit Thing like Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, Bloc Party, Karabian, etc. There are several singles out with extra tracks.(4/10/2005)
Grant Street - Sonny Landredth. Okay, I'm biased because one of my obsessions is buying every CD that Landredth plays guitar on, which is impossible to complete. But this live concert is as satisfying as that incredible slide guitar of his, which affects me like certain on air emergency warnings affect females in the TV series Alien Nation. "Broken Hearted Road" is simply the sexiest, most sensual song of the year! This is not a greatest hits package but a smoking, sweaty trip through the bayous, with lots of guitar bridges -- whew! Fan yourselves when dancing to every track! I saw him live down at South Street Seaport last summer and he must have been discombobulated due to traffic security delays, as this concert is much better than what I heard. (4/10/2005)
Badlands - Marty Stuart. Part 1 of his Americana trilogy concept albums, this one is the history of the tortured relationship between Native Americans and the U.S. Government. The stories of the Plains Indians range from Custer to the 20th century wounded Knee confrontations to Clinton and casinos. Writing all the songs, except for a cover of Johnny Cash's "Big Foot" (Cash's son produced the album), these are mostly in the pedal steel country mode in a bit too similar vein track to track, with some integration of native chants and instrumentation. The tragedy of treaties and alcoholism, and most of all, broken promises, beautifully haunts the album. (2/20/2006)
Shine - Trey Anastasio. Minus Phish, he shows he's not just a jam bander, but a pop and rock meister (steadily backed by drummer par excellence Kenny Aronoff), and wrote the lyrics for all, with marvelous images, and guitar doing call and response. All are good tunes, with the title track the catchiest, followed closely by "Tuesday". The final "Love that Breaks All Lines" is the closest to a ballad on the album, in somewhat acoustic, and lovely romantic mood. (2/19/2006)
Black Coffee - Al Kooper. A bracing revival of old-fashioned blue-eyed soul. A legend shows how the intersection of blues and pop used to bring us to the church of soul and lonely avenue. He demonstrates that the tradition ain't dead yet of Dan Penn (a dry-witted co-writer here on "Going, Going Gone") I found out with a little online research as I got a version with no credits), Van Morrison and Boz Scaggs. With an eclectic mix of song sources and influences ("Got My Ion Hue" recalls a Sly and the Family Stone lyric mashing of words; "Just For A Thrill" channels Dr. John), covers (the Temptations' "Get Ready"; Keb Mo's "Am I Wrong"), and revivals ("Green Onions"), both studio and live -- including a smokin' almost 10 minutes of "Comin' Back for A Cadillac" with active audience participation. It feels so good to hear horns and organ along with guitar and mandolin -- all played mostly by Kooper -- just like the Stax old days, which was a bright shining light of integrated musical influences. (10/12/2005)
Sweet Somewhere Sound - Jackie Greene. In the tradition of Robert Earl Keen, so I'm not sure how he landed a major label deal, let alone why Verve says to file it under pop vocals. Maybe it's the Paul Simon influences. It has the requisite country songs about death, prison, cheating, Jesus, family and growing older, but these are more cynical character studies than story songs, though the lyrics are not with the CD. I was first attracted by the sly "Honey, I Been Thinking About You," which manages to be romantic with a broad grin -- kinda reminds me of the Dennis Quaid character in The Big Easy. He has a very appealing voice. He co-produced, though as "Alice on the Rooftop" has too much behind it, I'm curious to hear his earlier, and presumably lower budget CDs. The concluding "Don't Mind Me, I'm Only Dying Slowly" is a beautiful, moving eight-minute, Dylanesque opus to a failed relationship, with lovely cello accompaniment by Krystina Ogella that concludes meltingly: "I met a gambler who did nothing but lose all day/He had love in his hands but he let her slip away/And all he ever wanted was to give her a win/But all she ever really wanted was him." (7/23/2005)
The Duhks is eerily like last year's debut album by Ollabelle (who I saw at South Street Seaport this summer previewing their new album), which I neglected to put on my Best of list, though in addition to a love of spirituals and folk songs, this band also incorporates Celtic (with Paul Brady dueting on one tune) and more Appalachian touches to songs by Leonard Cohen and Sting (in his reggae mode). The CD booklet is very thorough at documenting how they learned about each song, what they love about it, including all the lyrics, and how they've interpreted it. So I'm not sure why their video is getting played on CMT and GAC, maybe because the CD was produced by Bela Fleck. For someone who experienced the original folk revival of early Joan Baez (the album includes another cover of "Wagoner's Lad," a song I played to death on her LP), Judy Collins, etc. this seems like déjà vu, but I welcome Young People reviving the genre. (4/17/2005) (added to 7/29/2005)
"The Hots For The Smarts" - Richard Thompson - a novelty song that he hasn't recorded but sings for fun live. I saw him perform it charmingly at the World Financial Center 6/28/2005.
"Sex and Gasoline" - Rodney Crowell, as performed 7/22/2005 at South St. Seaport with his band The Outsiders, with smokin' guitar work by Will Kimbrough and Jedd Hughes. He said he's not quite finished writing this feisty anti-bulimia attack on media body image, but it fit in with the political cast of his new songs from The Outsider". The opening track "Say You Love Me," is also great live. The concert and the album include different Dylan covers; in person he did a sing-a-long "Like A Rolling Stone" while the album has a lovely duet with Emmy Lou Harris on "Shelter From the Storm." (8/27/2005)
"Youngest Child" - Spottiswoode & His Enemies – silly novelty song from Building A Road but I have friends who swear by birth order analysis and this poking fun at that just cracks me up. And reminds me of a certain little brother.
"Looking at the World From the Bottom of a Well" - Mike Doughty - from Haughty Melodic - yet another reason I'm doing a lot of dancing around the kitchen this summer!
"Dillingham Lane" - Charlie Sexton - from Cruel and Gentle Things - His voice is very sensual throughout the album, but he's particularly magnetic on this nostalgic track. (12/19/2005)
"Who Stole My Radio?" - Shemekia Copeland - from The Soul Truth - Just haven't had a chance yet to listen to the whole album, but I sure remember seeing her dad at one of his last public performances, when he got tired on his heart machine and she jumped up on the stage at the World Financial Center and belted a couple of numbers in one her first public performances!
My Best of 2004
Van Lear Rose - Loretta Lynn - Brilliantly produced and backed up by Jack White of the White Stripes. I'm not sure why this lyric, as dueted with White, gets to me but it's one of the best of the year: "Well Portland Oregon and sloe gin fizz/If that ain't love then tell me what is." It's probably White's guitar as well as Lynn's vocals that make that stand out, but it's just the shiniest jewel in a terrific variety of feeling, that shows Lynn's range, as well as the range of country, country-rock and all its permutations and styles. (10/29/2004) The video also has an older woman/younger man vibe that's appealing. (1/25/2005)
Trouble - Ray LaMontagne - (You have to go to his Web site for the lyrics, which is inconvenient, especially as the titles are hidden in the lyrics, though it's the poignant choruses that really stand out.) Most romantic album of the year! From the title song through "Hannah" with its declaration of "I'll lay down this bottle of wine if you just be kind to me" through "How Come" that has a riff that reminds me of old '60's R & B songs or the Allman Brothers, through to the end. Some are just personal declarations, like "I've been saved by a woman" (which recalls Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come") to beautiful vignettes of lovers, including another "Jolene." Sigh - expect to hear more cuts on WB shows! (10/29/2004) I saw him do the title track live at a taping of Last Call with Carson Daly, attracting devoted fans from as far south as Philly, curious to see him as there's no shots of him in the CD booklet. He was really sweet and shy and appealing. (4/17/2005) (Will the American Idol contestant who surprisingly sang the title song win? Of course, the judges had never heard of the song! 4/3/2006)
Set List - The Frames - I came across this CD by accident while looking for an album by Roddy Frame and saw a stickered rave review from The Sydney Morning Herald, one of my fave online reads. So I was intrigued to go see them for free at sunset at the South Street Seaport, surrounded by devoted, Happy Hour fans from their home of Ireland. Both the band and their fans were delightful, whether singing about obsessives like "Fitzcarraldo" or desperate wishes to change one's life. Improbable snippets of other songs are joyously inserted, from Van Morrison to Johnny Cash, and they are syncretized wonderfully. Recorded live in Dublin November 2002, this album is still a terrific souvenir of their performances. (7/6/2004)
Convict Pool - Calexico - Only a six-song EP, but every song is a gem! The band's name shows their influences: California and Tex Mex, like a cousin of Los Lobos, though the tracks were recorded in Arizona and Nashville. Ideal for singing and dancing along. Especially mesmerizing are the opening track "Alone Again Or", accompanied by Nicolai Dunger and his band, the rocking "Corona" and the closing track "Sirena" -- love those Latin drums and horns! (4/20/2004)
Test Pattern - Sonia Dada -- Full of delightful variety, from world sounds to soul to jazz to funk to blues to gospel, ballads to danceable numbers. Lots of references to their sweet home Chicago. There's a special edition version with a DVD, as well as online bonus CD features that I couldn't quite get to work. (12/11/2004)
American Idiot - Green Day -- A punk rock opera in the great tradition of the Who's Tommy. The best tracks are wonderful and startling for a contemporary band in how original they sound yet they draw on rock heritage. The opening tracks hit me like the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun" opening of My So-Called Life when "Angela" is doing her freedom dance around her bedroom. The songs recall the Who soundtracks to the various CSIs and Springsteen's "It's Hard to Be A Saint in the City" as it explores alienated teenagers trying to escape to the city. "St. Jimmy" draws on Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" and the Kinks' "A Well-Respected Man" -- but at a super-pogoing speed. "She's A Rebel" intentionally refers to both the Gene Pitney-penned/Phil Spector-produced Crystals' classic "He's A Rebel" and the Ramones' "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker." "Letterbomb" ironically echoes Pete Seeger's "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" to capture how different a post-9/11 world is from the '60's. The balladistic "Wake Me Up When September Ends" feels like Joni Mitchell's "Urge for Going" and the Mamas and the Papas' "Monday Monday" with the added post-9/11 poignancy that "the innocent can never last." A character's "Rock and Roll Girlfriend" seems like a sister to Bruce's "Rosalita" even as it pessimistically disdains music as a holy grail for the teenage wasteland. Heading toward conclusion, "We're Coming Home Again" has Hal Blaines-riffs in its march anthem, complete with timpani just like in the old Wrecking Crew on Pitney's "I'm Gonna Be Strong." The closing "Whatsername" sounds very Joe Jacksonesque as in "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" as it too conflates personal demons with world crises. The personal is political in this brilliant proof that Rock Lives. For a crone like me -- the sales clerk at Circuit City where I bought it on sale for my limit of $8.99 warned me about the parental warning due to lyrical content and she was skeptical that the CD was for me-- it's a great album to iron clothes to, F-words and all. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" is rightfully turning up on the soundtracks of a lot of TV shows. I was turned on to this album by Neil Litt).(12/22/2004/ updated 1/16/2005)
