Archive for the ‘CD reviews’ Category

Best songs of the 2010s … so far

Friday, February 13th, 2015

1. “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele (2011)

2. “Fuck You” by Cee-Lo Green (2010)

3. “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk (2013)

4. “Head” by Lydia Loveless (2014)

5. “Art of Almost” by Wilco (2011)

6. “No Church in the Wild” by Jay-Z and Kanye West, featuring Frank Ocean (2011)

7. “Emmylou” by First Aid Kit (2012)

8. “Airplanes” by B.o.B., featuring Hayley Williams (2010)

9. “Monster” by Kanye West, featuring Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z and Bon Iver (2010)

10. “The Other Side” by Bruno Mars, featuring Cee-Lo Green and B.o.B. (2010)

Honorable mention:

“All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor (2014)

“Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monae with Erykah Badu (2013)

“Pretty Saro” by Bob Dylan (2013)

“Drunk In Love” by Beyonce (2013)

“Salt” by Lori McKenna (2013)

“Wasted Days” by Cloud Nothings (2012)

“Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen (2012)

“Black Doll” by Siobhan Magnus (2011)

“Copenhagen” by Lucinda Willams (2011)

“Tik Tok” by Ke$ha (2010)

“Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem, featuring Rihanna (2010)

Best CDs of the 2010s … so far

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

The Beyonce/Kanye/Beck hullaballoo at the Grammys got me thinking. With much respect to Beck (more so for his early work than his recent work), I think “Beyonce” was far and away the best of the nominees for “Best Album.” And, sure, Kanye’s a knucklehead, but he makes great albums. Halfway through the 2010s, here’s how I rank the best of pop music.

1. “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” by Kanye West (2010)

2. “Beyonce” by Beyonce (2013)

3. “Songs of Innocence” by U2 (2014)

4. “Somewhere Else” by Lydia Loveless (2014)

5. “Stone Rollin’ “ by Raphael Saadiq (2011)

6. “Pushin’ Against a Stone” by Valerie June (2013)

7. “Fossils” by Aoife O’Donovan (2013)

8. “The Civil Wars” by the Civil Wars (2013)

9. “Landing on a Hundred” by Cody Chesnutt (2012)

10. “Channel Orange” by Frank Ocean (2012)

HM: “The King of In Between” by Garland Jeffreys (2011), “The Whole Love” by Wilco (2011), “Sun Midnight Sun” by Sara Watkins (2012) and “Archandroid” by Janelle Monae (2010)


Top CDs of 2014

Monday, December 29th, 2014

2014 offered no knock-out CD like Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” or Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” As I began to narrow my favorites down to a top 20, I was interested to see some other lists. I was surprised when Rolling Stone put the new ones by U2 and Bruce Springsteen at No. 1 and 2. When they came out, I thought the U2 was pretty good (better than their last few by a long shot) but not worthy of the top pick. The Springsteen album didn’t seem worthy of consideration; the only work of his from the last 25 years I can listen to is his Pete Seeger tribute.

I listened and relistened to the contenders. Some moved up the list and some moved down. Some years have a disc that feels transformative (Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” for example). But most years, my No. 1 pick ends up being the one that I keep listening to again and again, one that’s sturdy from start to finish. As good as it is, “Lost in the Dream” by the War on Drugs didn’t pass that test. “Somewhere Else” by Lydia Loveless came close.

Kind of to my surprise, U2’s “Songs of Innocence” was the one that passed the test.

Now, consider this for a moment. U2’s first album was released in 1980. How many bands that have been around for 30 years have put out something this good? Not the Stones. Not the Who. Not Pink Floyd.

The Top Ten:

1. “Songs of Innocence” by U2 – Not iconic, like “The Joshua Tree,” or a major makeover, like “Achtung Baby,” just solid U2. There’s plenty of Edge-y guitar and Bono shows some restraint. The songs sound like they were meant to be heard with headphones and not in a huge arena (although some will translate just fine).

2. “Somewhere Else” by Lydia Loveless – An alt-country singer whose catchy songs have enough stylistic variety

3. “Food” by Kelis – Producer Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio helps the R&B singer up the oddness level on the “Milkshake” singer’s latest.

4. “Lost in the Dream” by the War on Drugs – Here’s what you’d get if Wilco tried to sound like Tom Petty.

5. “The Hum” by Hookworms – Here’s what you’d get if Sonic Youth tried to sound like the Velvet Underground.

