MUSIC 2005: In Tune music critics pick their favorite (NOT ‘the best’) CDs of the year


MUSIC 2005: In Tune music critics pick their favorite (NOT ‘the best’) CDs of the year

12/30/2005

We liked these, even if you didn’t …

1. Drew Emmitt, “Across the Bridge (Compass) July 19 – Leftover Salmon’s longtime mandolin maestro Emmitt called a few friends, grabbed a couple of covers, headed for a woodshed in the Colorado Rockies and made the album Bill Monroe might have recorded had he fathered “jazzgrass” instead of bluegrass. Oh, there’s plenty of the latter here, driven blissfully by Stuart Duncan’s and Sam Bush’s talking fiddles. But “Bridge” rises above the pack with stunning musicianship on gems such as Dylan’s “Meet Me in the Morning” and Little Feat’s “All That You Dream,” (with Paul Barrere’s guest vocal no less) and a tour de force rendition of Emmitt’s own “Out in the Woods,” perhaps the most sublime seven minutes recorded all year, by anyone.
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2. Neil Diamond, “12 Songs” (Columbia) Nov. 8 – When you think about it, it probably was inevitable that Diamond and producer Rick Rubin eventually would get together to make a record. Diamond’s emotive lyrical style and gin-soaked Brooklyn vocals would seem to be Rubin’s cup of tea, especially after he took another superstar from another genre – Johnny Cash – to new, late-career heights. Which is why it’s easy to understand how Rubin managed to coax some of the best writing in decades from Diamond’s pen, and why Diamond tolerated the sparse arrangements and pared-down studio lineup. Did it work? Hell yeah it did!

3. Del McCoury Band, “The Company We Keep” (McCoury Music/Sugar Hill) July 12 – After more than four decades in the business, Bluegrass music’s reigning king of croon is rapidly expanding his fan base to include aficionados of jam-rock, folk and even jazz. This is the CD that pretty much accommodates them all, while abandoning none of his traditional, etched-in-accoustic roots. Every one of the 14 tracks here is a keeper, but “She Can’t Burn Me Now,” “Untamed” and son Ronnie’s mandolin romp “Seventh Heaven” are tied for first among equals.

4. Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, “Ragin’ Live” (Rounder) March 8 – Alison Krauss may have higher-profile bandmates and more pop cred, but she and her Union Station have nothing on Vincent and the Rage. If the proof is in the performance, “Ragin’ Live” presents an impressive body of evidence to support Vincent’s case. The Rage takes the stage at St. Louis’ Sheldon Concert Hall, grabs the audience by the throat and never lets go, loosening the grip occasionally for a high and lonesome ballad. But what Vincent does as well as any and better than most is simply kick grass.

5. Cream, “Royal Albert Hall” (Reprise) Oct. 4 – It had been 37 years since Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker played together in the living room, never mind the recording studio or concert stage. Listening to these two discs of highlights from their four-day reunion in May, though, you’d swear they had never disbanded. All the classics you’d expect from the original power trio – “White Room,” “Crossroads,” “Sunshine of Your Love” – are here, but they’re not even the best the set has to offer. “Badge” gets its first live workout ever, as does Baker’s hilarious “Pressed Rat & Warthog.”

6. Paul McCartney, “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard” (Capitol) Sept. 13 – Arguably the 20th Century’s biggest surviving pop star enters the 21st Century admittedly resting a bit on his considerable laurels, but managing to stay fresh enough to remain relevant, if no longer revolutionary. Check out “Riding to Vanity Fair” as an example.

7. Chris Hillman, “The Other Side” (Sovereign Artists) June 21 – Former Byrd and Burrito Brother revisits “Eight Miles High,” then continues to soar through a tight, grass-colored set that would be a spiritual experience even without the heavily gospel-flavored lyrics.

8. Neil Young, “Prairie Wind” (Reprise) Sept. 27 – The artist once sued by his own record label for making music no one wanted to listen to has emerged from a life-threatening confrontation with a brain aneurysm to make a record pretty much everyone can listen to and enjoy.

9. Van Morrison, “Magic Time” (Geffen/Exile/Polydor) May 17 – The title says it all. A thematic companion to 2002’s “Down the Road,” there’s also a little “Astral Weeks” here, a bit of “Moondance” there, and it’s all as sweet as … well, Tupelo honey.

10. Grateful Dead, “Fillmore West 1969” (Rhino) Nov. 1 – For Dead Heads weened on “Live/Dead,” “Fillmore” is like taking a gulp from the Holy Grail. “Dark Star” is the centerpiece of a compiled set that showcases all the guts, all the glory and even some of the endearing warts that were the early Grateful Dead.