Hopes and Fears - Keane - is a lovely Brit pop song cycle of 20somethings' feelings as they go out into the world, very much like the TV series This Life that BBC America is repeating on Sunday nights. I hope they don't repeat the fates of the one-hit wonders A-Ha and Modern English even as they pick up the same sound mantle from Coldplay and Oasis. There are explicit Beatles' and Beach Boys' references -- "Sunshine" recalls "Follow The Sun" and the penultimate track "Untitled 1" Pro Tools-samples a "Good Vibrations"-era Theremin. The songs move from optimism about romance and yearning and move to loss and maturity, albeit loneliness again, as they move from the lover in "Bend and Break" looking forward to "Meet in the morning when you wake up" to "Your Eyes Open" when "Morning comes/And you don't want to know me anymore," and brushes off advances in "Can't Stop Now" because "I've got troubles of my own," to the conclusion in "Bedshaped" of "But what do I know". Reminds me of the Byrds' doing Dylan's "My Back Pages" - ah I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now. (12/22/2004)
Hot Fuss - Killers comes out of the Brit pop music tradition with sprightly songs about broken romance and the music business, with echoes of Oasis and Coldplay, but resonates with rock and gospel as well. "All These Things That I've Done," one of three five-minute plus tracks, has a wonderful closing chorus of "I've got soul/but I'm not a soldier" with the Sweet Inspirations. (The lyrics are not included in the CD booklet or at their uninteresting Web site.) "Mr. Brightside" is a sexy plaintive lament of a screwed-up relationship that has deteriorated into jealousy - "choking on your alibis." "Somebody Told Me" has a classic rock feel, with great drum work, as the lead singer sizes up a woman in the audience to hook up with that night. (1/4/2005)
Bastards of the Beat - The Damnwells pays attention to the neglected art of a pacing an album. The album starts out rockin', slows down to romantic pop, rocks out, then romantically fades away. The lead singer has a wonderfully passionate voice that makes this album very Ryan Adams-esque. "Kiss Catastrophe" uses a riff from the Beatles' "Eight Days A Week" to good effect. "I'll Be Around" is a gorgeously romantic, a mood that climaxes two tracks later with "I Will Keep Bad Things From You" with one of my favorite lyrics of the year: "Catch it while you can/It's the feelgood hit of the summer" which the other tracks could be. "Sleepsinging" is a wonderful first love brokenhearted song: "Someday you're gonna wish you took better care of me." The guitars come rockin' back in "The Sound," complete with an old-fashioned instrumental bridge that one only hears on classic rock radio these days, as "New Delhi" bangs away on the drums. "Electric Harmony" captures the feeling of a kiss. The album starts slowing down again at "Star/Food" with its sad refrain of "I'm coming back to yow." The concluding "Texas" is a Dylanesque love song with a long fade. While the CD booklet has lyrics and there's lots of thanks to folks, there's not a lot of information about instrumentation. (1/5/2005)
Not Going Anywhere - Keren Ann (Zeidel) Her whispery voice is magical and seductive and her self-produced English debut is sophisticatedly mood-setting, with a wide variety of instruments and environmental sounds, from the guitars on "Road Bin" to the ocean and ukulele in "Sit in the Sun." My favorite song is the Kurt Weill-ish sounding "Sailor and Widow" which has a "Pirate Jenny" feel. She's like an intellectual, introspective Sarah McLaughlin or a lovely Marianne Faithfull. A pop chanteuse, to refer to her French roots, by way of Israel. "Polly" seems to be making ironic reference to Janis Ian's "Seventeen". The closing track "Ending Song" appropriately trails off with a repetition of "follow me", but my copy of the CD didn't have her obliquely mysterious lyrics, nor did her Web site but they are here .(1/25/2005)
Sisters and Brothers - Eric Bibb, Rory Block, and Maria Muldaur shine on both originals ("Bessie's Advice") and covers of gospel-tinged blues (from Jimmy Reed to Bob Dylan and Bill Withers) that makes for hand-clappin' wonderful soul music - sing it sisters and brothers! (3/28/2004)
Thin Place - Randall Bramblett - One of his lines describes this album - he's like "a strand of pearls by the side of the road." The first track is catchy and the album really builds. My favorite is the hopeless romanticism of "You Can Be The Rain." The quiet acoustic track "Confident Thieves" moves right into the rockin' "Are You Satisfied" with his excellent backing band. There's more than a little Beatles circa Sgt. Pepper here and there. (4/14/2004)
Drag It Up - Old 97's - There's a few terrific songs, particularly the very catchy "The New Kid", "Won't Be Home," which recalls classic Jackson Browne and Allman Brothers, and the ironic "Bloomington", but overall is mostly hummably pleasant. (12/11/2004)
West Indian Girl - Only a certain sameness from song to song keeps this from my best of list, but the overall atmosphere is entrancing. They are like a new Beach Boys for a new California sound, that's a cross between the Brit Thrills and the Midwest Wilco. This duo's sounds wash over you like the ocean in the CD booklet, especially the tracks "Hollywood" and "What Are You Afraid Of?". "Still Lost" should be the theme song for the TV series Lost.(11/28/2004)
Forget What You Know - Midtown. I got this CD because the lead singer/guitarist/songwriter is a son of a friend. Surprise - it's good! Despite Sony's cliché marketing of this album as if it's pop, including placing a track on the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack, it's actually post-9/11 spiritual emo rock (as befits a graduate of a Solomon Schecter school). Especially good are the tracks that can't be played on the radio due to their length or profanity, particularly "Empty Like the Ocean", "Waiting for the News," and "So Long as We Keep Our Bodies Numb We're Safe."(10/29/2004)
Have A Little Faith - Mavis Staples - I saw her in concert this summer and she comes across even stronger in person, as a somewhat mechanical production on the album gets in the way of her Old School Gospel Soul. The new songs are a bit schmaltzier than the peace/love/freedom glory days of the Staples Singers, who virtually invented the crossover of gospel into the secular arena, but they are irresistibly hummable and optimistic, something we sure need in these times. (10/29/2004)
Van Hunt I do appreciate the effort of neo-soul and I'm glad that there's still gospel-like voices like Hunt's out there that have the potential. But there's too much sameness on this debut CD. The variety in his writing doesn't even start to appear until the second half of the album, and then it's still done in by his own production, with its tendency for mechanical arrangement. Maybe if he had been signed to Arista instead of Capitol, a set of great ears could have helped him realize his potential as an Al Green heir. (3/28/2004)
Land of Milk and Honey - Eliza Gilkyson - Shades of Lucinda Williams for Southern Gothic, with a more political bent. What raises this above the usual folkie protests is how she uses traditional macho rock imagery to make a woman's statement, such as references to "dark side of town" (like Springsteen) and "midnight rider" (like the Allman Brothers) and driving down highways. These are powerful anti-war songs, including "Tender Mercies" from the viewpoint of a suicide bomber -- a woman terrorist. She is sexy on songs like "Wonderland" and "Separate" but emphatically rejects Ophelia imagery. "The Ballad of Yvonne Johnson" draws on the traditional Appalachian song style, this time focusing on the violence of abuse. Back-up male vocalists on various tracks include Slaid Cleves, Jon Dee Graham and Stephen Bruton. (1/4/2005)
Sanctuary - Charlie Musselwhite - These all-star duets are a bit of a disappointment, as word-of-mouth was that this would be a Santana-like break-through. But other than a few good tracks, the tone is too similar throughout, a downbeat mournfulness with no catharsis, and there's even Musselwhite's signature harmonica is infrequent and on a one-note of infinite sadness, though there's the instrumental "Alicia" and echoes in the title song. In addition to a catchy opening of Ben Harper's "Homeless Child," the best tracks are "Shootin' for the Moon," a Sonny Landredth tune; "The Neighborhood," a Charlie Sexton tune; and, "I Had Trouble," with Blind Boys of Alabama on back-up. (4/19/2004)
BEST "SINGLES" or "album cuts" or maybe just call it BEST SONGS
"Valentine" - Bobby Bare Jr.'s Young Criminals Starvation League does great almost satires of traditional country songs on From The End of Your Leash, here of an Appalachian murder confession, and of a broken heart ballad in "Borrow Your Girl" (as in "Hey brother could I borrow your girlfriend tonight/Mine busted my cheatin' heart in a collision last night and yours looks pretty cool tonight. . . and I promise not to ask her to stay" -- though he may in fact be singing about their cars rather than their women about which they probably care for more) and of seeking being Rich and Famous in "Visit Me In Music City" ("I was born at the Ryman Auditorium/During the Martha White portion of the Grand Ole Opry/Roy Acuff cut off my umbilical/Then tied me off with his yo yo string/It was easy growing up for me in Nashville" which is almost true) You have to go to his Web site - for an incomplete selection of the lyrics, which is annoying, but then you can't hear the mournful steel guitar and the non-conventional country participation of such as Kami Lyle's trumpet, Andrew Bird's weird instrumentation and Will Oldham that are very much part of the songs' atmosphere. (11/29/2004)
"Oxygen" - Willie Mason (12/11/2004)
"Just a Kid" - Wilco, from the soundtrack to SpongeBob SquarePants Movie that I haven't seen. (12/22/2004)
"Leaving New York" - REM from Around the Sun --but I'm a sucker for NYC songs, let alone those that reference post-9/11 in a non-corny fashion.
"The Ballad of the Kingsmen" - Todd Snider - on East Nashville Skyline. A musical version of the tale told by Dave Marsh in Louie Louie: The History & Mythology of the World's Most Famous Rock 'n Roll Song; Including the Full Details of Its Torture and Persecution at the Hands of the Kingsmen, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, & A Cast of Millions; & Introducing for the First Time Anywhere, the Actual Dirty Lyrics. (1/16/2005)
"Worry Too Much" - Buddy Miller - on Universal United House of Prayer - The Jewish mother's anthem!
