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Albums of the Year: 2007

December 15th, 2009 No comments

This is the final part of the series of my favourite top ten albums of every year through the ’00s. And to celebrate it, I accidentally wrote 11 reviews. So these are a top 11 then. There is still a link up to my top 20 albums of 2008, which covers that year, and I’ll post a similar mix of my top 20 for 2009 once I have decided which they are. As before, I’m sad to leave out some fine albums from ’07, including efforts by Josh Ritter, Kate Walsh, Laura Gibson, Rilo Kiley, Jens Lekman, Maria Taylor, Rickie Lee Jones, Feist, Billie the Vision & the Dancers, A Fine Frenzy, The National, Brooke Fraser, Foo Fighters, Over The Rhine, Andrew Bird, Josh Rouse, Iron & Wine, Miranda Lambert, Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles, Common, Tim McGraw, The Shins, Abra Moore…

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Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

The Wilco cognoscenti are rather too ready to dismiss the unpretentious Sky Blue Sky, measuring it against the experimentations of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born. This is an uncomplicated album, and does what its creators set out to do admirably. Here, Jeff Tweedy and chums eschew cacophonic innovations for a straight-forward, mellow rock album that channels the ’60s (Dylan, Grateful Dead, Abbey Road-era Beatles) and ’70s (Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Thin Lizzy) without losing its identity as a Wilco album. Sky Blue Sky is immediate and intimate. Nels Cline’s guitar work is an utter joy. The highlight here is Impossible Germany, with Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline duelling on a magnificent guitar solo, an integral part of the song’s lyrics, that borrows from Gary Moore (check out Thin Lizzy’s Sarah) and Carlos Santana.
Wilco – Either Way.mp3
Wilco – Impossible Germany.mp3

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Brandi Carlile – The Story

The name Brandi Carlile suggests a fake-breasted airhead straight outta the Playboy Mansion. As the reader may have guessed by dint of her inclusion on this list, that notion is way of the mark. Carlile is a hugely talented writer and singer of solid rock and country-rock songs. I liked her eponymous 2005 debut, which was rather more rootsy than this set. Here Carlile straddles genres, veering from rock (My Song) to folk-pop (Turpentine) to country (“Have You Ever”). Her distinctive voice can whisper softly and soar ferociously (hear the climactic Joplinesque roar on the title track). The lyrics booklet reveals that Carlile wrote some of the songs as a teenager in 2000 or earlier, hinting at a precocious talent.
Brandi Carlile – The Story.mp3

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Loney, Dear – Loney Noir

The bizzarely named Loney, Dear (real name Emil Svanängen) is something of a genius working in his Stockholm bedroom studio, in which he conducts an orchestra consisting of himself. Operating mostly under the cover of earphones so as not to wake the rest of the household, his songs tend to start softly before building up to a multi-layered, orgasmic crescendo. The melodies are pretty — even twee, in the way Belle & Sebastian are twee — and Svanängen’s high and slight voice is appealing enough, within the context of his music. But I have no idea whether the lyrics are any good; I’ve never really listened to them; I rather have the bedroom symphonies wash over me.
Loney, Dear – Saturday Waits.mp3
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Nicole Atkins – Neptune City

Neptune City came out at a time when Amy Winehouse, another artists borrowing from pop’s rich legacy, was absolutely everywhere. I prefer Atkins’ eclectic references over Winehouse’s mannered soul pastiche. Neptune City is, in places, like Petula Clark covering Blondie through an ABBA filter — glorious pop. On other tracks, Atkins does torchsong soul (“The Way It Is”), or goes into ’80s throwback mode, sounding like the B-52s as sung by Sandie Shaw on Broadway (“Love Surreal” or the rousing “Brooklyn On Fire”, which featured here). Elsewhere there are hints of Phil Spector’s production and Edith Piaf and Joni Mitchell. It should be a total retro mess, but it isn’t. It sounds entirely modern. Neptune City may not be an entirely cohesive album, but it is rather fabulous.
Nicole Atkins – Love Surreal.mp3

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Holmes Brothers – State Of Grace

Some time ago I posted the Holmes’ Brothers gospel-blues style cover of Cheap Trick’s I Want You To Want Me (HERE) from this album. That track was my introduction to the Holmes Brothers, who had released nine albums before this one, starting in 1991 — more than three decades after the two Holmes brothers, Sherman and Wendell, started in the music business. The third member, drummer Popsy Dixon, hooked up with them in the mid-’60s. But they did not become the Holmes Brothers until 1979, having spent the interim as a covers bar-band. Covering blues, soul, gospel, country and even a spot of bluegrass, State Of Grace is warm and often surprising, especially in the Virginian group’s interpretation of other people’s songs, which include tracks by Lyle Lovett (twice), Credence Clearwater Revival, Nick Lowe, Hank Williams Sr and Johnny Mathis. Guesting here with the three brothers are Joan Osborne (who championed the Holmes Brothers in the 1990s), The Band’s Levon Helms and Rosanne Cash. Featured here is the Hank Williams song, featuring Cash.
The Holmes Brothers (with Rosanne Cash) – I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You.mp3

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Panda Bear – Person Pitch

I can’t claim to be much of an Animal Collective fan. I’m sure I would be if I had the patience to get into them. I was not going to have patience either with this solo album by Collective’s drummer Noah Lennox. But I was attracted to it by the cover art and a glowing Pitchfork review. For some reason I ended up playing Person Pitch on loop, and was entranced by it. The critics in their reviews invariably referenced Brian Wilson, and coming a couple of years after SmiLE (another album I got into by playing it on loop) was released, that is neither surprising nor inaccurate. Person Pitch is a glorious psychedelic trip, especially the epic Bros, that owes a tip of the hat also to the Beatles.

