I wrote last year that iPod had completely altered my listening habits. Much as the advent of the CD meant that we began listening to whole recordings instead of one record side at a time as we did during the LP era, the all pervasive iPod with individualized playlists and “shuffle” setting means that we rarely play an album straight through, even half of one, and often move from one musical style to another at random.
Consequently, a couple of my choices for this year’s “top ten” are surprises even to me. Plus, there are three box sets and a greatest hits package included. But that’s just the way it is:
Our local hero’s greatest artistic statement to date, and perhaps the best box set ever assembled. Instead of recycling the same old tunes that fans already have, Bruce packed this 4-CD/1-DVD retrospective with extended live band tracks and solo piano versions of his best known songs along with beaucoups of material you may not know but oughtta. His musicianship is impeccable, his quiet pieces beautiful, and his sense of humor very much intact. As this collection proves, he can play in every genre and still sound like no one but himself. (interviewed 7/25/06)
Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey resurrect their brand name and, remarkably, do it proud. Though it is virtually a one-man Townshend show instrumentally, propelled by Daltrey’s from-the-gut singing, the sound harkens back to The Who’s heyday 35 years ago when they were the most powerful band in the world. Middle aged air guitarists must be breaking out their imaginary axes and windmilling power chords in dens all over the country. (reviewed in this issue)
Over and Over
A singer-songwriter with the soul of a jazz chanteuse, Erin Bode’s second album establishes her as a rare talent deserving of a much larger audience. Her songs are light and playful, melodically memorable and enchanting. The opening track, “Holiday,” is a hit in search of a radio format, and her remake of “Graceland” rivals Paul Simon’s original while freshening it up for a new audience. Her concert at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts confirmed her irresistible musical magnetism. (reviewed 4/11/06; interviewed 10/24/06)
Still adventurous after all these years, Paul Simon reinvents himself one more time with the aid of Roxy Music cofounder/ambient music master Brian Eno. This unlikely pairing results in the most engaging music Simon has made since Graceland twenty years ago. Eno’s sonic settings add gravitas in places, funk in others and industrial grit elsewhere, and Paulie himself is in fine form, an exploratory poet not yet finished with his search. (reviewed 5/23/06)
Will the Circle be Unbroken
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Tracks from this double-CD (originally issued as a 3-record set way back when) kept popping up all year on my iPod, reminding me of what a joyful adventure this was. The Dirt Band assembled a who’s-who of bluegrass and real country music—including Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, Merle Travis, Jimmy Martin and Mother Maybelle Carter—and brought country music into the dorm rooms of the long-haired post-hippie generation. Covering old Carter Family material, Hank Williams, fiddle tunes and Watson’s definitive lead vocal and guitar work on “Tennessee Stud,” Circle is still one of the greatest country recordings ever.
No Regrets: The Very Best of
Another apparent favorite of my iPod, this greatest hits collection samples folkie Tom Rush’s career dating back to his first album in 1962. In his prime, Rush had one of the finest baritone voices around, and, because he wasn’t a particularly prolific songwriter himself, introduced the songs of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jackson Browne to the world. This disc includes his poignant take on Joni’s “Urge for Going” and his own best composition, the mesmerizing “No Regrets.”
This has long been my favorite Chick Corea album, one I’ve listened to regularly since its release nearly thirty years ago and never grown tired of. Coming at the end of his electric Return to Forever period, Friends was a return to a basically acoustic format (except for Chick’s Fender Rhodes on some tracks) that simply shimmers in its beauty and natural funkiness. Joe Farrell’s flutework is exemplary, the light and feathery touch that gives this recording its distinctive timbre. Friends is the album I put on when I need a lift.
One of the great voices of country music, Waylon Jennings started off playing rock-n-roll with Buddy Holly at the end of the ‘50s, was billed as a “folk-country” singer in the ‘60s, founded the outlaw movement of the ‘70s, and joined forces with Willie, Johnny and Kris in the ‘80s as one of the Highwaymen. This 4-CD set covers it all, some of the best, most honest music you’ll find in any genre. (reviewed 10/31/06)
Try for the Sun
This one surprises me because I was never that big of a Donovan fan. But once again, my iPod sometimes has a mind of its own, and songs from this velvet encased 3-CD/1-DVD box set keep appearing in my earbuds. Interestingly, the more I listen, the more I appreciate the music. Sure, some of it is wimpy and dated, but there’s a lot of good stuff here, from the chart topping hits “Sunshine Superman,” “Mellow Yellow” and “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” to early Dylan imitations like “Catch the Wind” and numerous lesser known album cuts and rarities. (reviewed 12/13/05)
Wrapped in a Dream
You can debate whether or not Spryo Gyra’s music qualifies as “real jazz,” but in the end, who cares? Yes, it’s a little too smooth in spots, but this year’s outing from Jay Beckenstein and company is a tasty stew of funk, soul, rock, and dare I say it, jazz, that recalls the golden era of ‘70s fusioneers Tom Scott and the L. A. Express, the Brecker Brothers and all those hip CTI sessions. (reviewed 4/11/06)
copyright © 2006 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved.