Music News

Critical Mass 2000

Page 9 of 12

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.

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