6. “Blank Project” by Neneh Cherry – She had a dance club hit in 1989 with “Buffalo Stance” and a college radio hit in 1992 when she teamed up with Michael Stipe on “Trout.” This disc of tense, jagged R&B sounds nothing like either of those songs.

7. “Black Messiah” by D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Producer Questlove of the Roots can’t restrain the oddness level on the “Voodoo” man’s latest.

8. “Cosmos” by Yellow Ostrich — Here’s what you’d get if Radiohead tried to sound like a top 40 band.

9. “Manipulator” by Ty Segall – The garage rock album of the year (and there were a bunch of contenders).

10. “Loom” by Fear of Men – Kind of like the Cranberries but in a good way.

Honorable mention:

“LP1” by FKA Twigs, “Give My Love to London” by Marianne Faithfull, “English Oceans” by Drive-By Truckers, “Black Rat” by DZ Deathrays, “Lift Your Spirit” by Aloe Blacc, “Sun Structures” by Temples and “Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records: 1986-1997” – by various artists.

The best songs:

“Head” by Lydia Loveless – Because this is an irresistible mix of lust and fury.

The rest of the top 10 (alphabetically):

“All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor – Because I ought to be sick of this one by now, but I’m not.

“Archie, Marry Me” by Alvvays – Because this is a lovely little love song.

“Bury Our Friends” by Sleater-Kinney – Because this fierce blast from the past is an intriguing preview of a new CD (coming in January) by the reunited S-K.

“Gina Works at Hearts” by DZ Deathrays – Because we need a good thrashy punk song now and then.

“Little Maggie” by Robert Plant – Because Led Zep’s singer keeps finding ways to reinvent himself.

“Made Up English Oceans” by Drive-By Truckers – Because this band is incapable of putting out a CD that doesn’t have at least a song or two I love.

“The River” by Son Little – Because this is one funky bit of blues.

“Turn Down for What” by DJ Snake and Lil Jon – Because it’s kind of fun to shout along.

“Yes Yes Yes” -by Boyz II Men – Because who doesn’t hunger for an ode to pretzel buns.



Top 10 CDs of 2013

Friday, December 27th, 2013

1. “Beyonce” by Beyonce (Columbia) – Some years I have months to absorb my favorite CD of the year. Not this year. Released on Dec. 13 with no advance publicity, Beyonce’s latest is filled with songs that will be hits in 2014. The music is sexy and the lyrics are frank enough to make Barry White blush.

2. “Pushin’ Against a Stone” by Valerie June (Concord) – My favorite CD of the year, until Dec. 13, and maybe it will hold up better than Beyonce’s disc in the long run. Memphis-based June sounds like an Appalachian Macy Gray on one song, a ’60s girls group on another and Allison Kruass on another. Rock-solid stuff.

3. “Fossils” by Aoife O’Donovan (Yep Roc) – A former member of the neo-bluegrass band Crooked Still, O’Donovan sings a bit like Shawn Colvin, but has a much broader stylistic reach.

4. “The Civil Wars” by The Civil Wars (Sensibility Recordings/Columbia Records) – The second CD by the alt-folk duo might be its last. Months before this gem was released, singer-songwriters Joy Williams and John Paul White announced the act was going on hiatus, citing “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition.”

5. “El Valiente” by Pinata Protest (Saustex Media) – This San Antonio quartet is a Tex-Mex version of the Pogues.

6. “Massachusetts” by Lori McKenna (Hoodie Songs / Liz Rose Music) – One of the strongest works yet, which is saying something, by this Stoughton, Mass., singer-songwriter, who mixes some country twang into her contemporary folk songs.

7. “Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics” by the Delfonics and Adrian Younge (Wax Poetics) – You probably haven’t heard anything from the Delfonics since their 1970 Top 10 hit, “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).” Composer-producer Adrian Younge worked with original Delfonic William Hart to create a retro-soul classic.

8. “American Love” by Bad Rabbits (Bad Records) – Retro-funk from a Boston band whose lyrics could make Beyonce blush.

9. “An Appointment With Mr. Yeats” by the Waterboys (Proper American) – Setting the poetry of William Butler Yeats to Celtic-folk/rock could be a recipe for disaster. Instead it’s the best album by Mike Scott since the Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues” was released in 1988.

