A Different Kind of Music List: The Anti-“Best of 2005”

Its that time of year!

Following our successful outing last year, I’m at it again. Here’s my Different Kind of Top 10 Music List for 2005.

If you missed last year’s version, here’s the deal: This isn’t a list of the BEST OF 2005 CDs; Instead, its a list of what a relatively informed music fan has been playing the hell out of. Consider it an "anti-Best of 05" list.

Let’s be honest: neither you nor I listen to 1000s (or even 100s) of new releases each year. That makes us unqualified to put out a true "Best of 2005" list (not that this minor disqualification stops all that many other pundits). Instead, this is a list of CDs that actually got listened to a whole lot this past year. Some are brand new, some recent, some fairly old.  But they were my soundtrack for 2005. 

Two new notes this year:  I’ve avoided a handful of obvious hits: Bigger Bang and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb are great discs — but you don’t need me to tell you that.

After last year’s list, a friend mentioned that he was surprised to see so little Jazz on my list, given what a big fan I am. So this year, I am splitting the Top 10 into two groupings:  Rock/Pop, and Jazz.

Here is my different Top 10 list (plus Jazz) for 2005:



Garden State: Soundtrack from the Motion Picture
: Garden State

Simply a wonderful collection of songs. I played the hell out of this all year — and it stood up well to the repeated listenings.

Sometimes, a soundtrack works so well with a movie, it fails to stand on its own. Not so with this disc — its a pleasant surprise that it works so well as a CD. Excepting the opener by Coldpay, and an odd choice of a Paul Simon song (which works better in the movie than on the soundtrack), I knew very little of the bands or tunes on this fabulous collection. I doubt you will either.

The disc also had my very favorite cover this year: a version of Postal Service’s Such Great Heights —  last year’s winner — by Iron & Wine   

This forces you to listen a little harder, to explore, pay attention. Its well worth it — the bands on the disc are terrific — and just about each track can lead you to a potentially new CD.

This was my favorite disc of the year.
~ ~ ~

Josh Rouse: Nashville
: Nashville

I would never have heard of Josh Rouse if a friend didn’t give me a mixed disc that had some of his work on it. Nashville is his 7th disc, which kinda surprised me. Its odd that you are more likely to hear music you like these days on TV than Radio (This song was on Grey’s Anatomy).

While accessible at first listen, the music really grew on me with repeated hearings. Its beautifully written and arranged, more sophisticated than typical pop songs. I wouldn’t have thought that violins and pedal steel guiter work well together — but they do. And its mellow enough that Mrs. Big Picture doesn’t object to it played loud in the car (as opposed to the aforementioned Bigger Bang or Atomic Bomb). Winter in the Hamptons was one of my favorite tunes of the year.

His other CDs are worth hearing — in particular, Under Cold Blue Stars and 1972. But Nashville was the one that really grabbed me, and never let go.
~ ~ ~

Fiona Apple Extraordinary Machine

: Extraordinary Machine

I was never a big Fiona fan — until this CD came out. You may recall that I was captivated
by the pre-release of this disc. This is her most compelling music since Tidal. Its intriguing, ambitious, oddly haunting — and beautiful.

When I heard that the disc was finally going to be let loose by
Sony, I feared they would neuter it. Truth be told, the actual official
release is pretty good. I still prefer the moodier, odder
instrumentation on the original, but this is a very fine effort.
~ ~ ~

Morecheeba  Charango

: Charango

A cool melange of trip hop, electronica, pop and world music, this is one of those discs that I found a year or two after it came out. The "evocative nuevo-lounge and dreamy ambience" just slayed me.

There’s not a bad cut on the disc, and it works on different levels — background atmosphere or upfront toonage. Tom Lanham summed it up perfectly:  "This whole Bristol sound thing,
with sleepy techno beats overshadowed by the chirrupy vocals of some slumberland chanteuse."
All of their prior CDs — Big Calm or Who Can You Trust — have the same airy, etheral vibe.

