:: Friday, December 29, 2006 ::
Still more of the music year in review

I'm still a sick pup, but daytime TV sucks (at least until the bowl games begin) so I might as well blog, no? If I'm less coherent than usual, credit the fever. Or the meds.

Anyhoo. On to today's end-of-year installment: comeback of the year, best male artist, best female artist, best rock CD -- all with accompanying podcast.

Comeback of the year
2006 was the year of the geezer, what with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, the former Cat Stevens, et. al., all releasing new albums. Many of those releases were outstanding (well, I never listened to the Springsteen one, but I heard it was good) and any of these old-timers have a legitimate shot at this coveted honor. But in the final analysis, the comeback kid is none other than:

Paul Simon - SurprisePaul Simon, Surprise
A surprisingly good album, considering how Simon fell from grace after 1986's brilliant Graceland release. (On some fansite discographies, 1990's The Rhythm of the Saints isn't even catalogued; that's how dreadful it was.) But Simon returns to Graceland form with this album. And thanks to some brilliant production work by Brian Eno, the album features all kinds of swamp things crawling around the soundscape. I still have issues with the album art, though.

This album has become a fascinating obsession for one blogger, who is finding all kinds of hidden ideas within Surprise's lyrics.

Runners up:

Yusuf Islam: An Other CupYusuf, An Other Cup
Twenty-eight years after his last album as Cat Stevens, Yusuf is back, preaching his views on Islam in a spiritually provocative album. (Stevens converted in the '70s and changed his name to Yusuf Islam, which he has since shortened to merely Yusuf.) There's a lot to like about this CD, but in today's politically charged climate in which so many followers of Islam are being lumped in with the fringe elements that are causing a global ruckus, it's doubtful that An Other Cup is getting a fair hearing. Whether you agree with Yusuf's spiritual beliefs or political point of view, you can still appreciate Yusuf's mellow, tranquil vocals, even as he's singing an homage to Allah.

The Lemonheads
The Lemonheads: The Lemonheads
When I was a kid, I would gorge on the candy version of Lemonheads. Then sometime in the mid to late '80s, along came a power-pop/hardcore band out of Boston that appropriated the sweet candy name for themselves. I wasn't really listening to power pop or hardcore back then, so I couldn't tell you much about them. I think they had a song on the radio one year. And then, in the mid '90s -- poof! No more sonic Lemonheads. Apparently ,front man Evan Dando got caught up in a drug-induced haze. Now, he's apparently out of it, and the Lemonheads are back with a self-titled CD that is, if not great, decent. It's full of flavorful, chiming guitars, if you like that kind of thing (I do). Lemonheads fans everywhere should rejoice.

Best male artist

A Hundred HighwaysJohnny Cash: American V: A Hundred Highways
Just when you thought that Johnny Cash in the twilight of his career could get no finer than his 2002 release, American IV: The Man Comes Around, along comes this posthumous offering from Cash and light-handed producer Rick Ruben. American V: A Hundred Highways is the fifth and final release in the legendary musician's American series, and it is even more powerful and more touching than any of the previous four releases. It's obvious that Cash was in a race with "Doctor Death" when cutting this album, and that makes it all the more poignant. The vocals are strained and sparse, and that's the way Rubin and Cash both wanted them. This collection of mostly covers is the sound of a man who has lived hard, but well, and who is ready to meet his maker.

Runners up

Paul Simon, Surprise
See above.

Ben KwellerBen Kweller: Ben Kweller
At first, I was skeptical. In an earliler review, I poked fun about how young Ben Kweller looks on this album cover. But don't let that youthful appearance keep you from checking out his sound. It's good stuff, and Kweller has been around the music business for longer than you'd think. He was 12 -- yes, 12 -- when he fronted the alt-grunge band Radish. With this self-titled album, he plays all the instruments, he wrote all the songs, and he sings them. Groovy stuff that reminds me of some of the best pop-rock of the '70s.

Best female artist

The GreatestCat Power, The Greatest
2006 was the year of the Cat for Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, who wooed and won our hearts all year long with this early '06 release. Sultry is the adjective that comes to mind when I think of how Marshall's voice sounds. And with The Greatest, she enlists the help of several "Memphis sound" musicians to give this a special appeal. Cat Power delivers more soul with this than with her past offerings. Overall this is a worthwhile effort that goes down smooth as a shot of Southern Comfort.

Runner up:

Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Paging Patsy Cline... Alt-country darling Neko Case seems to be channeling Patsy at times. But Case's own unique, saccharine vocals draw me in like a Siren's song. It's hard to believe she's the same singer who also performs with the power-pop band the New Pornographers. With Fox Confessor, The vivid, earthy lyrics recount episodes of tragedy, love lost, fingers lost in canning factory incidents -- every song is a story wrapped within a poem, beautifully arranged.

