A friend recently asked me if I intended to list my Top 10 CDs of 2006. I have problems with doing that! To make such a list, the records would have to be such that they bear repeated listening, records that I will return to again and again over the years. Otherwise, they may be enjoyable for a time, perhaps interesting, but certainly not enduring. I have a lot of such CDs on my shelves. But I have few that I return to for regular nourishment.
Nevertheless, I can think of ten releases that qualify from 2006. Interestingly, most of them are neither new nor, at least, completely new. It's presumptuous to call them the best. Let's just call them my ten favorites. Here they are, in no particular order:
Love - The Beatles I was astounded by the sound quality and freshness of The Beatles on this CD produce by George Martin as a 90 minute soundscape for the Cirque de Soleil production. What seemed like a bad idea turned into a glorious blend of classic tunes, all Beatles, almost like listening to a medley of their songs performed live in your home. Innovative and yet completely respectful of what the boys originally laid down. Pure ear candy.
Intersections: 1985-2005 - Bruce Hornsby This is the best box set I have ever seen or heard. Unlike most box sets which likely appeal only to collectors and serious fans, this is not a mix of hits and curios but every single song is a gem, showcasing great songwriting, playing, and performing. The packaging is excellent, and the DVD of performance videos is a big plus. It's well worth the price.
Songs for Christmas - Sufjan Stevens It's rare that a Christmas CD would make my list, but this ones does because it's so unique. A mix of original songs, carols, hymns, and instrumentals, I think I'll actually listen to it all year long, not just at Christmas. This is one you should not download, as the songs come in a set of individual EPs, and one LP, and the package includes a songbook and stories. That's why it gets an A+ on packaging as well.
Pet Sounds (40 Anniversary CD and DVD) - The Beach Boys Has it really been 40 years? This is a beautiful CD, the Sgt. Pepper of its time, and a testament to Brian Wilson's talent and production capabilities at an early age. I'm not ashamed to say I have bought this CD at least five times in its various reissues. This version contains a DVD of special features and interviews and, yes, I like the fuzzy cover (sort of like the original Bee Gee's Odessa LP).
Under the Covers (Vol. 1) - Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs Power-pop greats Sweet and Hoffs (The Bangles) join forces for a great set of Sixties and early Seventies gems such as Neil Young's Cinnamon Girl or the Bee Gees' Run to Me. I can't wait to hear Volume 2. Their voices mesh seamlessly, and they make Sixties music sound better than it ever did. Great digi-pak packaging as well.
Good Monsters - Jars of Clay This record surprised me by being so, so good! I've always regarded Jars as a great band, even if I did not like all their records, but this record is one I'll listen to again and again, particularly their version of Julie Miller's All My Tears or their own There Is a River. It's consistently good. It's a wonderful swansong for the band, as they exit their long-time label, Provident.
Ray Davies - Other People's Lives Even if I don't always agree with him, I've always appreciated Kink's frontman Davies' keen wit and stellar songwriting. It's not a terribly commercial record (I can't sing a song off it to myself right now), but it is enjoyable taken as a whole, and unlike many of Davies' other albums, has an American context as it was written while he was living in New Orleans.
Rosanne Cash - Black Cadillac Wow. This is great songwriting, as Rosanne tries to publicly come to grips with the death of her father Johnny and mother Vivian, like blood on the tracks. It makes for a great, if emotionally exhausting, record. She is struggling to come to grips with the faith and assurance her father had., and not quite arriving. Listen to it in small doses, and not when you are depressed!
There Is A Season - The Byrds Probably for collectors only, this is a collection of the best, alternates versions, outtakes, and more from one of the paramount Sixties bands. I love McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker sound, and I loved this band in all its many incarnations -- from Beatleseque pop to country to psychedelic rock to bluegrass to rock and roll. I have the previous box set, but I have to have this one as well. That's the collector in me!
American V: A Hundred Highways - Johnny Cash If it sounds like Johnny had one foot in the grave while recording this, it's because he did. And yet Rick Rubin's last session with him was beautiful, a man still working, even with a faltering voice, and yet so authentic, so genuine, and so full of faith. Try "God's Gonna Cut You Down."
And finally, one Honorable mention:
Puzzles Like You - Mojave 3 A decidedly more pop and hooky record from an otherwise folky British group that tended to get a bit monotonous on previous records. I actually heard these guys in concert (along with maybe 50 other people), and they were quite good if unengaging. My, how do they do it?
So there you have it: ten great records or box sets from 2006 that I know that I will listen to in 2007. They may not be the best, but it'd be difficult to say that they are not among the best.