Honorable mention: White Stripes, “Get Behind Me Satan”; Bright Eyes, “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning”; My Morning Jacket, “Z”; Stevie Wonder, “A Time to Love”; Alison Brown, “Stolen Moments”; Nickel Creek, “Why Should the Fire Die”; Dave Matthews Band, “Weekend on the Rocks”; Soundtrack – Bob Dylan, “No Direction Home”; Compilation – Various, “Bonnaroo Music Festival 2004”; Box – Johnny Cash, “The Legend.” (Dave Fennessy, editor)

* * *
1. David “Fathead” Newman, “I Remember Ray” (High Note) Jan 11 – No mere “tribute” album, this was a loving, aching and eloquent musical eulogy. “Georgia” alone will absolutely break your heart.

2. Charlie Haden Music Liberation Orchestra, “Not in Our Name” (Verve) Aug. 30 – While this might not be the easiest album to listen to, it’s much like America itself, both strangely magnetic and uncomfortably ill-at-ease at the same time. Powerful.

3. John Pizzarelli, “Knowing You” (Telarc) March 22 – Yes, it is true, you can be a serious player, and an engaging and enjoyable personality. Feel-good music you don’t have to apologize about.

4. Eddie Palmieri, “Listen Here!” (Concord/Picante) June 14 – The all-star killer Latin-jazz album of the year. Every cut is hotter than the last. Mike Brecker’s intense solo on the title cut is especially inspiring.

5. Marcus Miller, “Silver Rain” (Koch) April 12 – Is there anything in jazz that Miller can’t do, and do well? He displays a little bit of it all on this double disc. It’s live and it’s amazing.

6. YellowJackets, “Altered State” (Heads Up) March 22 – These guys are the MJQ of contemporary jazz. ‘Nuff said. Why else do you think they’re on this list ranked so high?

7. One More, “Music of Thad Jones” (IPO) March 29 – Talk about a “can’t-miss” concept – a dozen Thad Jones classics done by a diamond-studded ensemble of Benny Golson, James Moody, Frank Wess, Richard Davis, as well as Thad’s eldest brother Hank.

8. Monty Alexander, “Live at the Irdium” (Telarc) Feb. 22 – Few who have ever played jazz piano could do as much as Monty. Even if they could, Monty “live” puts him out of reach. And here, he’s really live.

9. Steve Turre, “Spirits Up Above” (High Note) Oct. 12 – Rahsaan Roland Kirk was as singular an artist as can be. Since his death in 1977, no one’s filled his huge shoes. This album effectively brings back Rahsaan’s spirit.

10. Joe Lovano Quartet, “Joyous Encounter” (Blue Note) May 12 – Evoking the sounds of a bygone era, the sage saxman is spare, thoughtful, cozy and smoldering. This intimate set also features superb playing from Hank Jones, too. (David Jaye, Daily News jazz columnist)

* * *
1. Sage Francis, “A Healthy Distrust” (Epitaph) Feb. 8 – When anger, disappointment, sadness and sarcasm are delivered this beautifully and precisely, it’s impossible to ignore. The Rhode Island poet/rapper Sage Francis not only picked the right people to put beats to his rants, but he managed to say just the right thing at the right time to connect with those who also feel like nothing ever will go right no matter how hard they try.

2. The Modey Lemon, “The Curious City” (Birdman) Aug. 16 – These three Pittsburgh dudes kept their psychedelic stomp in place, layered it with a heaping pile of fuzz and ear-splitting distortion and experimented just enough that it might make their music more palatable for most indie rock fans. The 16-minute closer “Trapped Rabbits” is a brilliant, fitting, chaotic ending to a record that just may be the band’s best yet.

3. Sleater-Kinney, “The Woods” (Sub-Pop) May 24 – Who says bands can’t evolve and produce their best work a decade into a recording career? The prevailing sentiment seems to be most groups do their best stuff early on, but these Seattle ladies proved that’s not always the case by pretty much pounding the hell out of their instruments and pushing their vocal ranges to their limits.

4. Bright Eyes, “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” (Saddle Creek) Jan. 25 – Conor Oberst managed to top his already revered back catalog with this largely acoustic, countrified disc that tells tales of heartbreak, loneliness and emotional disengagement with a war-hungry nation. There are a handful of true tear-jerkers on this record, topped by “Poison Oak” and “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now.”

5. The Decemberists, “Picaresque” (Kill Rock Stars) March 22 – It’s tough to say if this Pacific Northwest band is trying to write geeky, dramatic rock songs or score some bizarre stage production in their heads. Either way, “Picaresque” is a rousing, exciting platter that gets better with every listen. I spin this disc at least once a week, usually more.