"Red-Necked Woman" - Gretchen Wilson - on Here for the Party - I had to catch myself in singing along to the video when I realized it was pretty foolish for me to claim to be one, especially as I don't even particularly like Charlie Daniels or Hank Williams II (I'm more of a Hank Williams the First kinda gal) but I've always liked Tanya Tucker. Heck Ich Bein Red-Necked Woman! (1/16/2005)
"Holy Water" - Big and Rich - on Horse of a Different Color - I just wish they'd follow the video with a PSA or something for RAINN, to admit that the song is about the after effects of rape, or at least abuse, as their "Muzik Mafia" claims to be the new Outlaw Nashville-ites. (1/16/2005)
My Best of 2003
eastmountainsouth Just as The Thorns are channeling CSNY, ems recalls the melodic harmonies of early Simon and Garfunkel, though this is a male/female duo and the only politics are of the heart. Strongest cuts are the mesmerizing "You Dance" (evidently the label has released some dance re-mixes of this) and, like S & G, a new take on a traditional song, Stephen Foster's "Hard Times" (I recommend Ken Emerson's Doo Dah!: Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture for a whole chapter on this song), as well as romantic longing made tradition-sounding with mandola, fiddle, steel guitar, and bouzouki (as produced by Robbie Robertson and Mitchell Froom), like "Show Me the River" and "On Your Way," as well as sweet story songs with nature and angel images.(9/3/2003)
O - Damien Rice gets my vote for the most romantic album of the year. "The Blower's Daughter" is a weak-in-the-knees-er with its refrain of "I can't take my eyes off of you" (which seems to be a theme this year, repeated by the North Mississippi AllStars). I'm sorry about whatever break-up in his life led to "Cannonball" with its painful watching of his love with another guy in the repetition of "I don't want to loose her." Those lush violins are enveloping in "Amie," ("come sit on my wall/tell me stories of old"), let alone in "Eskimo," though I have no idea what "looking to my Eskimo friends when I'm down" means. The regret in "Cheers, Darlin'" is palpable - "I should have kissed you when we were running in the rain." Such passion in "I Remember." Hang on for quite awhile for several hidden tracks. So I was totally unprepared in seeing him live to find he attracted lots of rowdy Irish folks, where he's a best-seller, and in playing to the crowd the songs became much more profanity-filled and sarcastic, instead of sweet; the crowd favorite was "Volcano." It became much more like male revenge, which was entertaining, but quite a different mood. His "Live from Union Chapel", released as a BMG Music Club freebie later in the year, is minus the profanities and it vividly captures the melodic vocal interplay between him and Lisa Hannigan, especially on "Be My Husband," "Baby Sister," and that exquisite "Amie."(updated 11/21/2003)
Let's Roll - Etta James just gets better with age! Grittier voiced, she's a rock 'n' roll singer now. Backed by her own Roots Band, with down-home guitar, harmonica, and back-up singing, this is her testament of her philosophy of the blues. She chose wonderful songs from such writers as Delbert McClinton and Al Andersen ("A Change is Gonna Do Me Good"). "Somebody to Love" is an earthy advice throw-down on sharing --"love ain't no good until you give it away" -- and you have to dance to it! "The Blues is My Business/and business is very good" is sung with forthright pride (and was used to close the "Sentimental Education" episode 58 of The Sopranos. In "Strongest Weakness" we hear that one is never too old to be in love. "Wayward Saints of Memphis" brings to life the intersection of Gospel and Blues that is the very essence of the classic soul that we all thought had died. And "On the 7th Day," of course, "God made the blues." She ain't never gonna rest! (supplemented 4/14/2004)
Rainy Day Music - Jayhawks. Instant classic songs that have you singing along as if you've always known them, from the first "Stumbling Through the Dark." "Come to the River" is begging to be the lead track of wonderful segues, like to Al Green/Talking Heads' "Down to the River." "Save It For A Rainy Day" is a primo exemplar of Gram Parsons-like country rock. The bonus CD has wonderful alternate and live takes, especially of "All the Right Reasons." For an interview with live versions of several album tracks (revised 8/14/2003)
The Fine Art of Self Destruction - Jesse Malin - I was biased in its favor anyway as Ryan Adams is the producer, there's NYC references throughout (with both acoustic and band versions of "Brooklyn. Despite his mumbling tendencies, this is really passionate stuff that ranges from rockers to singer/songwriter laments and heartfelt ballads (like "Xmas" that repeats that classic Joni holiday regret: "I made my baby cry."). (1/24/2003)
The Live One - Dave Hole - This combines my passions for all things Australian and the blues. Recorded live in Perth and Chicago, this is one gritty, rockin' album. I'm no air guitarist but his cover of "Purple Haze" had me going, even in the office. I'm quite sure the closing "Bullfrog Blues" is really a David Bromberg cover, one of my favorites of his.(4/20/2003)
The Art of Losing - American Hi-Fi - Such depressing lyrics quickly and loudly sung as you dance around the living room (or while cleaning the house if you are a middle-aged responsible wife and mother of young adults). Very much Ramones-influenced.(4/20/2003)
Hello Starling - Josh Ritter - While this is mostly a conventional singer/songwriter album, there's some very catchy songs and Key To Love arrangements. "Kathleen" is the fervent wish-fulfillment of a nerd who finally has a chance in his car with the girl of his dreams. "Snow Is Gone" has the repeating titular line celebrating spring and should be segued from Ryan Adams's "New York, New York" as it opens with almost the same riff and also explores the life of a musician and his lady love: "Have mercy on the man who sings to be adored. . .I'm not sure I'm singing for the love of it or the love of you." There's nice touches of accordion and Hammond organ, especially on the closing "Bad Actress" with its Cajun flare.(9/17/2003)
Regret Over the Wires - Matthew Ryan - Another romantic depressive with a captivatingly sexy voice whose danceable rhythms (such as on "I Can't Steal You") belie the really morose lyrics. I predict that the opening track "Return to Me" will be on a lot of apology mix CDs (I still make mix tapes, but I'm old-fashioned) with its refrain of "I'm sorry. . ." "Coming Home" is a perfect, three-minute desperate plea to an ex over a strong backbeat: "I don't want to live alone. . . Are you still mine?. . . I won't ask where you been. . . " even while he admits to his addictions that drove her away-- his expertise at "drinkin' all night/and pickin' a fight," culminating in the anguished titular chorus. With the recent suicide of the similar-voiced and themed Elliot Smith, I hope Ryan is okay!(10/24/2003
My Baby Don't Tolerate - Lyle Lovett. This is his strongest album of original material since Joshua Judges Ruth, combining his characteristic sly cynicism about romance (like in the title song and the fantasy of "In My Own Mind") with the geographic roots that he explored in his Texas songwriters' tribute album, complete with fiddling on "Wallisville Road" and "San Antonio Girl"). The rousing gospel closers ("I'm Going to Wait" and "I'm Going to the Place") show off his fun combination of secular and religious that we last heard with the Large Band -- though neither rises to his classic "Church." In general, he sounds like he's having relaxed fun these days.(12/12/2003)
Welcome Interstate Managers - Fountains of Wayne. I've been a fan of FOW for years (well, a Grammy nom for "Best New Artist" could mean their break-out year), first just for the name, taken from a highway statue shop near where I grew up in NJ that we were always getting the wrong number for (our downstairs phone was one digit different). Second, is for their catchy pop tunes. This time their musical references are more encyclopedic and the New York area references (from "Hackensack" to "crossing the water over the Tappen Zee" to memories of snow storms on the Upper West Side in "Valley Winter Song") more varied -- and they are bewildered in "No Better Place" that anyone would want to leave NY. This time the Beatles resonance is later, more circa Magical Mystery Tour in "Supercollider". "Hey Julie" is channeling the oldie "Just Like Romeo and Juliet", "Hung Up On You" sounds just like Dwight Yoakem's Bakersfield Sound, "Hackensack" reminds me of the J. Geils Band video classic "My Angel is a Centerfold," but a lot more poignant. While most of the attention has been on "Stacy's Mom," I got a kick out of the rockin' "Little Red Light" with its fuzz guitars and "Bright Future in Sales" which is clearly meant to be a car-ride sing-along with "I've got my shit together and I got a new computer and a . . ").(12/18/2003)
The Beauty of the Road - Dar Williams - There's a bit too much similarity with some of Dar's previous albums to make this really outstanding, but such catchy, lovely songs, such as "The World's Not Falling Apart" ("because of me" -- how nice to be reassured these days!) and "I Saw A Bird Fly Away." Several cuts have nice background singing and instrumental partners, like Cliff Eberhardt, John Popper and Alison Krauss. (2/14/2003)
The Thorns - so what if they sound just like CSNY? (8/9/2003)
A Magnificent Man - The Floating Men - Mostly I just adore lead singer/songwriter Jeff Holmes's voice, which sounds a lot like Dylan circa "Lay Lady Lay" and like Ron Sexsmith, especially in "Abandoned Mansions." But he's not just plaintive, as in "No Ordinary Man," but really rocks in front of boogie woogie piano in "Bathtub Gin" and sounds like Traffic's "Hey Mr. Fantasy" in "Vanishing Man." "Cheap Rags" has a cool drum beat to dance to. (12/15/2003)
BEST "SINGLES" or "album cuts" or maybe just call it BEST SONGS
"Science of Silence" - Richard Ashcroft from Human Condition Haven't had a chance to hear the whole album yet, but this song recalls the lush, heartbreak pop of the Wall of Sound. (2/12/2003)
"Undeniably Human" - Phil Roy from the CD Issues + Options - It has a complicated provenance that I don't quite get, but this partnership with Euphoria is just undeniably catchy! This was originally on my Best of 202, but the album was re-issued for 2003, and combined with some great songs from his earlier also self-released grouchyfriendly so it's almost from a "Best of". (updated 5/14/2003)
"The Final Push to the Sum" - Grandaddy -- on an album (Sum) full of somewhat similar sounding dreamy, cynical songs, this finale is a lovely yet very sad culmination of regret, with resonance for us old folks as it fades away repeating "If my old life is done/Then, what have I become?" (2/5/2004)
"Calling All Angels" - Train - the old-fashioned, sweetly catchiest of the pleasant pop songs on My Private Nation such that the socially conscious lyrics help alleviate the guilty pleasure-nests of humming along. (2/5/2005)
"Oh What A World" - Rufus Wainwright's arch insistence on being a fin de siècle dandy keeps Want One as a whole from being as good as it could -- every song is about seeking to get picked up in a bar by a cute guy (especially "Vibrate") -- all flirtation and infatuation. It's like spending a solid hour with Samantha of Sex and the City without any rational leavening by Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte -- though he thinks he's being Bette Davis, according to his online commentary linked to the CD. Here the repetitive sampling of Ravel's "Bolero" is irresistibly, dreamily catchy as opposed to the pretentious referencing of operas throughout the album.(2/5/2004)
BEST "COVER" Versions
"Air That I Breathe" - from Mavericks Dafka it's wonderful enough that this country-rock-Latin band re-united, but then they also give us this no-holds-barred version of the Lee Hazelwood/Hollies classic. Whew, weak-in-the-knees romantic: "All I need is the air that I breathe/And to love you." And at their concert at NY's Bowery Ballroom concert broadcast on WFUV (so may be in their radio archives) they didn't even save it for the closer.(10/2/2003)
"Threw It Away" from L'Avventura - Britta Phillips & Dean Warham - A delightful throwback to the Serge Gainsburg sound, but it's the covers that are strongest songs on the album, this one originally by Angel Corpus Christi. Other surprising covers of Buffy St. Marie, Madonna, and Jim Morrison. Warham's original "Knives from Bavaria" as sung by Britta is cool Bardot channeling. (12/12/2003)
Tribute Albums as a sub-category of "Covers":
Key To Love - Debbie Davies does a literal and figurative tribute to another white blues guitarist John Mayall, from deliciously covering his classics (like "Room to Move," "Chicago Line," and "Dreaming the Blues" ) to infusing his spirit into contemporary issues, like "Takin' It to Las Vegas/can't take that Wall Street no more" -- which may be good fund raising advice these days-- and "I Just Came to Play" about the joys of being a blueswoman. (2/25/2003)
Livin', Lovin', Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers but the best duets here are the male/female pairings, especially Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell on "My Baby's Gone," James Taylor and Allison Krauss on "How's the World Treating You," Glen Campbell and Leslie Satcher on the heartbreaking "When I Stop Dreaming," and Ronnie Dunn and Rebecca Lynn Howard on "If I Could Only Win Your Love." Ah, so those commercial country folks can let their roots show!(1/30/2004)
Cold Mountain - produced by T. Bone Burnett -- works both in the movie and on the CD player. The CD both evokes the movie like Proust's madeleine and is just lovely to listen to, from the traditional shape-singing and banjo tunes, to Jack White's, Elvis Costello's and Sting's traditional-sounding commissioned songs (the latter two achingly sung by Alison Krauss) that reflect the story line -- "the scarlet tide that separates the widow from the bride." (1/4/2004)
My Best of 2002
