Critical Mass 2000
It was the best of years; it was the Durst of years.
Of the latter, well, Jim Dandy once had his moment in the sun, too, and the critics were right all along: Black Oak Arkansas sucked, the stoned morons who were into the band eventually grew up (or died in horrible Camaro crashes), and today the band is fondly remembered as nothing more than a punch line to musical jokes about the '70s.
In the spirit of the former: As a prologue to our Top 10 lists and a rare glimpse behind the veil of critical omniscience, consider this preliminary early draft, penned to formula. (Feel free to clip 'n' mail to the Village Voice as your ballot in the paper's annual "Pazz & Jop Critics' Poll.")
1. Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol) Postmodern, postliterate post-Aphex Twinesque whimsy that circumvents agitpop for artistry blah-blah-blah.
2. U2, All That You Can't Leave Behind (Interscope) A brilliant return-to-roots song cycle that thankfully eschews the techno-hooey of Pop while biting the "pop" charts in the arse, yammer-fawn-yammer.
3. Rage Against the Machine, Renegades (Epic) Still, what a swan song! Ratcheting up the revolutionary quotient of MC5, Stooges, Stones, et al.
4. Various Artists, Now THAT'S What I Call Music Vol. Whatever (Universal) Bubbling over with Britney's baking, chock-full of Christina's cookies, this yummy millennial platter of goodies munch-gobble-chew-swallow.
5. Beatles, 1 (Capitol) Barring the criminal omissions of "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Please Please Me," the industry's first credible threat to Michael Jackson's sales-chart supremacy gurgle-chortle-gag.
6. PJ Harvey, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (Island) Even though Liz Phair's in exile, Mary Lou Lord's in rehab and Courtney Love's in litigation, 2000 was still the Year of the Woman thanks to Polly Jean's existential wail.
7. Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP (Aftermath/Interscope) Or was it the Year of the Bitch You Cut Up and Dump? As Em's sly word play and deft comedic touch sailed over the heads of uptight feminists, fags and etc., etc., etc.
8. Limp Bizkit, Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water (Flip/Interscope) Despite critical comparisons to Grand Funk Railroad and accusations of waving the banner of artistic mediocrity in an aesthetics-free null zone, the Bizkit, along with Godsmack, Linkin Park, Cold and others, still racked up platinum (insert the sound of a statistical clicker ticking, cash register ringing).
9. Paul Simon, You're the One (Warner Bros.) Shrugging off accusations that he got his pal/Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner to shitcan an unfavorable review (which led to a prominent journalist turning in her notice), Simon once again reigned supreme as a melodicist and lyricist of deep something or other.
10. Jets to Brazil, Four Cornered Night (Jade Tree) Even as fans pathetically clung to the withering creative vine known as Emo -- some going so far as to name their children after their favorite artists -- Jets took off amid manifesto-like ruminations that wheeze-pontificate-gasp-thud.
That was fun! Practice some of those catch phrases and you, too, can be a critic. Remember: "postliterate, post-Aphex Twin," "existential wail" and "withering creative vine" always impress editors and your readership. Okay, here are the real lists.
1. godspeed you black emperor!, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (Kranky) My obligatory "wow, I'm cool 'cause I dig an avantish Canadian band on a tiny indie label" entry. A vibrantly technophonic, stereodelic excursion into the cinema of the mind: Harry Smith Rock for the Millennium.
2. Various Artists, Almost Famous Soundtrack (DreamWorks) True story: A chick came into the record store where I work and asked if we had any records by Stillwater, and I was less amused by her naiveté -- it's a fictional band with several cool songs in the movie, one on the soundtrack disc, all penned by either Nancy Wilson or Peter Frampton -- than by the sheer rock 'n' roll power of suspended disbelief. So by default, Almost Famous becomes the standard-bearer for this annum's theme: 2000 was the Year the Rock Geek Broke -- with additional mainstream validation arriving by way of the High Fidelity film, a biography of late rock critic Lester Bangs (Let It Blurt, by former Jann Wenner gadfly Jim DeRogatis) and assorted earnest missives from rock's hoary, hectic, hirsute past courtesy old-schoolers Nick Tosches, Richard Meltzer, Greil Marcus and Stanley Booth. (Someday we're all gonna be sitting on the highway to heaven tour bus, singing along to Elton John's "Tiny Dancer," huh, guys?)
3. Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol) See listing in the intro, minus any contextual sarcasm. And the band is able to pull off those icily vertiginous soundscapes live, too, as anyone who saw R-head's appearance on Saturday Night Live will testify.
4. PJ Harvey, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (Island) Likewise, see intro listing. Anger and angst slowly dissolve in the face of a Zenlike fortitude, yet she didn't wind up making a mature/adult Sting record, either.
5. Steve Earle, Transcendental Blues (E-Squared/Artemis) Nor did Earle, despite his showing all the impending signs of maturity and adulthood: political activism, a book of essays and poetry en route, hanging out with Sheryl Crow, etc. This is a classic, "deep" rock 'n' roll album, one that some wag described as the record a '90s Beatles reunion might've spawned -- not that far-fetched.
6. The Delta 72, 000 (Touch & Go) Despite At the Drive In nipping at its Motor City wheels, the D72 takes the full-on rock gold medal by virtue of its channeling skills (it's the best Stones album in a decade), furrowed-brow soulful intensity, and sheer onstage athletic ability. Boy howdy!
7. Calexico, The Hot Rail (Quarterstick) Lower Sonoran Desert Rock? Mariachadelica? Huevos Ambientos? The Cinema of the Relleno? Tucson's ambassadors of cool are beginning to defy description, but one thing's for sure: They perfectly sum up the Arizona experience.
8. Brian Wilson, Live at the Roxy Theater (Brimel) Available only at www.brianwilson.com, this is the Beach Boys album you always dreamed about but knew would never come to pass. Saint Brian brings Pet Sounds and other gems to life on this two-CD live set, and wait'll you hear him do the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," which he introduces as his "very favorite record in the universe."
9. David Holmes, Bow Down to the Exit Sign (1500) A massive multi-sensory impact. You can practically taste guest vocalist Bobby Gillespie's cocaine shot on the back of your tongue in the pulse-pounding hard-rock centerpiece "Sick City," while Jon Spencer's voodoo-sexual anguish in the Dr. John-meets-Can "Bad Thing" is gut-wrenching. And Carl Hancock Rux's soul-on-ice mofo vocals help push a throbbing, psychedelic cover of "Compared to What" into the realm of the metaphysical.
