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2005 top albums

May 14, 2012

In case you missed them… – Some of year’s best CDs far from household names
Herald & Review (Decatur, IL) – Friday, January 20, 2006
Author: TIM CAIN ; H&R Entertainment Editor
Keep repeating to yourself, “This is just one guy’s list.”

Also keep repeating to yourself, “Even though I haven’t heard of a lot of this stuff, it really does exist.”

This is the annual edition of my picks for top CDs of the previous year, and yes, some of these are really obscure. In fact, you have to go to number six before you find a release that even made the Billboard charts.

But it’s not a willfully obscure list. These are legitimately the best releases to cross my path this year. (Let me readily acknowledge also that there are plenty of things that DIDN’T cross my path yet, and they may be as excellent as anything on this list, or as bad as that Lindsay Lohan album .)

And with the World Wide Web available, there are easy ways to check out what these albums sound like to see if they’re your thing or not.

As always, all lists are subject to change.

1. Jessi Alexander, “Honeysuckle Sweet” — Great voice, solid songs and one of those wonderful mixes of styles that defies description. In the 1970s, before Linda Ronstadt started covering 1950s and ‘60s pop/rock songs, she’d do something like this — melodic and intelligent music. It’s a lot country, a little rock, a bit of pop and some bluegrass, and I like it a bunch.

2. Do Me Bad Things, “Yes” — They play big, dumb songs with big, dumb chords and big, dumb tricky time changes. It’s something like Queen meets Rush meets Queens of the Stone Age. And it’s great. Unfortunately, this nine-person band (seven of whom are vocalists, and it seems like each of them has at least one solo on this album ) has just announced its breakup.

3. Saul Zonana, “42 Days” — Wow. I didn’t think people still made music this melodic and poppy. The guitars and multi-tracked vocals make him sound like an introspective Paul McCartney from many years ago. Some of his lyrics have come under fire in reviews. So did McCartney’s. This is not rock, it’s definitely pop.

4. Tripsitter, “California Son” — The best album The Beach Boys haven’t made in years. In fact, they’re so Beach Boys-y, they’ve sung for Brian Wilson and with Al Jardine. A keyboard-based, vocal-harmony heavy effort with some sophisticated music and arrangements. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun.

5. Cynthia Alexander, “Comet’s Tail” — Not to be confused with the American Jessi Alexander above, Cynthia is a Filipino whose music combines folk music with an unexpected word music bent and some expectedly touching and abstract lyrics (“I paint my watercolour pillow tears turquoise blue”). One of the most unexpected discs to come my way in 2005.

6. Franz Ferdinand, “You Could Have It So Much Better” — Like they never missed a beat, this sounds like it was recorded at the same sessions as last year’s debut album , but they set aside the really good songs for this release. They’ve moved forward enough to satisfy people who wanted more than “Franz Ferdinand II,” but not so much that they’ll alienate those same people. And “Do You Want To” surely deserves some kind of award for being so catchy despite lyrics that no doubt took about seven minutes to write.

7. TSAR, Band*Girls*Money” — A band that commemorates the best about glam rock. Think stomping beats, screaming singers and out-of-control guitar solos that often go on underneath the lyrics much longer than they should. The video for the title cut gives the appearance of Jet overrun by some late 70s punk rockers. They know how to do the poses. Presumably, their name being an anagram of “star” is no accident.

8. “Morningwood” — Oh, how these guys have managed to annoy people already. If it’s not their name, it’s their pasting together of diverse music styles, or their “risque” lyrics (which some find passÃ(c)). For me, there’s plenty to like about this band — amusing, edgy pop with enough melody and backbeat to keep it interesting.

9. John Hiatt, “Master of Disaster” — Every couple of years, Hiatt puts out another great album . His work is the kind of stuff that, as I wrote a few months ago on my blog, “leaves me shaking my head and wondering how so many lesser talents climb charts while his work touches just that select few.” It’s probably easier to just enjoy the music rather than complain about how few people hear it. Start with the title cut.