The Rising - Bruce Springsteen. The song order is a bit confusing mood-wise, I'm not thrilled with the new producer's instrument balance, and not all the songs are classics, but the majority are immediately, such as the title track. The Boss of the Workin' Person really captures the feelings of New Yorkers post-9/11 ("the sky is empty") and inspires us to remember and go on and up, to grieve at home, work through it with music ("may your strength give us strength. ..") and to celebrate a wake together with joyous memories ("Take Me to Mary's Place" -- most definitely the same Mary of "Thunder Road", but on American Routes I learned that it’s also an update of Sam Cooke’s “Mary’s Place” which was a gospel reference to a church.). The broken-line narratives particularly capture the wrenchingly touching "Portraits in Grief bios of the victims in the New York Times, with his home Monmouth County the hardest hit in NJ and many of whom cited their love for Bruce. I agree with one widow he spoke to at length: the only thing I can't forgive him for is marrying Julianne; at least he ended up appropriately with a Jersey Girl back where he belongs. (updated 121/9/2006)
The Instigator - Rhett Miller. The manager of the CD store I keep in business recommended this to me though I hadn't recognized the artist as a member of my alt.country fave band Old 97's. But what a surprise that this is the best rock romance of the year! This is the aural equivalent of every woman's favorite romantic movie Say Anything. This is a guy who loves women and loves being in love. I got a promo copy with no lyric sheet but listened for every heartbreaking word while dancing around the living room. The first track, "Our Love," sets the tone, then on to "This is What I Do" --when he sings about girls he's loved and lost, to the best radio song on the album "Come Around" with its aching chorus query of "Am I going to be lonely for the rest of my life?" -- trailing off to the end with "I remember the dress you wore when you walked away and broke my heart." So he finds himself at "Point Shirley" with a friend who is also at the place where "The angry girl who calls you up just to hear you cry." But wait, there's hope in "Hover" - "You come and you glow/You hum and you hover/I cannot believe you are my lover." (is that the first time there's been a rhyme scheme like that?) Heck, "I'm so far gone I'm past the Verrazano Bridge." -- there's a metaphor for love that all New Yorkers can understand!. He's still enraptured in "Nervous Heart" - "Can I kiss your furrowed brow and calm your nervous heart" to prove he's not like that other guy who broke her heart. Thank goodness he found a reason to still be optimistic in "I Want to Live" -- "so I can see you tomorrow" because her photo doesn't bring her to life enough for him. Is the girl in the concluding "Terrible Vision" who can't "see that I'm in love with you" be the same four-eyed woman he was pining about in the beginning? You'll just want to press the button and re-play to figure out the cycle of love. The melodies keep the tunes from obsessive stalker territory and deep in romance.(9/13/2002)
Demolition - Ryan Adams - This is a "best of" the four-albums worth of material the guy (who has temper tantrums when he's confused in concerts with Brian Adams but heck he has such a sexy voice) made over the past year but his record company said that was too much to release at once. TPTB picked mostly hummable, Beatles-esque, romantic, non-New York songs that are just lovely. Even "Tennessee Sucks" sounds melodic. Gosh he's so heart-open (my CD didn't have lyrics) - singing about "Desire," "Cry on Demand," and the pleading "Gimme A Sign," and the opening "Nuclear." Girls, just keep breaking his heart so he can turn out more of these. Though I was brought up short with the brooding, closer "Jesus (Don't Touch My Baby") - an anti-gospel song?(10/29/02)
Trey Anastasio I have one Phish album so I was aware of them but not much more. Here the former Phish-erman makes the feel-good summer album of the year, especially lead track Alive Again. Push On 'Til the Day is a 7-minute jam band fun fest, and the closing Ether Sunday can be added to the list of lazy summer afternoon classics. The songs could really be depressing, but with no lyric sheet how would I know?
Judo - Kevin Tihista's Red Terror - This second album was actually intended to be released as a double album called Back to Budapest with last year's debut Don't Breathe A Word, which I liked well enough, but this is more sophisticated mope pop. From an opening chorus of "This could get bad". . . to the sweet I'm In Love With Girls, to the five-minute "Oh No, Not Again," there's sadness and yet persistent hope with quiet, catchy melodies, telling an arc from "You're making other plans/and I'm getting thrown out with the old ones" to "You will be back someday/And I'll be right here, my dear," similar to the theme of my #1 from last year, Ryan Adams' Gold. I arbitrarily follow my own rules to file this under "T," but I understand if someone else chooses to file it under "K" or "R."
. . .nothing but a dream - Paul Kelly. I was first going to just put "Midnight Rain" on the Best Song List, but there's other good ones too -- "Love is the Law" is a throwback to 1970's idealism. But best are the bonus tracks that are evidently from another EP-- "Roll on Summer" is a classic seasonal pop song; "I Was Hoping You'd Say That," and "Every F--kin' City" are wonderful remembrances of travelin'. And I was simultaneously listening to the lyric "Just About To Break" about a thunderstorm as thunder clapped outside my window. I bow to fate!
Down the Road - Van Morrison Ho hum, another wonderful album by Van the Man -- is this an ethical dilemma for selection that just his usual is simply Better Than the Rest when there's nothing particularly original here? I simply can't stop listening to beautiful songs like "Meet Me in the Indian Summer," "What Makes the Irish Heart Beat," and "Steal My Heart Away" even though it is reminiscent of his own classic "Have I Told You Lately." Yeah, "Hey, Mr. D.J." is a lot like Sam Cooke's "Havin' A Party," and "Talk is Cheap" is lot like Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry." This CD is mostly for baby-boomers who would even remember the reference in "Whatever Happened to PJ Proby?" (a follow-up to Van's earlier paean to radio days, "In the Days Before Rock 'n' Roll"), while "Chopping Wood," "All Work and No Play," and "Man Has to Struggle" directly follow his earlier "Washing Windows." And can we ever relate to "The Beauty of the Days Gone By" (". . .And keep me young as I grow old. . ."), the title song, or the final lyric of "Fast Train": "Oh going nowhere, except on a fast train/Oh trying to get away from the past. . ."
Millionaire - Kevin Welch and the Danes. Forget Barry White -- for me the most romantic voice is Welch singing a variety of love songs like the title track, "I Can Sure Love You," "Choose to Believe," and "When the Sun Shines Down on Me" (the last co-written with Mark Germino). This album rocks more than usual, with genres covered like the story-song in "Witness," railroad sounds in "Long Cold Train," depression in "Killing Myself," and a Van Morrison cover. Just stop the CD before the Beck imitation of the last track. Here's to go for the lyrics.
Fisherman's Blues: Part Two - The Waterboys. This is like the Director's Cut of a Special Edition of a classic movie as we get the finished product of the spill-over of one of my favorite LPs. Outstanding are the studio and live versions (on the bonus CD) of the 12 minute plea of "Too Close to Heaven" (oh, gosh, how can she not smile for him after he's pouring out his heart like that?), the eight minute "Lonesome and a Long Way from Home" with those wonderful fiddles (also on the bonus disc), even more Van Morrison touches on "Blues for Your Baby" with Stax-ish horns ("Hey, Mr. Sax Man - don't be shy!") and the lovely "Lonesome Old Wind." What is in the water in Ireland anyway that makes these guys so romantic?
Don't Give Up On Me - Solomon Burke. By chance I ended up listening to this CD over and over and over again in fits and stops. And was inspired each time to keep starting over from the beginning. I years ago saw the huge "Emperor of Soul" on his throne in a blistering hot Central Park concert and was sure he was going to keel over. Thank goodness he is still with us to preach soul music! He shows the neo-soul youngsters a thing or two, helped by songwriters who clearly leaped at the chance to write for him, like Van Morrison (whose "Fast Train" is like a tribute to Curtis Mayfield's classic "People Get Ready"), Brian Wilson (whose "Soul Searchin" could be a long lost Stax gem), Tom Waits (whose "Diamond in Your Mind" is uncharacteristically optimistic), Joe Henry (who also produced the album by putting Burke central in front of organ, piano tickling, and subdued sax), Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan (in blues mode with "Stepchild" and an in-joke reference to himself with guitar by Daniel Lanois), Nick Lowe, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weill (going gospo-politico, again redolent of the soul '70's, in "'None of Us Are Free'. . if one of us is chained" with the Blind Boys of Alabama doing back-up), and most especially in Dan Penn's title tune which is the theme for the whole album. (Though I replayed the last track "Sit This One Out" for over an hour and still can't figure out if it's pessimistic or what it's even about without interpreting it post-9/11 as not wanting to join into jingoistic revenge.) Welcome back the golden age! Burke also inspires the Derek Trucks Band to their best work on Joyful Noise on the tracks "Home in Your Heart" and "Like Anyone Else."(updated 12/6/2002)
Fashionably Late - Linda Thompson - Reminds me of when I first fell in love with folk songs via the first Joan Baez albums, with tales of bitter wives, star-crossed romances, and unjust deaths. Only Thompson is continuing her Fairport Convention tradition as these are new, faux folk songs, showing that the British troubadour heritage is alive and well. Many of the songs are co-written and co-sung by her son Teddy Thompson, with Kate Rusby also providing harmony. Especially lovely are the opening "Dear Mary," "Miss Murray," "Nine Stone Rig," and "Weary Life," but there's really only a couple that are less captivating. As one chorus goes, "No telling what a love song will do." (posted 10/30/2002) Another "blast from the past" producing lovely faux English troubadour songs is Mark Knopfler on The Ragpicker's Daughter, particularly "Devil Baby" and "Fare Thee Well Northumberland." (11/18/2002)
LIFTED or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground - Bright Eyes - One of the strangest albums of the year, a DIY screed to selfish, masochistic, adolescent angst ("I'm a waste of breath, space, time," how this is a "record of your failures," "A lover's an excuse to get hurt and be hurt"), eerily similar to Kurt Cobain's journals and his disdain ("I am not singing for you"), complete with non-radio-friendly expletives. "I Want a Lover I Don't Have to Love" riffs off of Mellencamp, with none of his macho swagger, only insecurities. But the Sturm und Drang is so melodic and captivating, as the songs run into each other, from solo acoustic to rockers to King Curtis sounds to sing-alongs. The lyrics, from the album title on, run on and on, much like how in Springsteen's debut the words spilled out over the meter. Am I comparing one-man band Conor Oberst to Bruce? (revised 11/6/2002)
American IV: The Man Comes Around - Johnny Cash. This is literally Cash's ultimate album, as with his extreme health problems recently this could be his last one. It is consequently filled with images of death, dying, and making peace with one's maker, through the medium of what must be his favorite songs of significance, from a sentimental Lennon/McCartney's "In My Life" to an elegiac "First Time I Ever Saw Your Face," to an un-Sting-sounding "I Hung My Head" reinterpreted through his own experience, as well as traditional death knell songs "Streets of Laredo" and Appalachian murder-death-and-justice story ballads, especially the title song and "Give My Love To Rose." His voice does on occasion fail him, and he substitutes recitative for singing or gets quietly eerie vocal accompaniment, such as by Fiona Apple on "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and Nick Cave on "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." With his whole family clan joining him on the gospel conclusion, this definitely sounds like the summing up of an extraordinary career.(12/2/2002)
Red Letter Days - The Wallflowers - Aw shucks, just a fine pop-singable-in-the-car-romantically-lyriced album, sung by sexy-voiced-and-looking scion Jakob Dylan, especially the title song. Who can resist a lament like "If you never got sick/I would never get to hold you." That image is reinforced by including as a closing bonus track the theme song to the TV series The Guardian "The Empire in My Mind." (The NY Times recently pointed out the resonant themes of show and life here of conflicted hunky son dealing with influential dad.) Hey, it's OK to just feel good singing along to songs! (1/2003)
Live at the Wetlands - Robert Randolph and the Family Band. I was driven wild by them when I saw them in Central Park last summer, but didn't think a CD could possibly capture their secular gospel rapture. Whew! This does! I can't take it out of the CD player so it's there whenever I need cheering up. Play it long and loud! Three titles tell the story: "The March," "Shake Your Hips," and "I Don't Know What You Come To Do" (/but I came to scream!). (3/19/2003)
Filth and Fire - Mary Gauthier - Half the songs are terrific slices of life from Louisiana (such as "Camelot Motel" with its "royal denizens" of "cheaters, liars, outlaws, and fallen angels" like "Lancelot and Guinevere banging their bedpost in my ear" and the vivid story in "Sugar Cane," very like Robert Earl Keene's slices of Texas life. Very romantic too are "Long Way to Fall" and the last song's bittersweet imagery of "The Sun Fades the Color of Everything."(posted 10/3/2002)
Lost in Space - Aimee Mann and Daybreaker - Beth Orton -- I've only listened to these off the radio, but after hearing each once I like them a lot. (revised 10/29/2002)
All in Your Head - Hadacol - I have no idea what the band name means, there's no lyric sheet, but very catchy alt.country.
