Friday, January 04, 2008 ... 3:20 PM

Brendan's 2007 lists

My favorite new albums of 2007, some disappointing new albums of 2007, and a few favorite discoveries from years past. Cross-posted at

Top 8 Albums of 2007

8. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: 100 Days, 100 Nights
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings continue to do that thing they do. I'm the last to catch on as usual, but happy I caught on at all. Now I have to catch up.

7. Mighty Ghosts of Heaven: Mighty Ghosts of Heaven
Mighty Ghosts of Heaven call up Bascom Lamar Lunsford and Moonshine Kate on the Ouija board of an open-back banjo, and take a roll in the hay with Old-Time string band music, and they do it with so much joy and verve it's impossible not to remember that some of our smilingest moon-faced moonshine music came out of a Great Depression.

6. The Sadies: New Seasons
The Sadies zero in on their heretofore neglected deftness with lyric and melody and come up with their first album that doesn't sag or lag between peaks in their instrumental acrobatics. Pure distilled Bigsby-bent energy.

5. PJ Harvey: White Chalk
Polly takes it down a notch and delivers her strongest album since To Bring You My Love.

4. Nina Nastasia & Jim White: You Follow Me
Nina overcomes partner Jim White's Throw-My-Drums-Down-the-Stairs technique to deliver the strongest PJ Harvey album since Rid of Me.

3. Josh Ritter: The Historical Conquests of ...
"The Temptation of Adam" threatens to crack beneath the weight of its cleverness. Each progressively cute couplet creaks the rafters. But that last line is so haunting, so chilling -- both beautiful and horrifying. With that tune and the rollicking first track, Josh reminds us that right up to apocalypse, be it Biblical or nukular (or both, as our case might be), boys and girls will continue to fall in love and sing songs to get each other into bed. That assertion of the essentially carnal human spirit, both gentle and animal, is comforting in this gloomy age of the decline of our empire.

2. Eilen Jewell: Letters From Sinners & Strangers
Eilen, with a voice made of liquor and wildflowers and a band of crack sidemen that would comfortably back either Patsy Cline or Rose Maddox, uncovers an astonishing treasure of melodies from the same three-chord creek in which American songsters have been panning for gold a century or longer.

1. Wilco: Sky Blue Sky
Yeah, it's sort of a boring pick. I didn't mean for it to be my favorite 2007 album. But I put it on the car stereo around Christmastime, for the first time since the early Summer, and I realized that I knew all the words to all the songs, and felt as though I always had. I think it's no coincidence that on the heels of their tour promoting this record, which itself plays like a career retrospective, Wilco have forted up at home in Chicago to play through their entire back catalogue, one album at a time. Sky Blue Sky feels like the end of a decade-long ride, and I'm curious as hell to see where they go next.

* * *

Disappointing Albums of 2007

Grant-Lee Phillips's half-baked Strangelet disappointed, too heavy on the rocknroll drums and curiously light on the loving lyrical tangles that made Virginia Creeper Grant-Lee's best album before or after the Buffalo. For its stray moments of melodic invention (listen to the second line of the first track's chorus), and for its bombast that suggests Buffalo nostalgia, I considered tacking Strangelet on for a number 9. I would still follow Phillips's luxurious and raggedy voice over the edge of a waterfall, but comparing Strangelet to similar artist Josh Ritter's pretty amazing Historical Conquests ... they just aren't in the same league. C'mon, G-L, you can do better.

Meanwhile, with At the End of Paths Taken, Cowboy Junkies made a third much-diminished return to their 2001 peak album Open. They do this every six or seven years: one great album and its several receding ripples. Maybe their next record will make the next big splash.

After their deeply affecting previous two albums, Okkervil River's The Stage Names felt flimsy and forced to me, unable to sustain the weight of its own whininess.

And if I may indulge a moment in contrarian blogger snark: The Everybodyfields? Somebody hand these kids a mop. Jesus Christ. I agree that life is full of suffering -- but damp, lacy Victorian bathos like Nothing Is Okay is partly why.

* * *

5 eMusic Explorations

Why top 8? Well I'm sure there'd have been two more new albums I'd have loved this year if I had heard them, but I spent so much time riffling around in eMusic's dusty shelves and drawers and shadowy eaves, I think I ought to spend some space reporting on a few of the nuggets I discovered there this year.

Band of Blacky Ranchette: "Getting It Made"
Howe Gelb's oddball country music side project wobbles in quality across a full album, but Neko Case's gusty melodic contribution to this country-pop tune made it one of my iPod favorites this year.

Alela Diane: "Dry Grass and Shadow"
A hay-flavored slice of New Weird American pie, Diane's honey-sunny apple orchard voice turns her words over and over to taste their consonants and connotations. Her album The Pirate's Gospel wears itself out early thanks to the sameness of its bare-guitar texture, but this fully fleshed single is an expert-cut little gem.

Corrina Repp: "Safe Place in the World"
Somewhere I read that she's a combination Neko Case and Portishead, so, you know -- I was right there. Turns out Repp is more Nico than Neko: cold and alien, though still dampened enough by rainy Northwestern hominess to soften her snooty Mod influences. She tends toward moody more than groovy, but this tune grooves in its spacey way, like Nancy Sinatra heard through Martian underwater radio.

Simon Joyner: "You Don't Know Me"
Soul-scarringly bleak, this Bright Eyes forebear sings like Lou Reed if Lou Reed were an Omaha hobo. The backing band sound like Patti Smith's band on Horses, hard-edged, strung-out and hungry, only with cowboy hats. Oh but there's so much jaw-dropping poetry and honest emotion brimming across the whole despair-dazed record, it's worth plumbing the unremitting grimness. Just don't listen to it if you're already feeling lousy, because it will stifle your last breath of hope. Oh and don't listen to it if you're in a good mood, because its pelt of freezing rain will break up your parade and follow you home and into your bed and beneath your covers and into your dreams. Powerful stuff.

Karen Dalton: "Same Old Man"
The late Middle Weird America matron too late catching a piece of long-owed recognition in 2007, thanks to eMusic's promotion and a spot on Oxford American's Southern Music CD, Dalton worked mainly on pedal steeled-up Memphis soul, to uneven results, ranging from exemplary to what my wife rightly characterized as Bad Karaoke ("When a Man Loves a Woman"). But it's Dalton's pair of banjo tunes on this cult classic album In My Own Time that rappel most deeply the steep misty face of Amerian folk music. The clawhammer "Katie Cruel" and up-picked "Same Old Man" seem to belong to no time period at all, but only to the ground beneath their feet, reminding me most of Washington Irving's supernatural Alleghenia, sowed with the blood of warring Europeans and enslaved Africans and thousands of years of Native Americans, and growing these strange mushrooms, hallucinogenic and bitter.



Jesus H. Why didn't I know about Simon Joyner before? Thanks, Boney.

By Blogger Rusty, at 1/06/2008 9:12 AM  

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Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas
(Novello Festival Press, April 2008)
includes my essay, "Link Wray"


Flop Eared Mule
The Celestial Monochord
Dig and Be Dug in Return
Modern Acoustic Magazine / Blog
The Old, Weird America
Honey, Where You Been So Long?

The Greensboro Review
Mixed Animal
Night Train
Fried Chicken and Coffee
Mungo (This was the blog of my friend, the late Cami Park. Miss you, Cami.)
Staccato Fiction
PANK Magazine

Cat and Girl
Film Freak Central