Best Live Discs
3. LIVE IN NEW YORK-Jonatha Brooke (Bad Dog)
Jonatha Brooke has a relatively small, but dedicated following and it is easy to understand her fans' passion. Brooke is truly a master songwriter and her guitar talent is showcased so obviously here as well. Add a more-than-able backing band and you have a great example of what live discs should be about.
2. IN CONCERT - VOLUME 1-The Sadies (Yep Roc)
Toronto's craziest band bust out with a 40-track double live disc that completely encapsulates just how frantic, fuzzed out, and beautiful a live band they are. The twang level is high, the fast songs are supersonic, and the quick songs are over in a blink of an eye. But that's what the Sadies are all about. With guests ranging in styles from Neko Case to Jon Spencer, this isn't just a live performance. This is a damn good party.
1. 1000 YEARS OF POPULAR MUSIC-Richard Thompson (Cooking Vinyl)
An absolutely brilliant concept, pulled off with equal brilliance from the always awe-inspiring Thompson and his lady friends Debra Dobkin (percussion) and Judith Owen (keyboards and vocals). The disc is as it says, with tracks ranging from 11th century minstrel tunes to Britney's "Oops! I Did It Again".
3. LIMITED EDITION EP-Erin Matthews (Empyrean)
A supplement that fits so well with the dreaminess of Eric's full-length Foundation Sounds CD, that it could have been packaged with it. Oh wait. It was!
2. LITTLE LOST BLUES-Bonnie "Prince" Billy (Drag City)
A perfect companion to Billy's near-perfect 2006 release. Billed as an EP, but containing a staggering 11 songs, Little Lost Blues is Will Oldham at his best: minimalistic and achingly beautiful.
1. A STITCH IN TIME - The Twilight Singers (One Little Indian)
A flawless 5-song, late-season gift from Greg Dulli. With help from Mark Lanegan, this EP covers all bases. Lanegan's rasp lends itself well to the Massive Attack cover "Live With Me" and the airy "Sublime" works wonders. But it is "They Ride" rocker that puts this one over the top.
Best Boxed Set
RT: The Life and Music of Richard Thompson-Richard Thompson (Free Reed)
Well, you certainly get your money's worth. This gigantic five-disc set might be more tailored for the hardcore RT fan than those just familiar with "Beeswing" and "1952 Vincent Black Lightning", but that's just fine by me. Filled to the rim with searing live electric tracks, acoustic masterpieces, and quirky cover tunes (Britney's "Oops! I Did It Again"), this box set beautifully encapsulates all of the styles and folk rock stylings of one of music's most underrated songwriters and guitar players.
OK, now on to the REAL list!
25. FOUNDATION SOUNDS-Eric Matthews (Empyrean)
Eric Matthews is nothing but consistent. And this consistency isn't boring because he unceasingly makes music that sounds like no one else. Filled with the usual unique breathy vocals and lavish compositions that define his sound, Matthews returns with a slightly overlong disc, but one that still demonstrates his ability to excel in a niche to which few belong. Nothing quite as catchy as "Fanfare" or flawless as The Lateness of the Hour here, but it is still an enjoyable listen, buoyed by Matthews' tasteful use of acoustic guitar, piano, and the occasion horns. Perfect for sitting back with a nice glass of wine or four.
Previous list appearances: SIX KINDS OF PASSION LOOKING FOR AN EXIT (#8 in 2005)
24. BORN AGAIN IN THE U.S.A.-Loose Fur (Drag City)
Noise rock/country folky supergroup Loose Fur's second disc is a lot more focused and streamlined than their meandering eponymous debut, but fans will be glad that it is no quieter. While the cacophonous-at-times, other time sparse "Wreckroom" clocks in at a hefty duration, the rest of the tunes are concise and well-played. Evenly divvied up between the acoustic country boogies favored by Tweedy ("The Ruling Class", "Wanted") and noisier walls of sound from Jim O"Rourke ("Stupid as the Sun"), and ones that sound like a bizarre hybrid of the two (the rocking "Hey Chicken"), the disc remains true to itself: A Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde disc of fuzzy rock, quirky acoustic numbers, and one particularly gorgeous instrumental , buoyed by drummer Glenn Kotche ("An Ecumenical Matter").
Previous list appearances: LOOSE FUR (#20 in 2003)
23. ANOTHER FINE DAY-Golden Smog (Lost Highway)
Alt-country supergroup Golden Smog (featuring members of the Jayhawks, Wilco, and Soul Asylum) come up with another schizophrenic disc sprinkled with rocking stompers and contemplative slower pieces. This disc is definitely the Jayhaws' Gary Louris show, with Jeff Tweedy, Dan Murphy, and others just pretty much providing the accents. The strength here is the pop infusion of "Beautiful Mind", "You Make It Easy" and others. The countrified harmonies are perfect and nary a note seems out of place, and that includes the Muni Loco-sung "Cure For This".
22. MAGIC POTION-the Black Keys (Nonesuch)If you dig greasy, dirty, low-fi, minimalist garage blues rock, then the Black Keys are right up your alley. This two man band (Dan Auerbach on vocals and guitar and Pat Carney on drums) serve up bluesy sludge that make early White Stripes sound overproduced. Sure, all the songs sound alike and Magic Potion might not be the strongest Keys record ever made (2003's thickfreakness is), but Auerbach's playing is inspired and it makes me want to take a shower after listening to it. That counts for something.
21. EYES OPEN-Snow Patrol (A&M)
On first pass, Snow Patrol's latest seems much more glossy, well-produced, yet less catchy than its brilliant predecessor Final Straw. Upon subsequent listens, the glossiness and production remain, but the catchiness starts appearing in sharper focus. Singer and guitarist Gary Lightbody's Scottish-tinged vocals are super-smooth and soothing, while his songwriting is much more light and edge-free, particularly in the latter half of the disc. While this could spell doom for some, Snow Patrol execute this new formula very well and the pop magic of "You're All I Have", "Hands Open", and "Chasing Cars" are close to perfect. Songs like "Shut Your Eyes" and the piano ballad "Make This Go On Forever", which has some grand vocals in the chorus, all are strong points and, while the energy tails off fast toward the end, it is still a solid pop record.
Previous list appearances: FINAL STRAW (#7 in 2004)
20. YOU IN REVERSE-Built to Spill (Warner Bros.)
Idaho's favorite indie noise rockers return with their first disc in five years and while the band has forgone drawn out, fuzzed out jams, guitarist Doug Martsch's signature guitar wail is still prevalent over the more compact songs. Martsch's voice might take some getting used to and there is a heavy Neil Young influence here, but pop sensibilities of "Liar" and the excellent layered guitar work of "Conventional Wisdom" and "Gone" are trademark BTS. While not their strongest effort, this disc still shows that Built to Spill still commandeer their genre.
19. PEEPING TOM-Peeping Tom (Ipecac)
Mike Patton is simply the most amazing and innovative vocalist in music today. Drawing from experiences in Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, and Lovage, among others, Patton and a group of supporting friends craft a disc that is all over the musical map. The pure pop of "Mojo" is everything a modern radio single should be while the opener "Five Seconds" is challengingly driven by Patton's patented vocal acrobatics. He croons wonderfully here, which is always welcomed and while delving into rap ("Getaway" with Kool Keith) is something he has done before and done better, the breezy swagger of "Sucker" (with a cooing Norah Jones spouting words you never thought the pop songstress would utter) epitomizes the diversity and trippiness here. Peeping Tom might not always hit the mark, but when it does, it's amazing.
18. TEN SILVER DROPS-The Secret Machines (Reprise)
This Texas trio continues where their debut left off by dousing the listener with a "big is better" wall of sound. The songs here are a strange lovechild of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Slow and methodical tunes like "Daddy's in the Doldrums" are executed perfectly in all of their epicness as are tunes like the dreamy closer "1,000 Seconds" and the grandiose and thick crime story saga of "I Hate Pretending". The musicianship, again, is top-notch with nary a note wasted, yet so much going on in each song, that sometimes it's difficult to follow everything. The Secret Machines certainly do take their time getting to the point (there are only 8 tracks, yet the disc is pretty long), but by the time they are finished with their bombastic rock, you really don't mind.
Previous list appearances: NOW HERE IS NOWHERE (#12 in 2004)
17. COLOUR THE SMALL ONE-Sia (Astralworks)
Zero 7 vocalist Sia Furler crafts one heck of a mood on her 2006 release. There's a little of everything here; Sia's voice is dreamy, let strong, mixing R&B, folk, and jazz stylings in front of a gorgeous landscape of sound, with strings, horns, and deeply layered musical foundations. While most of the disc is a little down-tempo, there's something about Sia's voice that doesn't allow this to turn into a down disc, despite some heavy subject matter. The lead track, "Rewrite", is sprawling and stunning, complete with subtle trip-hop beats. The piano-driven "Breathe Me" builds triumphantly and the slow shuffle of "The Bully" is also a strong point, accented by great harmonies. Sia's ability to lull is so strong that the upbeat "Where I Belong" sounds out of place at first, but soon settles with you as one of the disc's best.
16. UNDER THE IRON SEA-Keane (Interscope)
The sophomore release from Brit-rock sensations Keane is a very well-polished and executed affair. The songs are laden with hooks and deeply layered soundscapes. And above all are Tom Chaplin's unwavering and and utterly perfect vocals. Songs like "Is It Any Wonder?", "Leaving So Soon", and "Put It Behind You" are utterly grandiose in the best possible way. But besides the consistently solid vocals, what stands out here most is the sonic tapestry Keane weaves. Pianos, swirling guitars, and other audio goodness all come together in a perfect storm, with just the perfect mix of brightness and melancholy over the top to make this a very good effort.