Deep Natural/Dub Natural - Michelle Shocked. I've been getting into gospel music lately so this fits right in, though the tone of smug righteousness interferes with enjoyment of such tracks as "Good News," "Forgive to Forget," "Can't Take My Joy," "Peachfuzz" (though what does she mean by offering a beer to someone with a fake ID?), "Moanin' Dove," and "Psalm." Some of the "Dub" remixes are fun, some are annoying. Points off, too, for no lyric sheet and having the titles only on the CDs themselves, so you have to listen on your computer to figure out what you're hearing.
Now Again - Flatlanders. They're known as "More a Legend than a Band" because what did they put in the water down there in Lubbock, Texas to have Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore in the same junior high school class? This reunion album is a bit uneven, and, even silly sometimes, so that only half of it is classic, mostly the tracks dominated by Hancock - "Julia," the catchy refrain of "Down in the Light of the Melon Moon," and the lyrically cynical but heartbreakingly beautiful "You Make It Look Easy," as well as the Ely-dominant tracks "I Thought the Wreck Was Over" and the closing "South Wind of Summer," (11/28/2002)
Rise - Kim Richey. A distaff, more melodic and a lot more indirect taken on the themes of Steve Earle's Jerusalem, with distinctly non-country collaborators in the likes of Pete Droge (in the tuneful "Electric Green") and Chuck Prophet. While it opens up with a traditional country song theme of broken-hearted girl leaving town in "Girl in a Car," it drives through a different Bible Belt from "This Love" with its testifying and oblique references to Jerusalem and Islam to East of Eden in "No Judges" where she sings Salome-like to a bouzouki accompaniment with "no flaming swords of cherubim to keep you out." And what the heck is the concluding "Cowards in a Brave New World" about?
Guitar Brothers - Joe Louis Walker and Otis Grand. Blues for grown-ups, long sad complaints of long-term relationships gone cold ("Better Off Alone") and imitation ice cream gone warm. Good, cathartic stuff with sublime guitar and harp-playing.(4/4/2003)
"Tangled Up in Blue" - Mary Lee's Corvette - Mary Lee Kortes's take on Dylan is like Aretha's take on Otis Redding with "Respect" -- a feminist re-interpretation by changing whining to emotion, but without changing any genders (the confusing pronouns are left intact, especially in the poet's story within the story). Bob's classic, compelling story song is an intellectual meditation on memory, with rueful mea culpas and admittance of wrong turns and flight in a relationship, culminating in an epiphany of feeling. Here the storyteller admits the discovery of feelings from the start, as she belts out "But she never escaped my mind," culminating in a much more meaningful recognition of "We always did feel the same/We just saw it from a different point of view." Whereas the title repeating chorus for Bob is the tangle of obfuscurity that desperately opens up at the end, for Mary Lee it's a passionate tangle of blues feelings that she has already, optimistically worked through - now we don't feel uneasy when "she bent down to tie the laces of my shoes." The entire album this song is the lead off track from is a live reinterpretation of Blood on the Tracks.(posted 10/9/2002)
"Darkness, Darkness" - Solas - My brother the Celtic guitarist is "horrified" by the album The Edge of Silence, but he's a traditional purist. I love this Jesse Colin Young cover and also their take on Dylan's "Dignity." They do a Tom Waits tune too.
"The Cross" - Five Blind Boys of Alabama covering Prince of all artists on the CD Higher Ground. The Boys also do a terrific version of an Aretha Franklin composition, "Spirit in the Dark," but are surprisingly unimaginative with covers of "People Get Ready" and "Wade in the Water." Bass singer Isaac Freeman also has a solo album of traditional hymns, Beautiful Stars, backed-up by women singers The Bluebloods and spoken intro's of the memories each song evokes for him. Best cut is the spiritually honest "Lord I Want You To Help Me," but also hummably laid-back calming are "Don't Take Everybody To Be Your Friend" and "I've Got Heaven On My Mind."(revised 10/15/2002)
The best cuts on Peter Wolf's Sleepless are covers with the Glimmer Twins: "Nothing But the Wheel," a John Scott Sherrill piece which was made famous as a country song by Patty Loveless, but here is done as a duet with Mick, and "Too Close Together," an old Sonny Boy Williamson song here done with Keith on guitar and vocals and "Magic Dick" on harmonica, plus "Never Like This Before," an old William Bell song by the Stax royalty of David Porter, Isaac Hayes, and Booker T. Jones, evoked in the accompaniment of the Uptown Horns. Also notable for the riveting bass of Milt Grayson is the original yet Drifters-sounding "Oh Marianne." (One can never go wrong sounding like the Drifters, who don't get enough props.) The final, original cut "Sleepless" comes close to these standards.(11/21/2002)
From Clarksdale to Heaven: Remembering John Lee by a bunch of Brits, including Mick Taylor, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, and Mick Taylor who had helped usher in my own blues revival by bringing John Lee etc. back to Americans' attention. A collection of famous ("I'm in the Mood," "Bad Like Jesse James") Hooker numbers are mixed in with lesser-known songs with a tribute by Robert Hunter and arrangements in his spirit that evoke him as inspiration without slavishly duplicating his unique sound, including by his daughter Zakiya and a few Americans like Johnnie Johnson and Booker T. Jones.(12/27/2002)
BEST "SINGLES" or "album cuts" or maybe just call it BEST SONGS
"I'm Not the Only Cowboy" - Josh Joplin Group from the CD The Future That Was The rest of the title line goes "in this one-horse metaphor." Haven't had a chance to hear the whole album yet, but this song is certainly catchy. Interesting how his use of mensch on this album has led interviewers to ask about his Jewish upbringing -- and he always credits his grandmother for whatever Yiddish he knows.(updated 1/19/2003)
"She Fell Into My Arms" - Ed Harcourt from the CD Here Be Monsters
"I Won't Go With Her" and "Goodnight Moon" - Jack Ingram from Electric. Aw shucks, a rowdy country boy admits he's a sensitive a-loner, how sexy: "cause I work so damn hard to push her away. . .take me/please take me," without the hat boyz' schmaltz. And it sure reminds me of Det. McNulty on The Wire.(9/2002)
"Atchafalaya Pipeline" - Fiddlers 4 - This cross-cultural collaboration of string-players extraordinaire (Michael Doucet of the Cajun group BeauSoleil, Darol Anger of the jazzgrass David Grisman Quintet and the experimental Turtle Island String Quartet, Bruce Molsky, an old-timey fiddler, and cellist Russell Eggleston) doesn't always work and might have benefited from a little less improv and some more rehearsal time, but it sure works on this almost 10 minute Cajun-meets-klezmer-meets-new-wave-Classical hurricane blow-out. The reinterpretations of traditional songs like "Man of Constant Sorrow" are O, Brother-effective. (10/25/2002)
Sholanda's - Shemekia Copeland on Talking to Strangers - Turns out when she's belting out "Sholanda's House of Bu-Tay" she's saying "beauty;" took me awhile to figure that out. I first saw Shemekia when she leapt up to give her Dad Johnny "Clyde" a break, as he was performing with his external artificial heart at the World Financial Center plaza. That tiny girl was quite a belter, and she's gained some humor and a modicum of subtlety since. If the riffs on "Sholanda's" echo Dr. John's classic "Iko, Iko" that's because he's playing the piano and produced the album.(11/23/2002)
Disco - Howie Day has a serious case of Phil Spector-itis, which works on this last track, and a couple of other Michael Penn-ish songs and is way too overwhelming on others on the CD Australia (which I would have bought just for the title). I have no idea what this song is about, even with the partial lyrics provided. Could it be about a stalker or a murderer? Whatever, it sure is powerful.(12/18/2002)
Growing Up - Peter Gabriel on his serious song cycle Up. This 7 minute second track follows up on the opening "Darkness" to imagine a fetus developing and "looking for a place to live" as it faces birth, chanting "my ghost likes to travel." This song has a much more catchy, original feel than the rest of the album. But it's very annoying how the lyrics have to be accessed on the computer in a gimmicky way not conducive to multitasking or singing along.(12/23/2002)
Put It On Paper - titular Ann Nesby and Al Green duet from Nesby's Old School revival meeting. Another duet, "I'm Your Friend" with Big Jim Wright, recalls the glory days of Marvin Gaye with Tammi Terrell. Too bad other cuts by Nesby are marred by disco drum machines instead of The Real Thing. (2/14/2003)
Life Has Its Little Ups & Downs - the only track not written by drawling crooner Mike Holland on Try Again. The album is half-way between commercial country and alt.country, with some sweet testimonies to maturity and long-term relationships ("no one grabs the brass ring every time" while "she wears a gold ring on her finger and I'm so glad it's mine"), including "Let Me Hold You," amidst a tendency to schmaltzy arrangements. (2/14/2003)
Poor, Poor LA - Tim Easton - You can be forgiven for thinking that this is the title track from the CD Break Your Mother's Heart as prefaced by "Don't" that's the catchy, jingly refrain. But the lyrics are actually from Eldridge Cleaver's Soul On Ice and go on about crack houses. I just sing along with the chorus as a warning to my kids. (3/24/2003)
My Best of 2001
BEST "SINGLES" or "album cuts" or maybe just call it BEST SONGS
"Bird in a Cage" - Old '97's - from the CD "Satellite Ride" (segue into "Bird Cage of Your Soul" by They Might Be Giants or various covers of Leonard Cohen's "Bird on A Wire")
"Come On" - Karl Mullen - from the CD "Mercy Me With Kisses" (though technically this was released the end of 2000) - lots of good segue possibilities with this one! Other cuts on the CD are good, too.
"If You're Gone" - matchbox twenty from the CD "Mad Season" (oh gee, when I fall in love with a Top 40 pop song that I hear while on line at Duane Reade than I really am going through my second adolescence, though every 14 year old girl already knew what it was while I had to ransack the web and message boards to track it down)
"Carry Me" - Tim Easton from the CD "The Truth About Us" (and on the soundtrack of the mediocre movie Love and Sex)
"Crystal Frontiers" - Calexico from the EP "Even My Sure Things Fall Through" (I think I prefer the "widescreen" version to the "acoustic.")
