Put a Pin on the Map View my Forum Guestmap
Free Guestmaps by Bravenet.com

The Old Acclaimed Music Forum

Go to the NEW FORUM

Music, music, music...
Start a New Topic 
Washington post Gems of 2005

Washington Post
Friday, December 30, 2005; Page WE25

Gems of 2005

Friday, December 30, 2005; WE25

"The Golden Years" are always some other time, aren't they? They're an idealized part of the past or a dreamed-of piece of the future when everything is just a little bit better. Food tastes more succulent, music sounds sweeter, movies actually move you and art transports you to another plane. But our critics think that 2005 had moments that were surprisingly golden. There were more than enough good films to fill a top 10 list. Artists continue to challenge and amaze. Musicians from a wide variety of genres delivered quality work that will outlast passing trends. Maybe 2005 wasn't a golden year, but it definitely had its moments. Join us in a look back at some of the shinier ones.


Sufjan Stevens: "Illinois " (Asthmatic Kitty).This is literate, kaleidoscopic chamber-pop exploring the history, folklore, locales and denizens of the state, and the fact that Abe Lincoln, Carl Sandburg and John Wayne Gacy Jr. peacefully coexist testifies to the album's compassion and conceptual ambition. Intricate vocal and orchestral arrangements, quirky instrumentation, gorgeous melodies, a cornucopia of styles and structures, and lyrics that are both engagingly universal and rivetingly personal -- let's hope this state-by-state project doesn't end anytime soon.

My Morning Jacket: "Z" (ATO). Louisville's post-Southern rockers throw off generic shackles, wisely hire an outside producer to tighten and solidify their once sprawling sound; they also overcome key personnel shifts and the pop impulse to make records longer than they need be (40 minutes serves MMJ perfectly). Jim James's otherworldly vocals and surreal lyrics are nowhere better served than in the weirdly beautiful waltz "Into the Woods," in which he notes, "A kitten on fire, a baby in a blender/Both sound as sweet as a night of surrender."

Ry Cooder: "Chavez Ravine" (Nonesuch). Cooder crafted a moving, musically rich requiem for a vanished East Los Angeles neighborhood inhabited in the '50s by Mexican immigrants and working-class Mexican Americans, ultimately destroyed by a deadly combination of McCarthy-era dirty politics, police corruption, Anglo attacks on "pachuco" culture and greedy real estate barons. (Dodger Stadium eventually took root there.) Tapping into Cooder's affinity for ethnic and roots music and his ongoing mastery of the storytelling soundtrack, the bilingual album melds the voices of pioneering '50s Chicano artists Lalo Guerrero and Don Tosti and conjunto and corrido with R&B and offbeat pop to bring a neighborhood back to life in melancholy memory.

John Legend: "Get Lifted " (GOOD/Columbia). Released in the last days of 2004, Legend's major-label debut lived up to its title and warranted the artist's nickname: John Stephens became Legend after session musicians he worked with began comparing him to soul legends from an earlier era. His smooth 'n' scratchy vocals, church-bred piano chops and ability to craft R&B songs that sound classic as opposed to retro were fortified with hip-hop attitude and beats as Kanye West went from collaborator to label boss, astutely making Legend his first signing: Each earned eight nominations for this year's Grammys. The gorgeous ballad "Ordinary People" proved this was no ordinary artist.

Bettye LaVette: "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise " (Anti). This is the feel-good/sound-good album of the year, marking the long overdue comeback of a criminally underappreciated Southern soul singer whose prime was in the '60s but who, despite approaching 60, can still sing up a storm, or quiet one. Drawing from a superb collection of songs by female artists that includes Lucinda Williams, Dolly Parton, Aimee Mann, Joan Armatrading, Fiona Apple and Sinead O'Connor (a stunning a cappella "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got"), LaVette transforms them all into soulful proverbs and spiritual epiphanies.

