1. RYAN ADAMS – Gold: Last year I was complaining that his first solo album was under-produced and that he needed a good band. He found one. Its difficult not to over state how good this album is and how much progress he’s made in the last couple of years- compare this album to his last album with Whiskeytown which also saw the light of day this year. Clearly the best album of the year.
2. GILLIAN WELCH – Time (The Revelator): I liked her in the past but this album somehow clicks where her earlier ones didn’t The arrangements are still spare but the topics are more worldly than in the past and by the end of the 15 minute “I Dream a Highway” you realize just how good a writer she’s become.
3. DAN BERN – New American Language: I think the conversation went something like this:
(DB) “I want to be a star”.
(God) “Why? You’ve already got critical acclaim”.
(DB)”I’11 do an album of topical and witty material. I won’t curse or blaspheme anywhere and every song will be able to be played on the radio. It will be the most professional sounding album of my career”.
(God) “You’ll only blow it You’ll feel guilty about success. You’ll go to the Crossroads and make a pact with the devil. You’ll date Britney”.
4. JOHN HIATT – The Tiki Bar Is Open: I hadn’t listened to Hiatt for years but if this is any indication as to what he’s been up to, I have some catching up to do. I don’t remember him rocking out this much.
5. REM – Reveal: This is a band that used to know how to rock however none of that is present here. What you get instead is essentially the band’s attempt to make its own “Pet Sounds”- an insidious musical album that owes as much to Webb and Bacharach as it does to the Beatles.
6. JOHN STEWART – Wires From the Bunker: At the height of his commercial success in the late 70’s, Stewart recorded these songs for follow up albums only to have his label go belly up. The tapes sat forgotten in his garage until he mailed them to a friend ‘years later – who realized that this was tfie best material that Stewart ever recorded. Lindsay Buckingham (also at a creative peak at the time) is on the album – in person and in spirit, which makes this the most upbeat album he ever recorded.
7. JOE STRUMMER & THE MESCALEROS – Global A Go-Go: He sounds re-inspired and like he’s enjoying recording again. I like the Celtic dub at the end.
8. BOB DYLAN – Love and Theft: Ok – he’s got a good band behind him, he’s really trying hard on his enunciation and he’s even showing a sense of humor. Still there aren’t that many Dylan albums, which are more memorable for their musical rather than their lyrical charms, but this is one.
9. LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III – Last Man on Earth: Ruminations on life, death (his own and others), writer’s block and family with Wainwrights particular bent. And its a lot more melodic than his albums usually are.
10. KATE RUSBY – Little Lights: It was a quiet year for Celtic music but this was far and away the best. She’s one of the leaders of the folk revival in England.
11. CONTINENTAL DRIFTERS – Better Day: The group continues to flex its versatility and songwriting depth. It becomes more apparent that the secret weapon in this group, vocally and now as a writer. Is Susie Cowsill. Unfortunately it appears that this is her swan song as it was announced at the beginning of the year that she had left the group.
12. LUCINDA WILLIAMS – Essence: Not as edgy, lyrically or musically, as “Car Wheels” which seemed to put some people at first. A deeply personal song cycle about love and relationships.
13. BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA – Spirit of the Century: I saw them play in Poughkeepsie last year where they demonstrated the bridge among gospel, blues and rock better than I had ever seen at one time before. The album is just as good and the Stones’ cover out does the original.
14. OLD 97’S – Satellite Rides: After seeing their last album on a lot of lists, I was paying attention when this album came out. I’m don’t know if they are anything more than this decades answer to the Gin Blossoms but that’s not a bad thing
15. STROKES – Is This It: Garage rock’s alive and well in NYC.
16. JOHN MELLENCAMP – Cuttin’ Heads: I’ve always liked his politics, his working class ethic and especially the roots friendly band which now sounds almost as good as his band of the 80s and early 90s. Sort of the consummate over-achiever.
17.SHOOGLENIFTY – Solar Shears: Scottish ravers armed with fiddles, banjos, synthesizers and tape loops.
18. SUZANNE VEGA – Songs in Red and Gray: I owe her this one. For years I’ve been complaining about Mitehell Froom and how his production has screwed up albums by some of my favorite people. Vega dumps Froom not only as a producer but as a husband as well I believe. She also makes her most consistent album since the beginning of her career.
19. BUDDY & JULIE MILLER – She’s a better writer than he is. He’s got better musical sensibilities. They’re both nasal. For some reason they had always recorded separately in the past but this album is a good and natural marriage.
20. BLUE MOUNTAIN – Roots: Neil Young and Crazy Horse meet the Weavers.
21. YAYHOOS – Fear Not the Obvious: My litmus test for a band is whether they are a good bar band. This band sounds like a natural. It’s got a pretty decent heritage (the Georgia Satellites) and songs that revolve around women, booze and Jesus. And a monkey. And an Abbacover.
22. KAREN CASEY – The Winds Begin to Sing: Female singers are not exactly a rare commodity in Celtic music and its not easy to stand out. Casey came out of Solas, one of the best Celtic bands around, so she knows something about how to put together
accompaniment and she’s picked material that has not already been done to death by other singers.
23. JAY FARRAR – Sebastopol: It doesn’t sound all that different from a Son Volt record to me. The voice has always been the hook for me.
24. GRAHAM PARKER- Deepcut To Nowhere: One of those records that came out in September which after you heard “Dark Days” made you wonder how long it would take the FBI to call him in for questioning as to how exactly how much he knew.
25. IAN HUNTER – Rant: A little rougher around the edges than i remember him 30 years ago (not that he would ever be accused by anyone of being smooth.), he sounds more like the Faces than Mott. “Wash Us Away” proved that there’s life there yet.
26. BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD – Box Set: Even with the various bootlegs I have, there is a wealth of a material here that I’ve never heard. A wonderful chronicle of one of the most important – if short lived – groups of the 60’s (even thoughthey could have thrown In the 9-minute version of “Bluebird” and a couple of other songs to make it complete).
27. TEN YEARS AFTER – Live at the Fillmore East 1970: My first live concert was Ten Years After, John Mayall and Slim Harpo on Feb. 28, 1969. Life has not been the same since. This album isn’t that show – although I was at this one as well – but their concerts never changed much after that anyway.
28. JAMES BROWN- Live at the Apollo Volume II: Another complete concert by the Godfather at his peak. Not as edgy as the concert from Dallas recorded around the same time which was released a couple of years ago but still kicks.
29. VELVET UNDERGOUND – Bootleg Series Volume l: The Quine Tapes: Who knew they were a jam band? On “Sister Ray” no less! The sound quality leaves something to be desired and its the first truly superfluous album of their career but its still way beyond a lot of music coming out today.
30. VARIOUS ARTISTS – Nuggets II