"Sweat (Is the Perfume of Lovers) - Geggy Tah from "Into the Oh" - I first heard this last summer over the loudspeakers at Central Park Summerstage in a promo for a Luaka Bop compilation. Waiting a year for its release was well worth it.
"In These Shoes?" - the late Kirsty MacColl, from Tropical Brainstorm, her last album -- I hear that Bette Midler has covered it; her version could be a hoot, but this is the original.
"Across the Milky Way" - The Pearlfishers - title song from their first U.S. release -- check out the lyrics:
"a satellite is calling, we could sail away
so leave the world behind
and step into the vista
there are bells among the haystacks
if you'd only care to listen
save the world! save the world! from this grotesque exhibition..."
"Castanets" - Alejandro Escovedo from his CD A Man Under the Influence -- Live, he dedicates this song to the late Joey Ramone (who went to the same JHS as my older son) with a chorus that's the "la vida loca" of 2001: "I like her better when she walks away!" It would be great paired with Butch Hancock's "Welcome to the Real World."
Blame Me - from eponymous debut Chris Knight -- Co-written in a very Steve Earle-ish style with Fred Eaglesmith, it would be great paired with another criminal couple song "The Road Goes On Forever."
120 Miles Per Hour - The Sadies from the CD Tremendous Efforts-- Annoying that this Texas punk take on Appalachian ghost ballads doesn't have a lyric sheet included.
Girl on the Roof - David Mead from the CD Mine and Yours - Just a catchy pop song with little relation to the rest of the album.
New York New York - Ryan Adams from the CD Gold. Why isn't this a huge hit on the radio? I have his video filmed the Friday before 9/11 linked at my WTC Tribute Page.
Come Away With Me - Norah Jones from her CD First Sessions: EP, available only on her website and at her concerts. We share a first name, and it's not often I recommend a jazz vocalist, but her voice is so lovely! While this is an original song, the covers, including "Turn Me On," are beautiful, too, but does an EP qualify for "best CD"?
Hero - Enrique Iglesias from the CD Escape or the benefit CD of the live "America: A Tribute to Heroes." Ok, so I'm getting both versions. And yeah he's a hunk.
Moment in the Sun - Clem Snide(it's a band named from a character in William Burroughs' Naked Lunch so file it under "C" not "S") from the CD The Ghost of Fashion, with an ending about "Every hero walks alone/thinking of more things to confess" that resonates post 9/11. It's also being used as the theme song to NBC's Ed this year. There's some clever lines on the rest of the CD like "Tonight I feel like Elvis longing for his long lost twin," or "Tonight I feel like the ice cube melting in your tray," and song titles "Joan Jett of Arc" and "The Junky Jews," but the CD doesn't have a lyric sheet to really explore the words of Israeli-born lead singer Eef Barzelay and I'm having trouble reading them on their website.
First Thing About Mary - Bruce Robison from the CD Country Sunshine, though the novelty song "What Would Willie Do" is getting covered on country radio, this is a kinda mysterious sweet romantic song about a woman who could also live in a Springsteen song.
Video - India.Arie from the CD Acoustic Soul -- and I haven't even see the video for it. Best song on a much-hyped CD, though "Brown Skin" is a close second.
"Lady Marmalade" as re-done by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya & Pink, from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. Absolutely knock booty irresistible, and much sexier than the movie.
"Heart Attack and Vine" as re-done by John Hammond on Wicked Grin - it's great that more and more artists are doing tributes to Tom Waits as a Great American Song Writer, an even more cynical Cole Porter.
"Llorando (Crying)" as redone by Rebekah Del Rio on the soundtrack of Mulholland Drive.
"I'll Fly Away" - as re-done for over seven minutes by The Word (consisting of John Medeski, North Mississippi Allstars and Robert Randolph). I just found out this is not a traditional spiritual, but a gospel number written by Albert Brumley. I saw Randolph (from NJ) in Central Park last summer and saw for myself the power of sacred steel.
BEST ALBUMS: (not in preference order)
Essence - Lucinda Williams, even the Music Grouch liked it too
Useful Music - Josh Joplin Group, especially the cuts "Camera One" and "Gravity"
Borderland - Tom Russell, especially the cuts "Touch of Evil" (yes, about the movie, film noir imagery runs through several of the songs), and "The Road It Gives, the Road It Takes Away." Even more vivid story songs of dysfunctional relationships on the Mexican border than his previous albums.
How Was Tomorrow - Cash Brothers (no not those Cash's, these guys are Canadian) A tribute to Springsteen's "Nebraska" of course riveted my attention.
Keeper of the Flame - Luka Bloom, Love song covers from Dylan to Abba to Joni to Tim Hardin to U2 to Bob Marley, like he did before via his unforgettable version of L.L. Cool J's "I Need Love." What a romantic bath! You'll be reduced to a little pool by the third track, "Throw Your Arms Around Me." Give this to your lover to make up any fight, or for Valentine's Day, or just to score, er, points.
Gold - Ryan Adams, Even though I spotlighted the lead single, the rest of the CD is also wonderful, like "Somehow, Someday," "The Rescue Blues," "Gonna Make You Love Me" (which especially channels classic rock riffs, as do other cuts too), and "Answering Bell." Gosh, how does the girl feel who broke up with him and inspired all these songs?
Love, Shelby - Shelby Lynne, is marred by a few pop attempts that seem determined to try and get this new old artist (along with the unnecessary chest-baring photo art) radio play, but enough of the cuts are knock-out for recommendation, including a cover of John Lennon's "Mother," and original co-writes with Glen Ballard, such as "Jesus on a Greyhound" and "Bend."
Goddess in the Doorway - Mick Jagger. Not only has he not grown up, he is unrepentant about his love life, the old reprobate (such as missing an ex-girlfriend while jetting off to Brazil with the new one) but heck if this isn't a masterful rock 'n' roll album, particularly "Don't Call Me Up" and the 7 1/2 minute long "Brand New Set of Rules," which he doesn't have, even as his daughters sing back-up, which is why this is a terrific CD that you can't help but hum along with -- but don't think too hard about the lyrics.
Feeding the Gods - Tim Finn. Dedicated to the memory of his mother, this is a passionate variety of intelligent pop, a la his former home Crowded House, especially the closer "Incognito in California," though I would have appreciated lyrics in the CD booklet.
Today - Raoul Malo. The inheritor of the Roy Orbison tradition, freed from the country constraints of the Mavericks.
The Tiki Bar Is Open - John Hiatt nicely mixes mature rocking ("Everybody Went Low"), romance ("My Old Friend")m throwing in some blues ("I Know A Place" and the title song) to sad songs "Something Broken." Nice break-up song in "I'll Never Get Over You" just begging to be Celine Dion-ized.
Postcards from Downtown - Dayna Kurtz - This is a reconsideration as it didn't blow me away in 2001, but in 2002 I've been hearing it more, and now appreciate her as a chanteuse, but I sure would like to have a lyric sheet. Richie Havens is an unobtrusive guest, with lovely touches of what sounds like the Hammond B-3 organ, which I'm always a sucker for.
My Best of 2000
Single songs that aren't on the "Best of" albums:
The best song of the year:
"Things Have Changed" - Bob Dylan, from the soundtrack to Wonder Boys (expect to see this on any birthday mix tape I make for you!)
1. "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?" - Travis, from the CD The Man Who (released in the U.K. in 1999, but in the U.S. in 2000). So did we lie more at the age of 17 than any other year in our lives?
2. Smile - Jayhawks, title song from the CD
3. "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues" - Eels (hidden track on Daisies of the Galaxy with the catchiest chorus of pure springtime: "Goddamn right it's a beautiful day!")
4. "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)" - 9 Days, from the CD The Madding Crowd. It's the only Top 40 song that's in my head who I could figure out who the band is coz commercial radio that I listen to in the car on the weekends never back announces and I can't even figure out from the Billboard charts the songs I sing along with in the car! Ach, I grow old, I grow old. . .
6. "Babylon" - David Gray, from White Ladder (yeah I did think he was first saying "Babble On")
7. You're the One - Paul Simon, title track
8. "Little White Dove" - Jess Klein from the CD Draw Them Near
9. "I've Been Delivered" - Wallflowers, from the CD Bleach.
10. "Small Car" - from The Legendary Marvin Pontiac's Greatest Hits AKA John Lurie
11. (who said it had to be just 10?) "High Time" - Michael Penn, from MP4, very catchy
12. "Hotel Monte Vista" - Patty Larkin, from Regrooving the Dream, at 7:16 quite an epic, with guitar riffs that intensely evoke streams of other songs.
1. Red Dirt Girl - Emmy Lou Harris. Echoes of Daniel Lanois but the Primo Interpreter of Other People's Songs and (in her own words) the "Harmony 'Ho'" has beautiful things to say on her own (and with Dave Matthews on "My Antonia.")
2. American III: Solitary Man - Johnny Cash. We've been Cash fans for years and loved the previous American CDs, and I'd heard a coupla outstanding tracks on the radio, but that still didn't prepare me for the full impact of this masterwork of facing mortality, from the traditionally mordant ("Poor Wayfaring Stranger") to very contemporary songwriters who accompany The Man in Black to hell and back (stand out tracks of U2's "One," Will Oldham's "I See A Darkness," and David Allen Coe's "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)"
3. Tanglewood Tree - Dave Carter and Tracy Grammar, with outstanding track "Crocodile Man," a little bit country, a little bit bluegrass
4. Dusty Trails - eponymous CD by former Luscious Jackson members is alt. country new age relaxation. Mostly instrumental soundtracks to imaginary movies except for a lush track vocalized by Emmy Lou Harris.
Wasp Stars: Apple Venus Vol. 2 - XTC
Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant - Belle & Sebastian, less depressing than their previous albums, catchy in a Cowboy Junkies hypno-way
Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea - P.J. Harvey, I just could never get much into her before though she's a critic's darling, but wow, these are knock-out sexy, romantic songs.
Dumbest Magnets - Dolly Varden (that's a band name, not a person) with some electric rocking tracks too
grouchyfriendly - Phil Roy - a romantic Tom Waits with irresistible lyrics and voice and the great song "Melt" (co-written with Nicholas Cage) -- he found his True Love from a listener who fell in love with him after hearing him sing This Song on a Philly radio station, and when I read out premium offers to WFUV members-in-waiting during phone-a-thons just the mention that a live version of This Song is on the "City Folk Live III" has folks reaching for their credit cards.
Heartbreaker - Ryan Adams (of Whiskeytown) his first solo album is diversely grabbing, with the stand-out track "To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high)"
Happy to be Here - Todd Snider
East Autumn Grin - Matthew Ryan with stand-out track "I Hear a Symphony" (no not a cover of the Supremes song!)
Broke Down - Slaid Cleves, with stand-out track "One Good Year"
Carnival Love - Amy Correia
Yu Were Here - Sarah Harmer with stand-out track "Basement Apartment"
The Sugar Tree - Amy Rigby
Best blues etc.
Riding With the King - B.B. King and Eric Clapton -- oxymoronic feel-good blues, casually done. The Younger, who from watching "The Blues Brothers" is getting into the blues, pronounced this album "awesome." Now will he explore my huge blues collection and not just whatever MP3s he downloads online?
