Best Of 2008, Top Five
Back again, with the top five cds from 2008.
Looking over what was left off, quite a few could have been easily selected, and almost were. Sometimes it's just what strikes you at that moment. Next entry I'll visit some of the recordings that nearly made it into the top ten, and deserve mention.
Even with the strong competition, I'll stick with my top five as being deserving of mention of best of 2008. They were the ones that had great staying power throughout the year, all for different reasons.
Let's count down to number one beginning with...
5. HAYES CARLL - Trouble In Mind Months before I had ever heard Hayes Carll, friends (and strangers) were mentioning him to me as someone I should listen to, so I was curious when I had the chance to catch him live in Austin last year. Crowded, outdoors in an enclosed courtyard. Not the intimate setting for quiet ballads. Not sure he did quiet ballads that night, but he made me laugh, listen, and walk away remembering. It was with much anticipation Trouble In Mind was released. He still made me laugh, but the subtlety and finesse you don't get in a honky-tonk courtyard show surfaces on this recording. There is a self depreciating, humorous edge to these songs, and a sympathetic ear for simple human failings. Actually a crowded outdoor courtyard in Texas was the perfect setting for the subtlety and finesse of Knocking Over Whiskeys. A young Texas songwriter worth his whiskey.
4. VAMPIRE WEEKEND - VAMPIRE WEEKEND Having recently won the talent show as students at Columbia University, there were no more challenges left for this band. Then they discovered there is a world outside of college. Varied and addictive guitar riffs. Bouncy rhythms. Obscure titles. Punchy group chants accent some of my favorite pop songs of the year.
3. BOB DYLAN - Tell Tale Signs, Bootleg Series Vol. 8 I was asked what was the most surprising cd I had heard from 2008. I paused, thinking over the new music and groups. Then it struck me. It wasn't anything new, what surprised me most was Bob Dylan and his Bootleg Vol. 8, Tell Tale Signs. Here's a guy who could have retired to leisure after writing Blowing In the Wind. Settled back with his legacy set after Blonde On Blonde, Blood On the Tracks. But on this new release of archived material, he reworks songs from late in his career, trying them in various styles, editing, changing, never satisfied. The surprising thing, though, is how great a writer he is. Each song is filled with great lines. Poetic, funny, piercing. There is no one like him, and may never be again. If not for being all older material, this would have been number one. I intended to leave it off because the songs are not from 2008, but it was just too surprising.
2. RANDY NEWMAN - Harps and Angels My taste leans heavily toward a sparse, less produced recording. Harps and Angels is not sparse. It is filled with layered orchestration, but I barely thought of that until I had listened four or five times. Then it struck me how well these arrangements work. The years of scoring films had been distilled into these songs, making each one a soundtrack of it's own. Ten little movies, with instruments playing parts. Listen to the conversation between the piano and the clarinet on Only A Girl. No one writes about the range of human experience like Randy Newman, including the inevitable act of forgetting those experiences. I love the way Bonnie Raitt sings Feels Like Home, but Randy adds his own understated quality to the words.
1. SHELBY LYYNE - Just A Little Lovin' Where sparse arrangements unleash the emotions of the song. Familiar songs from the 60's done in tribute to Dusty Springfield, and not unlike Dusty Springfield, but without the radio arrangements of that era. It was like hearing these songs for the first time for me, where the song was given space to express itself. Phil Ramone produced, a few intuitive musicians, and Shelby Lynne. Released early in 2008, I was struck by it's beauty from the start, and it stayed with me all year long.
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