10. Courtney Jaye, “Traveling Light” — Great voice. She reminds me of Liz Phair vocally, but she’s not quite as musically eccentric. (Actually, she sounds more like Danielle Brisebois to me, but that’s not a lot of help to almost everyone, since so few people have heard her.) Jaye has drawn comparisons with Sheryl Crow, but she’s a little more pop than Crow’s relative rock. Besides, Playboy has picked Jaye as a Woman on the Verge, and Playboy is where you go for music tips, right?

11. Clumsy Lovers, “Smart Kid” — How offbeat are these guys? They drop AC/DC songs and “Cisco Kid” into medleys during concerts and decided they must be a country band after CMT decided to start playing their video. What do you get? A variety of clever songs in a variety of styles, as would befit a band with an assortment of influences from hard rock to country to AM radio from the 1970s (which was all of those things and more).

12. The Rudds, “Get the Femuline Hang On” — There was a time when Todd Rundgren churned out catchy radio hits the way others spun a dial on a radio — routinely and without effort. The Rudds take Rundgren’s sound (think “Hello It’s Me” and “Can We Still Be Friends” and “I Saw the Light”) and update it with a smile. (The second song on the disc is about a band making its second album , and how that release won’t be as good as the first. This is The Rudds’ second album .) Thank goodness for bands who sell discs from their own Web site and only charge $10 a disc, including shipping and handling.

13. Neil Young, “Prairie Wind” — Young is as headstrong and independent as any musician in history, so any release is going to be a grab bag. It might be country, blues, rock, new ideas, an utter rehash, brilliant, rubbish — you never know. Many of his original fans have tired of panning for nuggets in his releases. Their loss. His last effort, “Greendale,” was more involving, but this probably has a better variety of songs, close to his classic “Harvest” in its feel. Young is one of the few artists who writes seven-minute songs that feel (enjoyably) twice as long, and I wish were actually twice as long.

14. Kathleen Edwards, “Back to Me” — All right, if the other listeners say so, why not? This strikes me as the kind of album Bonnie Raitt ought to be making. Edwards’ voice isn’t far from Raitt’s, and the songs are toe-tapping enough that they sink in before you realize how good the lyrics are.

15. Rolling Stones, “A Bigger Bang” — I haven’t really liked a Rolling Stones album since 1978. But this was one of the most enjoyable surprises I’ve stumbled across this year. The mid-tempo songs are solid, the ballads are ballads (who would miss them if the band abandoned the ballads altogether?), and the rockers are more impressive than they have any right to be. This isn’t a pity ranking — the album really is this good.

16. Rodney Crowell, “The Outsider” — Very quietly, Crowell has turned into an American treasure. He’s gone from a competent country performer to a cynical and somewhat angry older rocker, and his songs keep getting better. And he’d set the bar plenty high to begin with.

17. White Stripes, “Get Behind Me Satan” — “Please tell me I didn’t see that on your list,” wrote a friend who saw a preliminary copy of my top 20. No group seems to split music audiences more distinctly than the Stripes. Their last album bored me, while I find this one (and singer Jack White’s largely successful attempts to sound like Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant) interesting, fascinating and not at all dull.

18. Ike, “In Real Life” — There’s something wonderful about a band that is awestruck by the chance to open in concert for Bon Jovi and is so impressed that they put Jon Bon Jovi’s personal video greeting to the band on their page. Again, power pop — a melodic, guitar-based quartet that crafts memorable melodies in 3Â1/2 minutes or less. Like most of this list.

19. Paul McCartney, “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard” — McCartney is riding a nice hot streak. Of his last four albums , this is the third excellent one (2001’s “Driving Rain” is the stinker out of the bunch). It’s been called his best solo effort by at least one major publication (it doesn’t strike me even as good as “Flaming Pie,” his 1997 masterpiece), and it’s a grower — listen a few times, and some of its really pretty themes come through. McCartney, though, just isn’t as good a drummer as he thinks he is.

20. “The Sights” — These guys make music their parents would love. Ground solidly in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, sounding like they’ve been wearing out their Doors and T. Rex and Rolling Stones albums .


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