10. D.J. Shadow/Cut Chemist, Brainfreeze (Slurrp) Ace DJ mix (actually, a rehearsal for a live turntable session) of obscure but essential funk-soul grooves. As the duo's liners suggest, the collection is "served chilled to just the right temperature."
Artist of the Year: John Lennon. Clearly, the Beatles were on a lot of people's minds in 2000, and even though the random accusation of milking a cash cow is not necessarily off-base -- in the wake of that massive Anthology book and the 1 singles compilation, even the bootleggers got into the act with an exhaustive, exhausting 17-CD boxed set, Thirty Days -- one could do far worse than fan the flames of Fab Fourdom. Near the end of U2's rendition of its "Beautiful Day" single on Saturday Night Live, Bono restlessly began intoning snatches of Lennon lyrics from "All You Need Is Love," confirming the notion that even if it was 20 years ago today a monster stalked the streets of NYC, spirit is something that can never be assassinated.
Happenin' of the Year: The Boxed Set. I mean, who cares about Napster vs. Metallica, Britney Spears' bikini fuzz, the woes of music-related dot-com companies, or even the nettlesome ubiquity of homophobic, filth-spewing rappers like Eminem and Jay-Z? It was a fantastic year to be a Rock Geek, as collectors took to the streets to huzzah the arrival of sets from Faust, Free, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Monkees, Jimi Hendrix, Electric Light Orchestra, Van Der Graf Generator, Dusty Springfield -- don't even get me started on all the fantastic work in the single-disc reissue field! Extra respect to Rhino for its five-CD Brain in a Box collection of vintage sci-fi themes and assorted related cultural detritus. It was, in a word, Box-o-riffic!
1. Quasimoto, The Unseen (Stones Throw) Despite what BET or its new parent company MTV/Viacom will tell you, great hip-hop almost always comes without the glittery wrapper of fish-eye lens videos and race-hating thug posturing. The music's most underexposed genius is Madlib, the Oxnard, California-based producer for the subterranean group the Lootpack, and no, he isn't backed up by hordes of crotch-rocket-riding hangers-on or groupie ho's. He's down with Quasimoto, an off-kilter rapping ne'er-do-well whose nasally flow sounds suspiciously like that of a sped-up Madlib, who often exchanges verses with him. The Unseen, like other classic rap albums such as De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising, the Pharcyde's Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, and the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, is far more than an assemblage of great beats and rhymes -- it's a journey through a self-contained, imaginary wonderland. Madlib's fantasy version of everyday life sounds like a Fat Albert episode scored for sampler and drum machine --cartoonish footsteps shuffle to the beat, nostalgic flutes loop off into infinity, and the weasel-voiced main character takes a pull from his joint and invites you to come back next week.
2. LTJ Bukem, Journey Inwards (Good Looking/Kinetic) Englishman Bukem single-handedly resurrected electrified soul music on his debut full-length after the greater part of a decade releasing atmospheric jungle singles. This double disc would be worth the price for "Sunrain" alone, an R&B tune so agelessly funky that you'll instantly forget the entire 15 years of quiet storm pap the genre has suffered through before it. But the rest of Journey Inwards has plenty of headphone bliss to offer as well, from the retro-swinging lounge groove of "Deserted Vaults" to inventive tracks in the more traditional tempo range of jungle. What's most impressive of all is that he pulled together this refreshingly varied album after years of being written off as a one-trick pony, and from a genre that seems to be going the way of Kate Winslet's career after Titanic.
3. Dead Prez, Let's Get Free (Loud) Once you get over the inherent contradiction of an explicitly socialist, black power group signed to Loud Records, a subsidiary of Sony Music (call it the Rage From Within the Machine Syndrome), you'll find much to be hopeful about on Let's Get Free. First off, MCs Stic.man and M-1 believe that a rapper's responsibility involves more than just not spilling bubbly on the interior of the Bentley. While touching on subjects as diverse as inner-city school conditions, vegetarianism, mental foreplay and hip-hop's moral bankruptcy, Dead Prez never sacrifices listenability or the almighty thump. And perhaps most refreshing for a rap album these days -- no guest appearances at all!
4. MJ Cole, Sincere (Talkin Loud) Speed garage, which sounds like jungle after taking anger management classes from house music, grabbed urban London by its pasty shoulders last year. Oddly enough, its skippy, two-step beats and full-bodied vocal arrangements have yet to catch on in the States (or really anywhere outside of the U.K.). MJ Cole's approach is much more musical than the easily digested work of his colleagues, opting for warm, synthesizer-painted backdrops and collaborations only with the finest divas. "I See" sounds like Roberta Flack getting her groove back, and "Sincere" ripples like a pool of syrup being disturbed by syncopated kick drum and snare hits.
5. Burnt Friedman & The Nu Dub Players, Just Landed (~scape) Mr. Friedman, who boasts one of the most open minds and deepest talents in electronic music, splits his time between Germany and New Zealand and numerous deeply esoteric projects. The implications of dub, the "studio as instrument" approach pioneered by Jamaican legends Lee Scratch Perry and King Tubby, have been reverberating through techno, ambient, jungle and related galaxies since the very beginning. But never has the original vibe -- its rootsy yet outerspacey bottomlessness -- been re-created so authentically outside the Caribbean or the year 1978. Through the Nu Dub Players' live instrumentation and Friedman's mad professing behind the mixing board, they manage to extract dub's cosmic consciousness from its traditional reggae constraints, transporting Just Landed to a whole new genreless dimension.
6. Outkast, Stankonia (Arista) Outkast, the greatest chorus writers in hip-hop, managed to remain "so fresh and so clean, clean" while exploring the malodorous regions of the Southern inner city/backwoods experience on Stankonia. With their freelance studio consultants Organized Noize taking a backseat, the production isn't as richly melodic as it was on their masterwork Aquemini, but raucous headbangers like "Gasoline Dreams" and "B.O.B." are sure to get the party jumping -- or even moshing -- every time this near-classic is put on the platter.