You may heard the tongue-in-cheek radio single Women Lose Weight (featuring Slick Rick) — that’s very atypical of the band, so don’t expect more of that on any of these CDs
~ ~ ~

Bettye Levette   I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise

: I've Got My Own Hell to Raise

Gritty yet sophisticated, Levette rasps out bluesy gospel interpretations of an eclectic assortment of songs. She covers Dolly Parton, Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, Lucinda Williams, Joan Armatrading, Rosanne Cash, and Sinead O’Connor, and in many cases, improves upon the originals.

Levette’s vocals drip of a world weariness that was not present in the original versions, and the songs are revealed as all the better for it. You can practically hear the smoke and booze on her vocal cords. A kick ass backing band rounds out the sound.

This is my answer to last year’s bluesy choice, Thickfreakness. It also is my favorite disc by an artist I should have heard of a long time ago, but never did.
~ ~ ~

Matisyahu  Live At Stubbs
: Live At Stubbs

Download this song (Don’t worry, its a legal Amazon MP3). Give it a good listening to. Really impressive Reggae, right?

Now:  Try to picture what this guy looks like — visualize the
dreadlocks, the beard, the multicolor Rasta hat, a big spleef hanging out of the side of his mouth.

Except, no. Matisyahu is not a Jamaican from Kingston, churning out traditional reggae. He is actually an orthodox Jew (?!) — his website is called hasidicreggae.com. That doesn’t take away from the beatbox, reggae infused jams he kicks out — it just makes him more interesting, in an odd sort of way.

That he has a kickass trio behind him doesn’t hurt either.

Best deal? $5.99, shipping included at yourmusic.com
~ ~ ~


Jack Johnson  Brushfire Fairytales
: Brushfire Fairytales

This is Jack Johnson’s debut CD (its inclusion here is another follow up to one of last year’s picks, Johnson’s On & On).

From the first cut Inaudible Melodies, to the fan favorite Bubble Toes, to the haunting and beautiful The News, it is a terrific and compelling disc all the way through.

Johnson is potentially the musical heir to singer/songwriters such as James Taylor: He writes and performs his own songs, all of which are deceptively simple, lovely, well-crafted pop ditties. He has a warm and comfortable stage presence (I just ordered the DVD A Weekend At The Greek & Live In Japan), and obviously enjoys performing live.

He’s been quite the busy boy:  touring, and his 3rd disc — In Between Dreams — is also worth a listen. If JJ’s career trajectory follows that of JT’s, we could be listening to Jack Johnson for the next 30 years . . .   
~ ~ ~

Chuck Prophet    No Other Love
: No Other Love

Here’s a tough to categorize artist — I hear Elvis Costello and Beck, with some Tom Petty and Dylan thrown for good measure. If you are looking for something acccessible yet off the beaten path, No Other Love is a good place to start.

His most recent disc Age of Miracles, was very well recieved, but I haven’t gotten around to hearing it yet. 
~ ~ ~

The Who   BBC Sessions
: The BBC Sessions

Here’s a glimpse into one of the greatest pure rock and roll bands ever to come out of Great Britain. They were so tight, whether playing songs from their own awesome catalogue, or covers of other people’s work. Check out their covers of "Good Lovin" and "Dancing in the Street" — long before the Dead ever got a hold of them.

Is it just me, or has The Who always been an under rated "Super Group?" The don’t seem to get the credit they deserve relative to the Beatles, The Stones or Led Zeppelin.

Peter Townsend and Roger Daltrey will be touring next year; If you are a Who fan, than grab this disc (it’s  under $4 used at Amazon). I will definitely be going.
~ ~ ~

thepartyparty by RX


I listened to less mash ups this year than last, but the one that got major Podplay was the insanely creative, brilliant, eclectic — and definitely not politically correct — thepartyparty from RX.

Its a subversive remix of political speeches from Bush, Kerry, Clinton, Cheney, et. al. The language may offend the weaker kneed amongst you, but I found it utterly fascinating  — and strangely addictive.

Favorite cuts:  my name is rx, imagine (walk on the wild side), who’s the nigga?, Dick is a Killer, birthday (partypartymix), and Happy RxMas & a Whole Lotta Love.  Note: this may take a few listenings to get into — don’t just play a snippet, and dismiss it out of hand — give at least those few songs mentioned a solid hearing . . . 