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Richard Hawley – Lady’s Bridge

It is this album’s misfortune to be chronologically sandwiched between Hawley’s two masterpieces, 2005’s Coles Corner and this year’s Truelove’s Gutter, two of the decades finest albums. Lady’s Bridge may not quite reach the heights of those masterpieces, but it gets damn close. It is a very, very good album, with no weak point. It is mostly a sad collection. The gorgeous opener, Valentine, will move the vulnerable listener to tears, or close to it, especially when the strings swell and the drums emphasise the anguish. A couple of rockabilly songs and the upbeat Tonight The Streets Are Ours lighten the mood before suitably gloomy (and very lovely) songs called Our Darkness and The Sun Refused To Shine close the set.

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Missy Higgins – On A Clear Night

Where Missy Higgins full debut album The Sound Of White (with its astonishing title track) was mostly plaintive in sound; On A Clear Night is more accessible and upbeat. Higgins invests her intelligent lyrics with evocative vocals. The Sound Of White dealt much with trauma and depression; On A Clear Night is frequently life affirming, talking of escape, healing and self-assertion. Thankfully Higgins’ toned down her distinctive Australian accent which previously came perilously close to making her sound like an Aussie wicketkeeper. This is the kind of album that may at first seem slight, but its depth reveals itself after repeated listens. Crowded House’s Neil Finn makes an appearance on the album, contributing guitar to Peachy and backing vocals to the lovely Going North. That’s what it says on the booklet; I can barely hear the guy.
Missy Higgins – Going North.mp3

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Bright Eyes – Cassadaga

In 2005, Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning was by far my album of the year. It was an immediately accessible album in ways its predecessors were not. Cassadaga is not as easy to fall in love with as I’m Wide Awake. It is a grower which requires a few spins before its full beauty reveals itself. Songs that at first do not seem much creep into the ear slowly, and then take root. It is a richly textured, and cohesive album. Connor Oberst’s poetic lyrics are delivered here with greater self-assurance and less of a quiver than on preceding albums. At times, the album overreaches in its ambitions, and another spoken intro on the first track is simply pretentious. For this album Oberst roped in guests such as the marvellous Maria Taylor, Gillian Welch and Rilo Kiley’s Jason Boesel (whose backing vocals on the excellent “If The Brakeman Turns My Way” provide an album highlight).
Bright Eyes – If The Brakeman Turns My Way.mp3

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Rosie Thomas – These Friends Of Mine

Rosie Thomas’ fourth album is her most consistent. It’s for albums like these that the hackneyed phrase “achingly beautiful” was invented for. On These Friends Of Mine, she is supported by her friends Damien Jurado, Denison Witmer and Sufjan Stevens. The lyrical thread running through the album is love and New York, sometimes both together. Recorded as live, the album is engagingly intimate. The sparse, moving “Why Waste More Time?” is preceded by an appealingly giggly count-in. The cover version of R.E.M.’s “The One I Love”, nice though it is, seems redundant, but Tomas’ interpretation of Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” captures the intense delicacy of the original. The highlight, however, is “Much Farther To Go”, a love song in which the arrangement, harmonies and lyrics coalesce to create an evocative hymn to deep yearning (like Nicole Atkins’ Brooklyn’s On Fire, it featured here).
Rosie Thomas – If This City Never Sleeps.mp3

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Colbie Caillat – Coco

Like Lily Allen and Kate Nash before her, Colbie Caillat launched herself into the pop charts on the strength of Internet buzz. Releasing her music first on MySpace, she was soon picked up by the music blog community. Her debut album, titled rather cornily after her childhood nickname, is breezy folk-pop of the sort usually associated, by way of deceptive shorthand, with the rather more boring Jack Johnson. In sound Caillat is much closer to Tristan Prettyman, her fellow Californian who burst on to the scene equally unexpectedly in 2005. This is summer music, agreeably laid-back yet effervescent, and, crucially, not banal.
Colbie Caillat – Battle.mp3

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My top 10 albums for 2008 (not a vintage year) were:
Jay Brannan – Goddamned
Ron Sexsmith – Exit Strategy Of The Soul
Tift Merritt – Another Country
The Weepies – Hideaway
Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue
Kathleen Edwards – Asking For Flowers
Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst
Ben Folds – Way To Normal
Hello Saferide – More Modern Short Stories…
Neil Diamond – Home Before Dark

Full post here

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More Albums of the Year

Any Major Love Mix 2009 Vol.2

March 31st, 2009 3 comments

I posted a mix of songs about being in love last year, for Valentine’s Day, with a view to facilitating loads of romantic seductions (or something). That mix got deleted by ZShare. Responding to a request, I have revised the tracklisting, dropping a few songs, adding a few new, changing the track order. The Jonatha Brooke song I owe to Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas blog. So here is Any Major Love Mix Vol. 2.

