Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Annual Turnover Review of CD Releases

Well, this is now something of a misnomer as the last instalment of my annual 5 per year choices was just after 2009 had ground to a halt. But in the interests of completeness, let’s see if we can bring things up to date.

In our age of itunes and digital downloads, when songs are sold individually, I like to think there is still artistic merit in an album as a whole, sequenced with due purpose, and to be listened to in order and at one sitting. My choices are made with that approach in mind.

So, for 2010, the following set off the ding-dongs for me:

7 Walkers – Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann teams up with Papa Mali and George Porter Jr for some great N’Awleans funky swamp-soaked originals, largely collaborations between Papa Mali and Robert Hunter. This has grown on me steadily, a truly pulsating album. When George’s bass erupts about a minute into Chingo you’d better be holding on to something solid.

Exile On Main Street – The Rolling Stones – This is how remastering should be done. It leaps out of the speakers in staggering, swaggering detail. And there’s a whole new album worth of extras that, incredibly, are almost up to the quality of the rest of it. Unexpectedly brilliant.

Wake Up The Nation – Paul Weller – Fantastic blast from someone at the peak of his powers. 22 Dreams started it for me, then this.

Tin Can Trust – Los Lobos – A truly sublime delight, Los Lobos have maintained a thread of quality through all they do, and this is a great set of songs. They have grown together for many years and it shows. If you ever get the chance to see them live, sell your first-born and rat on your assignations to be there.

Patchwork River – Jim Lauderdale – After nearly ten years a second album of collaborations between Robert Hunter (all lyrics) and Jim Lauderdale with top-notch session players (Al Perkins, James Burton). The first track is a glorious celebration of the grittiness of being.

And for 2011, these ones tickled my pork chop:

An Appointment with Mr Yeats – The Waterboys – Why hadn’t I previously listened to The Waterboys? No reason; I just hadn’t. I saw this CD at a reasonable price so decided to give it a go. I think that poetry set to music is usually just plain wrong – lyrics are a different animal. Yes, there are areas of overlap, but generally it’s all a bit twee. Not this time! This is amazing. Obviously a labour of love, and stunningly realised. I haven’t been this captivated by a new album since 1842. Every note is vital, and even well-known poems morph into something even greater.

Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down – Ry Cooder – Ry has been the byword for quality for so long, you’d think he’d be getting sterile by now. Not a bit of it; a left-wing confrontation with the rampant greed now destroying American society and spreading its tentacles around the globe. An engaging, wry, humanistic approach that is as good an antidote as any. And superbly played, as you’d expect.

Europe ’72 vol. 2 – The Grateful Dead – A 2 disc set culled from their greatest tour as a companion to the original album, no repeats from previous official releases, including Dark Star and The Other One? I wondered whether this was designed just for me. Crystal clear sound throughout, capturing every nuance of that liquid interplay by the whole band, shows them at their best, young and vigourous, exploratory, utterly unique.

Pablo Alto – I should immediately qualify this review by letting on that John Rose, who records under the Pablo Alto moniker, is a fellow member of Echo Road and that I have co-written two of the songs on this set. That said, this works brilliantly. This is John on his own, recorded at home, and he emits all the sounds heard here. This is the first time I have included a CD by a friend and I do so on the basis that I consider it on a par with so-called official releases. The songs are all originals and feature wonderful washes of guitar-laden ‘indie’ testifying. (Should that be ‘testification’, or maybe ‘testiculation’?).

Reason ‘n’ Rhyme – Jim Lauderdale – Another album of Robert Hunter’s lyrics, this time given the full-bore bluegrass treatment by Jim Lauderdale and a virtuoso band. This is the third album of their collaborations, and works beautifully. It’s a long time since I’ve heard such a heady blast of bluegrass, music of unashamed joy.

I’m sure most of my choices are predictable, but they are nonetheless great ear-juice for all that.

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