[Choice Cut is my clever little name for the Long Cut year-end series chronicling the best of everything for 2006.]
Just in time for the WXPN 2006 best album of 2006 poll (lists are due midnight tonight). Mucho cribbing from my RIYL write-ups, where available (I didn't start writing those things until April).
10. Beth Orton Comfort of Strangers
Orton avoids staleness by dropping her usual electronica-lite backgrounds for folk-lite backgrounds on this disc that came out earlier this year. The new sound seems to highlight her angelic voice better. I'm a sucker for angelic voices. [RIYL 12]
09. Neil Young Living With War
Neil puts a big ol' boot in Dubya's ass and manages to make quality music while he's at it. [RIYL 3]
08. Alejandro Escovedo The Boxing Mirror
It was a sound that just hit you like a truck - absolutely amazing all-out rock and roll. For the second half of the show Escovedo switched to an acoustic guitar and the viola and violin were used to support some beautiful Chicano-influenced ballads. While the music was quieter, the sound of band remained strong. [From my review of his Free-at-Noon concert back in June, which featured songs from this album.]
07. Bruce Springsteen We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
This one pre-dated my little RIYL descriptions, so I'll try to think of
something to say about it now:
Every once in a while, it seems Springsteen likes to take a step away from his more mainstream stuff and do something a little different. After the top-40 friendly The River came the quiet masterpiece Nebraska, and after the bigger-than-life Born in the USA came the softer, more personal Tunnel of Love. After the heavier The Rising and Devils and Dust, Bruce put out this rollicking collection of Pete Seeger "inspired" covers this year. Filled with old-timey odes, ballads and protest songs, Springsteen makes an album that sounds like it was recorded back in the days of 78's, yet never sounds dated and never gets old. Fun stuff.
06. The Capitol Years Dance Away the Terror
05. Birdie Busch The Ways We Try
The sound is crisp and original and the lyrics are full of fleshed out stories that never become overwrought. What really makes the music stand out, and what gets it stuck in you head, is its playfulness. The band sounds like it had a ball making the record - most of the songs sound as though they are being sung through a smile - and that fun is infectious. A real change of pace from ordinary folk music. [RIYL 27]
04. Bob Dylan Modern Times
Other than a few feisty numbers, the disc is filled with beautiful old-timey laid-back slow blues. Even the peppier songs have that very un-modern touch; sounding at times like they could have come from the Sun Studio vault. [RIYL 19]
03. The Pernice Brothers Live a Little
Most [of my downloaded] mp3s will kind of just play in the background until one pops up that gets my attention so much that I have to stop and take a peek to see who it's by. That seems to happen a lot with the Pernice Brothers songs that are on my hard-drive. They excel at melodic pop songs, and I'm a sucker for melodic pop songs. [RIYL 24]
02. Neko Case Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Another one that I've never written anything about:
I'm really surprised this one ended up so high on my list, but week after week I found that I liked Case's sound too much to take her album off of my RIYL list (one of a handful of discs that have been on every one of those lists). At a time when everyone seems to be channeling Loretta Lynn (see: Lewis, Jenny), Case is the only one whose voice commands your attention the same way Lynn's does (Loretta's Van Lear Rose was my #1 album of 2004). They say that Case's lyrics are a bit out there, but I'm too busy enjoying her singing to listen to the words.
01. Cat Power The Greatest
Yet another album lacking the Long Cut RIYL treatment:
How appropriate that my number one pick of the year is already titled The Greatest. This disc came out in January, and right from the start this top slot belonged to Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) until something greater than the Greatest came along. But in the end, nothing came close.
It doesn't surprise me that Marshall went down to Memphis to record with some of that city's great backing musicians of the past, because the result reminds me very much of Dusty Springfield's Dusty in Memphis. Dusty wasn't afraid to belt out some of her Memphis tunes, but Chan (she pronounces it "Shawn," by the way) gets her message across in a whisper. The results the same though: beautiful and heartbreaking music that demands your attention.
The near misses of 2006:
My Morning Jacket Okonokos, Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3 ...tick...tick...tick, Yo La Tengo I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Kick Your Ass, Jed and Lucia Candles in Daylight, the Heavy Blinkers The Night and I are Still So Young, Mates of State Bring It Back, and Jenny Lewis Rabbit Fur Coat.