Monday, December 22, 2008
TOP TEN RECORDS OF 2008
Am I the essence of uncool? Will my "hip" card (the other one) be revoked because I don't hear what is so thrilling about Santogold and Li'l Wayne, that they should each finish in so many top tens of 2008? As I prepared my list of Top Ten Records Of 2008, I read through countless other "Best Of" lists. How did nine of the ten amazing releases I chose manage to escape so many other lists? Jon Pareles, Nate Chinen, Ben Ratliff, and Joe Caramanica of the New York Times, each chose 10 records and 5 songs. Throw in Rolling Stone's Top 50, and you have a list of 90 (maybe a few less, since some appear more than once) records released in 2008, none of which are in my Top 10. Ah well, this just piques my curiosity enough to give "those records" another go at it. (I expect little to no change in my opinion.)
That said, here are my Top Ten Records of 2008.
1. PAUL WELLER- 22 DREAMS
I knew back in August that this record would end up on my top ten of 2008. I couldn't predict that I would love it so much, that it would finish at number one. Weller genre-hops so gracefully, from the garage-psych of the title track (ok, more than a bit of an Electric Prunes rip, but so what?) to the mod sounds of his heyday with The Jam to Sandy Denny inspired Brit Folk and 60's Northern Soul, that the lengthy running time feels anything but. This is a well-rounded and perfectly executed musical exploration of everything Paul Weller is about. KEY TRACKS: Sea Spray, Have You Made Up Your Mind, Invisible, All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You)
2. JENNY LEWIS - ACID TONGUE
The heart, love, life and soul that drips off of Jenny Lewis' voice is something I never quite got while listening to her work with Rilo Kiley. "Acid Tongue" brings Jenny Lewis to a new level. I hesitate to give this record a label. I hear everyone from Neil Young to Dusty Springfield and Laura Nyro. And then there's "The Carpetbaggers," a rocking duet with Elvis Costello sounding like a modern day Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty, and the absolutely mesmerizing title track, which could be my favorite song of the year. (Watch it HERE.) This is one of those records that slowly creeps up on you until it leaves you no choice but to say "Uncle! KEY TRACKS: Acid Tongue, Trying My Best To Love You, The Carpetbaggers (see below)
3. ELVIS COSTELLO- MOMOFUKU
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, it is most likely "Momofuku." I'm sorry if this bores you, but I am not going to get on the trendy Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver bandwagons. Both fine albums that do indeed deserve a listen or two, but both a bit too inconsistent and more than a bit pretentious to be considered best records of the year. Someone as prolific as Elvis Costello releasing yet another collection of strong material deserves more respect and more attention than this excellent recording has received. Some of E.C.'s best songs have been written in the last 10 years and can be found on albums that people paid little to no mind. "Momofuku" is one of those albums and it is solid from top to bottom, with some of Costello's best rockers in years, as well as two of his most moving ballads, the tribute to his children "My Three Sons" and the gorgeous "Song With Rose," written with Rosanne Cash.
KEY TRACKS: No Hiding Place, Song With Rose, My Three Sons, Pardon Me Madam
4. CHARLIE HADEN & FAMILY- RAMBLING BOY
A major figure in jazz, Charlie Haden has played with such legends as John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Stan Getz, as well as leading the Liberation Jazz Orchestra. But as a young boy, he sang with his family's country & western band. Now years later, Haden and his family return to those roots with some heavy duty friends along for the ride. Rosanne Cash, Vince Gill, Elvis Costello, and Bruce Hornsby are just some of the artists along with Haden's daughters Petra and Rachel contributing to this stunning collection of traditional country and bluegrass tunes. Absolutely beautiful. KEY TRACKS: The Fields Of Athenry, Wildwood Flower, Is This America
5. IRMA THOMAS- SIMPLY GRAND
The "Soul Queen Of New Orleans" sounds better than ever on this collection of songs that pairs Miss Thomas up with a different piano player on each tune. Randy Newman, Norah Jones, alongside New Orleans legends Dr. John and Ellis Marsalis, with Jon Cleary, Henry Butler and Marcia Ball, all exhibit their prowess on the 88s for an upbeat and often moving collection of songs that Thomas absolutely owns, including new compositions by Burt Bacharach, Cleary and the good Doctor. KEY TRACKS: Cold Rain, The River Is Waiting, Underground Steam, I Think It's Going To Rain Today
6. MUDCRUTCH- MUDCRUTCH
Almost 40 years in the making, Tom Petty's first band finally releases a record and MAN, what a record. This is better than anything Petty has released since 1989's "Full Moon Fever," and I think it's even better than that. The band sounds like they are having the time of their lives on this collection of mostly Petty originals, with a few covers thrown in for good measure, including a killer version of The Byrds' "Lover Of The Bayou." KEY TRACKS: This Is A Good Street, Lover Of The Bayou, Bootleg Flyer
7. GARY LOURIS- VAGABONDS
With each record released by a Jayhawk or as The Jayhawks, the mood gets more somber. These boys need to cheer up. But secretly, I'm loving it. No one does melancholy like Gary Louris and Mark Olson. On the Chris Robinson (of the Black Crowes) produced "Vagabonds," Louris and such friends as Susan Cowsill, Susannah Hoffs, Jenny Lewis, and Robinson, who act as a backing chorus for most of the tunes, channel everyone from John Lennon to Hank Williams and Nick Drake. Louris' songs are powerful enough, but it's Chris Robinson's brilliant campfire production that makes this record work. It's as if the band is playing just for you.
KEY TRACKS: True Blue, She Only Calls Me On Sundays, Vagabonds
8. THE CURE- 4:13 DREAM
This has been a long time comin'! Not only The Cure's best record since 1989's "Disintegration," but quite possibly their best record. "4:13 Dream" is the perfect blend of early Cure with the latter-day melodic pop band The Cure has tried to become. Robert Smith shows us the best of both his worlds on this killer album. KEY TRACKS: Underneath The Stars, Only One, Perfect Boy
9. SHE & HIM- VOLUME ONE
M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel create the surprise of the year. No one really knew Deschanel could sing, unless of course, you saw the movie "Elf." "Volume One" is a very sweet retro-trip, that the duo pulls off quite convincingly. With hints of Dusty Springfield, Cass Elliot, and Patsy Cline, Zooey Deschanel pulls you right in, especially on the jangly "This Is Not A Test," and the torchy "Change Is Hard."
KEY TRACKS: This Is Not A Test, Change Is Hard (see below), I Was Made For You
10. BOB DYLAN - TELL TALE SIGNS
Truth be told, "Tell Tale Signs" is my favorite record of the year. A treasure trove of newly released Dylan material that rivals anything the man has put out in his career, "Tell Tale Signs," is not technically a new record. This is material that had been written and recorded and then discarded (!) while recording the albums "Oh Mercy," "Time Out Of Mind," "Love & Theft" and "Modern Times." That these songs when pieced together, create one of the single most consistent records of Dylan's career, speaks volumes about Dylan's depth both as a songwriter AND a singer. This is my list and my blog, so I guess can make my own rules, but something tells me, slotting this as "Number 10 With An Explanation" was the more appropriate choice over placing it right at the top, where it really belongs.
KEY TRACKS: Every version of "Mississippi." Everything else.