If you have any intertest in remixes, hip hop or mash ups,   you’ll grow to really like this one.
~ ~ ~


You either are a Jazz fan or not. So rather than lecture you on the merits of Jazz, I’ll just post a brief synopsis of my favorite jazz acquisitions this year (including several box sets and rarities).

~ ~ ~
Joe Williams   Havin’ a Good Time

: Havin' a Good Time

Joe Williams gets less attention than many of the other Jazz greats — and that’s a shame. His voice is a honey-covered mellifluous instrument, and he uses it to great effect on Jazz standards. Joe also swings with the best of them.

The story of this disc is that Joe and the Trio were in Providence, RI for a week’s worth of shows at a club, when the town got hit with a blizzard. Surprisingly, enough locals showed up for the gig that they decided "the show must go on." Jazz saxophonist Ben Webster (a jazz great in his own right) was in the audience, Sax in hand, and asked to sit in. Fortunately, someone (the club?) had a tape running.       

While Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings is a bettere known disc, Havin’ a Good Time is a great way to discover a terrific, lesser known Jazz vocalist.
~ ~ ~

Chet Baker   My Funny Valentine
: My Funny Valentine

I "discovered" Chet Baker’s vocals this year — he was primarily known as a Jazz trumpeter, the "epitome of cool jazz."

His lyrical approach to ballads, with its odd phrasing and melancholy soul, to be fresh — even today. His voice is distinctive, alternately fragile or charming, depending upon the song.

Perhaps you will agree with the reviewer who noted his "singing is a double of his trumpet playing here, spare and barely present but achieving much through nuance and suggestion."

This is a charming album you will find yourself coming back to during long winter nights.
~ ~ ~

John Pizzarelli Trio   Live at Birdland
: Live at Birdland

In addition to the terrific musicianship this album displays, Live at Birdland reveals John Pizzarelli to be quite the raconteur, regaling the audience with amusing tales between songs.

On a long ride out to the Greenport (near Orion Point), I found myself not only enjoying the music, but chuckling repeatedly to this.

If you don’t know John Pizzarelli, this is a terrific introduction.
~ ~ ~

Mose Allison Trilogy:  High Jinks

I’m a huge Mose Allison fan, and so when I came across this rare boxed set used (for a reasonable price), I grabbed it. This may be a bit eclectic for those who don’t know Mose; He has a huge catalogue

You can start with Tell Me Something: The Songs Of Mose Allison. Its a fantastic tribute disc featuring Van Morrison, Georgie Fame and Ben Sidran. Its a great collection of tunes, very accessible.

From there, you can move on to Your Mind Is on Vacation or Ever Since the World Ended. Of course, you can’t go wrong with the Best of as a way to start. I also really liked   The Mose Chronicles: Live in London, Vol. 1 and Live in London, Vol. 2.    

~ ~ ~
Julie London  Cry Me a River
: Cry Me a River

A friend turned me on to Julie, and I came away impressed. She was better known as a blonde bombshell who appeared in numerous films in the 40 and 50s, and eventually, played a nurse in the 70s tv series Emergency (kinda before my time).

She has a wonderful lounge singer’s attittude, combined with a smoky, jazz singer’s voice.  Some reviewers have put her in the same category as Ella, Sarah, or Billie. I;’m not willing to go that far, but its a debate worth having. And she’s more than a crooner; She’s a Blues/Jazz/lounge singer whose voice is infused with a compelling sexuality. 

You don’t have to start with the 3 disc box set — try Time for Love – The Best of Julie London. Its a worthy addition for any Jazz  fans’ collection . . .
~ ~ ~

Jazz at the Pawnshop

This is a really interesting Jazz combo from Europe; I don’t know why it lists for $53 at Amazon, or why it sells used for $30.

This will be one of the few times you ever hear me say this: Find someone who has one, and make a copy of it.

But for cryin’ out loud, no CD is worth $53!

~ ~ ~

Jimmy Scott:  Holding Back the Years
: Holding Back the Years

Jimmy Scott is a male jazz ballad singer whose voice has been called "unearthly," "uniquely androgynous," and "capable of marvelous subtlety."