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1. Jets To Brazil – Sweet Avenue (1998)
‘ Now all these tastes improve through the view that comes with you. Like they handed me my life, for the first time it felt worth it, like I deserved it.’

2. Michelle Featherstone – Rest Of My Life (2007)
‘ How ’bout that? Waking up every morning with me. Spend our time drinking coffee, speaking softly as the days go by.’

3. Mindy Smith – It’s Amazing (2004)
‘ It’s amazing what you do to me: took my heart and made me feel things I never felt before. It’s changing me, Which direction so certainly; shook me up and threw me around. When we learn to breathe it all in.’

4. The Weepies – Gotta Have You (2006)
‘No amount of coffee, no amount of crying, no amount of whiskey, no amount of wine — no, nothing else will do. I’ve gotta have you.’

5. Richard Hawley – Baby, You’re My Light (2001)
‘But I believe in you and now I’ll show it. And as life goes on you know you don’t have to hate all you find. Baby, you’re my light.’

6. Ron Sexsmith – Whatever It Takes (2004)
‘The sun alone will never do, without your love to shine on through’

7. Ben Kweller – Falling (2002)
‘We could talk if days weren’t so fast, and mistakes just leave it so unsure. Wanna hold you like never before ’cause we’re falling and I love you more and more.’

8. Hello Saferide – Get Sick Soon (2006)
‘ Oh, I love you! I wish you got the flu, you’re the cutest thing I’ve ever seen — like a teddy bear on heroin … You can lay your weight on me and I’ll be your backbone. Lay your weight on me, you won’t have to worry.’

9. Ben Folds – The Luckiest (2001)
‘And where was I before the day that I first saw your lovely face? Now I see it everyday, and I know: I’m the luckiest.’

10. Bright Eyes – The First Day Of My Life (2005)
‘ Yours was the first face that I saw, I think I was blind before I met you. I don’t know where I am, I don’t know where I’ve been, but I know where I want to go.’

11. Iron & Wine – Such Great Heights (2004)
‘I am thinking it’s a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images, and when we kiss they are perfectly alligned.’

12. Mason Jennings – Ballad For My One True Love (2000)
‘And all the while I ‘m dreaming of the ballad for my one true love, searching for the perfect way to say: I love you sweetheart, this is my dream come true.’

13. Joseph Arthur – Echo Park (2004)
‘ The fire never understands the spark, the way it is with you and me.’

14. Kate Walsh – Your Song (2007)
‘I knew I was wrong to jump straight on into this picture so pretty, but he is so pretty to me.’

15. Colbie Caillat – Realize (2007)
‘If you just realized what I just realized, then we’d be perfect for each other, then we’d never find another. Just realized what I just realized, we’d never have to wonder if we missed out on each other now.’

16. Jackie Greene – Love Song; 2.00 am (2006)
‘ Should your mind forget me, regret me, or even do me wrong, you’ll always live here in my heart, ’cause, baby, that’s where you belong.’

17. Jonatha Brooke – Because I Told You So (1997)
‘Could you see it like me and believe what I see? Could you listen, and remember that i love you, only because I told you?’

18. Peter Mayer – Now Touch The Air Softly (1999)
‘And I’ll love you as long as the furrow the plow, as However is Ever, and Ever is Now.’

19. Bob Schneider – The World Exploded Into Love (2001)
‘The world exploded into love all around me, and every time I take a look around me, I have to smile.’

20. Jens Lekman – You Are The Light (2003)
‘Yeah I got busted, so I used my one phone call to dedicate a song to you on the radio.’

21. Liz Phair – Good Love Never Dies (2003)
‘ Tell me what can I say to keep you in my life, all the words slip away when I look in your eyes, because I can never relax.’


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Any Major Love Mix 2009 Vol. 1
More Mixes

Love Songs For Every Situation: Falling In Love

February 11th, 2008 3 comments

I’ve said it before (sort of): Valentine’s Day is crap. But that is no reason not to deal with the subject of love this month. All of it: the good, the bad, the shitty. And, oh man, love can be a real bastard. So over ten posts I’ll aim to cover almost all emotions that accompany love: the butterflies that take residence in one’s stomach, the giddiness of being in love, the betrayal and pure pain of love dying, the emotion of being left heartbroken, the bitterness that follows a broken love, the regrets of a love failed, the confusion and conflicts that love deals in several ways, the pure pain of unrequited love, and love that cannot be (not necessarily in that order).

We’ll kick off with the butterflies of falling in love, that incredible emotion when you know that somebody else has dominates your mind, the euphoric fear as you realise things will not be the same again, as you face the prospect of happiness or utter heartbreak. The artists in our selection here are generally a hopeful lot.

The Spinners – Could It Be I’m Falling In Love.mp3
The singer in this glorious slice of 1973 soul has discovered with amazement that he is falling for his latest flame. He makes grand promises of that love being everlasting, mainly, one suspects, because he fears that “there will never come a day when you up and take your love away”. In the fadeout he is begging that she, who in the first verse seems to have fallen for him, will not fuck him over. He doesn’t use such language, of course, but the message is clear: dude is giddy and scared.