New Train - Paul Pena -- This is actually a best album from 1973, as it's a "lost tape." Also check out the Oscar-nommed documentary Ghengis Blues to learn more about Pena, but he seems to be this year's Ted Hawkins re-discovery. Much as I loved "Almost Famous," this is the kind of music I loved the most in the 1970's, where pop meets the blues and soul, especially good for dancing around the kitchen.
Shake Hands With Shorty - North Mississippi AllStars -- I first heard them on Beale Street Caravan before they had a record out and they blew out my head phones. Another retro blues sound, now with some contemporary funk
Wicked - Shemekia Copeland - she's unsubtle, but whew, she rocks
Start with the Soul - Alvin Youngblood Hart, way more than his usual acoustic Delta blues
Best Covers: (I'm still thinking about this.)
1. "Brown Eyed Girl" - Everclear, from Songs From An American Movie--Volume One: Learning How to Smile An advantage of having hazel eyes is feeling songs both about brown-eyed and green-eyed girls have personal resonance. Not easy to take on Van the Man Morrison and hold your own.
2. "If I Fall Behind" - Dion doing Bruce Springsteen a la doo-wop on Déjà Nu.
3. "It Hurts Me Too" - Keb Mo on his CD The Door doing Elmore James
My Best of 1999
1. "Silver Lining" - Mike Plume Band (the whole album is good too)
2. "Dancin' in the Light" - Entrain
(from the CD Can U Get It by a Boston-based band) So there I was at the end of 1999 cleaning up last year's CDs for the Book & Music Sale and there it was, a 1996 indie release. But I first heard it on the radio in 1999.
3. "Living La Vida Loca" - Ricky Martin (Simply irresistible!)
4. "Radio" - The Corrs (Sweet pop.)
5. "Let Me Fall" - Wood from Songs from Stamford Hill (reminds me of Del Amitri)
6. tie: "24-7 Man" -- The Robert Cray Band and "Soul Survivor" - Wilson Pickett
7. "Goodnight Moon" - Shivaree, from the CD with the terrific title: I Oughtta Give You A shot in the Head for Making Me Live in this Dump.
"Mexico" - Bruce Henderson from his CD Beyond the Pale (sweet charming country song)
Albums: (and I seem to have gotten very traditional in my old age)
1. "Blues Everywhere I Go" - Odetta, with an assist from Dr. John
2. "The Righteous Ones" -Toshi Reagon with her band Big Lovely - updated sweet soul music
3. "Mule Variations" - Tom Waits
4. "Summerteeth" - Wilco
5. "The Pilgrim" - -Marty Stuart (a very non-commercial country concept album, one of two this year, but I didn't get a hold of Tom Russell's "The Man From God Knows Where" until 2001)
6. "Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions" - Linda Ronstadt and Emmy Lou Harris (this is the true follow-up to the classic "Trio" - not "Trio II")
7. "What I Deserve" - Kelly Willis
8. "Fight Songs" - Old '97's
9. "Brand New Day" - Sting
My Best of 1998
1. Semisonic - "Feeling Strangely Fine" - lovely pop
2. Lucinda Williams - "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" - as good as Emmy Lou's Wrecking Ball. Hey Mercury - release a coupla sexy singles from this to the Alanis Morrisette/LilithFair audience!
3. Billy Bragg and Wilco - "Mermaid Avenue" - actually works better in the "Storyteller" format with Bragg explaining the process of writing music to lyrics from the Woody Guthrie Archive, with Wilco's Americana touch. (I wish I'd known when I was growing up that Woody's daughter is named Nora; I would have had a whole different appreciation for my name.)
To Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, and Ralph Stanley
1. Cherry Poppin' Daddies - "Zoot Suit Riot" It's not that they're just imitative exactly as the beats are different from the original swing music, but this sure is a lot of fun!
2. Shawn Mullins - "Lullabye" - surely the first time that L.A. has been described as "Nashville with a tan" -- from Soul's Core (But then with all the New Yorkers moving to Nashville it's now called "Shville.")
3. Robbie Fulks - "Let's Kill Saturday Night" - until I saw him on Austin City Limits I didn't realize he was country like Hal Ketchum and the Mavericks.
1. Wallflowers - "Heroes" - devoid of all irony, but gosh Jakob is sexy.
2. Brian Setzer Orchestra - "Jump, Jive and Wail" (all right, if it hadn't been for The Gap commercial I wouldn't have known it was a cover)
My Best of 1997
From my listening to these radio programs and yet never seen to listen to my too many CD purchases all the way through, here's the best of what I've had time to actually listen to:
1. Dylan - Time Out of Mind - mesmerizing and mature
2. Paul Simon - Songs from the Capeman - the Broadway critics who sniped at it are afraid of outsiders
3. (tie) Whiskeytown - Strangers Almanac and Old 97's - Too Far to Care - beautiful lyrics and hum along tunes
4. Dan Bern - I laughed, I cried. I hear Dan Bern was talking of changing his name back to the original family name of Bernstein after a visit to the ancestral homeland of Lithuania that his best unrecorded song is about.
5. Van Morrison - The Healing Game
6. Ruth Brown - R + B - this is really a jazz album
7. Jayhawks - Sound of Lies
8. Inner Flame - Raiser Ptakek Tribute - I had never heard of this songwriter before but I sure have now
9. John Fogerty - Blue Moon Swamp
10.Mary Coughlan - After the Fall - an Irish Marianne Faithfull
1. "Brimful of Asha on the 45" - Cornershop
2. "Estelle" - Dan Bern (I guess "Lithuania" doesn't count because it's not recorded yet -- it was later released on The Swastika EP)
3. "110 in the Shade" - John Fogarty
4. "Birmingham" - Bruce Cockburn
5. "The Book I'm Not Reading" - Patti Larkin
6. "One Hell of a Life" - Ketell Kenig
Anthology of American Folk Music
Rhythm Revue box set - the best of soul music selected by Felix Hernandez -- the leading DJ/entrepreneur on classic soul of the '50's, '60's, and '70's.
Music on The O.C.:
Q & A Interview from Billboard by Margo Whitmire, 4/23/2005 (fair use excerpt)
Creator and executive producer Josh Schwartz has turned The O.C. into a music tastemaker, placing acts like Modest Mouse, the Killers and the Thrills alongside Phantom Planet in pop culture history. The show features a fictional all-ages venue, the Bait Shop, and audiophile characters like Seth Cohen (played by Adam Brody), who has a penchant for Death Cab for Cutie--though he misses the group's Bait Shop performance in the upcoming season-two finale.
At 26, Schwartz was the youngest person in network history to create and oversee the production of a series when he sold The O.C. to Fox in 2002. He works closely with the show's music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas, approaching the song selection for each episode as carefully as a casting decision.
Musical success stories abound. Geffen act Rooney performed on the show during its first season in January 2004, and the following week its self-titled debut saw a 185% sales spike. Indie newcomers the Walkmen enjoyed a 195% gain in sales for their album "Bows & Arrows" (Record Collection) after a season-two Bait Shop performance. Sales for the Killers, the Thrills and Rachael Yamagata also climbed significantly in the weeks following each act's Bait Shop gig.
Schwartz took a new approach with the March 10 episode, weaving a four-song preview of Beck's album "Guero" (Interscope) into the storyline. The episode also featured Beck's cover of "True Love Will Find You in the End," a song by cult singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston that does not appear on "Guero." The album track "Scarecrow" can be found on the series' latest compilation CD, "Music From 'The O.C.': Mix 4," which hit stores April 5. The Warner Sunset compilations have sold more than 500,000 copies.
'Josh is passionate about music, and he knows what he likes,' Warner Bros. Records senior VP of TV marketing Lori Feldman says. "He's able to give a national voice to young, up-and-coming artists who probably would not have had that exposure otherwise. He is keenly aware of how to use that music to best serve the show, as well as the artists."
Q: Did you always plan on music being so integral to The O.C.?
A: I didn't know that it would catch on like it did, but I think in the pilot script I had, like, five songs written in. It was always the idea for me that the music we would use would be less reflective of Orange County and more reflective of our characters' emotional state.
Q: Why do you think the music took on a life of its own?
A: Well, it was really surprising to me, because it was just kind of music that was on my iPod for the first six or seven episodes that I liked, and stuff that had been out there. It wasn't until we got Alex [Patsavas] around episode seven or eight that we started getting music that hadn't been heard before, but I think the template was in place from the beginning that it was going to be music that was really emotional and not necessarily on the radio.
I think the reason it caught on is because we were featuring really great artists who really didn't have any other avenues of having their music heard. Initially there were no opportunities for bands like Death Cab [for Cutie] to be heard in a mainstream way.
Q: Now that artists see the show as a valuable vehicle, do you get approached a lot?
A: Yeah, and we're getting really big artists. We love music on the show--myself, Alex, the producers and editors--and we're not snobs. We don't say, "It has to be new, it has to be British and it has to be depressing."
We just had this thing with Beck, who's obviously what I would call an established artist, and that was really exciting and a really big honor for us to be able to premiere his music. We're also talking to Coldplay's record label [Capitol] about doing something with them.
So now we have some bigger artists, and we're as excited to be working with those kinds of artists as we are to break the newer ones.
Q: Are fans responding well to the Bait Shop as a musical vehicle?
A: Yeah, if it's a band they like. I think in the beginning I was just so excited, like, "We have the Killers! Let them play!" And I think as the show has evolved, we really kind of got a handle on how to integrate Bait Shop performances into the story, so it became more organic to the storytelling. The response to that has been huge. People were just really excited to see bands like Modest Mouse perform, and Rachael Yamagata. And it gives those artists a real chance to be featured.
Q: Any plans for an O.C. artist tour similar to the recent One Tree Hill outing?
A: One Tree Hill is its own thing, and God bless, but for us, it felt like at that point it becomes too much. It feels all of a sudden that it's packaged and you're trying to make money off of it, and some of the purity of it is gone. That's my feeling. The soundtracks and Bait Shop are as big as we want to take it. Anything after that starts to feel a little like you're forcing the corporate synergy down your fans' throats.
Q: When you're selecting the music for each episode, do you start with the scene or the song?
A: It's different for each one. Alex has amazing taste and is a guide to me, because Lord knows you get too busy doing the show to stay on top of everything. So she makes these "comp" CDs every week that she sends me with about 20 new songs on them, and they're like, you know, crack. I listen to them in the car and when I'm writing, so sometimes I'll write songs into the script and say, "OK, this is what we want to go after." And then there are times where we'll look at a scene and Alex will make pitches for what song should go on there.
Sometimes we'll try to clear a song, and then we'll change our mind and go a different way. Our editors are really music-centric as well, and a lot of times they'll put music in off the comp CDs that they love and inspire me, so we're always turning each other on to new things and trying to experiment. Q: Do you ever run into licensing roadblocks? Either a song is too expensive or the band just isn't interested?
A: Yeah. I mean, it's getting rarer and rarer that we get turned down. I think Arcade Fire wasn't really into it, but for the most part, we're getting a little spoiled in that we're getting pretty much everything we try to get. I think the artists recognize that we're fans and we're going to treat their music with integrity and that it's coming from the inside out. We're not trying to just superimpose what we think our audiences will like onto the scene, we're trying to pick the song that we think best brings up the emotional resonance of that scene and I think, hopefully, the musicians feel like we're honoring their music--because that's what we really want to do.