DVD of note: "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan" (Paramount). This 3 1/2 -hour, Martin Scorsese-directed documentary's great strengths include massive doses of rare archival film and seldom-heard performances, as well as the normally press-averse Dylan riffling through his back pages in a surprisingly engaging and accessible manner. It covers the first 25 years of Dylan's journey as he goes from being a complete unknown to becoming the voice of his generation and the most profoundly influential songwriter in rock history. It's also as much a chronicle of the culturally and politically chaotic '60s as it is a portrait of the artist transitioning from folk roots 'n' revitalization to the electric currents of rock 'n' roll.


Danger Doom: "The Mouse and the Mask" (Epitaph). Danger Mouse and MF Doom team up for the craziest, coolest CD of the year. Funkier than a pair of ratty old sneakers and smoother than George Clooney, the duo blends rap, soul and the cartoon characters from Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" with addictive results. Non-animated guests include Talib Kweli, Cee-Lo and Ghostface.

Common: "Be" (Good/Geffen). Kanye West, a contender for this list in his own right, produced most of this album and gave Common, long respected for his lyrical ability, the sort of soulful, rich musical backdrop he deserves. His rhymes are as tight as ever, and West opts for gimmick-free music that's real and warm.

Franz Ferdinand: "You Could Have It So Much Better" (Domino). Actually, no, you can't have it much better than this confident sophomore release. Loaded with catchy riffs and a bit of camp, it propositions you like a dissolute young gentleman. And it does so with such style that when the band asks, "Do You Want To," you're bound to say yes. A great soundtrack for your rock 'n' roll party fantasies.

The Blind Boys of Alabama: "Atom Bomb" (Real World). On this release, the septuagenarian singers display the energy and experience to take a song like "Spirit in the Sky" and make it surprisingly catchy. So when they revive a classic from the Soul Stirrers' on the title tune, the performance rivals the superb original. Visits from David Hidalgo, Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Preston and Gift of Gab lend additional oomph to the proceedings.

The New Pornographers: "Twin Cinema" (Matador). In a time when the shiniest coin of the pop realm is hip-hop-flavored dance numbers, it's easy to forget the joys of a well-crafted piece of power pop. This disc will remind you. Ebullient and lush in its attitudes and harmonies, this indie pop supergroup's third release will make you want to lower the car window to catch the summer breeze, even when it's 30 degrees outside.

DVD of note: "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan" (Paramount). This documentary by Martin Scorcese accomplishes the seemingly impossible -- it makes Bob Dylan seem chatty. And, of course, the music isn't bad either.


Jason Moran: "Same Mother" (Blue Note). The most exciting young musician in jazz turns his attention to the blues. He doesn't imitate older records but uses the blues as the raw material for a personal style that mixes bebop technique, hip-hop rhythms and avant-garde adventure.

Paul Kelly & the Stormwater Boys: "Foggy Highway" (Cooking Vinyl). Kelly -- the Steve Earle or Richard Thompson of Australia -- makes the obligatory string-band album, but the understated arrangements allow some of Kelly's finest songs, full of loss and doubt, to shine through.

Bob Mould: "Body of Song" (Yep Roc). D.C. resident Mould picks up the guitar again to deliver songs as passionate and tuneful as those from his days with Husker Du and Sugar. But Mould's experiences in the dance world give his new songs an undercurrent of electronica that updates his sound.

Flipsyde: "We the People" (Cherry Tree/Interscope) . The year's best hip-hop album has been largely ignored, but its combination of live instruments, political commentary, introspection and catchy melodies take the Roots formula a step further.

Lee Ann Womack: "There's More Where That Came From" (MCA). Womack abandons her recent diva persona to go home to the hardcore honky-tonk she grew up on and delivers the best crop of cheating songs in decades.

DVD of note : "Brian Wilson Presents Smile" (Rhino) . This set actually includes two full-length movies. David Leaf's "Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson & the Story of Smile" is the rare music documentary that actually achieves a narrative build and climax as Wilson's self-doubts about his star-crossed masterpiece threaten to derail the London premiere of "Smile." "Smile: Live Performance" captures a confident Los Angeles live show that represents the best recording of Wilson's masterwork yet.


The Evens: "The Evens" (Dischord). Fugazi sidles up to Woody Guthrie on the debut album of singer-guitarist Ian MacKaye and singer-drummer Amy Farina's new group, which is expectedly purposeful and unexpectedly pretty.