His unusually high voice will surprise, as will his selection of music, ranging from John Lennon to Prince. I found his version of  Simply Red’s "Holding Back the Years" to be a soulful, melancholy affair.

Credit for (attempting) to bring Scott to a wider audience goes to Ray Charles, who produced an album for him in 1962 — only to see it get tied up in litigation.

My favorite reviewer quote:  "Scott’s high, lonesome, silky instrument that can wring tears out of the most cold-hearted cad."

If you would rather hear classic American songs rather than more modern covers, than the disc All the Way might be more to your liking…

~ ~ ~

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Jonathan commented on Dec 29

    Glad to see Matisyahu made your list. I agree, the reggae is good, but the premise is even better. Excellent choice! I look forward to listening to your other choices.


  2. Andy Nardone commented on Dec 29

    Violins are just fiddles putting on airs, so they work great on “Nashville.” I caught Pizzarelli at Birdland earlier this month and he’s wonderful live, really working the room. Seeing him play along with his 80 year old dad, jazz great Bucky Pizzarelli, was priceless.

  3. Phoenix Woman commented on Dec 29

    The reason Jazz at the Pawnshop is so high priced is because it’s considered an audiophile classic — though among hardcore jazzers it’s considered, musically anyway. to be watered-down neutered tripe. It’s the one album most often cited when somebody starts ranting about How Audiophiles Don’t Listen To Decent Music. (Of course, this rant ignores a whole galaxy of well-recorded well-done stuff from Pink Floyd to Miles Davis to the RCA stereo recordings of the late ’50s and early ’60s, but hey…)

  4. David Silb commented on Dec 29

    Matisyahu, good call. A great album. I like it a lot.

    I also like Damian Marley’s Welcome to Jamrock.

    That’s ofcourse if anyone’s interested in my opinion.

  5. Norman commented on Dec 29

    The Great Joe Williams, if you please. At age 18 I heard him & Count Basie at the Blue Note in Chicago, twice. Couldn’t believe that a wet behind the ears high schooler could be right in the middle of something that fantastic. Big, big, great, great band in a little room. Thrilling. So, now when I play my JW’s and CB’s I relive that experience.

  6. Barry Ritholtz commented on Dec 29

    I saw him years ago in what was the Winter Garden atrium of the World Financial Center (west of the World Trade Center, on the river).

    I was there for a courtesy interview at Merrill Lynch — wnet down to the Atrium afterwards, saw the Great Joe Williams, and hung around for his entire show. Amazing!

    You can see what it looks like here

  7. brendon commented on Dec 29

    Forget Jack Johnson, check out Sufjan Stevens.

  8. howard commented on Dec 29

    The Jimmy Scott/Ray Charles collaboration has been issued by Rhino, in a limited edition, and it is beautiful. you can find it here:


    your jazz tastes are a little more mainstream than mine, but i’d hardily recommend ravi coltrane’s in flux nonetheless.

    and, of course, it’s been another killer year for hiphop singles, but that doesn’t seem to be part of your list, so we’ll let them go by….

  9. blue commented on Dec 29

    Hey, what about the recently discovered and released Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane? That was the only ‘must have’ on my Christmas list and I just burned through it a couple times, instant classic. Trane and Monk at Carnegie!

  10. howard commented on Dec 29

    blue, you’re absolutely right about the monk/trane recording.

    and our host has pointed out to me that while the rhino link for the jimmy scott/ray charles rhino edition is still active, the limited edition has sold out, and you now have to pay more than $30 to get it….

  11. nate commented on Dec 29

    I listened to the BoDeans (“Joe Dirt Car”) this year. I literally was driving around Idaho for the first time in my life while listening to to the song “Idaho”. The dirt road driving over the mountains and into Sun Valley from the east is a great time in the summer (it is probably closed in the winter but I am not sure).

  12. Dan commented on Dec 30

    Your hip hop selections suck.

  13. Peter O commented on Dec 30

    The Who was a great band for a while in the 60s, but Daltrey is definitely the weak link. More of a yeller than a singer for sure. Freeeeee me. Ouch.

  14. Andrew C commented on Jan 3

    You need to listen to metal and hard rock. You missed dozens of incredible records.

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