6. My Morning Jacket, “Z” (ATO/RCA) Oct. 4 – Many thought My Morning Jacket would implode after two-fifths of the band’s members bolted after “It Still Moves.” But Jim James and his southern-fired crew carried on, plugged in and produced their most dynamic and diverse record ever, highlighted by malt shop rocker “What a Wonderful Man,” Elvis Costello-style “Off the Record” and blazing closer “Dondante.”

7. Minus the Bear, “Menos el Oro” (Suicide Squeeze) Aug. 23 – They may have left the silly song titles at home (well, mostly), but their cleanly jerked guitars and prog-pop stylings have remained intact. It may take a few spins to get the groove, but once the magic is discovered it’s hard not rocking the hell out of “The Game Needed Me,” “The Fix” and “Pachuca Sunrise.”

8. Giant Drag, “Hearts and Unicorns” (Kickball) Sept. 13 – I admit it: I’m in love with Annie Hardy. But it’s not for her looks (which are just fine, thank you) but instead for her raspy, girly delivery and fist-in-your groin messages on songs such as “Kevin is Gay,” “Cordial Invitation” and not-as-vulgar-as-the-song-title-indicates “yflmd.”

9. Atmosphere, “You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having” (Rhymesayer) Oct. 4 – Sean Daley, or Slug, never is at a loss for words, and that doesn’t change on the funny, biting “You Can’t Imagine.” But as powerful as Slug’s raps are this time around, Ant’s beat and sample selection is so top notch, Kanye West might be sitting somewhere taking notes. Make sure to visit “Watch Out,” “Pour Me Another” and the shocking, sobering “That Night.” It’s a true story.

10. Between the Buried and Me, “Alaska” (Victory) Sept. 6 – It’s been a bad year for metal, so thankfully BTBAM whipped together this prog-death psychotic attack. There are even more tempo changes, guttural-growl-into-angelic-crooning moments and bombastic guitar solos than both of their other albums combined. Plus, they have song titles such as “Selkies: The Endless Obsession.” What?!

Honorable mentions: Fiona Apple, “Extraordinary Machine”; High on Fire, “Blessed Black Wings”; And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, “Worlds Apart”; Erin McKeown, “We Will Become Like Birds”; Tegan and Sara, “So Jealous”; Comrad (self-titled). (Brian Krasman, entertainment editor)

* * *
1. Shooter Jennings, “Put The ‘O’ Back In Country” (Universal South) March 1 – The only son of country music legends Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, Shooter’s debut more than maintains the family legacy. It’s a shame Waylon died before his son launched his own musical career. A near-perfect blend of outlaw country and Southern rock, “Put the ‘O’ Back In Country” starts strong with the title track and continues to improve over the course of the next 11 songs.

2. Bright Eyes, “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” (Saddle Creek) Jan. 25 – You’d be hard-pressed to find a more enigmatic rock star than Conor Oberst, the 25-year-old Nebraskan who is the only permanent member of Bright Eyes. A collection of 10 acoustic guitar-heavy tracks, many of the songs – especially disc opener “At the Bottom of Everything” – have a Dylanesque folk-rock feel.

3. Franz Ferdinand, “You Could Have It So Much Better” (Epic) Oct. 4 – After 2004’s unbelievably enjoyable self-titled debut album, no one would have blamed Franz Ferdinand for resting on their laurels. Instead, the Scottish quartet hit the studio for a follow-up that, while maintaining the band’s signature sound, explores new musical ground and, amazingly, is better than it’s predecessor.

4. M.I.A., “Arular” (XL/Beggars) March 22 – It’s safe to say M.I.A. is the most talented female rapper in all of Sri Lanka. After all, how many others can you name? “Arular” is an almost overwhelming blend of sounds – crunk, Jamaican dancehall, electronica – that come together perfectly. You might not understand half the words she’s saying, but you won’t be able to resist dancing along to the beats.

5. The Clumsy Lovers, “Smart Kid” (Nettwerk) June 7 – Why haven’t more people discovered this Canadian gem? Over the past couple years I’ve played the country-rock-Celtic-bluegrass quintet’s albums for a handful of people. The reaction is always the same: These guys are amazing. Even my 3-year-old son will let me turn off Barney and the Wiggles to listen to the Lovers. And that’s saying something. “Smart Kid,” the band’s sixth album, is their best to date. Chris Jonat’s songwriting continues to mature and the band members seem perfectly in sync.

6. The Magic Numbers, self-titled (Capitol) Oct. 4 – Drawing inspiration from such varied sources as the Mamas and the Papas and the Flaming Lips, the Magic Numbers have created a sound uniquely their own. The band, which includes two sets of brothers and sisters, pays homage to the harmony groups of the 1960s – disc opener “Mornings Eleven” could have been recorded 40 years ago – while maintaining a modern edge.

