As always, the following is a link to ITunes to download a playlist of some of my
favorite songs of the year: BOBBY K’S 2007 PICKS. This playlist contains a song from most of the records I reviewed below, as well as some other great songs from 2007. I took great care in arranging this playlist, which I think you will enjoy as a CD in and of itself. If you click on an artist’s name below it will take you to his/her web site. Clicking on the title of the record will take you to a site to buy the record.
The year 2007 was a year of abundance for quality music. In fact, this year I had such a hard time narrowing down my top ten list, I decided just to review all the records that inspired me. Any year that produces more than 3 records that I will listen to 20 years down the road is a fruitful year. Well this year, I found at least 6 artists who produced records that fit this criteria; Will Hoge, ALO, Patty Scialfa, Ruthie Foster, Marc Cohn and Martin Sexton.
In August a young artist, Jackie Greene, played at my house. A few weeks later he started a tour with Phil Lesh. I realized that this kid has “it”, whatever that is. After seeing him with Phil and friends, I came to the conclusion that if he can incorporate the “improvisational” style he learned playing with Phil with his ability to write “Dylanesque” songs, we may be witnessing the growth of the next substantive rock-n-roll star.
I started writing this Newsletter in 2000. During the last 7 years something unexpected happened to my listening habits. I’ve felt such an obligation to find new quality music for you, that I stopped listening to my existing collection. I currently buy 5 to 10 CDs a month and I just don’t have time to listen to Van’s Veedom Fleece, the Bands’ Cahoots, Bruce’s The Wild, the Innocent…., to Ray, to Aretha, to Creedence, etc… Over the years, I’ve collected over 2,000 acorns and I keep collecting more. I think it is time that I stop focusing on collecting more acorns …. and start really opening the ones I have. In other words, in 2008 I’m not going to focus on just buying new Cds. I’m not going to keep searching and searching for my next inspiration. What I’m going to do is bring my collection back to life … start really listening to it again. Of course, I will buy some new CDs, but that will not be my main focus. What that means for next year’s Newsletter… I have no idea. Next year may be recap of some older fabulous records or I may not write a Newsletter at all. Let’s see what happens.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the reviews, buy the music and incorporate these records into your life.
MARC COHN – JOIN THE PARADE – The first record in 9 years from the writer of Walking In Memphis. Another record with a touch of New Orleans. This record may have the best opening song of the year, Listening To Levon. It’s one of those songs that halfway through your first listen, you think that you’ve heard before. The feel of this record is just superb. It is so cohesive, it will hold your attention for all 10 songs. A rarity in today’s music scene. There are one or two songs on the CD that Marc does a little Al Green thing. This is a great record from an artist that for some reason never became the prolific artist we all predicted. Nevertheless I am thankful for this gem. A record I will listen to for years to come.
WILL HOGE – DRAW THE CURTAINS Just a great album. This is soulful, rock-n-roll at its best. Great songs with crying organs, great guitar fills and gospel singers galore. Will has been compared to Bruce and one listen to this record does nothing to dispel the comparisons as he sings with the passion and guts of early Bruce. Some hardcore Hoge fans think that this record is too mellow compared to his other records, but I think it works best when Will gets away from the muscular rock-n-roll and plays more of the soulful songs. This record picks-up strength as it goes on with five knockout songs in a row. There are many highlights on this record, but the standouts are When I Can Afford to Lose; Silver or Gold and Washed By the Water. Just a great addition to my collection and I look forward to more records from this really great artist.
MARTIN SEXTON – SEEDS –Happy is the emotion I get when I listen to this record. “Like the first day of a summer vacation. Damn, I just get so happy.” Listen to the first few songs of this record and you will get it. This guy is just a great singer/songwriter. Vocally, he has a beautiful voice with incredible range. Stylistically, he plays American music … a distillation of soul, gospel, R&B, country and blues. A can’t miss record from an artist that in a perfect world, wouldn’t miss.
RUTHIE FOSTER – THE PHENOMENAL RUTHIE FOSTER – Start to finish this is a great soul, gospel, contemporary folk-rock record. Think of a female Sam Cooke with A+ songwriting. She has been compared to everyone from Joan Armatrading to Aretha herself … but Ruthie is just herself. Unique in every way. There are so many highlights on this record, that each time I listen to it, new songs become my favorite. Ruthie’s take on Lucinda Williams’ Fruits of My Labor is just downright phenomenal. She takes this song and more than makes it her own.