7. I-f, Mixed Up in the Hague, Vol. 1 (Panama) I-f is an obscure Dutch producer and DJ who briefly set international dance floors ablaze with his retro-electro smash "Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass" back in 1997. Not comfortable with the spotlight in the slightest, he crawled back into the shadows of the city he calls Murder Capitol (The Hague), only surfacing to spin a set of the most esoteric, tragically forgotten Eurodisco records of all time. Here he blends the themes from Blade Runner and Dr. Who with proto-techno oddities by Giorgio Moroder (responsible for Donna Summer's smash "I Feel Love") and A Number of Names (whose "Sharevari" directly led to Detroit techno). A fascinating -- and thoroughly booty-moving -- tour through the back alleys of electronic music of yore, expertly sequenced by a DJ who really knows his history.
8. Various Artists, Harry the Bastard Presents Club H, Vol. 2 (Statra) Perhaps an even lesser known DJ than I-f, Harry the Bastard masquerades by day as the record buyer for the largest domestic distributor of dance music. But as is becoming increasingly the case, smaller named jocks like him are selecting the true gems, only as their club-headlining counterparts were able to five years ago. Harry, with his limitless crates to pull from, has an ear for deep, immaculate house grooves layered with live jazz instrumentation and only the most understated vocals. What's more, he hasn't included a dud yet on either of the two volumes of Club H. Dig through a specialty record shop for six months looking for 12-inchers of this quality, or pick this up -- the choice is yours.
9. Various Artists, Body & SOUL, Vol. 3 (New Wave) I'm usually wary about picking DJ mixes for a list of the year's best albums, but this and the two preceding it simply pack more minutes of bliss than 99 percent of 2000's "original" full-lengths. Background on this one: DJs Joe Claussell, François Kervorkian and Danny Krivit hold a party every Sunday afternoon in Manhattan called Body & SOUL that pays tribute to the garage sound pioneered by legendary selector Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage (later bastardized in the U.K. as speed garage, see #4). Heavy on roof-raising diva vocals and rhythms that run closer to funk than those of traditional house, this is dance music for an older, dare I say, more sophisticated set than those who consume the popular trance mixes of Paul Oakenfold and company. On Vol. 3, the triumvirate reaches beyond the insular New York garage cabal to draw on the flavors of Detroit (DJ Rolando's "Knights of the Jaguar," easily one of the top three club hits of the year) and San Francisco ("Equatorial," by the hippy trippy Dubtribe). The perfect gift for that lifelong discophobe you know who claims "that stuff all sounds the same," "it doesn't take any talent," and the coup de grâce "it isn't really music."
10. Sade, Lovers Rock (Epic) A new Sade album should have broken my top five without reservation. But Lovers Rock just doesn't have a single as memorable as Diamond Life's "Smooth Operator" or Love Deluxe's "No Ordinary Love." And to these ears, the turn to more prominent acoustic guitar was a step in the wrong direction, pulling her unclassifiable aesthetic closer to soft rock than lilting soul. Still, Sade's eternally assuasive voice fills in where the songwriting lacks, and the unexpected dubby overtones liven up the occasionally flat production.
Best Reissue of the Year: Divine Styler, Wordpower 2: Directrix (Mo'Wax) This is actually not a re-ish in the traditional sense -- the album was released in almost the same format in 1998 on Divine's own label, and then released again with broader promotion on the British tastemaker imprint Mo'Wax. This is rap music at its most cubist, with beats that are sharp, multi-sided and almost brittle, and Orthodox Islamic messages buried under multiple layers of abstraction. Mystical, hyper-urban and ancient all at the same time, Directrix is hip-hop for advanced listeners only.
1. Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker (Bloodshot) When Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker was released in Britain this year, one U.K. profile declared the singer-songwriter the combination of "Gram Parsons' soul, Keith Richards' spirit, Steve Earle's growl and Paul Westerberg's heart." The solo debut from the former Whiskeytown front man -- once regarded as the enfant terrible of the No Depression set -- may not be worthy of such an impossibly high compliment, but it certainly comes close.
Infused with the sound of Greenwich Village folk, Bringing It All Back Home-era Dylan, a healthy dose of Exile on Main Street raggedness and aided by an impressive cast of support players (including Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Kim Richey and, most notably, Parsons' old partner Emmylou Harris), Adams and producer Ethan Johns tap into the dark zeitgeist of late-night yearnings, using the swirl of a Hammond organ, plaintive acoustic guitars and well-deep drums as their guides.
Like Whiskeytown's previous efforts (1995's Faithless Street, 1997's Strangers Almanac and the group's still-unreleased swan song Pneumonia), Heartbreaker draws its inspiration from a soured romance, and that verity colors every inch of the record's tear-stained terrain. From the sandpaper grit of the opener "To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high)," the wounded plea of "My Winding Wheel" to the minimalist backwoods blues of "Bartering Lines," Adams weaves together a collection of richly crafted narratives that sound as if they were written and recorded drunk and wounded in a dark room somewhere.
The album's centerpiece, "Come Pick Me Up" -- an unapologetic ode to self-destructiveness -- finds Adams pining for the wicked sting of a former lover ("I wish you would/Come pick me up/Take me out/Fuck me up/Steal my records/Screw all my friends, behind my back/The smile on your face/And then do it again"). This creeping sense of emotional fatalism reaches its apogee on "Call Me on Your Way Back Home" with its arrestingly honest imagery ("Oh, baby why did I treat you like I did?/Honey, I was just a kid/Bubblegum on my shoe/But you loved me/And I loved you/ . . . Now, I just want to die without you").
Even on songs where the lyrics veer toward the overly stylized (the surreal Dylanesque "Damn, Sam [I Love a Woman That Rains]"), Adams delivers his stories with such an earnest, drawled-out sense of hurt it's hard not to be affected by the depth of his pain.
In all, a brilliant album of sad, fucked-up folk music for sad, fucked-up folks.
2. Chuck Prophet, The Hurting Business (Hightone) Taking an aural shift away from the innately folkish charm and Stones aphorisms that had marked his previous work, former Green on Red guitar slinger Chuck Prophet delivered his opus this year, coloring his literate, hard-edged romanticism with wry touches of electronica and hip-hop. Kicking off with the funky Ennio Morricone-influenced opener, "Rise," Prophet fashions a sometimes dark, often funny narrative of modern life, seething with urban tension and sprinkled with caustic insights and pop-culture references.
The title track, an insistent farfisa-maraca number (whose lyric was inspired by a Mike Tyson quote), hints at Beck, were Mr. Hansen in the midst of a serious Sir Douglas Quintet jag. Elsewhere, Hammond organ colors the deathly revenge anthem "Lucky," while Prophet stumbles upon some of Tom Waits' patented gruff 'n' clang, with the jagged blues and vocoder/megaphone intonations of "La Paloma" and the off-kilter "Shore Patrol." Meanwhile, the album's highlight, "Apology" -- a languid mesh of warm bass, Mellotron and Prophet's somber baritone -- takes the universal human need for forgiveness and turns the concept on its ear with a litany of comical examples, proving his knack for spinning highly literate tales about the vagaries of contemporary times.