Colbie Caillat – Realize.mp3
I’ve posted this before (twice, I’m ashamed to say), but I’m all for recycling. And this song is as perfect for this post as Colbie believes she and her object of love are for each other. A cute song which acknowledges that love on first sight is not a common occurrence. She and the paramour have known each other for a while, and suddenly — pow — she realises she’s in love. That happened to me once while away in Johannesburg (possibly the ugliest city in the world). Sitting in the car, I realised — pow — that I was in love with a girl back home. Alas, the story will have to continue in the post about unrequited love.

The Weepies – Gotta Have You.mp3
Another recycled song, I’m afraid (I promise, it’ll get better as we go along, but this is about finding the right song for the right emotion. And this one happens to feature four I’ve posted before). The cute Deb Talan sets out her agenda: she has to win the heart of the man who has entered hers. I’m not sure she is going about it the right way as she admits to deliberately annoying him in the first verse. Yet, her commitment is evident: “No amount of coffee, no amount of cryin’, no amount of whiskey, no amount of wine; no, no, no, no, no, nothing else will do: I’ve gotta have you, I’ve gotta have you.”

Stephen Bishop – It Might Be You.mp3
As I said in the introduction to the Valentines mix tape (thanks for the nice comments, those who bothered), love demands some cliché, and Stephen Bishop is our man for that purpose with the love theme from Tootsie, which was a rather nice movie starring the lovely Jessica Lange, and some chap. Beware though, only the melody is cliché; the lyrics are quite beautiful. “I’ve been saving love songs and lullabies. And there’s so much more no one’s ever heard before”. Awwww! This is a vinyl rip, for that extra piece of romantic nostalgia (that is to say, I can’t find my Stephen Bishop CD).

Michelle Featherstone – Falling.mp3
The wonderful Michelle Featherstone doesn’t go with the giddy in this quite fantastic, Mazzy Star-ish song. Love is sucking her in and making her knees buckle, but not necessarily in a good way. She’s not comfortable making herself vulnerable: “In my state of vertigo I can’t look down, can’t feel the ground, so will you catch me?” The fear of falling…

Weezer – Falling For You.mp3
Oh yes, falling in love can come in all sorts of musical genres (though in C&W that would probably involve a doggy gone died). So we’ve had the Spinners falling in love soulfully, Colbie Caillat acoustically, the Weepies folkily, Michelle Featherstone darkly and Stephen Bishop schmaltzily. Weezer doing so alt.rockingly. And what a joyous song to do it with. The lyrics are less joyous. Rivers Cuomo knows he’s setting himself up: “I’m shakin’ at your touch, I like you way too much. My baby I’m afraid I’m falling for you. I’d do ’bout anything to get the hell out alive, or maybe I would rather settle down, with you.”

Valentines – Any Major Love Mix CD-R

February 7th, 2008 12 comments

I am no great fan of Valentine’s Day, and don’t usually join in the hype. It seems time appropriate to post a Valentine’s mix though — especially for all the lovers out there who want to express their emotions via the time-honoured medium of the mix-tape, but lack the time or energy to bang a good one together. If I can prevent one fool in love from rushing out to buy a Valentine’s Day comp featuring the stylings of Celine, Whitney and, invariably, the totally misapplied James Blunt classic “You’re Beautiful”, then I feel I have done good.

Compiling this mix represented a challenge, for the genres represented herein tend to be less than effusive on matters of the heart. But when the artists representing these genres do effuse, they tend to do so eloquently and without dangling too much by way of cliché. Of course, love does attract, even demand, cliché, and some of our artists here toy with the odd hackneyed sentiment. These may sound silly to us cynics, but to the fool in love, these clichés are poetry and fact.

Has there ever been a more beautiful love song written than Ben Folds’ “The Luckiest”? Not all the songs here are about the blissfulness of love, perhaps Colbie Caillat’s song is the most conventional love song in this lot. Bright Eyes’ “First Day In My Life” has an undertone of uncertainty. Jens Lekman’s love is slavish, to the point of making grand romantic gestures involving vandalism at his lover’s instructions. Hello Saferide introduces a wonderful paradox in wishing her lover sickness. Liz Phair rounds things off with a take which makes being love seem as difficult as it really is.

Tracklisting:

1. The Postal Service – Such Great Heights
‘I am thinking it’s a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images, and when we kiss they are perfectly alligned.’

2. Jets To Brazil – Sweet Avenue
Now all these tastes improve through the view that comes with you. Like they handed me my life, for the first time it felt worth it, like I deserved it.

3. Michelle Featherstone – Rest Of My Life
How ’bout that? Waking up every morning with me. Spend our time drinking coffee, speaking softly as the days go by.

4. The Weepies – Somebody Loved
‘Now my feet turn the corner back home. Sun turns the evening to rose, stars turning high up above. You turn me into somebody loved.’

5. Bright Eyes – First Day Of My Life
Yours was the first face that I saw, I think I was blind before I met you. I don’t know where I am, I don’t know where I’ve been, but I know where I want to go.

6. Ben Folds – The Luckiest
‘And where was I before the day that I first saw your lovely face? Now I see it everyday, and I know: I’m the luckiest.’

