Top 10 albums of 2006 (With first album - Carbon Leaf - being best album of 2006)
Carbon Leaf “Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat” (Vanguard) – The potency of “Learn to Fly,” “Under the Wire” and “A Girl and Her Horse” alone might have landed this album in my top 10 for the year, but it is the strength and timeless territory of all the songs on “Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat” that make this a modern-day classic. Anyone wondering whatever happened to the supernatural quality of 1980s-era R.E.M. will find that rekindled with a listen to the latest disc from Richmond, Virginia-based Carbon Leaf.
L.E.O. “Alpacas Orgling” (Cheap Lullaby) – If you haven’t heard this album, make sure you do. There are echoes of Electric Light Orchestra, Cheap Trick and Traveling Wilburys all over the place. But with the kind of unrestrained elation exhibited across this 10-song effort, I’ll be playing these songs years from now. L.E.O. is a modern day version of the Traveling Wilburys, conceived by Bleu and also featuring notables like Mike Viola (The Candy Butchers), Steve Gorman (The Black Crowes) and Andy Sturmer (Jellyfish).
Rosanne Cash “Black Cadillac” (Capitol) – Written in the wake of the death of her mother (Vivian Liberto Cash Distin), father (Johnny Cash) and stepmother (June Carter Cash), Rosanne Cash’s “Black Cadillac” is a layered and emotional tribute that is a musical memoir to her loved ones and served to remind the rest of us that she is one of modern music’s most overlooked voices.
The Decemberists “The Crane Wife” (Capitol) – A beautiful and literate album that showcases this Portland, Oregon outfit’s unique and wide-ranging sound. From the instantly-memorable “O Valencia!” and folk rock-styled title track to the 70s-minded prog rock of the 12-1/2 minute “The Island,” Colin Meloy and company delivered a masterwork on “The Crane Wife.”
Keane “Under the Iron Sea” (Island Records) – Only time will likely tell if Keane’s broader brush strokes employed on the sophomore effort “Under the Iron Sea” will equal the accessible hits such as “Somewhere Only We Know” and “Everything’s Changing” on the trio’s “Hopes and Fears” debut. However, the darker shades that provide a strong undercurrent on “Crystal Ball,” “Try Again” and “Atlantic” made “Under the Iron Sea” one of the best rock albums of 2006.
Bruce Springsteen “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” (Columbia) – This collection may boost material taken mostly from singer-songwriter-musicologist Pete Seeger’s songbook, but there is no denying that the sound and hootenanny- fashioned performances here capture the innumberable gifts that Bruce Springsteen brings to the musical table. Get the “American Land Edition” released in October 2006. It features an expanded 40-minute documentary and an 18-song CD that features some of the most compelling recordings released in 2006. “O Mary Don’t You Weep,” “Erie Canal,” “Pay Me My Money Down” and “Mrs. McGrath” are standouts.
The Gin Blossoms “Major Lodge Victory” (Hybrid/Red) – Every rock fan has a guilty pleasure that will bring them scorn – even from friends. I’ll admit it; I am a long-time fan of the Gin Blossoms. “Major Lodge Victory” marked a welcome return by the Tempe, Arizona rockers. And loaded with infectious rockers (“Long Time Gone,” “Learning the Hard Way”) and melodic ballads (“Heart Shaped Locket,” “The End of the World”), what’s not to love here?
The Distants “Broken Gold” (Blue Cave Records) – If members of the Cocteau Twins, Sonic Youth and Jane’s Addiction teamed to record an album in 2006, it might well sound like the Distants’ “Broken Gold.” The Los Angeles quartet is able to mix up ethereal moodiness with driving modern rock across the 10-song disc, which also includes a winning cover of the Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary.”
Neil Young “Living with War” (Reprise) – Leave it to one of rock’s most prolific and unpredictable champions to release another classic. Written and recorded in under a month and featuring a 100-voice choir hastily recruited in Los Angeles, Neil Young’s “Living With War” rocks in a way that even the loudest contemporary metal and punk bands can’t. And more amazing, “Living with War” came a mere eight months after the release of Young’s beautiful acoustic gem “Prairie Wind.”
Los Lobos “The Town and the City” (Hollywood Records) – Is it my imagination, or does Los Lobos just keep getting better? Thirty or so years after the East L.A. outfit embarked on its musical journey, “The Town and the City” supplies a warm and wonderful overview of the quintet’s blend of rock ‘n’ roll, country, blues, country and Tex-Mex styles that make them one of rock’s most original music making groups.
Honorable Mentions, or the infamous 11-20 ranking:
Aimee Mann "One More Drifter in the Snow" (SuperEgo)
Tom Petty "Highway Companion" (Warner Bros.)
Garrison Starr “The Sound of You & Me” (Vanguard Records)
Nils Lofgren "Sacred Weapon" (Hilmer Music Publishing Co.)
Morrissey “Ringleader of the Tormentors” (Sanctuary Records Group)
Trespassers William “having” (Nettwerk)
Rock Kills Kid “Are You Nervous?” (Reprise/Warner Bros.)
Snow Patrol “Eyes Open” (A&M)
Glen Phillips “Mr. Lemons”
Delerium “Nuages Du Monde” (Nettwerk)