3. Tsar, Tsar (Hollywood) An unabashedly big, bombastic platter of power pop delivered with the irony-free conviction of true believers who still have faith in the almighty power chord. The L.A. quartet shines brightest on its most anthemic numbers ("Calling All Destroyers," "I Don't Wanna Break-Up"), offering a tip of the amp to the sounds of both Brit-pop and Brit-punk, while remaining thoroughly fixated on the timeless adolescent themes of American exponents like Cheap Trick and the Ramones. Producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Muffs) ensures every song glistens and glimmers with gargantuan hooks and stadium-size riffs -- courtesy of guitarist Daniel Kern, who also checks in with vocals on the stirring "MONoSTEReo." Cut from the same cloth as other pretty-faced pop screamers (Robin Zander, Eric Carmen) is front man Jeff Whalen, whose croon is equally effective on fist-pumpers like "Teen Wizards" and acoustic ballads like "The Girl That Wouldn't Die." With this irresistibly catchy debut -- and an onstage presence to match -- Tsar is my nominee as the band best equipped to save rock 'n' roll from its postmillennial doldrums.
4. Jayhawks, Smile (Columbia) If the Jayhawks' 1997 disc Sound of Lies -- its first without founding member Mark Olson -- was a hesitant step away from the band's well-defined harmony-filled twang into more ornate pop territory, then Smile is a quantum leap in that direction. Produced by noted '70s knob turner Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper), Smile is a grand and gorgeous testament of both style and substance. With the sole exception of the tepid candyfloss single "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" (a piece so lyrically trite that the rumor was that songwriter/antichrist Diane Warren had doctored it!), Smile is a thoroughly transcendent experience from start to finish. Much of that is because of Ezrin's pomp-and-circumstance-filled production: clipped drum loops exploding into ethereal choruses; strings that arc skyward; cascading washes of choir vocals; and lava-spewing feedback. Notable, too, is that Smile is unburdened by the bleak outlook that ran through much of Sound of Lies. A far more optimistic worldview takes the place of the beleaguered and road-weary sentiments of the last album on "A Break in the Clouds," "Baby, Baby, Baby" and the title track. The record is a more fully realized and mature balance than anything in the band's catalogue, and one that looks out at the world through an impressive sonic kaleidoscope of colors and shapes.
5. Marah, Kids in Philly (Artemis/E-Squared) Led by brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko, Marah works a rare milieu in this day and age -- unironic, big tableau rock 'n' roll (most reminiscent thematically to a pre-Hollywood Bruce Springsteen). However, the band infuses its sound with a scruffy postpunk sensibility (Replacements, Soul Asylum) that makes it a perfect stylistic two-fer in an era wallowing in its own sense of postmodern hipness. Coming on the heels of a brilliant (and brilliantly titled) independent debut Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later On Tonight (Black Dog), Kids in Philly is one of those detail-rich productions that finds comfort and inspiration in the romance of big cities and small bars. You'd never guess the album was recorded above a South Philly garage on a mere seven tracks given the dense sonic attack of "Faraway You" or the multilayered Spectorian rush of "Round Eye Blues" -- the hands-down single of the year and the best song ever written about the post-Vietnam experience of American soldiers. (Marah also earns honors for best B-side of 2000 with "Why Independent Record Stores Fail" -- from the group's "Point Breeze" maxi-single -- a two-and-a-half-minute ballad to romance and vinyl that's the ultimate distillation of Nick Hornby's lovelorn music-geek masterwork High Fidelity.)
6. Slobberbone, Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today (New West) From his earliest efforts as an East Texas punk rocker to his Denton garage band days, through the various mutations of Slobberbone's twang-core, singer-songwriter Brent Best has been in constant pursuit of a particular sound; this record is the product of an artist finally finding what he's been looking for. From the opening 12-string/fiddle salvo of "Meltdown" to the pop songcraft of "Bright Eyes Darkened," the love-haunts-eternal ballad "Josephine" to the chugging banjo wail of "Pinball Song," Slobberbone has created a sprawling and varied effort that belies its reputation as the AC/DC of alt-country. Whether joking around on "Lazy Guy, "a banjo-fueled paean to perennial shiftlessness (on which Best duets with the Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood) or paying homage to the Replacements with the searing "Placemat Blues," Slobberbone hits a creative high watermark, fashioning an almost flawless 14-song disc rich with power, passion and pathos.
7. Speedbuggy USA, Cowboys and Aliens (Headhunter/Cargo) An uncommonly well-crafted and tuneful cowpunk effort that actually captures the vibe the Supersuckers fell short of finding on their "gone country" album Must've Been High. The inherent authenticity of singer Timbo's guttural growl carries along twang-filled laments like "Somewhere in America" and "Live Through This Pain" as well as three-chord scorchers like "GTO" and "On Top of the World." Cowboys and Aliens is unfailingly droll and a thing of wretched, drunken splendor. A Southern accent here, pedal steel hook there, melody everywhere.
8. Radio 4, The New Song and Dance (Gernblandsten) This New York trio made the year's best and most unexpected punk record by creating a pastiche of its main influences: Gang of Four, Clash, Jam, Magazine. Prickly guitars, dubby bass 'n' drum dropouts and massive Strummer/Jones-style choruses merge to form a handful of terse, tight and memorable tracks, making The New Song and Dance a perfect snapshot of the oft-neglected subgenre of art-punk.
9. The Mooney Suzuki, People Get Ready (Estrus) Though not quite as good as last year's top trash rock offering -- The Go's Watcha Doin' -- NYC's the Mooney Suzuki shines on its debut long-player with a sound that pilfers from all the usual suspects: the Stones, Detroit proto-punkers MC5 and the Stooges, Nuggets- and Pebbles-style garage rock, etc. The band rises above its competition (most notably the Delta 72's 000) with a strong batch of songs and the added advantage of a bowery swagger worthy of the New York Dolls.
10. Beachwood Sparks, Beachwood Sparks (Sub Pop) The cosmic American muse of Gram Parsons (coupled with elements of the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield) gets a reworking through the harmony-filled psychedelic country of this L.A. outfit. While Parsons' trail has been tread and retread over the years, the Beachwood Sparks' self-titled debut (featuring the standout cuts "Something I Don't Recognize" and "Old Sea Miner") incorporates enough postmodern flourishes to make it into the top 10.
