Saturday, December 20, 2008

2008 - Top Ten CDs

This Top Ten was inspired by Nik at Spatula Forum whose tastes overlap a little with mine.

My Top Ten is not limited to albums released this year but are CDs that made it to my ears in 2008. Notably three of the artists, Cat Power, Sufjan Stevens, Calexico, I explored after hearing them each cover Dylan on the soundtrack album of the movie "I'm Not There". That CD escaped this list by being added in 2007.

Most of the Amazon links have samples for listening.

1. Bob Dylan - "The Bootleg Series Vol.8: Tell Tale Signs" (2008)
I succumbed and shelled out a pile of Kiwi dollars for the 3CD boxed set but it was worth it. Disc 1 has been on almost continuous play in my car since Ocotber. It's great driving music. The combination of Bob's grisly voice, ambiguous lyrics and bluesy sound make this my number 1 of the year. The alternate versions are welcome, especially 'Mississippi', 'Can't Wait' and 'Ring Them Bells' and the new tracks are delightful: 'Red River Shore' and 'Huck's Tune' make the project worthwhile. Every time I hear Bob sing "All the merry little elves can go hang themselves" it makes me chuckle.
After many years singing in The Wallflowers, Jakob released his first solo album and I hope there will be many more to come. He's managed to write and sing a beautiful collection here without being typecast as "Son of Bob". The only album this year where all tracks have a 4 or 5 * rating; my faves being 'Valley of the Low Sun', 'This End of the Telescope' and 'Evil is Alive and Well'.

I got into this after seeing Australian Xavier perform at the Whitianga Blues festival in March. Its not really blues though (it was a very broad festival). It's more like New wave/Aboriginal/Blues/Folk with touches of Reggae and Dub thrown in. I read he learnt to play the didgeridoo by practising on a vacuum cleaner hose. Top tracks, 'Better People', 'White Moth'.

Cat, real name Chan Marshall, does mostly covers here, except for 2 originals one of which is "Song to Bobby" for Dylan. 'I Believe in You' is also here, and she has a superb version of 'Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again' on 'I'm Not There'. Something tells me she's a bit of a Bob cat. Her version of 'New York New York' is very slow, bluesy, perfect for her soulful vocals.

This is poetry set to music. His voice is so close you can almost feel his breath on you as he whispers in your ear. Perfect for nighttime listening. I was never a fan and this is the first Cohen album I've tried. Some people say he does music to slit your wrists to, but this is joyful music. I'm loving it. There are touches of humour too: "Took my diamond to the pawn shop but that don't make it junk". He's in his 70's and still touring.

A return to great form. David still sounds like Talking Heads on some tracks. The title song he croons slowly...

"I ride on a perfect freeway
Many people on that road
I heard the sound of someone laughing
I saw my neighbors car explode".
I am going to see him perform in February.

7. Sufjan Stevens - "Illinoise" (2005)
This is the second in a planned series of fifty albums referencing US States, on the "Asthmatic Kitty" label. I was tempted to explore Sufjan after hearing the beautiful version of 'Ring them Bells' on 'I'm Not There'. Some tracks have long and curious names (that annoyingly don't appear in full on iTunes or iPod display) - such as "To The Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament, and It Involves Tube Socks, a Paper Airplane, and Twenty-Two Able-Bodied Men." and "A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze" . The songs are dream-like, delicate and thoughtful/provoking.

We saw the Parisian based trio at WOMAD 2005 and they soon had the crowd up and dancing. A mix of French, Argentine and Swiss, the sound is tango mixed with electronica and dub punctuated with vocal interjections. It's catching.

Named after a town on the border of Arizona/California, this is another band I found on 'I'm Not There' where they had a hand in five of the Dylan tracks. They produce a unique sound that conjures up arid deserts, Mexican gringos and spaghetti westerns but with modern lyrics. Best track, 'Sunken Waltz'

I was a late starter and am slowly exploring Bjork's catalogue. This is the best I've found so far. She uses an array of sampled objects to create beats and soundscapes, including shuffling cards on "Cocoon" and "Hidden Place"; snow being walked upon on "Frosti", and ice being cracked and smashed on "Aurora". Top Tracks, "Hidden Place", "It's Not Up to You". Fragile, hypnotic and intimate.

An honourable mention goes to Nick Drake who I wrote about in July. I've discovered all three of his albums this year, with 'Bryter Layter' just pipping the others for enjoyment.

A merry and musical Christmas to one and all.

1 comment:

Nik said...

I'm an inspiration! This is a big moment for me.

I love Calexico too, check out their latest Carried To Dust when you get a chance.