Q: Who are some of your bands to watch out for this year?
A: Turin Brakes has a new album out that's laying on my desk right now that I'm very excited about. Just saw Bloc Party last week, and they're great, although they've kind of blown up now, so it's not really a new tip. Kaiser Chiefs, LCD Soundsystem, [the solo set by] Imogen Heap of Frou Frou. And Matt Pond PA is someone I still try to turn people on to. His cover of "Champagne Supernova" is on [Music From 'The O.C.': Mix 4]. He has this album, "Emblems," that anyone who loves the Shins will really love.
From Muses for Your Ears: Despite a fractured soundscape, these music tastemakers influence what we hear in The Baltimore Sun By Rashod D. Ollison, 8/20/06 (fair use excerpt): Alexandra Patsavas - music supervisor for Grey's Anatomy and The O.C. - "There's no formula to what the Chicago native does every day as the music supervisor for two popular primetime TV shows. And she likes it that way. 'It seems obvious to say this, but to be a music supervisor, you have to really be a music fanatic,' she says. 'I mean, love it in that 'My life would be a big, dark room without it' kind of way.'
In her job, Patsavas, 38, has helped push into the mainstream some of the most talked-about bands in indie rock. Just last year, music by Modest Mouse [BTW check out his very thoughtful interview on Charlie Rose], the Shins, the Thrills, the Killers and the Walkmen all appeared on Fox's The O.C., the young-adult soap opera focusing on a group of beautiful teens in an affluent harbor-front community in California. Death Cab for Cutie, a Bellingham, Wash., quartet, is perhaps the most famous example of an act that has benefited from exposure on the show.
During a 2004 episode, two characters argued about the band while listening to one of its songs. Soon after, sales of the quartet's fourth album, 2003's Transatlanticism, soared to more than 200,000 copies. And Death Cab for Cutie landed a major-label deal with Atlantic, releasing Plans in August. The CD made its debut at No. 4 on Billboard's pop album charts.
With a weekly audience of about 4 million, The O.C. undoubtedly helped introduce the band to many who probably wouldn't have heard it otherwise. In selecting music, Patsavas says, 'We always have a very clear vision for the shows. We have whimsical, lighthearted moments and sad, heartbreaking moments. And we find music that suits those moments.'
The same is true for Grey's Anatomy, an ABC drama centering on the interlocking lives of interns at Seattle Grace Hospital. That show's average weekly viewership is more than 14 million.
Wherever Patsavas is, her ear is open to new sounds, potential cuts to use on the shows. 'As a music supervisor, you're always working,' Patsavas says. 'I might hear a song on the radio, in a restaurant. I get music from places as far-flung as Iceland.'
While studying political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Patsavas started booking acts such as Jane's Addiction and Smashing Pumpkins in bars and campus venues. She moved to Los Angeles in 1990 and worked in a talent agency mailroom and in the film and TV department of BMI. It was her next career move, in 1994, that paved the way for her current position: At Concorde Films, she worked with B-movie king Roger Corman, overseeing the music on 30 films, including Caged Heat 3000 and Piranha 2.
She branched out in 1998 to start her own company, Chop Shop Music Supervision, whose recent projects include CBS' Without A Trace and HBO's Carnivale. 'There's never an ordinary or normal day in what I do," Patsavas says. "That's what makes the job so interesting.'"
[I]t was a time in my life when money had to be saved up to make one album purchase a month, at best. . .each . . . record was greatly anticipated, saved for, and bought on or close to the day of the release. . . . The rarity of those purchases meant that I spent many hours alone, listening in the dark to . . .albums . . . Within a year I was earning enough "disposable income" to buy 10 records in one day but no longer had that unique time with which to concentrate on any one piece of music. Nevertheless, I continued to buy each LP . . . -Elvis Costello in Vanity Fair, 11/04 on Joni Mitchell's albums, but applicable to all the eclectic music I love.
“For the first time fortysomethings are buying more albums than teenagers and it's all down to the 50-quid man- the middle-aged bloke (or even woman) who is happy to splash out on a fistful of CDs.” by Tim de Lisle, February 29 2004, The Observer (may be more than fair use excerpt):
One of the ancient laws of rock concerts states that there is always someone directly in front of you who has big hair. Lately this phenomenon has come with a twist: increasingly, the big hair in front of you is grey, or even white. The gig-going habit no longer fades at 40 or 50. And it's not just the comfy-cardie acts who appeal to the older fan. At the Cambridge Corn Exchange last week, the two gentlemen blocking my view of Damien Rice were about 55. Rice, a 30-year-old troubadour from Dublin, is still making his name, but already has fans who are old enough to be his parents.
In the shops, the trend is much more pronounced. For the first time, people in their 40s are buying more albums than teenagers. According to recent figures from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the 12-to-19 age group accounted for 16.4% of album sales in 2002, a sharp fall on 2000 (22.1%), while 40- to-49-year-olds went the other way, rising from 16.5% to 19.1%. Buyers in their 50s (14.3%) are not far behind. Soon, half of albums will be bought by people who have passed their 40th birthday.
This month's ABC figures for the music magazines tell the same story. Uncut and Mojo, the mags that put dead legends on the cover and compile epic accounts of the making of Pet Sounds, keep going up; Smash Hits and Top of the Pops, which give pre-teens their fix of Busted and Blue, are plunging. Smash Hits, once close to a million, is down to 114,000, only 3,000 ahead of Uncut. Q, the original grown-up rock glossy, is on the slide too, despite, or perhaps because of, taking drastic steps to get younger with cover lines such as "Raw! Crazy! Hot!" and a helpful A-Z of sex (A is for auto-asphyxiation). A young title called Bang, from the makers of Classic Rock, closed without a whimper. "It's easier," the publisher told Music Week, "to sell to the old gits."
Old gits, of course, are nothing new. Rock 'n' roll itself turns 50 this year and its first wave of fans are pensioners. The term "adult oriented rock", meaning the Eagles if you were lucky and Boston if you weren't, was common currency 30 years ago. Live Aid in 1985 was dominated by seasoned acts such as Queen, and the arrival of the CD persuaded Beatles fans to buy half their record collection all over again. Nostalgia has had its niche in pop ever since 70s stars such as Showaddywaddy and the late Les Gray of Mud cheerfully recycled the rhythms and quiffs of the 50s. What has changed is that the older fan, rather than being a bonus, is fast becoming the music industry's best customer. And he - it is usually a he - has acquired a name: the 50-Quid Bloke.
The 50-Quid Bloke was defined last July in a speech to the BPI's AGM by David Hepworth of Development Hell, an independent magazine company. You may not know the name but the chances are you have come across Hepworth's work. His career is a microcosm of the entertainment media over the past 25 years. He wrote for the NME in the late 70s and then edited Smash Hits before becoming an executive at Emap and supervising the birth of Q, Empire, Mojo and Heat. He presented Whistle Test in the days when it was the only alternative to Top of the Pops, anchored the BBC's coverage of Live Aid, and later turned up on VH1, the older branch of MTV. And now he has launched Word magazine.
On a hot day at County Hall in London, Hepworth stood up and gave Britain's record-company bosses a lecture about their own customers, concentrating on "the 50-quid guy", a term he had picked up from friends in retail. "This is the guy we've all seen in Borders or HMV on a Friday afternoon, possibly after a drink or two, tie slightly undone, buying two CDs, a DVD and maybe a book - fifty quid's worth - and frantically computing how he's going to convince his partner that this is a really, really worthwhile investment."
The 50-quid bloke is a big user of the web, Hepworth says, but unlike his children, he wants to own things. He shops at Amazon as well as the high street. He loathes Pop Idol, telling the kids it devalues everything rock music stands for (the kids reply that it's only a TV show, dad). But he is defined more by his likes than his dislikes and, crucially, he wants to keep up. He likes the White Stripes, Coldplay and Blur and has persevered with Radiohead through the difficult last three albums. His latest buys are the debut albums from the Stands, who remind him of the Byrds, and Franz Ferdinand, who remind him of the Glasgow art-school bands of 1982. The fact that most of the new bands sound old is a definite help.
He has given up on Radio 1 and listens to Radio 4 more than any music station, though he likes the less cosy bits of Radio 2, such as Jonathan Ross on Saturday morning. If he had a digital radio, he would love BBC6 Music, with its slogan "the great, the new and no fill" and its habit of playing Franz Ferdinand alongside the Clash. He adores DVD: "It's impossible to overestimate what a transformational medium DVD is in all this," Hepworth says. "Videos seemed like a waste of money. DVDs are investments."
The 50-quid bloke probably has an iPod but uses it as a radio rather than a substitute for his CDs. His favourite recent film is Lost in Translation, in which Bill Murray shows his own 50-quid tendencies by crooning a karaoke version of the Roxy Music song “More Than This.”
He has been in love with music all his life - "He's got the High Fidelity chip embedded in his brain," says Jerry Perkins, publisher of Word magazine - but his interests have broadened along the way. He is university-educated, reads a broadsheet, of whatever size, and raved about Anthony Beevor's Stalingrad. He is not a great telly-watcher but loves The Simpsons and The Office and will miss Friends. And yes, he may be a she. Women bought 41% of albums in 2002, up from 38% the year before. "But frankly," says Hepworth, "blokes get the same giddy rush from buying CDs and DVDs that most women get from shoes. It's a spiritual thing." [not shoes for me -- maybe earrings, mostly CDs]
At HMV, the BPI statistics confirmed what they already knew. "These people are baby-boomers for whom music has always been a central passion, and they have the disposable income," says Gennaro Castaldo, HMV's head of press. "A long time ago we stopped defining our target audience by age, because it's more about how much music means to them. A 50- or 60-year-old is very different from maybe 10 years ago. They have a very contemporary outlook. Bands like the Strokes and the White Stripes are not just the preserve of teenage NME readers."
The generation gap, once about content, has shifted to modes of consumption. For the under-30s, music is something to be shared and swapped and downloaded, legally or otherwise. It doesn't need to be owned because it's everywhere. If they do buy it, it may be in a form as slight as a mobile ringtone. This terrifies the music business, which can see itself slipping beneath the waves.
With Dido and Norah Jones ruling the album chart, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin selling plenty of DVDs, Duran Duran and Tears for Fears suddenly returning from oblivion and Franz Ferdinand achieving instant success, it looks as if the fifty-quid bloke is keeping the music business afloat. "There's a lot of evidence," Hepworth says. "Radio 2, Norah Jones, even The Darkness - these things appeal to an older demographic." . . . The record companies are beginning to wise up to the change in the landscape. A recent edition of Music Week had a piece from Brian Berg, boss of Universal Music's UMTV arm, saying the industry had been under-serving the 40-plus market and the opportunities were "enormous". The Word gang, who have been out talking to record companies, report that "everyone's wising up to it". Castaldo confirms that the older consumer is "very, very important".
The 50-quid bloke has a special appeal to harassed record-company executives; unlike most stereotypes, he is defined not by his age or taste or membership of a cult, but by the amount he spends. And he is male[!], getting on a bit, and well off - so he is just like them.
It seems that the 50-quid bloke is doing for the record companies what Diane Keaton has just done for Jack Nicholson [Something's Gotta Give]: after decades of running after the under-30s, they are ruefully taking an interest in people of their own age. Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited
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