Best rock CD

I'm not the rocker I once was. But every once in a while, like when I'm vacuuming, I still love to rock out. This year, the definitive rock album was:

Wolfmother - WolfmotherWolfmother, Wolfmother
AH-WOOOOOO! These guys from Down Under make no bones about their influences. Led Zepp, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Jethro Tull and a ton of other metal and prog rock acts from the '70s come blasting thick and heavy from the speakers when you put this bad boy on play. (Yes, that is some White Stripes flavor at the beginning of track one, but stick with the Wolfies and you'll soon hear a young Ozzy wannabe cannibalize Jack White.) So what if it's derivative? It rawks, and that's all that matters. Turn it up to 11 and enjoy.

Runner up:

Boys and Girls in AmericaThe Hold Steady: Boys and Girls in America
For those of you who get tired of Craig Finn's vocals -- think Springsteen when he forgets to take his Sudafed -- get over it. The Hold Steady is here to stay. These erstwhile alt/indie punkers cranked out a flat-out rocker with Boys and Girls in America. Influenced more by Patti Smith than Springsteen, the songs are still prose-poems. But the solid rock is more reminiscent of the Allman Brothers, Thin Lizzy and old-school punk than the Boss. This is the Hold Steady's third album, and it's their best yet.

Coming next installment: my top 40 favorite albums of the year.

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:: Andrew 14:02 + ::

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In rotation

What I've been listening to lately. Click album cover or hyperlink to hear track samples and learn more.

Sermon on Exposition Boulevard Rickie Lee Jones, Sermon on Exposition Boulevard

Children Running Through Patty Griffin, Children Running Through

Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

Tones of Town Field Music, Tones of Town

The Girl Collection De Bossen, The Girl Collection

Robbers & Cowards Cold War Kids, Robbers & Cowards

Carinvore Simon Dawes, Carnivore

Until Death Comes Frida Hyvonen, Until Death Comes

Tratore Basics 2: New Brazilian Rock Tratore Basics Vol. 2, Novo Rock Brazil

Modern Times Yusuf: An Other Cup

Modern Times The Beatles: Love

Two Thousand The French Kicks: Two Thousand

Paper Television The Blow: Paper Television

Freedom Haters Unite! A Bloodshot Records Sampler, Vol. 1 Freedom Haters Unite! A Bloodshot Records Sampler

Beast Moans Swan Lake: Beast Moans

Prototypes Prototypes: Prototypes

Violence Is Golden Scanners: Violence Is Golden

Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives Voxtrot: Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives

Your Biggest Fan Voxtrot: Your Biggest Fan

Translate Macon Greyson: Translate

Get Evens The Evens: Get Evens

Veruca Salt IV Veruca Salt: Veruca Salt IV

Modern Times Bob Dylan: Modern Times

Look Your Best Pink Tuscadero: Look Your Best

Blue On Blue Leigh Nash: Blue on Blue

I Am  Not Afraid Of  You And I Will Beat Your Ass Yo La Tengo: I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

Boys and Girls in America The Hold Steady: Boys and Girls in America

The Longest Meow Bobby Bare Jr.: The Longest Meow"

Hello Love The Be Good Tanyas: Hello Love

The Lemonheads The Lemonheads: The Lemonheads

Ben Kweller Ben Kweller: Ben Kweller

We Are The Pipettes The Pipettes: We Are the Pipettes

Surprise Paul Simon: Surprise

Sev7en Exene Cervenka and the Original Sinners: Sev7en

A Hundred Highways Johnny Cash: American V: A Hundred Highways

For the Best of Us The John Doe Thing: For the Best of Us

Runaway Bombshell The Fondas: Runaway Bombshell

Flat-Pack Philosophy Buzzcocks: Flat Pack Philosophy

Citrus Asobi Seksu: Citrus

The Loon Tapes 'n Tapes: The Loon

2006 Pitchfork Music Festival Sampler Various Artists: 2006 Pitchfork Music Festival Sampler (24 free tracks)

News and Tributes The Futureheads: News and Tributes

Zoysia The Bottle Rockets: Zoysia

Let's Get Out of This Country Camera Obscura: Let's Get Out of This Country

Bang Bang Rock & Roll Art Brut: Bang Bang Rock & Roll

A Blessing and a Curse Drive By Truckers: A Blessing and a Curse

Broken Boy Soldiers The Raconteurs: Broken Boy Soldiers

The Life Pursuit Belle and Sebastian: The Life Pursuit

The Greatest Cat Power: The Greatest

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