10. “Among the Grey” by Cheyenne Mize (Yep Roc) – Rounding out the Top 10 with a little Siouxsie Sioux here, a little Bat for Lashes there and a whole lot of spacy folk-rock.

Honorable mention: “AM” by Arctic Monkeys; “Nomad” by Bombino; “Old”by Danny Brown; “The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You” by Neko Case; “Monomania” by Deerhunter; “Slow Focus” by the Fuck Buttons; “Same Trailer, Different Park” by Kacey Musgraves; “Silence Yourself” by Savages; “Doris” by Earl Sweatshirt; “Cerulean Salt” by Waxahatchee; “Dig Thy Savage Soul” by Barrence Whitfield and the Savages; and “Yeezus” by Kanye West

Favorite songs: “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk; “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monae (w/ Erykah Badu); “Pretty Saro” by Bob Dylan; “Drunk In Love” by Beyonce; “Salt” by Lori McKenna; “Brainfreeze” by the Fuck Buttons; “Hudson” by Vampire Weekend; “Mercy” by TV on the Radio; “Invisible” by Steve Earle; and “Man” by Neko Case

The best CDs of 2012

Monday, December 31st, 2012

1. “Landing on a Hundred” by Cody Chesnutt – If Marvin Gaye was still around, his latest CD might sound a lot like this. Chesnutt shows why early ’70s R&B is timeless.

2. “Channel Orange” by Frank Ocean – A sprawling and sensational R&B debut from a member of the Odd Future hip-hop crew.

3. “Sun Midnight Sun” by Sara Watkins – Former Nickel Creek fiddler Watkins made the Americana disc of the year.

4. “Sorry to Bother You” by the Coup – An entertaining mix of hip-hop, funk and politics.

5. “Stranger” by Balmorhea – This collection of minimalist but spacey instrumentals puts Balmorhea up with Spoon, Explosions in the Sky and Okkervil River as one of Austin’s finest bands.

6. “Kaleidoscope Dream” by Miguel – In a strong year for R&B, Miguel offered a “Sexual Healing” alternative to Cody Chesnutt’s grittier Marvin Gaye vibe.

7. “Voyageur” by Kathleen Edwards – Not her best work, but Edwards has a knack for combining hooks and storytelling.

8. “The Idler Wheel …” by Fiona Apple – Not her best work, but Apple’s stripped-down approach works at conveying her romantic angst.

9. “Psychedelic Pill” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Not their best work, but Young & Crazy Horse roll out some trippy, extended jams that make great highway music.

10. “Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan” by various artists – Plenty of filler on this four-CD set, but plenty of great tracks, too, by Flogging Molly, Mariachi el BronxMiley Cyrus and others.

Honorable mention: “The Seer” by Swans; “Country. God or the Girl” by K’Naan; “Lawless” soundtrack by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis and various artists; “Next Time Around” by Darryl Purpose; “King Tuff” by King Tuff; “Searching for Sugar Man” by Rodriguez; “Little Spark” by Jesse Baylin; “The Truth About Love” by P!nk; “Signs & Signifiers” by J.D. McPherson; and “These United States” by These United States


The best songs of 2012

Friday, December 28th, 2012

1. “Emmylou” by First Aid Kit – A country-folk gem by a pair of Swedish sisters.

2. “Wasted Days” by Cloud Nothings – A heavy rock epic.

3. “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen – Irresistible pop. Hard to pick a favorite video among the orginal, the Harvard baseball team tribute and the U.S. swim team tribute.

4. “After It’s Gone” by Patterson Hood & the Downtown 13 – One of the Drive-By Truckers makes a plea to save small-town downtowns.

5. “Revolution” by Saidah Baba Talibah – A sexy cry for change.

6. “100” by Brandi Carlile – One of the highlights of the Melody Tent season was Carlile’s August show.

7. “The Magic Clap” by the Coup – The catchiest rap song since “Hey Ya.”

8. “Putin Lights Up the Fires” by Pussy Riot – The Russian band’s fight for free speech didn’t stop at the jailhouse doors. This version has an English translation of the lyrics.

9. “Pyramids” by Frank Ocean – An R&B epic.

10. “Sugar Man” by Rodriguez – The lead song from his 1970 debut finally got some attention, thanks to a documentary about the great, long-lost folksinger.