7. Joseph Arthur – Echo Park
The fire never understands the spark, the way it is with you and me.’

8. Ron Sexsmith – Whatever It Takes
‘The sun alone will never do, without your love to shine on through’

9. Jens Lekman – You Are The Light
Yeah I got busted, so I used my one phone call to dedicate a song to you on the radio.’

10. Hello Saferide – Get Sick Soon
Oh, I love you! I wish you got the flu, you’re the cutest thing I’ve ever seen — like a teddy bear on heroin ... You can lay your weight on me and I’ll be your backbone. Lay your weight on me, you won’t have to worry.’

11. Colbie Caillat – Magic
I remember the way that you move. You’re dancing easily through my dreams. It’s hitting me harder and harder with all your smiles.

12. Josh Kelley – To Make You Feel My Love
I’d go hungry I’d go black and blue. I’d go crawling down the avenue. No there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do to make you feel my love.

13. Ben Harper – By My Side
‘My care for you is from the ground up to the sky it’s over under up above down below and to the side.’

14. Mason Jennings – Ballad For My One True Love
‘And all the while I ‘m dreaming of the ballad for my one true love, searching for the perfect way to say: I love you sweetheart, this is my dream come true.’

15. Peter Mayer – Now Touch The Air Softly
‘And I’ll love you as long as the furrow the plow, as However is Ever, and Ever is Now.’

16. Richard Hawley – Baby, You’re My Light
‘But I believe in you and now I’ll show it. And as life goes on you know you don’t have to hate all you find. Baby, you’re my light.’

17. Mindy Smith – It’s Amazing
It’s amazing what you do to me: took my heart and made me feel things I never felt before. It’s changing me, Which direction so certainly; shook me up and threw me around. When we learn to breathe it all in.’

18. Josh Rouse – Wonderful
Reading the paper with my coffee, and before you must go there’s one thing you should know: I think you’re wonderful. Don’t change.

19. Jackie Greene – Love Song; 2.00 am
Should your mind forget me, regret me, or even do me wrong, you’ll always live here in my heart, ’cause, baby, that’s where you belong.

20. Eastmountainsouth – So Are You to Me
‘As the ruby in the setting, as the fruit upon the tree, as the wind blows over the plains, so are you to me.’

21. Bob Schneider – The World Exploded Into Love
‘The world exploded into love all around me, and every time I take a look around me, I have to smile.

22. Liz Phair – Good Love Never Dies
Tell me what can I say to keep you in my life, all the words slip away when I look in your eyes, because I can never relax.

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The iPod (non-)Random 10-track Experiment

February 5th, 2008 2 comments

I’m about to wipe everything off my iPod, and reload it (for housekeeping purposes). So, for the pure fun of it, here are the top 10 most-listened to tracks. I have arbitrarily decided to exclude anything from the Beatles’ Love album, because I didn’t listen to it more than once, though my nephews played it ad nauseam over Christmas. Where an artist was represented more than once, their subsequent tracks have been skipped for the purpose of this post. Tracks marked with an asterisk have been featured on this blog before.

1. Nicole Atkins – Brooklyn’s On Fire.mp3*
No surprise here: this song has been an constant earworm, and her wonderful Neptune City album a frequent companion. On the album Atkins hops across and fuses genres, being Abba-esque one moment, then grabbing the singing-torch before going all B-52s on our asses. It’s magnificent. “Brooklyn’s On Fire” has an abundance of exuberance, and probably is the catchiest thing on the album.

2. Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3
If CD plays counted, this song would easily head the list. The arrangement and harmonies make this the definitive version of this oft-covered Everly Brothers song (certainly better than that by bloody Cher, or the ludicrously OTT effort by Nazareth). Gram and the lovely Emmylou persuade us that love is indeed “just a lie made to make you blue”. An all-time favourite.

3. Rilo Kiley – Portions For Foxes.mp3*
Strange that this older Rilo Kiley track should still appear ahead of the great stuff from 2007’s Under The Blacklight. Jenny Lewis has never sounded sexier than here. When she commands, “COME HERE”, I’m inclined to obey.

4. Colbie Caillat – One Fine Wire*
I have a fear that the Taste Police will before long declare Colbie Caillat a punishable offence, seeing that “Bubbly” is now a big hit and getting airplay on MOR radio stations. I suspect that Caillat’s success is in part due to the buzz created by the blogging community. So she is ours, bloggers and blog readers. Her stardom will be due not to The Man, but to the music blogs who gave her exposure and to the MySpace phenomenon. A reader of this blog had a brief but good discussion about how The Man will try to exploit music blogs and interactive sites like MySpace as a new form of marketing. But better that, with all the independence the credible music blogs can offer and the power of the My Space browser to click to the next page, than letting Sony’s A&R goons dictate public taste. Hopefully more people of genuine talent like Colbie will find stardom through that route, not via corporate manufacture.

5. John Denver – Rocky Mountain High.mp3
John Denver is overdue a rehabilitation. The music writer John Doran once responded to my point along the lines that those who would applaud Denver’s liberal politics are reluctant to like his music, and those who like his music are likely to detest his politics. My point is that there is much in Denver’s pre-1974 canon that should not be ignored, or subjected to clichéd jokes about straw-chewing hicks. 1972’s “Rocky Mountain High” is drenched in beauty and is free of the hackneyed shtick which by the late ’70s had turned Denver into a granny’s favourite and party-time Muppet.