Best Reissue: This is an especially hard category to pick this year, with so many titles being reissued, remastered and expanded. Capitol Records earns points for a much-needed digital update of The Band's first four albums, as well as its efforts with the Beach Boys' '70s and '80s catalogue. But the top honor goes to a late entry from New York's Sundazed Records, which released Buck Owens and the Buckaroos' 1966 Carnegie Hall Concert album, as well as compiled Country Pickin', a long-overdue anthology of the work of Owens' sideman Don Rich, one of the most overlooked and unsung heroes in country music history.
1. Johnny Cash, American III: Solitary Man (American Recordings) Cash states in Solitary Man's liner notes that he began this album intending it to be his last. I hope to God not, but if Cash were consciously going to cap his career -- that is, if he chose to do so -- this album comes whisper-close to realizing all that's powerful and committed about his life's work. For my money, nothing else released this year even breaches the walls of this record, which is dark and fine and forgiving and all the things the mystery of faith is supposed to be.
2. Dave Alvin, Public Domain (Hightone) An album of ancient, mostly obscure American folk-blues-country songs from the ex-Blaster, backed up by the Guilty Men, through which he pays homage to his musical influences. It doesn't sound like anything else Alvin's ever done, but once you spin Public Domain, it makes perfect sense in a way few records do.
3. Moris Tepper, Moth to Mouth (Candlebone) Oh, yes, you have too heard him. Tepper's been a guitar-playing force for good on albums by Tom Waits, Frank Black, Robyn Hitchcock and so on and so on, and he was the youngest member (at 18) of Captain Beefheart's second Magic Band incarnation (Doc at the Radar Station). This year, on his sophomore effort, he found a cranky, noisy, melodic, utterly genuine voice. PJ Harvey recently caught his act three nights running and asked him to open up for her on a clutch of U.S. dates; we're happy to report that we sang his praises back in July, and we're always glad to be on the ground floor of anything PJ Harvey thinks is cool. Available by mail order from www.candlebone.com.
4. Patti Smith, Gung Ho (Arista) Smith sounds committed and fierce on this record in a way she hasn't, really, since Radio Ethiopia. She hasn't lost the genuine honesty of her poetic stance, despite having been recently enshrined in a number of "collected writings" volumes designed to drop-kick rock musicians into the realm of Voice From Olympus (Lou Reed did this as well with Collected Lyrics, but . . . somehow one blames him more). The title track is kind of a "Birdland" updated, a long meditation on her father's wartime experiences and the process of getting older. After a run of albums understandably focused on death and mourning, following the loss of friend Robert Mapplethorpe and Smith's husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, Gung Ho finds her angry and sly once again, which is the mode in which Patti Smith thrives best.
5. Lambchop, Nixon (Merge) Even a jaded music hack has to unconditionally love something once in a while, and I love the way Lambchop inspires outright teeth-gnashing hatred in music critics who insist that this experimental, Nashville-based, big-band y'allternative outfit is some kind of decadelong art school in-joke. When Vic Chesnutt needed an epic sound to carry 1999's The Salesman and Bernadette, he went to Lambchop, whose dobros, vibraphones, full brass section, Hammond organ and metal shop percussion provided just the right ambiance for Chesnutt's song cycle of misguided and mistaken love. Nixon isn't about the Great Satan at all, but the unsettling ghost of Tricky Dick's (and Reagan's) vicious America is all over this record, particularly on the cruelly titled track "Up With People."
6. godspeed you black emperor!, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (Kranky) God alone knows how many people are in this band, or what their names are, or what they think about when they write these dark, brooding instrumentals, but this double-disc set is atmospheric and noisy and sinister throughout. This is the kind of music you hear in your head when you've been up all night on coffee and No-Doz, the constant low hum of everything in the world catching up with you at once. godspeed is the most interesting band to come out of Canada since Nomeansno, which is not at all a backhanded compliment. The temperamentally nervous should avoid at all costs.
7. Baha Men, Who Let the Dogs Out? (Artemis) Ha, ha: Of course not. Number seven is really Medeski Martin & Wood's The Dropper (Blue Note) Contemporary jazz music needs a big steel-toed boot in the ass, and MM&W is currently the group best poised to deliver it. From the opening track "We Are Rolling," this album hits like a grenade, dropping samples, loops, beats and shell fragments all over modern jazz riffs. Far from being simply jazz-flavored hip-hop along the lines of Us3 or Digable Planets, this is the first album ever to make a fully coherent statement using both those idioms as its primary language.
8. The Glands, The Glands (Capricorn) A freshman effort, this one collects the flotsam of U.S. and British pop from about 1975 on to craft one of the most genuinely sweet albums of the year. From Bowie riffs to Beatles production, this release from the Atlanta-based Glands flies a number of colors without ever overwhelming its audience, or lapsing into look-at-me smarminess. Intelligent, crafty pop music you won't be ashamed to listen to.
9. David Thomas and Foreigners, Bay City (Thirsty Ear) As with his previous album Erewhon, the Bay City of Thomas' most current release doesn't really bear any relation to any known geography except for the geography of Thomas' own mind. But there are few artists as consistently interesting in their evaluation of that inner landscape, and Bay City is another in a line of Thomas-helmed recordings (Pere Ubu's Pennsylvania among them) which chronicle and tote up the vast changes in the Great American Society at the dog-end of the 20th century.
10. Erykah Badu, Mama's Gun (Motown) I have never understood why there isn't general rejoicing in the land each time Erykah Badu puts out a new album. Mama's Gun shows a tougher side of Badu -- the cover portrait, with toothpick dangling carelessly from the side of her mouth, broadcasts what you'll find inside -- and she slips into cool-soul mode effortlessly throughout. In a year where virtually every prominent hip-hop and R&B act was cut from the same boring, fake-ass, testosterone-soaked, pec-flexing mold (I don't care how many awards he came away with, Sisqó suqs; aren't we over this guy yet?), Badu sneaks into 2000 with just a few weeks left, to deliver her creative commentary on these forms and more, utterly without fanfare or posturing. The music speaks for itself. You ask me, Badu is Nina Simone reborn.
