Sunday, December 31, 2006

As promised the album reviews of 2006, in no particular order.


The Hold Steady: Boys and Girls in America (Vagrant, 2006). “Stuck Between Stations” has the look and feel of a hit single, and knowing Craig Finn, he could care less. Hits are not what he’s about. Unlike so many other auteurs, whom emote about topics they’ve never even observed, much less experienced, Finn invites us into a world he knows first hand: a world where broken bottles and broken dreams are one in the same. His heroes – the kids, always the kids – struggle, fall and pick themselves up. Like the girl in “You Can Make Him Like You” who dumps her boyfriend when she finally gets tired of his drug use. Strangely depressing and uplifting at the same time, but what else could you expect from someone who stole the title of his album from a Jack Kerouac line? A-

The Gothic Archies: The Tragic Treasury: Songs From a Series of Unfortunate Events (Nonesuch, 2006). From the sublime to the ridiculous, Stephin Merritt has finally found someone more morbid than he. And the results speak for themselves. Merritt’s monotonous baritone complements the creepy writing of Lemony Snicket, who also plays accordion, brilliantly. 11 year olds may not be hip to the dreariness that lies within these songs, but my guess is most everybody else of consenting age will. Just check out some of the titles: “Scream and Runaway,” “The World is a Very Scary Place,” “Smile! No One Cares How You Feel,” and my personal favorite “Walking My Gargoyle.” Clearly, these “children’s” songs are not for the faint of heart, nor for anyone else who takes Merritt’s deadpan voice too seriously. Sweet dreams! A-

Maria Muldaur: Heart of Mine: Love Songs of Bob Dylan (Telarc, 2006). He’s been covered by The Byrds and gulp Olivia Newton John – quite a dichotomy! So, what’s so different and special about this effort? Well for one thing Muldaur isn’t trying to reinvent the songs; like the good interpreter she is, she allows the songs to come to her. What she does add to them is a mix of soul and blues to the world folk that Dylan invented. And because Dylan wasn’t merely a folkie his material is wide open for just about anyone with the heart and ear to grab it. In deed his greatest accomplishment was his ability to transcend the popular music scene altogether, and in so doing redefine for a whole generation what being an artist was truly about. Muldaur clearly gets it, too. Her love for the songs is surpassed only by her brilliant delivery of them. And you can tell she also loves the artist, too, a critical element to the success of any interpreter. A

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Top Albums of 2006 (1st go around)

Like I really need to say this. This list will be updated at some point during the next few weeks, as is my prerogative as a critic.
One change in format from last year: the A albums are in bold to separate them from the pack. As was the case last year I will follow with the long, overdue reviews of these albums over the next few weeks.

1. Bob Dylan: Modern Times (Columbia)
2. Ghostface Killah: Fishscale (Def Jam)
3. The Klezmatics: Wonder Wheel (JMG)
4. Tom Waits: Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards (Anti)
5. Rosanne Cash: Black Cadillac (Capitol)
6. The Streets: The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living (Vice/Atlantic)
7. Joanna Newsom: Ys (Drag City)
8. Outkast: Idlewild (LeFace)
9. Todd Snider: The Devil You Know (New Door)
10. Maria Muldaur: Heart of Mine: Love Songs of Bob Dylan (Telarc)
11. The Coup: Pick a Bigger Weapon (Epitaph)
12. Dr. John: Right Place, Right Time (Hyenna)
13. Wussy: Funeral Dress (Shake It)
14. Frank London’s Klezmer Brass Allstars: Carnival Conspiracy (Piranha)
15. The Gothic Archies: The Tragic Treasury: Songs From a Series of Unfortunate Events (Nonesuch)
16. Crunk Hits, Vol 2 (TVT)
17. Jesus H. Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse (
18. Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not (Domino)
19. Toumani Diabates Symmetric Orchestra: Boulevard de I’Independence (Nonesuch)
20. The Hold Steady: Boys and Girls in America (Vagrant)
21. Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins: Rabbit Fur Coat (Team Love)
22. Yo La Tengo: I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (Matador)
23. Belle & Sebastian: The Life Pursuit (Matador)
24. Kimya Dawson: Remember That I Love You (K)
25. Rhett Miller: The Believer (Verve Forecast)
26. Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere (Downtown)
27. Beck: The Information (Interscope)
28. The Rapture: Pieces of the People We Love (Motown/Vertigo)
29. Neko Case: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti)
30. Rominca Puceanu & the Gore Brothers: Sounds From a Bygone Age, Vol 2 (Asphalt Tango)
31. Sonic Youth: Rather Ripped (Geffen)
32. The Handsome Family: Last Days of Wonder (Carrot Top)
33. The Go-Betweens: That Striped Sunlight Sound (Yep Roc)
34. Grandaddy: Just Like the Fambly Cat (V2)
35. Sir Douglas Quintet: Live From Austin, Tx (New West)
36. Public Enemy: Rebirth of a Nation (Guerrilla Funk)
37. Tom Ze: Estudando O Pagode (Luka Bop)
38. The Strokes: First Impressions of Earth (RCA)
39. Pink: I'm Not Dead (LeFace/Zomba)
40. Thunderbirds Are Now!: Make History (Frenchkiss)