6. Ben Folds – Gone.mp3
When I don’t know what to play, Ben Folds is always a safe bet. “Gone” is a great track to sing along to, at least the backing vocals. But don’t let that detract from the excellent lyrics addressed to a lover who left him and now won’t even write to him. He says he’s over her, but clearly he isn’t: ” I thought I’d write, I thought I’d let you know: In the year since you’ve been gone I’ve finally let you go. And I hope you find some time to drop a note, but if you won’t, then you won’t, and I will consider you gone.” I can empathise.

7. Billie the Vision & the Dancers (feat Hello Saferide) – Overdosing With You.mp3
One of the large group of fine Swedish Indie groups, this lot is as twee as they come, in a very enjoyable way (though clumsily monikered). This track features the wonderful Hello Saferide a.k.a. Annika Norlin, whom I’m possibly in love with. The lyrics to this song may be weak at times, but you have to love a song about couch potatoing the blues away with DVD box sets of NYPD Blue and Desperate Housewives (clearly not a bit too much sci-fi on Billie the Vision’s shelf, Ms Norlin). Did I mention, it has Hello Safreide, whom I’m possibly in love with, on it? You can legally download Billie the Vision etc’s albums on their webpage.

8. Scott Walker – Joanna.mp3
Walker’s vocal performance on this glorious Tin Pan Alley piece of treacle is stunning (it usually was stunning, but even more so here). Try singing this song; it is no accident that in the abominable Love, Actually, Liam Neeson mimes it to his son, doesn’t sing it. Which I would probably do, ill-advisedly or not.

9. Foo Fighters – Statues.mp3*
The more I hear the new Foo Fighters album, Echoes, Silence, Patience, Grace, the more convinced I am that it is the best thing Grohl and pals have ever done, and that the album deserves to be regarded as a classic in its genre already. Without any hyperbole. Just as it had come out, I expressed my dislike for “Erase/Replace”. Someone commented that I was very wrong about the song. And quite rightly so. It’s majestic! But “Statues” remains my favourite song off the album, a track whose simplicity disguises its depths.

10. Perez – Picture Perfect.mp3
Perez were a South African rock group which subsequently split. Which is a shame, because they were pretty good in an alt.rock sort of way. “Picture Perfect”, from 2002, is certainly superior to much that has been released in the genre. A fine song to sing while driving, and not a bad way to spend five minutes secretly playing the air guitar.

Any Major Awards – The Winners

December 15th, 2007 16 comments

And here are the winners of the inaugural Major Dude awards. Kick back and watch the show unfold, grabbing a few samples of the music (most have previously appeared on this blog; newly featured tracks are marked as such) on the way before you rush off and buy the awarded music as thoughtful Christmas presents for yourselves and everybody you know. And here’s the gong our winners may take home — The Major Dude:


ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Indie Album of the Year:
Swedish:
Loney, Dear – Loney, Noir
(I know, it was released in Sweden a long time ago, but for the rest of us, it is a 2007 album)

and performing a song from this year’s best Swedish Indie Album:
Loney, Dear – I Am John

Other places:
Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter

and performing a song from this year’s best non-Swedish Indie Album:
Josh Ritter – Right Moves

Rock Album of the Year:
Foo Fighters – Echoes Silence Patience & Grace

and performing two songs from this year’s best Rock Album:
Foo Fighters – Cheer Up Boys, You’re Makeup Is Running
Foo Fighters – Statues

Pop Album of the Year:
Rilo Kiley – Under The Blacklight

and performing two songs from this year’s best Pop Album:
Rilo Kiley – Breakin’ Up
Rilo Kiley – Dreamworld

Country Album of the Year:
Miranda Lambert – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

and performing a song from this year’s best Country Album:
Miranda Lambert – Love Letters (new upload)

Americana Album Of The Year
Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

and performing a song from this year’s best Americana Album:
Wilco – Hate It Here

Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala

and performing a song from this year’s best Singer-Songwriter (male) Album:
Jens Lekman – A Postcard For Nina

Female:
Rosie Thomas – These Friends Of Mine

and performing two songs from this year’s
best Singer-Songwriter (female) Album:

Rosie Thomas – Songbird
Rosie Thomas – Say Hello (with Sufjan Stevens)

R&B/Hip Hop:
Alicia Keys – As I Am

and performing a song from this year’s best R&B Album:
Alicia Keys (featuring John Mayer) – Lesson Learnt
(Link removed by DivShare)

Best Kicked-Back Album:
Richard Hawley – Lady’s Bridge

and performing a song from this year’s best Kicked-Back Album:
Richard Hawley – Dark Road


Overrated Artist of the Year:
Amy Winehouse
Comparable album people should listen to instead: Nicole Atkins – Neptune City

and performing a song from this year’s best
Better Than Overrated Artist’s Album:

Nicole Atkins – Brooklyn’s On Fire! (new upload)

Best Newcomer:
Colbie Caillat

and performing as this year’s best Better Newcomer:
Colbie Caillat – Realize
Colbie Caillat – One Fine Wire


Most Disappointing Album:

Joseph Arthur – Let’s Just Be

SONGS OF THE YEAR:

