Saturday, January 19, 2008

So, like last year, I've been dragging my feet on my best-of music list, until I was damn sure no one would still be interesting in such nonsense. But I'm gonna crank this out tonight. In coming up with nominations for the list, I realized 2007 just wasn't that great a year for new releases. A good year for music, for me at least, making some discoveries from the vaults ("Will to Fail" has become my theme song--I was shocked just now to discover I never linked to it), but even coming up with ten albums from 2007 I could get excited about was a challenge. But going over the releases, and remembering some albums I'd forgotten about, things ultimately started looking up, and I was able to come up with a respectable top-ten list, with some decent albums not making the cut (sorry, Lyle Lovett):

#1: Porter Wagoner, Wagonmaster So apparently it will be a tradition that my best-of year-end list will be topped by a dead country legend. Which is fine, as so far they have richly deserved their placement. And for the record, Wagoner was very much alive when I praised the album effusively. I can't really add to that much, except to say, in light of his passing, the album encapsulated his career in the most positive light possible. A fitting coda to a legend among legends.

#2: Pink Martini, Hey, Eugene! Pink Martini's third album suggests they have arrived as an institution, which actually makes the arrival of new material not the earth-shattering news that Hang On Little Tomato was. But still, there's very little not to love here, and Jimmy Scott's guest appearance on "Tea For Two" just makes things that much more magical.

#3: Jon Rauhouse, Steel Guitar Heart Attack The most fun I had with a country album all year. Laid-back western swing, reworked classics and new material. And who knew the theme from The Andy Griffith Show had words?

#4: The Greencards, Viridian Absolutely beautiful bluegrass. The Greencards' output has been so consistent, it's easy to get complacent and forget just how lucky the world is to have an album like this.

#5: Los Straitjackets, Rock en Espanol, Vol. 1 Oddly compelling. It's Los Straitjackets, so of course this is going to be a good album, and the addition of guest artists providing Spanish vocals to cover songs of Anglo hits is a perfect fit to the band. So that I enjoyed the album isn't a surprise, but I was taken aback by just how ingratiating tracks like Little Willie G's take on "Ana" (AKA "Go To Him") are here, and how this turned out to be a much more substantial album than I expected. While still being as fun as any Los Straitjackets album. This could be my favorite Los Straitjackets album.

#6: Detroit Cobras, Tied and True Unlike Los Straitjackets, this album does not transcend the expectations one has for the Detroit Cobras. But that's fine. The rough edges are a bit smoothed out here, but overall it's exactly what we've come to expect from the band, and I for one am glad to have it.

#7: Nellie McKay, Obligatory Villagers Nellie McKay has produced an album here perfectly suited to her sound and attitude. Theatrical and witty, her technical mastery and clever songsmithing (is that a word?) are on full display, and her flaws are somewhat obscured. Sure to please her fans, and keep as fans those of us who found ourself wobbling in her support.

#8: Project: Pimento, Space Age Love Songs It's been four years since their last album, and while Space Age Love Songs isn't as earth-moving as Magical Moods of the Theremin, it does essentially double the number of theremin-based lounge music albums available, which is a good thing.

#9: Robbie Fulks, Revenge The last time Robbie Fulks performed in Southern California, I had other commitments, so I have yet to see him live, but now I have a live album. Live albums aren't the most exciting things, but there is a bit of strong new material, and lots of his classic songs, in both electric and acoustic sets.

#10: Various Artists, Song of America Filling in the last slot was difficult: Lots of albums vied for contention, all notable, but none strong enough for me to expand the list beyond ten places. Lyle Lovett and John Prine both had new albums this year, and I feel bad leaving them off; but while neither was bad, neither particularly grabbed my interest, either, and including them in this list would have felt like an act of pity. Song of America, a boxed-set collection of iconic songs from throughout American history, is certainly hit-or-miss, but the best songs of the bunch are more than enough to encourage me to overlook a few stinkers. Certainly a notable release for the year, and if, like me, you enjoyed Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster, I think you'll find a lot to like here, too.

Well, I've been working on this list for about a week, but I think I've found a list I can formally endorse. The top ten of 2007: If it's not here, it's garbage.

I was going to add an Imeem playlist here, but virtually none of these albums are streamable there. They have deals with all four major labels, but the indie situation isn't as bright. Either that, or their filtering software sucks; I noticed recently uploaded songs by Sara Bareilles, for instance, don't stream, claiming they don't have a deal with her label, when I know for a fact they do. Anyway, if you want to hear the albums on my list, I'm sure you know of a way to do so, so good luck with that.

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