A Different Kind of Music List: Best of 2007

It’s that time of year again!

Following our successful outings the past three years, I’m at it again. Here’s our Different Kind of Top 10 Music List for 2007.

If you missed prior versions (2006 and 2005 and 2004), here’s the deal: There are a gazillion Best of Lists out there (and one list to rule them all). But most of these aren’t very relevant to most people. If you have a family, career, hobby, you probably don’t watch 150 films or listening to 200 new CDs each year.

Hence, this list. Rather than cranking out yet another list of CDs you likely never even heard of (much less even heard), I try to create a more useful list: What a
relatively informed music fan has been playing the hell out of all year. While most are circa 2007, we ain’t that strict around here. If it was frequently spinning in the car/ipod/laptop/iMac this past year, it was fair game. Call it my soundtrack for 2007.

Let’s get busy:

Amy Winehouse, Back to Black:

Ignore the personal anguish and tabloid turmoil, and focus on the terrific songs and brilliant voice.

Back_to_blackYet another talented UK vocalist taking her cues from the past, but with a modern twist: Amy Winehouse. Winehouse’s 2nd album, Back to Black, freshens up the classic soul albums with original songs done in the style of the 1950/60’s girl groups. The New Yorker got it just right — “a fierce English performer
whose voice combines the smoky depths of a jazz chanteuse with the
heated passion of a soul singer.”

I despise the mandatory comparo of any new
performer with the greats, but you can say that stylistically, she
falls between Billie Holiday and Ronnie Spector.

I am a sucker for a great retro talent, delving into an older genre and freshening it up (See Bitter:Sweet, James Hunter and Joss Stone) Except for Bitter:Sweet, they all seem to hail from England.

Bonus: If you like Back to Black, you will also find Frank worthy of your attention.


Country Ghetto by JJ Grey & Mofro:


This is one of my favorite discs this year: I was driving home one night, when I hear this sound come oozing
out of the car speakers: A funky, steamy, swamp rock blues number, with
a long intro that finally slid into a great groove: (slide over here and click Turpentine). On the strength of that song, I ordered the disc, and I was not
disappointed. The music is a great cross-breeding experiment across
genres: Start with swamp rock, add some smoldering blues, slip in
vintage soul, and finally, some gospel-fried funk.

“a down-and-dirty delight, and a fine addition to the swamp rock canon” -allmusic.com

“intriguing and fortuitous… The MOFRO vibe travels freely among swamp funk, blues, rock
and soul, and does so with a certain down-and-dirty swagger that’s as
real as it is appealing.”

“A Southern-fried Sly and the Family Stone.” -Don McLees

I found both of Mofro’s earlier discs, Blackwater, and Lochloosa, also intriguing.


Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings: 100 Days 100 Nights

100_days_100_nights_It seems that the ongoing retro trend in music is continuing unabated.

The latest fun is Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings: 100 Days, 100 Nights.  (Amazon is also offering a free MP3 of the title track of the album, no strings attached).

Called the “Queen of Funk,” any fan of 1960s and 70s R&B, Soul, or Motown will find plenty to love about this disc: Sharon Jone’s is in turns, upbeat, smoky, slinky and soulful. This is Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ 3rd album.

Hardcore fans may recognize the Dap-Kings as the backing band for Amy Winehouse – both on the recording and on tour.


•  Rocco DeLuca & The Burden

I_trust_you_to_kill_meThis is the most interesting new rock album I’ve heard in some time: I Trust You To Kill Me. Their sound is original — a jangly roots-rock romp laced with bluegrass and countrified leanings.

I agree with the reviewer who wrote that their bluesy debut album “fairly vibrates on DeLuca’s Dobro steel guitar and throaty wail.”

DeLuca careens from influence to influence, paying homage to his predecessors and then going a step further. The music is flavored with dollops of Jeff Buckley, Coldplay but most of all, Bron Y-Aur Stomp era Led Zeppelin.

I Trust You To Kill Me is one of those rare discs where there in not a single weak cut on the CD.


Bettye LaVette, Scene of the Crime

Bettye LaVette is one of the finest R&B singers of her generation, and behind this disc is one of those haunting stories that only enhances the music contained therein.

