Thursday, December 28, 2006

My top 10 CDs of 2006: the List had to come...

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)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The return of No Doubt, the Grammys: who cares?

Okay, the phrase for today is "Humbug."

Billboard ran an article penned by Jonathan Cohen yesterday (Dec. 12, 2006) that focused on the release of Gwen Stefani's newly-released second solo album. Rather than giving me cause for concern (as if I really care if No Doubt ever completes another album), the story only served to remind me how little her music ever really mattered.

Gwen is really just a product, like Madonna. The airbrushed, Adobe PhotoShop-styled flawless image of her with these silly sunglasses and alien hairstyle only cements that perception that even if she rejoined No Doubt, music would be the last thing on the band's mind. I have to be honest I hardly glanced at the recent Grammy nominations announcement. Does it really matter?

At the end of the day, those of you who really love music and feel excited about specific songs or artists won't be influenced by who wins what award. I won't stop listening to Paul McCartney, Neil Young or Keane if they miss out in their respective fields. Just as I know fans of John Mayer, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and overhyped Dixie Chicks won't stop listening whether or not they have field days when the 49th Grammy Awards are broadcast on Feb. 11, 2007.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Robert Lockwood Jr., gone but not forgotten

I would guess that it was Chuck Berry, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Ike Turner that were the biggest draws at the Doheny Blues Festival when it was staged in Dana Point in September 2004.

But the best performer of the day was not among the headliners, nor among the young up-and-comers on the bill that day. In fact, it was the appearance of Robert Lockwood Jr. that made the fest so memorable for me. Lockwood, then nearing age 90, sang and played his electric 12-string guitar with emotional weight and purpose that defied his age. Lockwood, who was taught guitar by Robert Johnson and was likely the last living music link with the legendary bluesman, performed a magical 45-minute set at the Backporch Stage, including great versions of "C.C. Rider" and "Ramblin on My Mind."
He will be missed...