The best CDs of 2011

Friday, December 16th, 2011

1. “Stone Rollin’ “ by Raphael Saadiq (Columbia Records). The title of his 2002 solo debut (following hits with the family trio Tony! Toni! Tone!) was “Instant Vintage” and that’s an apt description of Saadiq’s sound: modernized Motown with a bit of Philly soul and Sly Stone thrown in.

2. “The King of In Between” by Garland Jeffreys (Luna Park Records), who has been making fine albums for 40 years (reaching peaks with “Ghost Writer” in 1977 and “Don’t Call Me Buckwheat” in 1992). With lyrics focusing primarily on his love of New York City and rock & roll, Jeffreys serves up a mix of sounds, including John Lee Hooker blues, late-’70s Stones rock, reggae and ska.

3. The bonus disc on the “Some Girls” reissue by the Rolling Stones (Universal Republic Records). Sure, these songs date back to the original recording sessions for “Some Girls,” which was released in 1978, or even earlier, but they’ve never been readily available until now (some are demos that were updated with new vocal and guitar tracks). Anyway, the “b-disc” is as good as anything the Stones have released since “Some Girls,” and it’s better than the bonus disc on last year’s resissue of “Exile on Main Street.”

4. “The Whole Love” by Wilco (DBpm Records). A strong comeback by one of my favorite bands, after the disppapointing “Wilco (The Album)” in 2009.

5. “Eleven  Eleven” by Dave Alvin (Yep Roc Records). A roots-rock legend, Dave Alvin made a new CD that stands with the best of his work with the Blasters and as a solo artist, which is saying something.

6. “Weather” by Me’shell Ndegeocello (Naive Records). Back in 1993, it might have been easy to think of her funk-rap hit “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)” as a novelty song, just a funny little diss. But over the course of 8 CDs, Ndegeocello has carved out a niche as one of the most creative voices in contemporary R&B.

7. “Go-Go Boots” by the Drive-by Truckers (RED Records). Hyper-productive and excellent storytellers, the DBTs are the Elmore Leonards of Southern rock.

8. “Blessed” by Lucinda Williams (Lost Highway Records). On a first listen, I didn’t think this stood among her better efforts, but it’s grown on me. Not up there with “Sweet Old World,” but still a great combination of folk, country and rock.

9. “Yuck” by Yuck (Fat Possum Records). — My pick for the year’s best debut. A nice mix of shoegaze drone, skronky feedback and jangle pop … a weird recipe, but it works.

10.  “Last Summer” by Eleanor Friedberger (Merge Records). — Much more poppy than her work with the Fiery Furnaces.

Honorable mentions: “Nine Types of Light” by TV on the Radio, “The Less You Know, the Better” by DJ Shadow, “David Comes to Life” by Fucked Up, “undun” by the Roots, “21” by Adele, “Watch the Throne” by Jay-Z and Kanye West, “Ritual Union” by Little Dragon, “Wild Flag” By Wild Flag, “Timez Are Weird These Days” by Theophilus London and “Want More” by JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound

The best songs of 2011

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

1. “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele — When Adele’s first album came out, I thought she was a weak imitation of Amy Winehouse, but she knocked it out of the park with this song.

2. “Art of Almost” by Wilco — Knocks me out every time I hear it. Almost any other year this would be No. 1.

3. “No Church in the Wild” by Jay-Z and Kanye West (feat. Frank Ocean) — The highlight from a collaboration that didn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts.

4. “Black Doll” by Siobhan Magnus — Not because she’s Cape Cod’s “American Idol,” but because the song is just that good.

5. “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)” by Charles Bradley — No denying the music or the message.

6. “Heart Attack” by Raphael Saadiq — Just try not to dance!

7. “Copenhagen” by Lucinda Willams — Another gem from one of my favorite songwriters.

8. “Last Friday Night” by Katy Perry — Yeah, I know the CD came out last year, but the single and video made their impact in 2011. “Is this a hicky or a bruise?” is one of my favorite lyrics of the year.

9. “First of the Year” by Skrillex– Pretty good song … great video.

10. “Ninety-Nine Percent” by Young Circles — Occupy the playlists!

Honorable mentions: “Born Alone” by Wilco and “We Found Love” by Rihanna

The best CDs of 2010

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Let’s skip an intro about the state of music in 2010 and get right to it.

1. “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” by Kanye West – Forget about hip-hop. There aren’t many performers in any genre who’ve started a career with five CDs as strong as West’s. Jackass of the year? Maybe. But for this ranking, we’re talking about the CD, and no one else made a disc as clever and addictive as this one.