Pop/Rock:
Richard Hawley – Valentine

Indie/Americana:
Wilco – Impossible Germany (new upload)

Singer-songwriter/Country:
Rosie Thomas – Much Farther To Go

South African Rock/Pop Song Of The Year:
Velve – Overpass (ne

w upload)

ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
The nominees are:
Brandi Carlile – The Story
Loney, Dear – Loney, Noir
Rilo Kiley – Under The Blacklight
Rosie Thomas – These Friends Of Mine
Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

………and the winner is:
WILCO – SKY BLUE SKY

and performing a track from this year’s Album of the Year:
Wilco – Either Way

SONG OF THE YEAR:
And the nominees are:
Colbie Caillat – Bubbly
Richard Hawley – Valentine
Wilco – Impossible Germany
Brandi Carlisle – The Story
Rosie Thomas – Much Farther To Go

………and the winner is:
ROSIE THOMAS – MUCH FARTHER TO GO


BLOG AWARDS

The best Blogs of The Year

MUSIC
Album blogs:
It feels unfair to choose a “winner” from all the nominated blogs. Even within one category, the diversity makes a comparison about as as easy as comparing the relative merits of black cherries and iPods. There are so many that have given me great joy. Earbleeding Country shades it for me on strength of great, detailed writing and the quality of music on offer.

Earbleedingcountry
(which since this month now lives here)

Singles blogs:
The same as above applies, perhaps even more so. With singles blogs, bloggers tend to write in greater detail, length and often variety than album blogs. I finally narrowed it all down to two finalists: The Late Greats and Echoes In The Wind. The former has introduced me to more new great music than any other blog; the latter is perhaps the best-written music blog I know, in the face of some incredibly tough competition (for the purposes of this exercise; I don’t think most of us compete with each other; quite on the contrary, I’ve found). And so the winner is:

Echoes In The Wind

Retro blogs:
Albums:
Again, tough contest. All the nominees have provided me with so much pleasure. But our winner this year simply had the most stunning variety of music, some of it long-forgotten albums of old which deserve to be rediscovered.

DeaconBlues


Singles:
I do both new and retro stuff round here. The latter especially is fantastic fun. That sense of fun was particularly evident in all nominated blogs in this category. The winner is an old favourite of many:

The Wolfman Howls

NON-MUSIC BLOG OF THE YEAR
If choosing the best music blog was a headache, choosing the best non-music blog was a heartbreaking thing. Indie-Pop Ian Plenderleith’s sporadic blog entries are a monthly Internet highlight. Ndumiso Ngcobo’sSouth African iconoclasm invariably makes me laugh out loud. Rol Hirst’s “Dear Me…” post on the 13th almost clinched him a late winner. 15 Minute Lunch made big waves with the ’70s JC Penney fashion post, but there is so much more great writing there. But for style and exquisite prose, and an unforgettable post about the funeral of the Lazio fan shot by the Italian police, the winner can only be:

Spangly Princess

U-18 BLOG OF THE YEAR
I did not make nominations for best U-18 blog. I really liked the cricket blogs by two kids living in Amsterdam, Sean and Dylan Reeves (how can one not love a blogger who links to his Dad’s blog by saying “it’s rubbish”). But for paternal pride, it has to be Any Minor Dude’s to rarely updated guitar tabs blog. This 13 year old kid does a better job of it than many adults. This is, of course, the little dude who as a10-year-old arriving for his first lesson was asked by his guitar tutor (a seasoned sessionman) what artist’s music he wanted to play. Tutor Rob may have expected an answer like Good Charlotte or some contemporary R&B hit. Instead, the answer came: Johnny Cash. Which is cool as anything.

Guitariotabs

BEST BLOGGER’S MIX-TAPE
Taylor Parkes’ Right-wing Rock mix was incredible: the music was either hilarious or actually quite good, the lyrics produced some serious jawdroppers, and Taylor’s sleeve notes were insightful and witty. Get the mix and commentary at Touched Mix, and check out this unbelievable track — especially when he starts singing!
Lil Markie – Diary Of An Unborn Child.mp3 (new upload)

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Totally Fuzzy
with a BIG Thank You for the fantastic service these guys provide to the bloggers and those who search for great, new blogs. One more time: “Fuzzy And Blue” by the Sesame Street monsters

YOUR VOTE:
Best Any Major Dude series:
From a limited sample of votes, this is clearly the Time Travel to the 1970s series.

The Songbirds: Vol 5

October 21st, 2007 5 comments

After a hiatus, here’s a new instalment of The Songbirds. Given the name of this series, it seems odd that I’ve never thought of uploading the song that gave inspired title. So here, in its original incarnation and as covered by a previous Songbird nominee:
Fleetwood Mac – Songbird.mp3
Rosie Thomas – Songbird.mp3

