Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Favorite Records Of 2009
I'm an ardent defender of pop music. A good record is a good record and it shouldn't matter who made it. I've been known to get a little stupid in defense of a good pop tune. I love the Pet Shop Boys because they make great records. Pre-breakdown Britney had some very catchy singles, too. When was the last time you really listened to "Back For Good" by Take That? Absolutely gorgeous. And once a year, I feel I have to profess my love for the Backstreet Boys "I Want It That Way." But before I get to my favorite records of 2009, I want to go on record as saying that there is nothing worse, nothing more offensive than the popularity and success of Lady Gaga. She gets my vote for worst EVERYTHING of 2009! Worst movie of 2009? Lady Gaga. Worst restaurant? Lady Gaga. Worst airline? You ga-got it. LADY GAGA.
Lady Gaga makes Tiffany look like Ethel Waters.
MY FAVORITE RECORDS OF 2009
(in alphabetical order)
BRENDAN BENSON- MY OLD, FAMILIAR FRIEND
The best review I can give Benson's 4th solo album is that I played this record more than any other record this year. The first week it was in my possession, it basically served as the soundtrack to my day. Brendan Benson serves up some pop perfection on a dozen songs, with not so subtle nods to the British Invasion, Motown, and New Wave. Hook after hook, harmony upon harmony, "My Old, Familiar Friend" consistently satisfies. Check out "Feel A Whole Lot Better" and "Garbage Day" and you'll be hooked.
BLACK CROWES- BEFORE THE FROST...UNTIL THE FREEZE
The uneven studio output of the Brothers Robinson has given us the great, "Shake Your Money Maker," "The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion," and "By Your Side" and the horrible "Lions" and Warpaint." But I have seen The Black Crowes multiple times on every tour since their first and they have never disappointed me. So it was a good idea to record their new album, "Before The Frost..." in front of a small, live audience at Levon Helm's Woodstock Barn, where the magic has finally been captured. This is what the boys do best; Faces-inspired rockers, The Band-inspired ballads, and the southern soul Chris & Rich Robinson were born to play. "...Until The Freeze, the bonus download disc doesn't fare as well. But it's got enough on it to keep everyone happy.
ROSANNE CASH- THE LIST
I hope we all know the story by now. Early on in Miss Cash's career, her very famous dad gave her a list of 100 essential songs. "The List" features 12 of them, or at least what Rosanne recalls being on the list. The new book "Always Been There: Rosanne Cash, The List, and The Spirit Of Southern Music" explains, among many other things, that the "list" was safely misplaced (my words). No matter. Both the book, and the CD are two of my favorite things of the year. What Rosanne Cash and producer/husband John Leventhal bring to this collection is not just another standard reading of country standards. Instead, every song here, no matter how many times you think you've heard it, (songs like "Sea Of Heartbreak," "Take These Chains," and "Long Black Veil,") has been reinvented, not so much to damage the legend, but just enough to let Rosanne Cash shine.
ALEX MCMURRAY- HOW TO BE A CANNONBALL
My first introduction to Alex McMurray was a song called "Bad Apples" by his band Royal Fingerbowl. I couldn't believe my ears. There was nothing like it. A truly kick-ass stomp of a song and certainly one of the nastiest ever written. I have been a fan of Alex's ever since and 10 years later, he has released one of the best records of the year. As Threadhead Records' Chris Joseph stated, "McMurray is the make believe stepchild of Tom Waits and Randy Newman." I'd like to add that "Cannonball" is the perfect combination of love, humor, pathos, and insanity. And back in the good old days, this record would have been an FM radio staple and Alex McMurray would be selling out 500 seaters across the country. You should get lost in this record.
PEARL JAM- BACKSPACER
It's been a long time since Pearl Jam put something out, that to my ears, had anything remotely exciting as the material on their first two albums which are now over 15 years old. "Backspacer" is not only that record, I will go on record as saying it is the best record of their career. Clocking in at a cool 38 minutes, "Backspacer" has so much melody and so much energy, not since the classic records of the 60s and 70s has a record packed such a consistent wallop. And Eddie Vedder has come a long way as a singer and songwriter. Must be from hanging out with Pete Townshend, Neil Young, and Neil Finn because all three of them show up in spirit on this wonderful record. 2 best moments- "Just Breathe" and "Speed Of Sound," beautiful ballads that belie the grungy past of this now legendary band.