PATTY SCIALFA – PLAY IT AS IT LAYS
This record should have been titled “A Suburban Housewife’s Lament”. For the most part, over the last 50 years, love songs in rock-n-roll have been about young love….first love. As artists have grown older, the contents of the songs have changed. Well Patty’s record is the first record I’ve heard that is about the dissatisfaction of a “well-to-do” suburban housewife. I don’t know if Patty is on steroids, but her writing has improved more than Roger Clemens’ statistics from 1996 to 1997. Just read some of the following samples: “Baby, baby tell me what do see when you open your eyes and take a look at me. Mother, brother, sister, lover, wife or friend, … a confidant, an angel…. or just a fool in the end?” or “You got all the toys that money can buy. Still you come to me like a little boy so unsatisfied. I’m not casting stones … don’t want apologies. You can play around ,,,but don’t play around me.” or finally “Yesterday I walked down the street we walked when we were young. I tried to pull a thread between who we were and who we’ve become. And if we lost a little along the way, that’s all right … what’s done is done. And I’m just going to play it as it lays … play it as it lays.” Wow, I love this writing. After listening to this record one can’t help but think that Bruce must have done some bad and hurtful things to this woman. However, in the record’s dedication Patty writes “Thanks, Bruce…for walking me through my shadows…with love…support and soul”. So who knows what’s fact or fiction. All I know is that this is a record filled with soul, girl-group harmonies, melodies, texture and grit. This is Patty’s masterpiece. A true five star record from an artist that has stepped far out of her husband’s shadow.
ALO – ROSES AND CLOVER – A favorite of college kids. This California band has produced a record that is catchy… layered … funky … alive … sunny … beautiful. It is catchy enough for the mainstream, but hip enough and jammy enough for the alternative scene. Another record that I will listen to for years to come. The last song Water Song is just a thing of beauty.
THE SUBDUDES – STREET SYMPHONY – My favorite Subdudes record in years. Get past the first song and it is a great disc. The music is layered in typical Subdudes fashion. The music is so catchy and funky with traces of New Orleans all throughout. Check out the guitar solo at the end of No Man. Without a doubt the best guitar solo recorded on a studio record this year.
WILCO – SKY BLUE SKY – Finally a return to “good” Wilco. To me the last two Wilco records have been the proverbial “emperor’s new clothes”. As a result, I originally listened to this record with very little enthusiasm. After listening a few times, I put the record down convinced it was nothing special. After a month I listened to it again and totally fell in love with it. It still has some of the distortion of the last two records, but not enough to take away from the great songwriting. While the record is a little too mellow in spots, it is a fine, fine disc. Just listen to “Hate It Here” and you will know what I mean. Fans of old Wilco will be satisfied with this CD. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Wilco, you are in for a treat.
GRAHAM PARKER – DON’T TELL COLUMBUS – My favorite Graham record since 1995’s Twelve Haunted Episodes. Just another record of superb, sardonic writing from one of my musical pillars. This record contains hooks, melodies, passion, anger, you name it. It’s just a classic Graham record. The highlight for me is the atmospheric The Other Side of the Reservoir and the infectious Somebody Saved Me. Another gem from an artist of the highest order.
RYAN SHAW – THIS IS RYAN SHAW – Ryan Shaw is 27 years old and sings contemporary music with a large dose of the sounds of the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies. 2007 has seen a revival of retro “Black Soul” music and Ryan is at the forefront. Listening to this record you hear King Curtis, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Jerry Butler etc… Most of the songs are cover-songs, but they don’t feel like rehashed songs. Check out Jackie Wilson’s I’ll Be Satisfied and Bobby Womack’s Lookin’ For A Love. This artist is hot and he knows it. This year he’s opened for The Derek Trucks’ Band and Josh Stone and he had one of his original songs featured in the show “Brothers and Sisters”. This man will have a hit soon. It is original Motown music at its best …except that it is not retro. It is fresh and alive. You Motown fans will dig this disc.
STEVE FORBERT – STRANGE NAMES & NEW SENSATIONS – Another fine record from one of the most under-appreciated artists around. The record is filled with melodic songs with great hooks and smart writing. At the end he even sneaks In a remake of his 30 year-old Romeo’s Tune. The opening track Middle-Aged is a song we all can relate to. Another one of those artists that the public should have embraced.
GRACE POTTER AND THE NOCTURNALS – THIS IS SOMEWHERE – Everybody is talking about this band with the promiscuous lead singer. The opening number Ah Mary has been a big hit on satellite radio and with college students. On first listen, one thinks this is a song about a girl, but it is really about America and its bully tactics throughout the world. Grace is a singer to reckon with, invoking memories of Bonnie Raitt, who has praised Grace Potter and the Nocturnals as “One of the most soulful new bands around.” This record is much more muscular than their past efforts. Some of the slower songs are close to perfect. This is a band so close to making a classic record. This one isn’t it, but, nevertheless, it is a real treat.