Best Remaster: The Residents, God in 3 Persons (East Side Digital) The Residents poke fun at the rock concept album and the erotic derivation of religious iconography on this 1988 release, for which the word "highbrow" does but the barest justice. The song cycle tells the story of "Mr. X" and his misguided passion for a set of miracle-working conjoined twins of indeterminate and apparently shifting gender; the sequence in which X attacks and separates the twins in a jealous rage is one of the most disturbing pieces of music ever filed under "rock." The whole thing is done in a talking blues format with poetic rhythms based partly on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." It's even weirder than it sounds on paper. I guarantee you there's nothing in your collection like this.
Best Boxed Set: Miles Davis & John Coltrane, The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961 (Columbia/Legacy) Thank God for this six-disc collection of all the album tracks, plus alternate and unissued takes, from what is arguably the most important collaboration in the history of jazz. A lot has been made of Davis' influence on the young Coltrane, but Coltrane's unbridled and uncommon talent pushed Davis' arrangements into places they hadn't been previously, places they'd never go again. This set is the perfect example of synergy, of the whole being much more than the sum of its parts. The history starts with Round About Midnight, Milestones and Kind of Blue, but that's just the beginning. Thank you, Jesus, for this set. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Best non-music boxed set goes to Richard Pryor's . . . And It's Deep, Too! The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings, 1968-1992 (Rhino).
Best Reissue Six Years Overdue: Jimmy Smith, Root Down/Jimmy Smith Live! (Verve) When the Beastie Boys rapped over Jimmy Smith's "Root Down (and Get It)" to concoct one of 1994's most-played cuts, it should have ignited a Jimmy Smith revival, or at least a serious reappreciation of the role of the organ in soul music. Smith's 1960 opus Back at the Chicken Shack should have been rereleased with alternate cuts, new liner notes, the works. Booker T. and the MGs' "Hip Hug Her" should have been bumping out of every sound system from Lake Havasu to Presque Isle, Maine. None of that happened, of course. But this year Verve records, bless 'em, rereleased Root Down, recorded in 1972 at the Bombay Bicycle Club in Los Angeles, in its unedited form. Seven of the sweetest slices of early '70s funk/soul to emerge from the West Coast, featuring an instrumental version of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" that'll have you lighting candles just in case someone you've been thinking of putting the moves on happens to drop by. Run, don't walk.
1. The Jayhawks, Smile (Columbia) One of alt-country's better bands gets the good-sounds treatment from arena-rock producer Bob Ezrin with near perfect results. There's a sense of nature that hangs near every note, and when the sky's not falling with "clouds turned to stone," it's described as "eight shades of gray and (you) can taste the rain." The title cut is a sophisticated gem followed by the joyously mindless "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," with its wonderful vocal waterfalls. Even better is the slower, quieter "What Led Me to this Town," and the equally emotive "Broken Harpoon." Think of Smile as Fleetwood Mac's Rumours in the great outdoors.
2. Tim O'Brien & Darrell Scott, Real Time (Howdy Skies) Stripped-down back-porch bluegrass recorded, appropriately enough, in Scott's living room during a creative week of pickin' 'n' pluckin'. Fans of the Louvin Brothers will hear some of the best two-part harmony this side of sin with O'Brien's high tenor sitting pretty alongside Scott's deeper, earthier twang. The CD's best songs -- "Walk Beside Me," and the killer "More Love" -- are so strong they overshadow some remarkably accomplished musicianship. Great stuff.
3. Richard Ashcroft, Alone With Everybody (Virgin) The former Verve front man comes up with a solid, U.K.-sounding CD. Ashcroft's songs are nicely structured with sophisticated melodies and unexpected choruses, and while his lyrics tend toward excess coffee-house contemplation, he presents his concerns in a lush, accomplished setting. Killer cuts: "New York," a thumping tribute to an Englishman's favorite town, and the exhilarating "C'mon People (We're Making It Now)," a damned near perfect pop song.
4. Joseph Arthur, Come to Where I'm From (Real World) Joseph Arthur's electro-folkie landscape is littered with "butterflies dreaming about cocoons," and no one's going to argue when he sings of being "exhausted by my imagination." While Arthur's earnest expressions sometimes go over the top, even his failures crash with creative beauty. And as strong as this album is, Arthur's live renditions -- solo acoustic affairs with self-percussive sampling -- are even more convincing. A future star if the planets line up right. Best song: "History."
5. Ass Ponys, Some Stupid With a Flare Gun (Checkered Past) Pere Ubu sings Flannery O'Connor for the alt-country crowd. Ass Ponys songs celebrate the cockeyed point where the grotesque intersects with the mundane and they do so with a remarkable appreciation for melody. The resulting odes to astronauts, fighter pilots and people with extra nipples ("They just fascinate me," beams front man Chuck Cleaver) make for an imaginative, tuneful triumph. Bonus points for one of the best album titles in memory.
6. Shelby Lynne, I Am Shelby Lynne (Island) Blue-eyed soul from a trailer-park diva with a commanding voice and a dirty-blond sound. Lynne's vocal style and confidence with orchestration suggest an Alabama-bred Dusty Springfield, and on the CD's better cuts -- especially the laid-back killer "I Thought It Would Be Easier" -- Lynne delivers the goods in smooth, understated fashion. The best album Sheryl Crow didn't make this year -- not so coincidentally written and produced with former Crow collaborator Bill Botrell.
7. Coldplay, Parachutes (EMI/Parlophone) Navel gazers of the world, unite! Put down those Nick Drake CDs and drop that handful of Xanax. Coldplay comes to the rescue with nicely manicured guitar lines propping lead singer Chris Martin's gray-day moods. Fans of Felt will hear gentle nudges from musings past, and Martin's got an unmistakable Drake fascination going on, but songs like "Spies" and, especially, "High Speed" make for beautiful moments both inspired and inspirational.
8. John Surman, Coruscating (ECM) Classical music for curious jazz fans and a tiptoe toward improvisation for the sheet-music set. Surman's an accomplished reed player who comes up with moody, autumnal pieces for traditional string quartets augmented by a rumbling, rambling double-bassist. The jazzlike pieces move with a refreshing sense of formality, and the more austere classical selections come off as both brainy and approachable. Another winner from the always adventurous ECM label.
9. XTC, Wasp Star: Apple Venus Volume 2 (TVT) The suddenly gregarious and always prolific Andy Partridge digs deep in his closet for some new songs that sound like his old songs, and the pop kingdom smiles. The XTC m.o. of carousel melodies, double-tracked vocals and irony-riddled lyrics abounds, with the better songs ("Playground," "I'm the Man Who Murdered Love") playing as a refreshing reminder of how imaginative pop music can be.
