10. Linda Thompson- Won't Be Long Now
The opener, "Love's For Babies And Fools," was a bit of a shock. It's been six years since Thompson last released a record and I wasn't prepared for the change in her voice. A bit older. A bit deeper. But as "Won't Be Long Now" continued to play, I got lost in its beauty and Linda Thompson sounded as perfect as ever. Backed by her kids Kami & Teddy, as well as her ex Richard, "Won't Be Long Now" is an emotional powerhouse. Nothing surprises. Thompson sticks to what she does best, British folk. But it's the material, especially "If I Were A Bluebird," co-written with Ron Sexsmith that makes this record truly shine.
9. Bob Dylan-Another Self Portrait
I've heard many refer to this collection of lost sessions as "Dylan's best record!" I'm sure no one sincerely means that, but it is hard to dismiss just how wonderful "Another Self Portrait" really is. Maybe everyone is stunned by the project itself- 2 CDs worth of alternates, outtakes and rarities from one of Zimmy's notoriously bad records. Why? Well, because these performances are that good!
8. The Wood Brothers- The Muse
My first real introduction to The Wood Brothers was hearing them perform as an opening act. Their 35 minute set was so satisfying, I was tempted to leave before the headliner. Tight harmonies, simple, rootsy & honest tunes and stellar musicianship. And it was FUN! That's right, fun. Could they possibly bring this to the table on a studio set? Yes. "The Muse" is all that!
7. John Paul Keith- Memphis Circa 3AM
This is how you do it. Can't decide which of your idols you want to emulate? Emulate them all! Elvis, Roy, Johnny, and of course, John, Paul and Keith all make spiritual appearances on this killer collection of tunes, with one song catchier than the next. This one swings and rocks from top to bottom, and it has a sweetness to it, too! Really not a bad track in the lot.
6. Elvis Costello & The Roots- Wise Up Ghost
The general consensus on these pages was one of great disappointment over this release, though there were a few readers who, like myself, found "Wise Up Ghost" to be a thrilling achievement. I will admit to wanting the record to be something else. What? I'm not sure. Did I want Elvis rapping? Or The Roots funking up songs from "Imperial Bedroom?" What we have here is unique. It's an experiment that has a few flaws, but mostly keep you on your toes. The band, led by drummer-extraordinare ?uestlove, is in a pocket so deep, they've been accused of not playing at all, but sampling and looping everything. It's not so. This record has layers of greatness and I love it.
5. Neil Finn & Paul Kelly- Goin' Your Way
A few months back I posted the full two-plus hour webcast of Neil Finn & Paul Kelly live from the Sydney Opera House. This is the soundtrack. It's not just a live recording. This is an event, as two brilliant songwriters decided to do more than just tour together. Paul sings Neil. Neil sings Paul. 30 songs over two CDs. Wonderful!
4. Tim Christensen, Mike Viola, Tracy Bonham & The Damn Crystals-Pure McCartney
Speaking of "not just a live recording," this sneaky little release took up a whole lot of my time when I finally got my grubby llittle hands on it. Basically, it's a live performance of Paul McCartney's "Ram," with an encore of Paul McCartney hits. Why is this so special? Well, you just have to hear it and see it to believe it. And you will. This group of musicians nails it in every conceivable way. The playing, the singing and the real secret weapon to the success...the spirit.
3. Mavis Staples- One True Vine
Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and the legendary Mavis Staples are back for an encore and it is every bit as good as Round One. Though Miss Mavis has the pipes, credit must be given to Tweedy as the producer, choosing the right material and stepping back on the production. Like the previous release, Tweedy gives Mavis a couple of tunes, "One True Vine" and "Jesus Wept." And like the previous release, those two are the highlights of a very strong record.
2. Steve Earle & The Dukes (And Duchesses)- The Low Highway
This is Steve Earle's best record. There! I said it. He's made some fantastic records in his long and storied career, but no record is as coherent and as diverse and as musical as "The Low Highway." Was it the time he spent in New Orleans that inspired him? This record feels like a melting pot of styles, and like New Orleans, it all seems natural.
1. David Bowie- The Next Day
What can I say here that hasn't already been said in every music rag, paper and blog? To release an album almost 50 years into a career, have it not only sound contemporary and fresh, but to also contain some of the strongest material of said career, this can only be the work of David Bowie.
Long time Bowie fans will recognize the sounds and textures from such records as 1977's "Low" and 1979's "Lodger." But unlike those two records, the songs on "The Next Day" are more realized and more radio-friendly.
The long layoff since Bowie's last release in 2004 had everyone questioning his health, so when the first single appeared out of nowhere on the singer's birthday in January, the chatter was deafening. "Where Are We Now?" is a melancholy ballad about time gone by. A beautiful piece of music that does not truly represent the energy found in so many tunes from "The Next Day."
This is my favorite record of the year and many times throughout the year, I even considered it as the finest record of David Bowie's career. I'm just not ready to go on record with that.