Friday, December 28, 2007


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 28, 2007

This past year wasn’t a bad one for music. Not a landmark year, but there was a lot of good stuff — if you know where to look for it.

I realize my best-album list is full of old favorites — Nick Cave, Bettye LaVette, The Fall, The White Stripes, Peter Case, The Band’s Levon Helm. What can I say? I’m becoming an oldster and somewhat predictable in my tastes. But the truth is, some of these artists released their most vital work in years, and they need to be recognized for it.

Here are lists of my favorites in 2007.

Best albums

1) Super Taranta! by Gogol Bordello. If The Pogues were Ukrainian, if The Clash had been raised in a Gypsy caravan, and if Brave Combo had a New York snarl, then they might be Gogol Bordello. Super Taranta! is a lusty, vodka-fueled stomp that not only has the band’s trademark Gypsy craziness but also delves into dub reggae and Italian music.

2) The Scene of the Crime by Bettye LaVette. With her slightly raspy voice and impeccable taste in material, Bettye is on fire. She’s backed here by The Drive-By Truckers, which sounds like Muscle Shoals: The Next Generation. The Truckers’ contribution makes for a harder-edged sound than heard on previous LaVette efforts, but the band never overwhelms her. In fact, these guys seem to inspire her.

3) Grinderman by Grinderman. Rock ’n’ roll supposedly is a young man’s game — traditionally, some of the best of it is created by horny, sexually frustrated young guys. But with his latest band Grinderman, Nick Cave proves that horny, sexually frustrated middle-aged men can rock, too. Cave rocks harder here than he has since his 1980s band The Birthday Party. But the middle-aged Cave of Grinderman seems even more dangerous than the bellowing junkie of his old group.

4) Miracle of Five by Eleni Mandell. Mandell has just about the sexiest voice in showbiz today. This album drives home this point. This is contemporary torch music with subtle touches of film noir. It makes great background music for reading Raymond Chandler or Ross MacDonald or even James Ellroy.

5) Icky Thump by The White Stripes. Jack and Meg return to their basic guitar/drum attack. Jack plays his guitar like a maniac and warbles like the reincarnation of Marc Bolan hopped up on trucker crank. Meg is playing drums less like Moe Tucker and more like The Mighty Thor.

6) Dirt Farmer by Levon Helm. A throat-cancer survivor, Helm has nursed his vocal cords back to health, and his new solo album shows him in fine form. The voice that brought us “Up on Cripple Creek,” “The Weight,” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is back. And the material here is worthy of that voice.

7) Favourite Worst Nightmare by The Arctic Monkeys. This one sneaked up on me. I started out prejudiced against this young band of Brits because a couple of years ago they were the hot new gonna-conquer-the-world buzz band. But toward the end of the year I realized that I was enjoying this, their sophomore effort, more than almost anything else released this year.

8) Rise Above by Dirty Projectors. Here’s one of the strangest new albums I’ve heard in a long time. It’s a remake of songs from Black Flag’s 1981 punk rock classic Damaged. But instead of slavishly reverent recreations, Dave Longstreth (the main Projector) filters Black Flag tunes through his own private universe. It doesn’t sound close to what normal mortals consider punk rock — except when Longstreth’s voice turns from a creepy croon to a grating scream during otherwise pretty musical passages.

9) Reformation Post TLC by The Fall. Thirty years on the road and Mark E. Smith is still cranking out his crazy brand of rant ’n’ roll, shouting his incomprehensible, half-comical lyrics over steady, driving beats; bubbly, fizzly synth noises; and ever-tasty, irresistible, garage-band guitar riffs. It’s a tried-and-true formula and one from which the former dockworker from Manchester, England, rarely strays. But dagnabbit, the darn thing still works.

10) Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John by Peter Case. This album — which is almost all acoustic and is named for late Tennessee bluesman John Estes — harks back in spirit to Case’s early solo albums. It’s good to know that troubadours as vital as Case are still among us.

Honorable mention

1) Thirteen Cities by Richmond Fontaine
2) 100 Days, 100 Nights by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
3) Wagonmaster by Porter Wagoner
4) Dangerous Game by Mary Weiss
5) Push Comes to Shove by John Hammond

Best reissues

1) I Hate CDs: Norton Records 45 RPM Singles Collection Vol. 1 by various artists
2) Lullabys, Legends and Lies by Bobby Bare
3) Stand in the Fire by Warren Zevon4) Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone to Kill by T. Tex Edwards & Out on Parole
5) Hentch-Forth.Five by The Hentchmen
Best Music DVDS1) The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show
2) Voodoo Rhythm: The Gospel of Primitive Rock ’n’ Roll
3) Fancy (Les Claypool live)
4) UFOs at the Zoo (Flaming Lips live)
5) Bloodied but Unbowed: Bloodshot Records’ Life in the Trenches

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