10. Jason Moran, Facing Left (Blue Note) Pointy-headed critics will note the nods to giants (Duke Ellington) and near-gods (Jaki Byard), but upstart Jason Moran takes his influences in small doses and surrounds them with off-balanced rhythms, scattershot melodies and an overall sense of adventure sorely missing from modern jazz. Best cuts: the strutting but tuneful "Yojimbo," and a successful take on Björk's "Joga," which almost justifies Ms. Gudmundsdottir's overblown reputation.
Best Local CD: Meat Puppets, Golden Lies (Atlantic) Okay, so Curt Kirkwood lives in Austin and he's pulling the strings on Puppets with little, if any, history in Arizona. Golden Lies still smells like the midsummer Sonoran Desert, especially when Kirkwood's deadpan vocals wander alongside his still-potent psycho-delic guitar tabs.
Best Local Single: Gloritone's "Swan Dive," from Before the Paint Had Dried. Taken from the group's self-released demo disc, this is heady, sophisticated stuff from the best local band still waiting for someone to notice.
Best Trend: The rise and shine of U.K. acts. Forget the tired Blur/Oasis feud; fresher songs and sounds are coming from the likes of Richard Ashcroft, Badly Drawn Boy, Coldplay and the Doves. For once the hype across the pond is for real.
1. PJ Harvey, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (Island) Harvey's last disc, Is This Desire?, spent so much time in my car I was beginning to feel like her chauffeur. While that album found her exploring every kind of lonely, this time she's brought along an accomplice for her sex in the city crime spree. As half of "some modern day Bonnie and Clyde," it hardly matters if breaking the law means armed robbery or shagging on a rooftop, since Harvey's not expecting to be alive in the morning.
There was not a more thrilling record in 2000 than this one, especially on the opening track, "Big Exit," where Harvey's cry of "Baby, baby/Ain't it true? I'm immortal when I'm with you/And I want a pistol in my hand" had me reaching for a concealed weapon to give her. Other highlights include the homage to Patti Smith's birthplace on "Good Fortune"; the way the disembodied voices merge together in "This Line"; and the droning reverb guitar on "Horses in My Dreams" that saunters like a loping equine.
When her Romeo/Clyde finally opens his mouth on "This Mess We're In," it turns out to be Radiohead's Thom Yorke. The way the two come together literally and figuratively on the chorus -- with Harvey describing the sweat on her skin like a commercial for Calvin Klein's Obsession -- is sheer beauty. I'd like to think it was her wordless gasps on this song and her expressed wish to "chase you around a table, want to touch your head" that won this record the "Parental Advisory/Explicit Lyric" sticker and not the throwaway "fuck" buried in "Kamikaze."
2. Marah, Kids in Philly (Artemis/E Squared) Why would anyone want to be in a band anymore, when bands aren't drawing the crowds, the prestige, the perks or the airplay they used to? This album explains why. You get to hang with your buddies, crack open a few beers, play and record music on seven functioning tracks of an eight-track mixing board, have Steve Earle fall in love with it and put the damned thing out. Marah's Bielanko brothers are the kind of guys who can still get excited about a Phil Spector record, an undiscovered fishing hole or Philly DJ Hy Lit with equal zeal and the desire to chronicle each burning new obsession before they forget it. Perhaps the shortest record in recent memory but one that crams in as much information as Sandinista! did in three albums.
3. Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol) Like everyone else, you've probably made up your mind whether you think this is a work of art or a piece of crap. The fact that I still can't decide after two months has gotta account for something. Of course, the way I pronounce the album's title gives you some idea of which school of thought I'm from. This is a put-on, as most avant-garde records are. Even our precious Beatles engaged in such chicanery, the let's-throw-this-in-because-the-pseudo-intellectuals-will-love-it school of random recording. Sure, there are a lot of infuriating touches on Kid A -- the multi-page artwork destroyed countless trees but still fails to come up with one image you could put on a tee shirt, Thom Yorke slicing up his voice into meaningless syllables and putting it through a vacuum cleaner nozzle to sound like Francis the Talking Mule -- but it's all a glorious clusterfuck my eyes and ears can't quite forget.
You have to admire, if not revere, a band willing to freeze out guitars and song structure for an entire album. And there are genuine moments of beauty in this bleak and unforgiving landscape. Kid A comes to you from a long line of eerie, extraterrestrial British space rock. Like Joe Meek's I Hear a New World, Radiohead is making music that sounds as if it hasn't been invented yet. Like the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request, they're playing catch-up to the Beatles and playing the blues in outer space. And like Ummmagumma or Dark Side of the Moon, there are plenty of moments you can't hum -- when was the last time you sang "On the Run" in the shower? At a time when Now THAT's What I Call Music Volume 5 sits at the top of the charts, maybe you should opt for non-music items like this. And speaking of Dark Side, mark my words that Kid A will join its ranks as primo Lysergic fare.
And is it me, or is the album's opening line "I woke up sucking on a lemon" a dig at U2's failure to bring the avant-garde into K mart first?
4. Johnny Cash, American III: Solitary Man (American Recordings) While the appearance of Neil Diamond and U2 songs on the latest Cash outing might make you worry that he and producer Rick Rubin are running out of good ideas, the Man in Black turns it around and makes it all seem like a match made in heaven. Hell, he could sing "I Am . . . I Said" and make it sound convincing. Some of his best-ever performances are here, especially with poignant originals like "Before My Time." But it's the covers like "Nobody" and "That Lucky Ol' Sun" that steal the show. And if his take on Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat" doesn't convince you that the electric chair is a waste of voltage, nothing will. Burdened by health problems over the past decade, Cash is a survivor, and his rugged rasp provides more coloring than a bank of computers ever could.
5. Frisbie, The Subversive Sounds of Love (Hear Diagonally) Remember Dick Rowe, the A&R man at Decca who turned down the Beatles? The same guy who told Brian Epstein that "guitar groups are on their way out"? The industry is full of Dicks like that now, and that's why you don't hear bands like Frisbie on the radio anymore. This record made me question why I distrust pop bands that wanna sound like Big Star and the Beatles when all they can expect is the cult status of the former instead of the world domination of the latter. If the sheer craft of their songwriting doesn't wear you down, then singer Steve Frisbie's Robin Gibb quaver will.
