Wednesday, December 31, 2008
A Post-Christmas/Pre-New Year Musical Round-Up
Everyone is keen to put this year to bed. Let's put out the old and bring in the new. And keep those paddles revved up: this baby just might need 'em.
But before we roll up our sleeves and get to work on rescuing what we can, it's worth remembering some of the best of last year. The five CDs that received the most play in this house were:
#5 - To Survive by Joan As Police Woman (A, e)
#4 - Harps And Angels by Randy Newman (A)
#3 - Vegas by Martyn Joseph (A, e)
#2 - I, Flathead by Ry Cooder (A)
But the number one most played CD in my house was ... (drum-roll, please) ... Mama Mia!
Oy vey -- to think there ever was a time when I was dying for something -- anything -- to usurp Hairspray. *Sigh* Another reason why I can't wait for the new year to begin.
Whenever I was in charge, however, the number one disc in this house was Just Us Kids by James McMurtry (A, e).
Were I to let Google describe McMurtry's appeal, you'd get attributes like, "Caustic observer of Americana", "Lou Reed from Texas", "Leonard Cohen of the South" etc ... but the man has created his own genre. And though he claims to have made peace with being a "beer salesman" his music is deeply affecting stuff. The "caustic" is what the uninitiated tend to hear first (releasing "Cheney's Toy" as the album's first, free single pretty much sealed the deal). But there's also a depth of human yearning that comes from scraping the bottom of the soul, and listening to what the shadows are whispering when you can't get back to sleep. It might not be as finely balanced in its sensibilities as Childish Things was (A, e), but ... it scratched the most difficult-to-reach aural itch for me. So there it is.
Some other pleasant memories:
Favorite Celeb Singer Interview: Esquire UK with Robert Plant Technically, the interview took place over a year ago, the morning after the Zep reunion, but it wasn't published until February. Nor is it available on-line, alas, but NME has some highlights here. Plant basically says he enjoyed the packed-stadium hoo-ha, but not enough to quit touring the smaller venues with Alison Kraus and T Bone Burnett. You da man, Robert!
This was the year I gave it up to Apple. No, I haven't bought a Mac ... yet. But I did buy a new iPod for my wife. And, resorting to my weenie Windows partition, I went through the bother of installing iTunes. Once the platform was up and running I even used it to purchase a few coveted albums, including the aforementioned Harps And Angels. I reached several glum conclusions:
1) iTunes downloads are as good in sound quality as you'll find below DVD-level releases. Mind you, that's not saying much. I bought H&A via iTunes, gave it a listen, and wondered if the file compression hadn't flattened things out just a little. When I was finally able to hear the CD the quality of sound was exactly the same. Lesson learned: CD production has crapped out. Unless the item I'm after is available on dual-disc, I'll opt out of the CD package and go the iTunes route.
2) The iTunes/iPod synchronization is as close to flawless as a computer sync is likely to get. For Linux users like me, this is the equivalent of Bono walking out on stage, today, with the largest white flag you ever saw. I'm basically admitting that, when it comes to music, Open Source Software is still trailing-edge. There are a lot of fine excuses for this ("Apple has all the money!") but the truth is the truth. Apple rewards music lovers; Open Source rewards code freaks ... seven-point-eight out of ten tries (not that that's a bad thing).
If 2009 were to provide any disposable income, might this be in my foreseeable future?
Worth a closer look:
Volume One by She & Him didn't make the list because I didn't start listening to it until this month. It is very, very good and could well be mentioned again this time next year.
The Hold Steady didn't make the list, just because they were edged out by these other acts. But they deserve more than mention; they deserve Robert Wiersema's post on what their music fucking means.
Happy New Year, all.