Thursday, December 13, 2007

Casual Listening Best of 2007

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

(Rhapsody subscribers – instructions at the bottom for how to access the Casual Listening 100 playlist)

This is the last post of the year. Thanks to everyone for reading, writing, and supporting the music. See you in 2008!


10 albums, 10 genres, the best music of the year.

1. Radiohead – In Rainbows (rock)

The album of the year. The title is apt, and listening is like swimming in a kaleidoscope of sound. Melodies ache across tumbling prisms with stylized drums and arching guitar lines. Multiple listenings each reveal new visions. Mind-altering music.

2. Herbie Hancock – River: The Joni Letters (jazz)

Moving jazz portraits of Joni Mitchell songs, both hits and hidden treasures. Hancock peels away layer after layer, reminding us just how much music is packed into Mitchell’s tunes. Fantastic guest vocals by Nora Jones, Tina Turner, and Leonard Cohen.

3. Galactic – From the Corner to the Block (rap)

Galactic is proof that New Orleans has a musical future. A brilliant mix of jazz and hip hop, with guest rappers on every track. Rump-shaking funk, with additional background provided by mardi-gras style horn players. Did I mention funky?

4. Chaka Khan – Funk This (R&B)

Wicked syncopation and slow jams from the original funk goddess. A cover of Jimi Hendix’s “Castles Made of Sand” is arguably better than the original. A duet with Mary J. Blige tears the roof off. The new generation of soul singers should take note – this is how it’s done.

5. I’m Not There: Original Soundtrack (folk)

The songs from the upcoming Bob Dylan biopic are an embarrassment of riches. Big names like Eddie Vedder and Jeff Tweedy, living legends like Willie Nelson and Richie Havens, and buzz bands like Iron & Wine and Cat Power all do powerful takes on Dylan. The sounds of these songs are all over the map, but what comes through brilliantly is the emotional bite that you hear in the best of Dylan. If you hate Dylan, this album could change your mind. If you love Dylan, some of these songs will put you in tears.

6. The Silk Road Ensemble – New Impossibilities (classical)

Yo-Yo Ma’s pan-Asian supergroup teams up with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for a mind-opening set of cross-cultural creativity. Eastern instruments such as pipa, sheng, and er-hu join Ma’s cello, a battery of percussion, and occasionally the entire orchestra to create a surprising array of suggestive textures. Several of the pieces are challenging listening, but on balance Silk Road is more accessible than avant-garde.

7. Mike Farris: Salvation in Lights (gospel)

The former frontman of the Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies got sober, got religion, and got really, really good. He does several classic spirituals and hymns in a blues-gospel style backed with a choir and a horn section. He’s the rare singer with the pipes to pull it off, and it’ll take everything you’ve got not to start dancing on your chair to some of these songs.

8. Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Ten Days Out (blues)

When this guitar prodigy turned 30 last year, he packed up a band and a film crew and headed for blues country to play with some of the last living blues legends, many approaching three times his age. They recorded in kitchens, backyard barbecues, and juke joints, capturing styles old and new in their natural surroundings. This album is a ticket to a private concert with some of the finest blues artists you’ve never heard of and may never hear again. Four of the musicians that appear here are no longer with us.

9. M.I.A. – Kala (world)

Revolutionary dance tracks that draw influences from all over the globe. Snippets of Bollywood, Jamaican dancehall, Techno, and Dijeridoo, to name just a few. Music twenty years ahead of its time.

10. Steve Earle – Washington Square Serenade (country)

Everything you’ve come to expect from Steve Earle – gutsy vocals, catchy songwriting, pointed satire, and folksy tributes. The arrangements are unexpectedly urbane, with electronic samples scattered among the mandolins. Earle has always been an iconoclast, and seems equally at ease in a New York soundscape as in a Texas one.

Rhapsody Subscribers: Go to playlist central, decade mixes. Scroll to the bottom and click See More. Click the Most Recent button. Scroll down to find “Casual Listening 100 – Best of 2007,” published December 13. Play it and rate it!

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