Thursday, December 18, 2008

Casual Listening - Best Albums of 2008

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

December 19, 2008

I’m having fun putting together end-of-the-year playlists for you – expect those in about two weeks. Between now and then, you’ll get a special Christmas edition, and this week’s feature:

Best Albums of 2008

1. Mavis Staples – Live: Hope at the Hideout (gospel)

The sound of the rebirth of hope in America. One of the best gospel voices of the last half-century makes the civil rights movement sing again. The live versions of these freedom songs are an order of magnitude more powerful than last year's studio release "We'll Never Turn Back." I fell for this album a week ago when I first heard it, but in the days after Obama's election these songs sound different. There's a whole new resonance to "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize" when a piece of that prize has been won. Goosebumps, goosebumps, and more goosebumps.

Listen to Mavis Staples "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize"

2. Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra – Harriet Tubman (jazz)

An ambitious and profound jazz opus, in a category with Gershwin and Ellington in its appeal to both classical and jazz sensibilities. Labeled a “jazz oratorio,” Shelby combines a big band with a chorus, and draws material across the jazz tradition from basic blues to oblique chords to tell the story of the great Underground Railroad conductor. This is one for the ages.

Listen to Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra “Freedom Trail

3. Chuck Ragan & Austin Lucas – Bristle Ridge (country)

Achingly beautiful string band balladry. Thick country-gospel harmonies overlay clawhammer banjo, fiddle, and mandolin. These musicians represent the new generation of folk in the best of the American tradition, sans prefixes like "freak" or "anti."

Listen to Chuck Ragan and Austin Lucas "Judgement Day"

4. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (folk)

Quiet intensity of lush vocal harmonies over a simple guitar. Gorgeous songs to curl up with on a snowy night.

Listen to Bon Iver “Skinny Love

5. Gnarls Barkley – The Odd Couple (R&B)

Gnarls Barkley throws down the gauntlet on nothing less than the reinvention of soul music. The original soul drew heavily on church traditions, and here the electric organ, choral singing, and a revivalist tone are evident. For being such a precisely produced record, the percussion sounds organic: drum kits, handclaps, shakers, and claves. This album also contains some of the most danceable tracks since Chubby Checker did the Twist. I can only hope that in 30 years, the wedding song that brings all ages onto the dance floor is by Gnarls Barkley.

Listen to Gnarls Barkley “Run [I’m a Natural Disaster]

6. Left Lane Cruiser – Bring Yo’ Ass to the Table (blues)

Left Lane Cruiser's high-voltage blues sound is downright nasty. Blistering electric slide guitar and leering vocals distill old-school Mississippi blues down to its rowdiest essence. This band has some major mojo.

Listen to Left Lane Cruiser “Set Me Down

7. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! (rock)

Sinister and smart, this album rolls up noise, attitude, and libido into one explosive package. Nick Cave hasn't lost the jagged edge that makes good rock & roll dangerous art.

Listen to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Albert Goes West

8. John Zorn – The Last Supper: Filmworks XXII (classical)

Zorn draws on ancient polyphony and modern harmony to create a gorgeous film score. The resonance of five voices and occasional drums opens a sacred space that alternates between the transcendent and the primal, a sort of A Capella "Rite of Spring."

Listen to John Zorn "Dance for the Vernal Equinox"

9. The High Decibels – The High Decibels (rap)

Sherman, set the Way Back Machine to 1986, to the endless party that was the golden age of hip-hop. The High Decibels recapture the fat beats, scratch DJ fills, and stay-out-all-night lyrics of the era. Guitar riffs throughout connect the duo to even older rivers of blues.

Listen to The High Decibels “That Dude

10. Buena Vista Social Club – Buena Vista Social Club at Carnegie Hall (world)

A decade after the fact, you can finally hear what all the fuss about BVSC was about. The pristine production of the original studio release made these masters of Cuban son sound like a museum piece instead of a dance party. The concert recording has the hot sound and live energy that characterize the roots of salsa. If BVSC is still on your "I should listen to that someday" list, listen today, and listen to them live.

Listen to Buena Vista Social Club “El Cuarto de Tula

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great list, however, Bon Iver was released in 2007