Konono No. 1: "Congotronics" (Crammed Discs). This inventive sextet (not counting dancers) runs a DIY electrification scheme for traditional Congolese rhythms, generating polyrhythms that should entrance fans of techno and gamelan, as well as go-go.

Helen Love: "The Bubblegum Killers" (Sympathy for the Record Industry). This Welsh sampler-punk quartet's latest EP is as witty, joyous and charmingly self-referential as ever and contains the best of the year's many Joey Ramone tribute songs.

M.I.A.: "Arular" (XL). A Sri Lanka-rooted Londoner with great ideas and a limited voice melds grimy rhythms and giddy melodies, demonstrating that a British art school education is just as useful to a savvy worldbeat primitivist as to her rock 'n' roll predecessors.

Steve Reich: "You Are (Variations)" (Nonesuch). The innovations are minor, but significant, in this piece for chorale and near-orchestra, which revisits the sounds and structures of the composer's "Tehillim" and "Music for 18 Musicians."

DVD of note: Morrissey, "Who Put the M in Manchester?" (Attack/Sanctuary). With the same flair he demonstrated last year at DAR Constitution Hall -- if a more eccentric set list -- the Wildean indie-rocker flaunts his latest album, his back catalogue and bits of his favorite New York Dolls and Sinatra tunes to a rapturous hometown crowd.


"Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall" (Blue Note). Hard to say what's more gratifying: that a 1957 concert recording featuring these jazz titans consistently challenging and complementing each other was discovered by Library of Congress Recording Lab Supervisor Larry Appelbaum or that the Blue Note release quickly became a bestseller despite the stranglehold that smooth jazz has on the airwaves.

"American Primitive Vol. II -- Pre-War Revenants: 1897-1939" (Revenant). This double-CD compilation/exhumation is the second and final volume of roots music produced by the late John Fahey. It's devoted to long-dead blues, jazz and string-band musicians whose names seldom rang a bell anywhere but whose emotionally raw recordings continue to cast a spell. Never mind all the surface noise: The voices of Geeshie Wiley, Henry Spaulding, Mattie May Thomas and other revenants (i.e., a spirit who returns after a long absence) are penetrating and compelling.

Bettye LaVette: "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise" (Anti). Given some of the tunesmiths represented here -- Sinead O'Connor, Fiona Apple and Dolly Parton, for starters -- soul songstress LaVette could be accused of looking for inspiration in all the wrong places. The performances, however, are powerful enough to restore your faith in cover-song collections.

Charles Lloyd: "Jumping the Creek" (ECM). Though the music is sometimes meditative, if not downright dark, anyone looking for proof that Lloyd remains one of the most restlessly creative artists in jazz won't have to listen to this quartet session for long. But then the saxophonist probably wouldn't continue to have the luxury of collaborating with pianist Geri Allen if he weren't still exploring ways to keep his music intriguing.

Little Milton: "Think of Me" (Telarc). A sentimental vote? Maybe. The soul singer and blues guitarist, who died this year, certainly never got the recognition due him. As this CD illustrates, his music was always unmistakable and often moving right up to the end.

DVD of note: Ray Charles: "Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings -- 1952-1959" (Rhino). Granted, the price of admission ($149.98) is steep, but among the eight discs in this exhaustive box set is a DVD that captures Charles's performance at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival. It's a prime-time, black-and-white artifact, hosted by the Voice of America's Willis Conover and boasting a terrific ensemble featuring saxophonists Hank Crawford and David "Fathead" Newman, plus the Raeletts. The tunes include the Count Basie band staple "Lil' Darlin' " to Charles's signature shout "What'd I Say." Capping the DVD is a revealing interview with Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, conducted by filmmaker Taylor Hackford, who directed "Ray."


Re: Washington post Gems of 2005

Ugh, it's such a pet peeve when a critic describes music as "gems." I think of sparkles and shit. Then Michael Jackson comes to mind for some odd reason...Anyone else have any phrases that annoy them that critics use? (Sorry, I went off topic, Tungsten...:))