Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Best of 2008 Nominees: Best Record

People are starting to ask about the Best Of 2008 list (at least five so far: Leigh, Joe, Kelly, TM, Igoe). So I'm going to get that rolling here. But I'm going to introduce a couple categories to whet your appetite today.

Much like how there is a Grammy category for Best Classical Instrumental Soloist Performance (Without Orchestra), the Best Of list has a bunch of categories only purists care about. But most people pay attention to the biggies: Day, Album, Show, etc. So here's a rundown of nominees for Best Album (listed in an order only TM will probably get):

  • Baseball Project, Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails
  • Dolly Varden, 13
  • Alejandro Escovedo, Real Animal
  • Gary Louris, Vagabonds
  • Scott Miller, Appalachian Refugee
  • Scott Miller, For Crying Out Loud
  • Old 97's, Blame It On Gravity
  • Kasey Chambers/Shane Nicholson, Rattlin' Bones
  • Sheryl Crow, Detours
  • Kathleen Edwards, Asking for Flowers
  • Jenny Lewis, Acid Tongue
  • Tift Merritt, Another Country
  • She and Him, Volume One
  • Bob Dylan, Tell Tale Signs: Bootleg Series, Vol. 8
  • Paul Westerberg, 49:00
  • Counting Crows, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings
  • The Hold Steady, Stay Positive
  • R.E.M, Accelerate
  • Vetiver, To Find Me Gone
  • Various, FUV Live Volume 11
  • Various, XRT Live from the Archives: Volume 11
A quick explanation/review of the nominees:

Baseball Project is a side effort of Scott McCaughey (Minus Five) and friends like Peter Buck (R.E.M.). A must have for diehard baseball fans, they wrote a dozen or so songs about the nation's pastime. A sample of names covered: Ted Williams, Oscar Gamble's huge afro, all the guys who have thrown a perfect game, Willie Mays, Fernando Valenzuela, Curt Flood.

Dolly Varden is a great local band who have been together for 13 years. To celebrate, they released a double-disc set of greatest hits and rarities. Included is a great, lovely version of Alex Chilton's "13."

Escovedo's latest was a bit of a disappointment, only because he turned away from his distinctive Americana sound he's perfected over the years to revisit his punk-rock roots. While this record grew on me for its own merits, I missed the strings and the Texas plaintiveness. Instead, this is more of an homage to the late 70's punk scene. (Of course he's so versatile it's hard to fault him.)

Louris released his first post-Jayhawks record, and it was pretty good. It doesn't overreach its grasp, just adds to the Louris canon with songs like "Omaha Nights" and the title track.

Appalachian is a set of demos Miller put out that was available only in limited release through his website. (TM jumped on it, of course.) The demos show him getting back to a more homey, authentic sound, as opposed to the Citation record that we felt was a little too polished for him. Appalachian also has the funniest legal disclaimer about not sharing/selling/trading the music, spoken by the artist himself. Many of the demos (with the notable exception of "People Who Rule") ended up on the official record....

...The end result of Miller's demos was this full length record, released in limited edition right before the end of the year. This sounds more like his first two records, which is a good thing.

The 97's came back from hiatus and got back to their roots, too. Gravity was more fun, more loose, more natural than Drag It Up and celebrated the band's longevity with songs like "The One."

I got the Chambers/Nicholson free from the good people at Sugar Hill Records. I've seen Chambers live in concert, and this record is a nice set of duets, a folky bluegrass sound.

TM got the Sheryl Crow record, and accurately described it as scattered and schizophrenic. The first song is a Dylanesque protest song, and it bounces around genres and feels from there.

Edwards' third release builds on Failer Back to Me (got my Edwards out of order --ed.) with more mature songwriting. Features the song that identifies her as a Canadian.

Jenny Lewis was another TM pickup. I liked what little I listened to, but I think I prefer Rabbit Fur Coat.

I stumbled across Tift Merritt somehow, and decided to try Another Country. Good pick by me: this record has warm vocals, catchy melodies and shows more range than her prior record, Tambourine. (Trivial fact: the titular country is France.)

Tift, as seen through the Barbara Walters "soft focus" lens.

The grammatically incorrect She and Him could be passed off as a vanity project from a movie star (Zooey Deschanel of Almost Famous) except for five things: she wrote most of the songs, the songs are good, the covers are impeccable (Smokey Robinson, the Beatles, "Swing Low Sweet Chariot"), the presence of indie god M. Ward keeps it musically interesting and finally, there are no pictures of her anywhere on the packaging.

Dylan: I must admit I've only started listening to this. So far, it's fascinating. Completely different versions of songs released on his last few albums.

Easily the weirdest record of the year was 49:00, which Westerberg released via Amazon download only, for 49 cents. It's a single track, almost 44 minutes long, that contains smatterings of songs that start and stop, random covers, noise, and other loose ends. Then one day the download was no longer available, anywhere.

I haven't listened much to the new Crows, but I like the concept: the first half is songs about all the crazy sinful things you do on Saturday nights, and the second half is about the regret and redemption of the following morning.

Steady. I could spill a thousand words on the Steady. (Of course, I already have.) I absolutely loved Boys and Girls in America and was so excited for the new record. I struggled with the fact that no record would ever be as good as that one. But beyond that, I'm still trying to like Stay Positive. It's growing on me, but it's not there yet.

I think I put my figure on why I didn't like the Steady record: not enough Franz. His keys and accordion are practically invisible.

Josh promised us the new R.E.M. record was good, and it was pretty darn good: a return to the aggressive rock sound they had on Monster and then lost on later records. However, I haven't listened to this record in months, so what does that say for its staying power?

Vetiver opened for Louris at the Metro. This record is slow and moody. Like many bands, it's better live than on record.

The FUV compilation is still in the shrinkwrap. But the lineup looks great: Spektor, Aimee Mann, the Steady, Louris, Bell X1.

Ditto for the XRT comp: Counting Crows, Liz Phair, the Dead, Bob Mould, Mellencamp.

Finally, special mention to Eddie Vedder for his contribution to music in 2008. Vedder met Ernie Banks (I think at Cubs Convention) and Ernie asked him to write a song about the Cubs. As Vedder said at one of his Chicago Theater shows: "If Ernie Banks asks you to write a song, you better write a fucking good song." And so he did: the earnest, hopeful "All the Way." It became an anthem of the late season and (short) playoff run. Maybe we didn't in '08, but someday we'll go all the way.


TinaMarie said...

One correction. I bought Tifft and therefore introduced her to you :-)

Anonymous said...

Don't hate on Accelerate's staying power. It's upbeat and fun and energetic which doesn't necessarily coincide with the latter part of your 2009 :(