1. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN- The Rising:
This articulate and compassionate disc is easily the most impressive album of the year. Even the songs that at first blush sound like he could have written them in his sleep 20 years ago have a dark side that take on greater significance.
2. GEORGE HARRISON- Brainwashed:
His best work since “All Things Must Pass”. It reveals a man totally at peace with himself and his God (if not necessarily with the rest of the world) who played a mean ukulele.
3. SONIC YOUTH- Murray Street:
Their albums are usually hit or miss depending on their willingness to recognize and conform to basic song structure. This mixes the extremes of the band’s music to produce what may be their most cohesive piece of work.
4. COLDPLAY- A Rush Of Blood To The Head:
I don’t know what it is about this album. I don’t have the slightest idea what they’re singing about but this is the best sounding disc of the year- sort of like a poor man’s U2. It has been the most played disc in my house over the past couple of months.
5. ELIZA CARTHY- Anglicana:
A curious album. At least on her solo outings, Carthy, the progeny of English folk music royalty, has been at the forefront of the new folk revival in England incorporating different sounds, rhythms and approaches to traditional fare. Here, trad is rad as she embraces the past with relish.
6. LOS LOBOS- Good Morning Aztlan:
A return to form- the experimentation of the last couple of albums is gone. They again sound like one of America’s best and most underrated bands.
7. HIVES- Veni Vidi Vicious:
One of the most positive developments over the past year was the resurgence of garage rock. This was the best of the lot although I suspect that this is about as good as its going to get with this group.
8. SOLOMON BURKE- Don’t Give Up On Me:
The voice isn’t quite as powerful as it used to be but Burke never was one of the great soul shouters. He got by a lot more on subtlety. He was also a pretty good composer in his own right which is not called upon at all on this collection of songs mostly written for him. To say that the Dylan song is the weakest song on the album tells you how good the rest of the disc is.
9. SOLAS- The Edge of Silence:
One of the best Irish American traditional bands distinguishes itself by covering contemporary material including lesser known songs by Dylan, Tom Waits and Nick Drake.
10. LINDA THOMPSON- Fashionably Late:
17 years down the road, Thompson sounds a little rougher around the edges but the album is a warm folkie delight that exhibits some of that doom and gloom that her ex was known for. That she gathers the kids around the mic for a family shredding of her “Dear Old Man” is testament that she is not exactly the forgiving type.
11. VINES- Highly Evolved:
Of all the new garage rock bands, the Vines probably show the most promise.
12. ELVIS COSTELLO- When I Was Cruel:
There should be a law requiring Costello to record only with the Attractions. It makes that much of a difference.
13. BONNIE RAITT- Silver Lining:
It sounds like she’s going back to her roots- namely Lowell George and Little Feat. This is a lot funkier than she’s been in years.
14. STEVE EARLE- Jerusalem and Sidetracks:
While neither of these albums would rank with his best work, Earle has been one of the most consistently engaging and prolific musicians over the past 7 years. “Jerusalem” is sprawling, angry and ambitious. If you’re not in the mood for that, there’s the eclectic collection of strays and out-takes on “Sidetracks”.
15. BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA- Higher Ground:
Almost as good as last year’s “Spirit of the Century”, they bring out the gospel roots in songs by such rock artists as Stevie Wonder, George Clinton and Prince.
16. BOB DYLAN & THE ROLLING THUNDER REVUE- Live 1975:
This doesn’t have the sense of discovery that I experienced with the Royal Albert Hall concert probably because of familiarity as I caught several shows on this tour. It also lacks the give and take of the concert where the various artists would take turns at stage front. That said, some of the best shows I’ve ever seen were on this tour.
17. BECK- Sea Change:
Of course he’s a sponge, but if he’s going to use Nick Drake and other English folk artists as his reference point, he’s going to get my attention. A perfect setting for his muse.
18. YOUNG DUBLINERS- Absolutely:
Irish rock band reminiscent of the Big Geraniums.
19. MARAH- Float Away with the Friday Night Gods:
I’ve heard that this album disappointed those who liked the early Springsteen sound of their last album. This definitely sounds more glam rock than E Street but I thought it was an improvement.
20. JOEY RAMONE- Don’t Worry About Me:
21. CHUMBAWAMBA- Readymades:
This first caught my attention when I noticed it sitting on top of the British folk charts. They borrow Moby’s approach on “Play” and take samples of old English folk recordings and construct dance tunes around them. Not quite as successful as Moby, but it works pretty well.
22. BLUE MURDER- No Man Stands Alone:
Mostly acapella British folk music by folk legends Waterson- Carthy and Swan Arcade. They don’t just sing a song- they attack it with a take no prisoners approach.
23. AIMEE MANN- Lost In Space
24. FLOGGING MOLLY- Drunken Lullabies:
For those of us still pining away for the Pogues.
25. DEREK TRUCKS BAND- Joyful Noise:
Trucks is the real thing- a truly gifted guitar player whose sensibilities match his technical abilities. The key is going to be for Trucks to find his own identity- the album is a showcase for the different styles that he’s able to play.