Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My Favorite Albums of 2007 by Josh Mallory

Picking 10 is just too hard, so here are my top 11 albums of 2007! It was a slow year for my genre of choice (country) but there was still plenty of great music to be heard. Disagree? Of course you do! Feel free to comment.

11) Herbie Hancock - "River: The Joni Letters"

Anytime you add Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell, I'm a happy man. Here the jazz legend reworks several of Joni's songs with guests vocalists (including Joni herself) and two of her favorite jazz standards. It is beautiful and moving, even if Leonard Cohen peforming a spoken word "The Jungle Line" is odd.

Key tracks: "Edith and the King Pin" with Tina Turner, "

10) Nicole Atkins - "Neptune City"

Not too often a debut album will make my favorites list, but Nicole certainly does with this one. She sounds like indie pop had a baby with Roy Orbison. The album always puts a smile on my face and is easily one of the most listenable albums of the year.

Key tracks: “Maybe Tonight” and “Brooklyn’s On Fire!”

9) Paul McCartney – “Memory Almost Full”

So I’m a big Beatles fan? Sue me. This album is perfect pop. McCartney is one of the great songwriters still alive, and I feel this album demonstrates why. I really don’t know what else to say. If you don’t like Paul, you’re a communist.

Key tracks: “Dance Tonight” and “See Your Sunshine”

8) Wilco – “Sky Blue Sky”

Wilco is the best band going, no doubt about it. This albums backs off from the super experimental side of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and (my personal favorite Wilco album) “A Ghost Is Born”, but the songwriting is excellent and the arrangements are tight. It’s almost like Wilco just needed to prove how excellent they can sound. (For some reason, this album makes me think of whiskey. No clue why.)

Key tracks: “Either Way” and “Shake It Off”

7) Joni Mitchell – “Shine”

I reviewed this for the CW earlier this semester. It’s a reminder of what great lyrics are supposed to be. While not exactly on par with masterpieces like “Blue” “Court and Spark” or “Mingus”, “Shine” shows how lacking modern songwriting has become. The sophisticated jazz arrangements work for every song, including the reworked “Big Yellow Taxi” References to Tennessee Williams and Rudyard Kipling make this an album people over 15 can enjoy.

Key tracks: “Night of the Iguana” “This Place” and “If”

6) Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers – “Gram Parsons Archive: Vol 1”

Recorded in 1969, these concerts (when the original FBB lineup was opening for the Grateful Dead) were finally released this year. The band was raucous and fun, if not always perfectly tight. We get a glimpse into Parson well before his solo albums as he begins to hone his sound. Any country-rock fan should purchase this set immediately.

Key tracks: “Mental Revenge” and “Hot Burrito #1”

5) Bright Eyes – “Cassadaga”

Often dismissed for his early emo posturing, Bright Eyes’ Connor Oberst is coming into his own as he moves toward a country sound. Clearly influenced by Parsons (he has worked with Emmylou Harris in the past), Oberst is getting better with every album. His singing is more confident than ever, and his lyrics are sharp. (Not to mention Gillian Welch and David Rawlings appear on this album!)

Key tracks: “Four Winds” “Classic Cars” “Hot Knives” “Soul Singer In a Session Band”

4) Jonathan Rice – “Further North”

Also coming down from the Parsons musical family tree is Rice, with his excellent album “Further North.” Truth be told, there is nothing groundbreaking here, just one solid track after the other, which is plenty hard to do. Great songwriting grounded in music clearly influenced by Parsons and Led Zeppelin lead to a top 5 album in my book.

Key tracks: “End of the Affair” “Middle of the Road” and “It’s Best to Keep It All Inside”

3) Patty Griffin – “Children Running Through”

The love of my life releases her possibly best album yet. Her powerful voice sometimes gets overshadowed by her lyrical ability. However, here she is allowed to cut loose and really perform. Still an excellent lyricist, Griffin gives us one beautiful sad track after the other. I would say this album is pretty much flawless. Much like Joni Mitchell at points in her career, Griffin is an excellent teller of other people’s stories. This is put to good use on this album in the track “Trapeze.” She also opens up more and gives us more personal songs, however, which is definitely a good thing.

Key tracks: “Stay on the Ride” “No Bad News” and “Trapeze”

2) Spoon – “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”

Austin is well represented (Griffin and Spoon both live there) on this list. This new album is Spoon’s best since “Girls Can Tell,” if you ask me. There isn’t one weak track on an album that I cannot stop listening to. It’s short length leaves the listener longing for more each time its played. Spoon mixes up their sound a bit adding horns.

Key tracks: “The Underdog” “Black Like Me” “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb” and “Finer Feelings”

1) The Avett Brothers – Emotionalism

If you didn’t know this was number one, you don’t know me. I’ve never found myself listening to one album over and over like this one. Right from the start it grabs you, with “Die Die Die.” Every track features tight playing, great harmonies, and never dull lyrics. The band’s sound is so unique and almost perfect on the album. I’ve never heard anyone wail on a banjo quite like this before. If you like rock, country, bluegrass… hell, if you like MUSIC, you should check this one out immediately. You’ll thank me.

Key tracks: “Shame” “Die Die Die” “Paranoia in B Flat Major” and “Will You Return?”

Honorable mention to the White Stripes "Icky Thump," Ryan Adam's "Easy Tiger," Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings' "100 Days, 100 Nights," and Josh Ritter's "Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter."

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