Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Albums of the year

After our discussions here earlier about desert-island movies and music, I've spent the past couple of weeks thinking about my favorite albums of 2008. I even bought a few hit records I hadn't listened to before, just to make sure I wasn't missing anything.

For the most part, no.

So, here's my list, a mix of new releases by some old favorites and a few by younger acts. As always my taste tilts toward singer-songwriters and thrashing or psychedelic rockers, with just a taste here of jazz, blues and country.

What are your favorite 2008 albums?

Bob Dylan. “Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8.” This collection makes two great points: that Dylan’s later period, covering the albums “Oh Mercy” to “Modern Times,” includes some exceptional songwriting, and that both the songs and the singer are wonderfully versatile. Just listen to the two alternate-take versions of “Mississippi” included here, as well as the original on “Love and Theft,” to hear how much Dylan can get out of one song (and vice versa). A treat of a peek into a master’s creative process.

Calexico. “Carried to Dust.” Like a top-down, windows-open road trip across the desert. With the group’s trademark mariachi-style horns and alt-rocky guitars the sound can turn dark and moody, as on “Man Made Lake,” or like something from a Tarantino soundtrack, as on “Writer’s Minor Holiday.” Whatever the destination I’m happy to be along for the ride.

Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis. “Two Men With the Blues.” To me this is what a collaborative or duet album should be: two outstanding artists from different genres bringing sensibilities that change and enhance each other’s music. (Last year’s Robert Plant/Alison Krauss release is another good example.) I love how Willie’s laid-back voice floats above the locked-in New Orleans sound of Marsalis’ band.

Lucinda Williams. “Little Honey.” After reading some mixed reviews I’m almost surprised by how much I like this album. I was afraid that her marriage and reported happiness would take the grit out of Lucinda’s songwriting. Instead it’s just more material, and there’s plenty of dark, bluesy alt-country goodness here too. Great mix of sounds and moods, although it all feels like one piece.

Radiohead. “In Rainbows.” Maybe the best band working right now. Aside from the music, which I love for its pulsing, dreamy intelligence, props to this record for widening the distribution possibilities, or at least popularizing the idea that different models can work.

Lou Reed. “Berlin: Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse.” Lou Reed still puts the rock in art rock. I’ve been a fan since the “Transformer” days, but if anything I think Reed is getting better as he gets older. Still biting and intelligent, but he seems less self-consciously arty or shocking here and more about the music, which is muscular and clear. I love the urgency on “Caroline Says” and the way the song’s two parts bracket “How Do You Think It Feels” and “Oh Jim.” My favorite concert album of the year.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks. “Real Emotional Trash.” Cool Hendrixy psychedelic sound and dynamic, inviting vocals. It’s pop with an edge and some wit and intelligence.

The Raconteurs. “Consolers of the Lonely.” Driving, high-energy, chops-tastic rock, as classic as a Led Zeppelin guitar riff and as fresh and unpredictable as Jack White’s askew point of view. The sound is great, the writing diverse and engaging. Also, they played a great set at this year’s New Orleans Jazzfest.

The Pretenders. “Break Up the Concrete.” Cool as ever, Chrissie Hynde brings her signature combination of feistiness, brains and sexiness to a new group of musicians who deliver a powerful, vintage Pretenders sound. From the fun romp of “Boots of Chinese Plastic” to the mournfulness of “One Thing Never Changed,” this is an album worth waiting for.

Jackson Browne. “Time the Conqueror.” In a sense, the wisdom of the title track is belied by the album as a whole. Jackson Browne conquers time, not the other way around, with a sound that feels as fresh and relevant today as it did in his easygoing ‘70s-troubadour heyday. Thoughtful, political, engaging, easy-to-listen-to music, and Browne’s voice has never sounded better.


Michelle said...

I haven't been paying enough attention to new albums this year. But I will take this opportunity to post my top ten of all time. Actually, Sorry, I wasn't really able to do that. I'm doing a top 20 instead, in no particular order:

1. Brian Eno, Here Come the Warm Jets. "Baby's on fire. Better throw her in the water."
2. Talking Heads, '77
3. David Bowie's Low. Doesnt get mentioned a lot, but I love it. Hypnotic licks: "Lately, I've been. Breaking glass in your room again. Listen." "You're just a little girl with gray eyes. Never mind. Say Something. Wait until the crowd cries. You're just a little girl with gray eyes." He sure was inventive for many years.
4. Talking Heads, Remain in Light
5. Pretenders, Pretenders
6. Lou Reed, Transformer
7. Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure
8. Elvis Costello, Girls, Girls, Girls.
9. Fiona Apple, Tidal
10. G. Love and Special Sauce, G. Love and Special Sauce
11. Sheryl Crowe, Tuesday Night Music Club
12. Joan Osborne, Relish
13. Get Shorty soundtrack
14. K.D. Lang, Shadowland
15. Peter Gabriel, So
16. Shelby Lynne, I Am Shelby Lynne
17. Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
18. Stevie Ray Vaughn, Soul to Soul
19. Michelle Shocked, Short, Sharp, Shocked
20. Paul Simon, Graceland

Honorable Mention:
Lauryn Hill, Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Blondie Parallel Lines. Classic.
Daniel Lanois, Acadie
David Bowie's Heroes, especially the obscure side two instrumentals

Ronelle said...

Hi M&M,

I have been thinking about this assignment, but just can't seem to narrow it down. Tonight you guys hit on some of my absolute favorites. JACKSON BROWNE...ahhh...I think he single handedly got me through the manic college years. I like the new cd too Mark, but my all time favorite is Late for the Sky. Others that have been mentioned that I like are:The Pretenders, Graceland, Parallel Lines,many by Willie Nelson; Tom Petty, Billy Joel (the Piano Man and Storm Front...sorry Mark), and one that hasn't been mentioned...Boz Skaggs, Silk Degrees, James Taylor (anything), Elton John (maybe Madman Across the Water), Frank Sinatra (favorite song...The Summer Breeze), Fleetwood Mac Rumours or The Dance, and how about Carole King Tapestry. I have had so much trouble with this question and now I can't stop. Anyway - it was fun to remember some of my favorite songs -now I am going to get out the cd's and do a Casey Kasem style run down.
Happy Thanksgiving!