Back in 1972, LaVette created an album that Atlantic inexplicably never released. With a mix of pride, sadness and strength, she has discussed how that setback nearly ended her career.

The album title refers to Muscle Shoals’ FAME Studios. That’s where the original Atlantic release was recorded, and LaVette returned to the Scene of the Crime to record this album at the very same Muscle Shoals’ FAME Studio.

Behind her blistering vocals, the backing band is the Drive-by Truckers. Their sparse, rugged R&B, greasy southern roots rock complements her soulful vocals well.

The music is passionate, Lavette is fiery, and the Truckers are tight. A terrific if overlooked disc.


The Hold Steady:


While everyone was buzzing about the new Springsteen album Magic, I want to direct your attention to a band that reminds me a great deal of The Boss of old: The Hold Steady.

On the strength of just a few songs, I picked up Boys and Girls in America.

The song that really reached out and grabbed me was First Night. Pitchfork Media, which called The Hold Steady “America’s #1 bar band,” gave the album a rating 9.4.

Rolling Stone called them “bizarrely touching and insanely original;” while Spin described the disc as “a raucous album rife with heavy guitar licks and more cultural references than Paul’s Boutique.”

The Hold Steady is one of the most interesting and different bands from most of what is people mistakenly call rock and roll these days.


Madeleine Peyroux Careless Love:

Madeleine_peyroux_careless_love_2A friend turned me onto this earlier in the year, and I can’t stop playing it.

Her smoky voice and fresh soulful delivery are perfect for the mix of acoustic blues, country ballads, classic jazz and torch songs she sings.

What makes the disc so sublime is how perfectly the material is suited to her romantic, enchanting, and arresting vocals.  It doesn’t hurt that there’s not a bad cut on it.

The best comparison I can make is to say she falls somewhere between Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker.

Her recent (third) disc, 2006’s Half the Perfect World, is also worth a listen.


Mat Kearney: Nothing Left to Lose

When I first heard this disc, I thought it was Chris Trapper of the Push Stars. But then the album takes an neat turn, eclectically blending a bit of John Mayer and Coldplay pop with with Toby Mac rap. The album bounces around from hip-hop to guitar-friendly pop to alt country to acoustic folk, R&B, with a touch of gospel.

The hook laden melodies, poetic lyrics, and winning vocals made this my favorite pop disc this year. If you heard the song “Undeniable,” you already know why.

What made this so surprising a pick was my learning it was filed under Christian music — that was something I discovered months after I started listening to it. (Quite the surprise).


Rodrigo y Gabriela

Rodrigo_y_gabrielaAnother interesting story — two
Mexican-born heavy-metal fans settle in Dublin, working as street musicians. Eventually, they end upon the top of Ireland’s pop charts.

They integrate South American music with rock
rhythms, mixing Classical and Spanish guitar, and Flamenco  played with an edge.

Their music is vibrant, passionate, and
thoughtful. Surprising instrumental covers of Stairway To Heaven” and “Orion” are both fresh and different

This was my favorite instrumental album this year.


Lily Allen:


Lily Allen had one of the UK’s hottest albums last year, taking Britain by storm in summer 2006 with her debut album Alright, Still
reaching No. 2 on the U.K. Album charts, with her first U.K. single, “Smile,” topping the U.K. Airplay chart for six weeks in a row.

first listen, the music sounds like a cross between bubble gum pop and Reggae. But upon closer listening, one hears sharp lyrics and a feisty wit. She took at different route than Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill.

Instead of bitter invective, Allen relies on her acid tongue and a sly taste for payback. Its fun, nasty, and clever enough to overcome her reed thin voice.

This is my guilty pleasure of 2007 . . .


Radiohead, In Rainbows


How could our review not mention the most innovative album release of the year. Not necessarily the most innovative album, but the way the album was set free: Radiohead allowed
fans to download low-resolution tracks
from the band’s own website, at prices the listener determined themselves.

Radiohead has long been a critical (if not listener) darling, and had this disc not had the musical chops to back up the innovative release format, it would have been merely another footnote in history of the slowly declining recording industry.

Instead, this self-released album was a bold departure from the overwrought, over-complicated previous albums. Guitar-centric compositions, more straight forward rock sound colors the entire recording.

