It was a pretty good year to be in the garage. Garage music hit mainstream although it will probably be back in the garage in a couple of years so enjoy it while you can. There were plenty of great songs although not necessarily on great albums. The best album of the year could have been a new Nuggets-like compilation if there had been one. As it was, there wasn’t any one album that clearly towered over all the rest. A lot got played and the following was what got played a lot:
1. THE WHITE STRIPES- Elephant: Lets just say that this could be the theme record for the year. It represents what garage music is all about- a simple kitchen sink mixture of urban blues, grunge and rock.
2. JOHNNY CASH- Cash Unearthed: Rick Rubin’s work with Cash will go down as one of the all time great revivals of a career that already outdoes the work that Muddy Waters and Roy Orbison did at the end of their careers. This collection of odds and ends is a romp though the American songbook by as distinctive a singer as this country has ever produced. He could have sung a telephone book with meaning (867-5309/ Jenny; Beachwood 45789?).
3. THE JAYHAWKS- Rainy Day Music: Finally an album that can stand together with Tomorrow the Green Grass.
4. FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE- Welcome Interstate Managers: Their recent success may have them pigeon-holed in the same category with Blink 182, but the songs are a lot more intelligent and varied than that.
5. THE DETROIT COBRAS- Life. Love and Leaving: This actually came out two years ago but I never heard it until this year and it wound up getting played perhaps more than anything else I purchased over the past year. Rachael Nagy is one of the best vocalists around. Combine that with a killer rhythm section and all covers of obscure 60’s soul songs.
6. RICHARD THOMPSON- The Old Kit Bag: The loss of major label backing appears to have had no effect. He is as consistent as ever. He also gets extra credit for being the best self-bootlegger since the Dead. He released 3 boots in the past year: a document of his current tour (Ducknapped). a 1988 concert when he was supported by the best back-up band he ever had (More Guitar) and best of all, his musical review of the last millenium (1000 Years of Popular
7. JOHN TAMS- Home: Second solo effort from the former singer in the Albion Band and Home Service after a long retirement. Along with Thompson, he is one of the few songwriters who are writing decent songs in the English folk tradition.
8. LUCINDA WILLIAMS- World Without Tears- Lucinda’s make-out album covering the usual explorations of love: obsessjon, possession, passion and rejection.
9. OYSTERBAND- Rise Above – Simply put, the best English folk-rock band currently recording today.
10. RYAN ADAMS- Rock N Roll and Love is Hell (Parts I & 2): The rock disc that was demanded by the record company is not as good as the two ep’s that it didn’t want to put out. Scattered among all 3 discs however is one fine album that ranks with the best of his work.
11. EELS- Shootenanny! – An improvement over the grunge of Souljacker. It appears that mortality is no longer E’s muse although he does threaten to blow his head off at the fashion show (but I can understand that).
12. WARREN ZEVON- The Wind: Tilis must have a paradox for Zevon- how do you record what is essentially your farewell to life when you’ve basically been writing your epitaph ever since the first album? He did it by not really changing anything. A moving goodbye.
13. JOE STRUMMER & THE MESCALEROS- Streetcore: This one still hurts and I’m kicking myself for not going to see him in 2002 when I had the chance. With the Mescaleros, he found the perfect vehicle for his rock-reggae-worid vision and made his best music since the demise of the Clash.
14.GANDALF MURPHY &THE SLAMBOVIAN CIRCUS OF DREAMS- Flapjacks from the Skv: The second studio album from one of the best local bands. They defy description. The record is a wonderful mixture of roots, folk and rock music. They also gave the best live show I saw this year.
15. ROMANTICS- 61/49: Where the hell did this come from? Emerging from the Detroit garage 18 years aftermaking their last album, they leave the red suits in the closet and rock out as hard as they ever did without missing a beat.
16. BELLE & SEBASTIAN- Dear Catastrophe Waitress: There was concern that this was going to be over-produced but for a band that is so steeped in 60’s pop, it actually enhances the music.
17. NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE- Greendale: This was like a summer novel. It was nice to see Neil feeling inspired again and I had fun figuring out which of the different characters were Neil. That said, only a few of the songs are capable of standing on their own out of the context of the story.
18. CAESARS- 39 Minutes of Bliss fin an Otherwise Meaningless Worid~: Actually a compilation of their first three albums from yet another garage band from Sweden- the Detroit of Europe. It also wins the award for the best album title of the year.
19. THE WARLOCKS- Phoenix Album: The Warlocks made the psychedelic guitar trance-dance album that the Dandy Warhols should have made this year (but didn’t).
20.GILLIAN WELCH- Soul Journey: Both the music and the lyrics are less adventurous than her previous album. That notwithstanding, this is still one of the stronger folk albums to come out this year. I guess it’s like she sings in “Look At Miss Ohio”, she wants to do right … but not right now.
21. THE FLESHTONES- Do You Swing?: While garage rock has made a comeback in the last couple of years, these guys have been at it for nearly 25 years. This is their best album in years.
22.ASHLEY MacISAAC- Ashlev Macisaac: When he’s not making traditional fiddle music albums, he makes pretty decent pop albums with a band. “Mull of Kintyre” sounds a lot more natural here than ‘it did with McCartney.
23. TELEVISION- Live at the Old Waldorf, San Francisco, 6/29/78: They were truly in a class by themselves. They had the energy and attitude of punk but a chemistry and talent that was found only in an earlier generation of bands. Recorded shortly before the band imploded.
24. SOUNDTRACK- A Mighty Wind: Successfully skewered everything I’ve always hated about American folk music. At least with English and Celtic music, there’s a lot more drinking, partying and violence- sort of like rock music.
25. VARIOUS ARTISTS- Live from the Bardavon- Vol. 1: A tribute to and for one of the nicest venues outside of NYC to see a show. There is not a bad seat in the theatre. I was there for 8 of the 12 performances that are on the record. This barely scratches the surface of what has been presented there.