7. Neil Diamond, “12 Songs” (Columbia) Nov. 8 – Rick Rubin is a god. He rejuvenated Johnny Cash’s career a decade ago and has done the same for pop legend Neil Diamond. Stripped (of most) of the shtick that marks Diamond’s recent albums and his ever-popular stage shows, the Rubin-produced “12 Songs” is Neil at his bare-bones best.

8. Jason Mraz, “Mr. A-Z” (Elektra) July 26 – Jason Mraz is a strangely polarizing presence in the music world. While not quite as good as its predecessor, “Mr. A-Z” is an enjoyable album that includes some of the best songs in the Mraz catalog – “Wordplay,” “Geek In the Pink” and the haunting “Bella Luna.”

9. The White Stripes, “Get Behind Me Satan” (V2) June 7 – Jack and Meg White exploded into the mainstream with 2003’s “Elephant,” one of that year’s most outstanding albums. With “Get Behind Me Satan,” the Stripes have outdone themselves. More reliant on piano than the guitar-driven “Elephant,” “Satan” is unmistakably a White Stripes album, yet different than anything else they’ve done.

10. Ben Lee, “Awake Is the New Sleep” (New West) Feb. 22 – Best known as the ex-boyfriend of actress Clare Danes, Aussie Ben Lee finally seems on the verge of stardom in his own right with his fifth album, “Awake Is the New Sleep.” With fantastic songs such as “Whatever It Is,” “Gamble Everything for Love” and “Catch My Disease,” this should be the record that introduces him to the world.

Honorable Mention: Fiona Apple, “Extraordinary Machine”; The New Pornographers, “The New Pornographers”; Povertyneck Hillbillies “Don’t Look Back”; James Blunt, “Back to Bedlam”; Spoon, “Gimme Fiction”; Louis XIV, “The Best Little Secrets Are Kept”; Kanye West, “Late Registration”; Shakira, “Oral Fixation, Vol. 2.” (Jeffrey Sisk, managing editor)

* * *
1. Circa Survive, “Juturna” (Equal Vision) April 19 – Two words: Anthony Green. This record is for all the kids who fell in love with ex-Saosin frontman Green’s vocal stylings in 2003 and then grew up.

2. Every Time I Die, “Gutter Phenomenon” (Ferret) Aug. 23 – If there’s one thing ETID always will get right, they sure can shock me, shock me, shock me with that deviant behavior. While some arrangements on the band’s third Ferret full-length seem to have taken influence from a mild sedative, the lyrics aren’t exactly delicate. They’re bold and slutty as ever.

3. The Decemberists, “Picaresque” (Kill Rock Stars) March 22 – Who remembers theater? The Decemberists, that’s who! P.S. Anyone who can use the word “veranda” in a rhyme scheme is A-OK in my book.

4. Coheed and Cambria, “Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness” (Sony) Sept. 20 – Yes, this record is a cheating, teasing piece of annoyance that led story-hungry fans into a hair-pulling pit of frustration. We didn’t want to hear about writer’s block for an hour, but that’s what we got and we’re trying to be happy. It’s still catchy!

5. Panic! at the Disco, “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out” (Decaydance) Sept. 27 – Part pop, part faggy disco, and part dysfunctional cabaret. What more could anyone possibly need?

6. Chiodos, “All’s Well That Ends Well” (Equal Vision) July 26 – I understand we’ve reached a point where nasal emo vocals are totally annoying, but sometimes – when mixed with piano and weird screaming – they’re OK. I promise.

7. Bright Eyes, “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn” (Saddle Creek) Jan. 25 – Yes, in the 2005 Bright Eyes dual-release package, I picked the one everybody else forgot. While “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” showed a unique, mature side of Conor Oberst, I missed the boyish thing. “Digital Ash” felt more like fun.

8. The Fall of Troy, “Doppleganger” (Equal Vision) Aug. 16 – Is there such a thing as prog-core? Let’s pretend this weird Brazil-meets-Fear Before the March of Flames combo platter fits the bill for that strangely concocted genre and call it a day.

9. Fall Out Boy, “From Under the Cork Tree” (Island) May 3 – While Panic! At the Disco made a better Fall Out Boy record than they themselves, this one held up just fine for a few months until “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out” was released.

10. As I Lay Dying, “Shadows Are Security” (Metal Blade) June 14 – OK, so it’s probably obvious I think 2005 was a terrible year for music. I think that’s made far more obvious when As I Lay Dying can make the same album twice and still end up on my list. So, second time’s a … charm? (Jennifer R. Vertullo, staff writer)

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