These  are much more user friendly and accessible than some of their prior difficult albums (think OK Computer or Hail to the Thief). There is a delicate, uncomplicated beauty to the songs that stays with you long after the album ends.

Because of the way the band chose to release the album, this disc gets the nod for the album of the year that could change the music business — and scares the living shit out of dying music labels.


John Fogerty, Revival

If you are a fan at all of Creedence Clearwater Revival and/or John Fogerty, then check out some of the tunes on Fogerty’s new disc Revival.

The title — obviously referring to CCR — is his first new disc in three years.

The sound is unmistakably Creedence with bits of swamp rock, blues, country, folk and soul. Fogerty is more than a “just” a great song writer; He comes in at #40 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

My nostalgic pick of the year.


• Favorite Box Set: Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration:
StaxLast year, Concord Music purchased Fantasy Records, and as a bonus, they landed the “bulging Stax catalog.”

For those of you not fans of 1960s/70s Soul music, Stax was one of the richest sources of R&B, Soul and Blues. They were home to such
artists as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, William Bell, and Booker T.

For some reason, they were overshadowed somewhat by Gordy Berry and Motown. This double CD features 50 hit singles from Stax (and Stax-Atlantic) from the labels’ 1960s and ’70s heyday, and attempts to make up some of that ground.

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Colby commented on Dec 27

    Thank you so much for the list. I have been dying to find some new creative albums and you nailed my taste with JJ Grey & Mofro and Rocco DeLuca & The Burden. Thanks again!

  2. Shnaps Parlor commented on Dec 28

    Rodrigo and Gabriela? I thought nobody knew about them! They are a cool and unique sound. You should post some samples from these albums in the blog, Barry.

  3. R.M. commented on Dec 28

    Bettye LaVette is included on MOST of the “best of the year” lists. Same thing last year. Now, she’s nominated for a Grammy Award, I’m praying that she’s triumphant. If anybody deserves to win a prize for her talent as a great singer AND stage performer, it’s Bettye.

  4. steven commented on Dec 28

    there is a band called orgone that put out a soul/afro/funk disc called ‘the killion floor’ on a small label called ubiquity that smokes most if not all of the albums on your list, save the radiohead disc which is really excellent.

    i’m not associated with that band or the label, just trying to get better examples of retro music out there.

  5. SursumTX commented on Dec 28

    Great list! I’m tickled to find a fellow fan of retro-influenced music.

    How did the Radiohead marketing experiment turn out? I haven’t seen any coverage that said what the average price was that people paid.

    Looking forward to your next list.

    PS I’m in Austin, where Rodrigo & Gabriela sadly had to cancel their Austin City Limits Festival appearance, along with Amy Winehouse and the White Stripes. All retro-rockers, all had issues . . . wait . . . do I detect a pattern here? :)

  6. Karl K commented on Dec 28

    Barry —

    Good list, though didn’t Boys and Girls in America come out in 2006?

    I listen to a lot of alternative/indie music — in my view we are in a “golden age” of popular music — and here are my top 10, based on listens (though your indie/alt selections are top notch).

    White Rabbits — Fortnightly
    Just spectacular — Never get tired of listing to it.

    1990s — Cookies
    Channeling the decade of their name in an astonishing fashion

    The White Stripes — Icky Thump
    Jack and Meg do it again.

    Suzanne Vega — Reality and Crime
    Another great addition to a phenomenal body of work–smooth, like a great cognac.

    Ryan Adams — Easy Tiger
    The enfant terrible sobers up for his best record since — well — Heartbreaker.

    Black Lips — Good Bad Not Evil
    We need more songs under 3 minutes! And these guys can give it to us.

    The Fratellis — Costello Music
    In the great tradition of Britpop…let’s hope this genre never dies

    The Clientele — God Save the Clientele
    Listened to this on my iPod while I was in London this summer — wonderfully melodic stuff.

    Arctic Monkeys — Favourite Worst Nightmare
    A tremedous record; great hooks, poweful toe tapping base lines, shrewd and intelligent lyrics/songwriting.

    Spoon — Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
    Slowly, methodically — like their spare and elegant songs — becoming one of the great American bands.

  7. Eren commented on Dec 31

    trying again sorry:


    “Now, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.”

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