JOHN SCOFIELD- PIETY STREET
Legendary jazz guitarist John Scofield has enlisted some of New Orleans' finest, including George Porter Jr., Jon Cleary, and John Boutte, as well as the great, underrated Ricky Fataar on drums, for a new spin on traditional Gospel music. I loved this record right out of the box. It's not traditional nor does it stray very far from the spirit or meaning of the repertoire. What these seasoned players accomplish is fresh, exciting, uplifiting and soulful.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN- WORKING ON A DREAM
This wasn't going to make the Top Ten, but not for the right reasons. I am pretty sure I trashed a good portion of this record when it was first released. Plus, "Outlaw Pete" continues to confound me. (I really hate it.) But not giving this record the credit it deserves simply because it's not the record you want out of Bruce is also wrong. Repeated listens begat repeated listens. That is exactly what good music should do. With each play I discovered something more amazing. It's a big and bold pop record, which yes, at times, gets a bit bogged down in its own production. But the pastiche pieces that evoke everyone from The Byrds to The Beach Boys to Phil Spector and back, are from the heart, even if Bruce isn't writing about state troopers and ex-cons. Start with track 2 and just forget "Meeting Across The River" for 45 minutes. "Working On A Dream," released by anyone else, would be on a lot of Top Ten lists.
ALLEN TOUSSAINT - THE BRIGHT MISSISSIPPI
Producer Joe Henry, and some of the greatest names in jazz including Don Byron, Nicholas Payton, Marc Ribot, Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman help New Orleans' legend Allen Toussaint interpret some of the greatest music ever written. Songs such as "West End Blues," "Dear Old Southland," "St. James Infirmary" and "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" stay melodically true to the originals, but are given something special thanks to the stellar line-up involved. This is a beautiful piece of work and a record that finally gets to show the amazing piano playing of its leader, Allen Toussaint.
KRISTINA TRAIN- SPILT MILK
Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones, Shelby Lynne, and most recently Duffy have all had success channeling Dusty Springfield. But as good as these ladies are, no one has nailed it like newcomer Kristina Train. Every song is a stunning heartbreaker, with Miss Train's soulful voice wrapping around some of the most memorable melodies of the year. "Spilt Milk" is a winner, top to bottom.
U2- NO LINE ON THE HORIZON
Don't hate him because he is Bono. You'd just be denying yourself one of the best records of U2's career and one of the best of 2009. This band gets better and better. Songs like the first single "Get On Your Boots" and "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy" are relentlessly catchy, while Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry continue to seep into your soul with big and beautful ballads like "Moment Of Surrender." Great, great stuff from a great, great band.
THE REST OF MY FAVORITES OF 2009
ELVIS COSTELLO- SECRET, PROFANE SUGARCANE
Elvis sticks his toe into some CBGB (country, bluegrass and blues- BUT YOU KNEW THAT) with great success.
MARSHALL CRENSHAW- JAGGEDLAND
Almost 30 years after one of the greatest debuts in music, Crenshaw returns with his strongest work in years.
LEVON HELM- ELECTRIC DIRT
Levon's voice and Levon's drumming--enough said.
IAN HUNTER- MAN OVERBOARD
At 70, Ian Hunter continues to make relevant music. Beautiful, understated, and completely Ian.
BUDDY & JULIE MILLER- WRITTEN IN CHALK
No one does country honk and heartbreak like Buddy & Julie. This is the best work of their very solid career.
MILES NIELSEN- MILES
Son of Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, oddly sounds more like Robin Zander, on this smart debut filled with influence from John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, and of course, Cheap Trick.
PAUL SANCHEZ & JOHN BOUTTE- STEW CALLED NEW ORLEANS
Two of New Orleans' best, team-up for some down home swing and soul...and blues...and jazz...and...well... if you know anything about these two artists, you'll agree, this is the album you wanted them to make.
7 WORLDS COLLIDE- THE SUN CAME OUT
Conceived by Neil Finn and brought to reality with the help of Wilco, members of Radiohead, Eddie Vedder, K.T. Tunstall and Tim Finn, this is the result of two weeks of recording, living, hanging, eating drinking and sharing, with proceeds going to Oxfam. Truly a band effort.
GERAINT WATKINS- IN A BAD MOOD
Welsh keyboardist and long time Nick Lowe sideman Watkins serves up his own brand of Cajun honky tonk. One of the most original records of the year.
WILCO- WILCO (THE ALBUM)
Chicago's finest is back with their most accessible and melodic album in ages.
And that's the lot. Tomorrow, the music continues...in a big way.