2. “Archandroid” by Janelle Monae – But Janelle came mighty close. She definitely had the best half of a disc of anyone in 2010. Mixing a bizarre sci-fi storyline and killer R&B songs, Monae dazzled on her first-full-length CD.

3. “The Lady Killer” by Cee-Lo Green – Not as inventive as the discs by West and Monae, but every bit as entertaining. The lead singer of Gnarls Barkley shows that he can make some crazy-good dance songs on his own.

4. “Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook” by Bettye LaVette – The comeback continues for LaVette, a soul singer who hit the charts in 1963 with “My Man (He’s a Loving Man).” This time out she rips through and reinvents some old favorites by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals and others. One of the great vocal performances of the year.

5. “Have One on Me” by Joanna Newsom – A wispy-voiced singer playing the harp? Not my usual cup of tea, but Newsom’s 2006 CD, “Ys,” really grew on me. This three-CDs set is a lot to take in, but it’s worth the exploration.

6. “How I Got Over” by the Roots – Best rap band? Yeah, sure, but these guys are in the running for best band … period. Just check them out any night on Jimmy Fallon’s show. The Roots’ collaboration with John Legend was solid, but this CD shows them at their best … tight, tough and talented.

7. “Preservation” by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band – A collection of ragtime and traditional jazz songs with guest vocals by Richie Havens, the Blind Boys of Alabama,, Steve Earle, Ani DiFranco, Tom Waits, Dr. John, Angelique Kidjo and others. Jazz is not my area of expertise, but this is just plain fun.

8. “The Promise” by Bruce Springsteen – Of Springsteen’s first eight studio albums, “Darkness on the Edge of Town” is the one I’ve listened to by far the least. But this two-CD set of resurrected songs from the “Darkness” recording sessions is enough to make me dive back into that era.

9. “Chandler Travis Philharmonic Blows” by the Chandler Travis Philharmonic – Add up the solo stuff, the Incredible Casuals, the Philharmonic and his other output, and Chandler Travis has put out a mammoth body of work. This one stands with any of them.

10. “Odd Blood” by Yeasayer – This sounds like Duran Duran on acid, which, surprisingly, is a good thing.

Honorable mention: “New Amerykah, Part 2: Return of the Ankh” by Erykah Badu, “White Crosses” by Against Me! “Astro Coast” by Surfer Blood, “Scratch My Back” by Peter Gabriel and “Downtown Church” by Patty Griffin

A few songs I never got sick of: “Fuck You” by Cee-Lo Green; “Airplanes” by B.o.B., featuring Hayley Williams; “Monster” by Kanye West, featuring Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z and Bon Iver; “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha; and “Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem, featuring Rihanna

Looking for another look at the year’s best? Check out Ken Capobianco’s blog.  Our lists overlap more than in years past, but that’s just because the top three CDs were just so far ahead of the pack.

Sances’ successful balancing act

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Best-known as the front man for the Shotgun Bandits and Tripl3 Crown, Brian Sances of Sandwich recently released his first solo CD, “Here Today.” The cover shows him sitting on a rock at the end of a jetty, playing his guitar. Listening to the disc, it’s easy to picture him sitting out there on a warm day, surrounded by water, as he works out some new songs.

His tunes have an appealing variety – sometimes folky, sometimes a reggae or ska vibe, sometimes a hip-hop beat. He keeps to a mellow groove – not a sleepy kind of mellow, but that relaxed kind of mellow that sweeps over you … when you’re sitting on a rock surrounded by the ocean.

While the sound is laid back, Sances is relentlessly upbeat in his lyrics. The ballad “Still In Love” is as romantic a song as you could ever hope to hear. On other songs he sings the praises of the ocean, his hometown and the power of living in the moment. That could tumble into schmaltz, but Sances puts enough oomph into the music that it comes across as inspiring.

Sances recorded, mixed and produced all the songs, and wrote them all except for one on which he got some co-writing help from some friends. The production is impressive; a friend listening from the next room stuck his head in and asked if I was listening to a Los Lonely Boys disc.

Highlight tracks: “Still in Love,” “In the Blink of an Eye” and “Judgement Day Remix” (featuring Ceej)

In addition to performing on his own, you might catch Sances playing with Ceej or the Adam Hoffman Revival.

For more information, visit