It would be presumptuous to call this a “best of” list, because I’ve only listened to a fraction of the music out there, but these are some of the albums that I enjoyed the most or found the most interesting, in no particular order:
That Lucky Old Sun, by Brian Wilson I’m amazed at the energy and staying power of this former Beach Boy creative genius. After producing the Sixties classic Pet Sounds, he literally descended into personal and creative lethargy for nearly three decades, only to emerge in the Nineties with health, stable family life, and new creativity. This album is a superb suite of songs, literally a sonic landscape of Southern California and Brian Wilson, who are in some ways indistinguishable. If you told me I could only have one record from last year to listen to, I would take this one.
Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, by The Welcome Wagon It may sound like an unlikely recipe for mainstream success. A Presbyterian pastor and wife, Vito and Monique, sing simple songs of faith, in what one critic described as CCM meets nerdfolk. With Sufjan Stevens producing, it works. It’s a fun and even worshipful blessing of a record.
Live: Hope at the Hideout, by Mavis Staples An energetic live album, this former civil rights era singer belts out blues and gospel with a stripped down, swampy three piece band and backup singers. I love the guitar. I love the voice. I love the songs. And I’m encouraged. It’s like listening to history come to life.
Captured in Still Life, by Kensington Prairie This folk-pop album is really the solo project of Vancouver indie-pop singer Rebecca Rowan (of the band, Maplewood Lane). Having grown up in British boarding schools in Africa and India (a daughter of missionaries), she has a lot of influences, but I simply love the sunny pop and wistful melodies you’ll find here. I keep coming back to it.
Freedom Wind, by The Explorers Club They may look like Beach Boys copycats, right down tot he packaging that is made to look like a worn LP sleeve for something like All Summer Long, and yet these guys are more than that. I feel like I’m listening to original music by a modern day version of the Boys. And that’s not bad.
Electric Arguments, The Firemen This album had to be stickered just to let people know that it’s really a Paul McCartney album. Now in his mid-Sixties, McCartney teamed with the British producer Youth. All instruments were played by McCartney, and all recorded in the space of one day. From the classic rock opener to psychedelia to twangy folk, the record has a spontaneity and life missing in the man’s other solo work. In my opinion, he can stay “The Firemen.”
The Good Things, by Jill Phillips She’s one of my favorite CCM singers, because she can write great songs, play guitar, and sing. It’s not sappy or sentimental, and yet full of faith and struggles that we all have. Every Jill Phillips record is good, and this one is no exception.
Pacific Ocean Blue, by Dennis Wilson Most people have no idea how creative and talented the youngest Beach Boy, the drummer, actually was, as his life was tragically cut short by his drowning death in 1983, an unbelievable 25 years ago. In this reissue, his only solo release, Pacific Ocean Blue, is remastered with bonus tracks. But the gem is the inclusion of 17 tracks from the sessions for his never finished or released album, Bambu. Listening gives you some sense of the unique direction this artist would have taken, but for his death. Sadly, it’s unlikely that most people, other than Beach Boys fans and collectors, will ever hear this. Too bad!
Meet Glen Campbell, by Glen Campbell As I’m writing this, I’m thinking “I have become my father,” and in a way I have. I remember watching the Glen Campbell show in the Sixties with my Dad, and now, I’m buying a record? Yes! This is a very talented man, and there are some great songs here, both originals and covers. Drop your preconceptions. Give it a listen.
Promise of Summer, by Jackopierce When I heard the rockabilly opener to this record, “Everything I’m Not,” with the chorus “I’m an open book, she’s a mystery/ I’m black coffee and she’s sweet tea/ You probably wonder why she’s with me/ I’m grateful for everything I’ve got/ She is everything I’m not,” I knew I liked this band. It’s clever, straight ahead, heartland rock ‘n roll, with a country flavor. What’s not to like?
And that’s it for 2008. Next week, post-Christmas music, I think I’ll chuck all this music, set it aside for a few months, so I can return to it and realize how well it holds up (or not). Happy listening!