IKE REILLY – WE BELONG TO THE STAGGERING NIGHT – The prolific Ike just keeps pumping them out. The first five songs on this record are rough and tumble rock-n-roll songs, with the remaining songs being very melodic and hooky with Ike’s typical allotment of tempo changes. It took me more than a few listens to catch a groove with the first half of the record. When I finally got to the second half of the record, it just blew me away. I don’t think there is a finer new artist (Ike ain’t so new anymore) out there. He invokes comparisons to Dylan with his attention to detail in his writing. Concentrate on the words to Valentine’s Day In Juarez and you will be floored. This is definitely not my favorite Ike record, but it is another fine addition to his catalog. I know that this artist has more great records in him. Ike is one of the few artists that gets me excited when I hear he is about to release a new record. While I may still be waiting for the perfect Ike Reilly record, the journey has been quite enjoyable. Thanks Ike.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – LIVE IN DUBLIN (DVD) / LIVE IN DUBLIN (CD) – This CD and DVD is a must have for the holiday season. This is a live collection of traditional American songs from the Seeger Sessions’ record as well as some Bruce originals played by a group of musicians that are at the top of their game. The band contains 18 musicians playing a variety of instruments from horns to violins, pianos, mandolins, penny whistles, euphoniums, accordions, organs, banjos, steel guitars and dobros. As I wrote in last year’s Newsletter, this band conglomerates many different styles of music into a distinct style with startling results. To see the DVD and realize how far this band has come since the recording of the Seeger Sessions record is startling. The half dozen live shows I saw with this band were the best Bruce shows I’ve seen in over a decade. Watch the DVD (especially O’Mary Don’t You Weep) and you will see arguably the best live performer still working magic at the age of 55. After watching the DVD, I was so excited about the possibility of Bruce recording new original songs with this band. Unfortunately, Bruce didn’t see it this way and delivered to us Magic (reviewed below). I’m confident that Bruce will eventually record a record with this Band. For now, this record is all we have and it is worth its weight in gold.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – MAGIC – I was very disappointed when I first heard that Bruce was using Brandon O’Brien as his producer once again. I just didn’t get it. This guy had already adversely affected the sound on The Rising and Devils and Dust. I thought to myself, “please, not again”. My favorite produced Bruce records are the Chuck Plotkin records where there is a separation of sound … where every instrument has its own space. Brandon O’Brien’s philosophy is to make a tossed salad of sound. To me, this makes no sense. Since I knew the sound would suck, I refrained from listening to the record on all the bootleg MP3 copies that were floating around. A week before the official release of the CD, I bought the album version figuring the sound on a record would be better than the CD. Well I was right, but the sound was still very disappointing. There are times on the record that I can’t differentiate between the piano and the bass. In some instances (Gypsy Biker in particular), Bruce’s vocals are totally drowned out and you can’t hear the lyrics. Lyrically, Bruce keeps talking about the subtext of this record … like there are two meanings, one about relationships and one about the current state of affairs in this country. Well after I listened a few times, I understood what Bruce was trying to say. However, I still believe that lyrically it is the weakest Bruce record to date.
On the positive side, the record is alive and powerful.. Although I don’t like the recording, it seems to have struck a cord with the younger crowd and the reviewers. If this is what Bruce was after, it worked. The first side of the record is very strong with Livin’ In The Future and Girls In Their Summer Clothes being my highlights. Unfortunately, for me the second side dies a little bit with Last To Die and Devils Arcade being bad outtakes. Fortunately, the second side contains my favorite song on the record, Long Walk Home. The last song Terry’s Song is a beautiful song about friendship. The recording is so different from the rest of the record, that I will guarantee that Bruce produced it, rather then frickin Brandon O’Brien.
So many times before, Bruce has turned his back on music that is popular (Nebraska, Ghost of Tom Joad and The Seeger Sessions). I believe that Bruce will once again turn his back on the “popular sound”, write new songs and record them with the Seeger Sessions Band. When this happens, I’m confident it will be very well received and that we will finally have another classic Springsteen record in our possession. Till then … I will wait patiently.
Other Good Releases
GRIFFIN HOUSE – FLYING UPSIDE DOWN – This is a very good record from this 25 year old singer/songwriter. Some great songs on this disc. Unfortunately it is only available digitally. Another artist who is destined for big things.
JOSH RITTER – HISTORICAL CONQUESTS OF JOSH RITTER – With each record Josh keeps growing and getting closer and closer to fulfilling his potential as a major talent. This record is more consistent than last years Animal Years. The song Right Moves is one of my favorites of the year.
JIMMY LAFAVE – CIMARRON MANIFESTO – Another strong release from Jimmy. This guy has caught such a nice soulful, ethereal groove. While this record is not as great as 2005’s Blue Nightfall, it is still a very strong record.
BEN HARPER AND THE INNOCENT CRIMINALS – LIFELINE – This record is my favorite Ben Harper record to date. It was recorded live in a studio in Paris after the band finished touring. While the record dies a little bit at the end, it is a very good soul record.
Well that’s it for this year, I’m looking forward to having an indoor show in February or March. I’ll keep everyone posted. I wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year.
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