Friday, December 30, 2005


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Dec. 30, 3005

TOP ALBUMS of 2005

1) Barbecue Babylon by Drywall: The world of Barbecue Babylon is apocalyptic. Corruption is everywhere. A desperate spirit of lawless has settled over the land. Thievery and murder abound, but the government has gone even more insane than the populace. Life is cheap. Love is tawdry. Paranoia thrives. Doom is always just around the corner. Stan Ridgway makes a great carnival barker at the gates of Armageddon.

2) Rehearsing My Choir by Fiery Furnaces: It’s a wild journey led by Olga Sarantos, the 83-year grandmother of the siblings known collectively as The Fiery Furnaces -- through darkened corridors of the past, filled with memories, fantasies, triumphs and regrets, part sung and part spoken word by Olga and granddaughter Eleanor Friedberger. It’s all told in the secret language that family members share, part verbal scrapbook, part travelogue of 20th Century Chicago, part radio drama, colored by meandering melodies, synthy squiggles, bleeps and blurps, church music, carnival tunes, insane soundtracky backdrops, kiddy songs played on what sounds like dingy dongy toy xylophones and even a few moments of raunchy rock ‘n‘ roll.

3) I've Got My Own Hell to Raise by Bettye LaVette: LaVette is an unjustly overlooked singer who should have been a huge star in the 1960s, but through a series of strange misfortunes, somehow missed the boat. I’d like to believe that there’s a parallel world somewhere in some galaxy in which Bettye is right up there in higher reaches of the soul pantheon.

4) Fair & Square by John Prine: Prine shows there’s still gold in those classic three-or-four-chord melody structures he does so well. During this last decade, he’s struggled with throat cancer. His voice has dropped an octave or so, but that always was a scratchy instrument. The important thing is that he didn’t lose his sense of humor nor his sense of poignancy.

5) Aha Shake Heartbreak by Kings of Leon: Frantic guitars and drawling vocals telling tales of sex and sin, often with hints of revulsion though usually with a big grin, and a fair amount of self effacement, or at least self-consciousness about rock-star pretensions. Would Van Morrison sing about his comb-over?

6) Below the Fold by Otis Taylor: You know you’re going to be in for a ride in the opening stains of the first song. A plunking banjo is joined by a screaming guitar, a crazed fiddle, drums and bass, as Otis shouts “Oh Yeah!” It’s a joyful one-chord acoustic cacophony -- and there’s a cello in there too.

7) If You Don't Already Have a Look by The Dirtbombs: Detroit’s Dirtbombs play good old fashioned stripped-down fuzz-tone rock with a blast of raw punk power, maniacal crank-damaged rockabilly and strong nod to soul music. Just don’t call it “garage rock” or singer Mick Collins will rip out your spleen.

8) The Woods by Sleater-Kinney: This roaring, all-girl, Pacific Northwest trio shows how screaming guitar rock can still have brains, soul and relevance. “Let’s Call it Love” is a savage 11-minute frenzy that brings back memories of Steppenwolf‘s “Magic Carpet Ride,” The Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” and Patti Smith’s “Radio Ethiopia.” Corin Tucker’s hopped-up Banshee wail is still the band‘s greatest weapon.

9) Master of Disaster by John Hiatt: This record is soulful, rootsy, full of tales to astonish and dripping with wry humor and hard-earned wisdom. In some ways Hiatt reminds me of the masked luchadore on the cover. When he crawls back in the ring you know it’s going to be a thrill. It may be all show biz, but the bruises are real.

10) Picaresque by The Decemberists: When an album starts off proclaiming, “Here she comes on her palanquin/On the back of an elephant/On a bed made of linen and sequins and silk …” you know you’re in for a fantastic voyage through some unusual terrain. This literate record is full of regal bombast, pomp and inspired pretentiousness. Don’t knock pretentiousness. Sometimes a high dose of fantasy is good for the soul.

Honorable Mention

Hotwalker by Tom Russell
Human Cannonball by Joe West
Got No Strings by Michelle Shocked
Moments From This Theatre by Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham
Red Dog Tracks by Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez

Keep on The Sunny Side by June Carter Cash
Horses by Patti Smith
The Silent Majority by Terry Allen
The Holy Bible by Manic Street Preachers
Raw Vision by The Tom Russell Band

In the Village Voice’s annual Pazz & Jop poll, critics are asked to list their favorite “singles” -- though the definition of “singles” has loosened to the point that it basically just means “songs” rather than 45 rpm discs or CD tracks designated for radio play. Here’s my ballot for the “singles” competition.

1) “My Baby Joined the Army” by Terry Evans -
2) “Oklahoma Bound” by Joe West
3) “Hell Yeah” Neil Diamond
4) “Endless War” by Son Volt
5) “Keep Going” by Boozoo Bajou with Tony Joe White
6) “The Green Fields of France” by Dropkick Murphys
7) “The Saga of Jesse Jane” by Alice Cooper
8) “Lawd, I'm Just a Country Boy in this Great Big Freaky City” by
Alvin Youngblood Hart
9) “Private Thoughts” by Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez
10) “Newry Highwayman” by Josh Lederman y Los Diablos

For 2004's Top Music list, CLICK HERE
For previous years CLICK HERE


  1. Anonymous9:26 AM

    Steve, where is Neko Case's "The Tigers Have Spoken"? Great album.

  2. How long will it be before someone says...

    "How can you mention a 'Dropkick Murphys' song without mentioning something from 'Flogging Molly'?"

  3. << where is Neko Case's "The Tigers Have Spoken"? Great album.>>

    Anonymous, (if indeed that is your real name), I love Neko and Tigers is a good album, but I like her studio stuff better. Probably not many folks agree with me, but I don't think she's ever topped the title song of The Virginian.

    Anywho, I'm about to play a Tigers song on the SF Opry. Happy New Year!


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