6. Shelby Lynne, I Am Shelby Lynne (Island) You say "Sheryl Crow" and I say "Dusty in Memphis if Carole King went instead and brought MFSB with her."
7. Apples in Stereo, The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone (spinART) With this album, the Denver-based Elephant 6'ers find the missing link between the Ohio Express and the Ohio Players.
8. Juliana Hatfield, Beautiful Creature/Total System Failure (Zoe/Rounder) The only two album-in-a-day scheme that works because it encourages an artist's schizophrenic tendencies. Maybe Beautiful Creature only seems like a great album because Total System Failure isn't, but I like to have the choice between snotty, sweet or both. For that hard-to-find combination, just put these two records in the CD carousel, hit random and listen as the fur flies.
9. XTC, Wasp Star: Apple Venus Volume 2 (TVT) The reason XTC has never got its due is the same reason they don't give Oscars to funny movies. XTC specializes in great, humorous pop confections -- both of the smart and blissfully dumb variety. "Stupidly Happy" gets more places on one chord than anything in the current Top 10, while the compounded final track "The Wheel and the Maypole" finds Andy Partridge still devising new ways of pulling hooks out of his sleeve when you're not looking.
10. Coldplay, Parachutes (EMI/Parlophone) This is the album everybody has been expecting Radiohead to turn in since The Bends. Intelligent, Blue Nile-ish love songs that don't sound like they were written on a GameBoy.
Honorable Mention: The Handsome Family, In the Air (Carrot Top) For those of you wondering where the new murder ballads are coming from -- husband and wife duos like Brett and Rennie Sparks are writing and recording them at home on a G3.
Best "Best Of": The Beatles, 1 (Capitol) The folks over at Capitol probably thought about titling this Now THAT'S What I Call Music 6 in an effort to fool teens into buying it. Since this collection of Fab Four chart toppers is still sitting at number one, maybe they have.
Best Reissue: Brian Wilson, Brian Wilson (Warner/Rhino) When Wilson's first solo record came out in 1988, it was considered a disappointment because it sounded like a MIDI version of Pet Sounds. After more than a decade spent listening to everyone from the High Llamas to Stereolab try to remake that classic with real horns and reeds, this modest effort (fleshed out in the reissued version with a bevy of bonus tracks, demos and interview cuts) actually sounds pretty fresh. Like, dare I say, '90s pop?
Best Single: U2, "Beautiful Day." As new singles by 20-plus-year-old bands go, this is way better than "Undercover of the Night."
1. Hasil Adkins, Poultry in Motion: The Hasil Adkins Chicken Collection 1955-1999 (Norton Records) Rockabilly loony Adkins has had an obsession with chickens since his 1956 hit "Chicken Walk." Over the decades, he's recorded less successful follow-ups like "Chicken Hunch," "Chicken Flop," "Pick That Chicken" -- you get the picture.
2. The Persuasions, Frankly A Cappella: The Persuasions Sing Zappa (Earthbeat!) Tired of rehashing doo-wop tunes, the most respected a cappella band in the world tackles Zappa fare as difficult as "Lumpy Gravy" -- a move of appreciation for Zappa having given them their major-label debut on his Bizarre imprint back in 1968.
3. Various Artists, Gypsy Swing (Refined Records) These European Gypsy guitar bands, still sworn to the legacy of Django Reinhardt (some permanently traveling, as their idol had, in family caravans), produce astounding jazz that makes most stateside pickers sound embarrassingly tame and passionless.
4. Tom Waits, Alice (PmS Records) The old raindog worked with theatrical author/director Robert S. Wilson on a play about author Lewis Carroll's, um, questionable relationship with children. Never formally released, all that's available of the project is this bootleg of songs in the works.
5. Various Artists, Ain't I'm a Dog! and Whistle Bait! (Columbia/Legacy) These collections of reissued rockabilly avoid the obvious fare in preference for meaner (The Maddox Brothers' "Ugly and Slouchy") and weirder (Derrell Felts' "It's a Great Big Day") stuff.
6. David Grisman/Tony Rice/Jerry Garcia, The Pizza Tapes (Acoustic Disc) Long ago pilfered by a delivery boy leaving a pizza on Garcia's kitchen table, the recently retrieved jam session leaves intact between-song banter that suggests the boys might have had some serious munchies. Guitarist Rice thoroughly outshines his better-known buddies here.
7. Antonio Carlos Jobim, Jobim (Verve) Not only the least popular recording in the Brazilian composer's catalogue, this reissue from 1973 has also been the hardest to find, just now making it onto CD. Contains some untypically dark Jobim music, taken from his soundtrack for the film Chronicle of the Murdered House.
8. Karen Mantler, Karen Mantler's Pet Project (Virgin Classics) The perennially depressed daughter of Carla Bley and Michael Mantler writes and sings ultrapersonal jazz in the quirky style of her mother, with this collection focusing on her search for a pet to replace her dead cat.
9. Ann Dyer & No Good Time Fairies, Revolver: A New Spin (Premonition) Jazz vocalist Dyer and band redo the entire Beatles album, the tablas and accordion dropping Lennon and McCartney songs in the middle of India and Cajun country.
10. Don Byron, A Fine Line (Blue Note) The clarinetist swipes the concept of arias and leider from the opera snobs to re-create his own list of pieces he finds deserving of the classification. Ornette Coleman rubs shoulders with Henry Mancini and Chopin, with the killer cut being a tuxedoed version of Roy Orbison's "It's Over."
Best Boxed Set: A tie between The Best of Broadside 1962-1988 (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings) and Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection 1960-2000 (Arhoolie). Both disprove the notion of hard-core blues and folk music being pre-WWII stuff, with much of this material railing against the Vietnam war. The Broadside box focuses on protest music whose lyrics appeared in the anti-establishment Broadside folk journal; the Arhoolie box is an overview of what label head/folklorist Chris Strachwitz unearthed during 40 years of recording all manner of local musicians in the deep South.
Best Reissue: Charlie Parker, The Complete Savoy and Dial Studio Recordings (Savoy/Atlantic) Much of this material has haphazardly been reissued in chunks over the years, but this is the first time anyone's presented complete documentation of what's possibly the most radical period of stylistic alteration in jazz history. The eight discs cover the years following Parker's initiation into the jazz world, beginning approximately when he and Dizzy Gillespie cut what are regarded as the first bebop recordings. Far more intriguing and substantial than the 1988 Verve box of later Parker material.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.