Kate Earl
I really hope Kate Earl‘s fine 2005 debut Fate Is the Hunter will not be the final offering by this engaging Alaskan LA-based songbird. Critics tend to compare Earl with Fiona Apple, without the neurosis. Not being a great fan of Apple, I am inclined to differ. Though vocally they are not dissimilar, Earl plays with different genres, from guitar-folk to piano-driven ballads to what one might call folk-torchsong and folk-blues. Joni Mitchell and Carole King are obvious influences. “Cry Sometimes” is a slowed-down AOR number of the kind those who like the interminably dull Norah Jones ought to hear just to realise just how deficient Jones’ music is. The critics point to the fine “Hero” as the stand-out track on Fate Is the Hunter. I recommend that the reader seeks it out immediately after being acquainted with the songs below. “Sweet Sixteen” is a torchsong-type number which innovatively samples some old shellac record tune.
Kate Earl – Cry Sometimes.mp3
Kate Earl – Sweet Sixteen.mp3

Jill Sobule
Jill Sobule has been around for a long while, but has only ever had one proper hit, 1995’s “I Kissed A Girl”. Audiences presumably looked for more of the same, in the Lisa Loeb mould, and lost interest when Sobule did not pander to expectations. And so Lisa, not Jill, became a bit of a star (not that I’d begrudge the bespectacled one her success). Sobule is a storyteller who dips her lyrics in liberal amounts of irony. Some of her music is quite brilliant, but the real attraction resides in her lyrics, and the delivery thereof. I’ve mentioned this line from “One Of These Days” before: “One of these days I’m gonna touch the sky, like that awful song ‘I Believe I Can Fly’, [pause for effect] I believe I can fly.” The song comes from 2000’s Pink Pearl album, which also features the Bacharach-as-produced-by-Spector style “Rainy Day Parade”, a song about depression and loss. Get the stunning “Lucy At The Gym” and CD-quality live MP3s on the regularly updated download section of Jill’s excellent homepage.
Jill Sobule – Rainy Day Parade.mp3
Jill Sobule – I Kissed A Girl.mp3
Jill Sobule – One Of These Days.mp3

Colbie Caillat
One of the success stories of musicians bypassing the A&R goons via the Internet to find recognition and, in this case, commercial benefit, Colbie Caillat has found favour among bloggers and MySpace trawlers alike. The thing is, purely on paper Caillat’s debut album should not deserve such favour. Its title is Coco, her childhood nickname for crying out loud. The lyrics are cute and sweet, but not particularly poetic. Her sound is breezy and sunny, almost begging comparison to boring old Jack Johnson (who, in fairness, is one of the host of influences Colbie — or her PR — lists on her My Space page). On top of all that, Colbie is very pretty, looking nothing like a grungy or introspective folk chick (all this recalls the case of Tristan Prettyman, whose new album is out in February — hurrah! — and whom I featured in The Songbirds Vol 3) . And yet! And yet, Coco is one of the most appealing albums of the year. We need music for all moods; Caillat provides the soundtrack for happy moods, a bit like early Rickie Lee Jones. If there is a sound that can replicate the feeling of just having falling in reciprocal love, this is it.
Colbie Caillat – Realize.mp3
Colbie Caillat – One Fine Wire.mp3

Kate Walsh
Another singer who created a buzz on the Internet, rather than thanks to conventional promotion methods, Kate Walsh channels the spirit of Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell. Her home-recorded album is intimate, touching and immediately engaging. It is a quiet album — basically a girl and her guitar — but also one thickly layered with credible emotion and exquisite melodies. Tim’s House has accomplished a respectable amount of attention, acclaim and some commercial success through innovative marketing on iTunes Store. But there is more to the album than that. I’ll stick my neck out and predict, hopefully without undue hyperbole, that in some time to come, it will be recognised as a minor classic in the Songbird genre.
Kate Walsh – Don’t Break My Heart.mp3
Kate Walsh – Is This It.mp3 (previously uploaded)
Kate Walsh – Talk Of The Town.mp3 (previously uploaded)

Shawn Colvin
I have been debating wit

h myself whether to include Shawn Colvin in this series, having focused on female singers who have not received much wider exposure or, as in the cases of Rickie Lee Jones and Suzanne Vega, whose new album merited mention. Colvin also released a new album late last year, These Four Walls, which also went rather unnoticed. A pleasant affair, it had a couple of notable songs (“So Good To See You” being particularly good). Colvin’s back catalogue includes some gems, handily compiled on 2004’s Polaroid album. But what I really like about Colvin is that she voiced a character in The Simpsons (the Christian rock singer whom Ned Flanders fancied) and appeared on The Larry Sanders Show. Which is pretty cool. Colvin was also the unfortunate singer whose Grammys acceptance speech (for Song of the Year “Sunny Came Home”) was hijacked by Ol’ Dirty Bastard who expressed his justifiable disappointment at losing a nomination to the revolting Puff Daddy, sartorial stylings notwithstanding, and how Wu Tang is all about the children.
Shawn Colvin – So Good To See You.mp3
Shawn Colvin – Never Saw Blue Like That.mp3

The Songbirds Vol 1: Rickie Lee Jones, Mindy Smith, Michelle Featherstone, Missy Higgins, A Fine Frenzy
The Songbirds Vol 2: Harris Tweed, Brandi Carlile, Hello Saferide, Sarah Borges, Suzanne Vega
The Songbirds Vol 3: Rosie Thomas, Catherine Feeney, Sarah Bettens, Kathleen Edwards, Tristan Prettyman
The Songbirds Vol 4:
Deb Talan, Brooke Fraser, Emiliana Torrini, Maria Taylor, Jenny Lewis