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CD Reviews:
The Best Albums Of 2007 Were...
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

Gloom and doom pervade as the music industry continues to flail around for a reckoning with the technological world.

Ringtone downloads are outstripping CD sales. An album can top the charts, moving fewer than 200,000 copies. Superstar bands (Radiohead) make new albums (“In Rainbows”) available online — and let people name their own prices. An “American Idol” contestant (Daughtry) or a Christmas album (Josh Groban’s “Noel”) could well be the top seller of 2007.

But put down the ledgers and start listening, and the dark cloud lifts. The year 2007 was as rich in good music as any other year, and some of the best came from fresh and unexpected sources. And while the album has been deemed an endangered species in an age of individual song downloading, there’s no shortage of artists still applying thought and care to the long-form concept.

These were the top dozen albums of the year (in alphabetical rder), along with a few more that merit attention:

Ryan Adams, “Easy Tiger” (Lost Highway) — The former hiskeytown leader was uncharacteristically quiet in 2006 after releasing three albums in 2005. But after getting this sumptuous 13-song set of pop and Americana, we’ll always be willing to wait between releases. Bright Eyes, “Cassadaga” (Saddle Creek) — Conor Oberst and mpany shine on their most sophisticated set yet, building lush soundapes from a twangy roots base and incorporating psychedelic flavors, rchestrations, rich melodies and pointed, politically-tinged lyrics. LCD Soundsystem, “Sound of Silver” (DFA) — The groove is in the heart AND the head on this New York dance collective’s third full-length. Leader James Murphy tells us to “Get Innocuous!,” and we’re dancing so much that we barely have time to figure out what he really means by that. M.I.A., “Kala” (XL/Interscope) — The Sri Lankan/British singer/MC went global on her sophomore album, recording it all over the world and stirring many influences into a genuine world party within its category-defying swirl of sound. And the beats only rovide more muscle for her forthright and intelligent lyricism. This one case of “Bird Flu” we’re happy to contract. The Nightwatchman, “One Man Revolution” (Epic) — Rage gainst the Machine/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello puts on a differnt suit, strapping on a fascist-killing acoustic guitar for a set of stirring and smartly worded modern protest songs. Call us radical, but this “Revolution” deserves to be heard.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, “Raising Sand”

(Rounder) — The pop music odd couple — Led Zeppelin’s singer meets one of Americana’s reigning princesses — turns out one of the most sublime albums of 2007, with no small help from producer and silent partner T-Bone Burnett. The volume is quiet, but that doesn’t hide its simmering passion and intensity.

Mark Ronson, “Version”

(Allido/RCA) — A producer’s album that bristles with real artistic vision — a tutorial for scores of his peers. Ronson’s reworkings of songs by Radiohead, the Smiths, Coldplay and even the Supremes make them sound like entirely new and original works — a rare and admirable feat indeed.

Sloan, “Never Hear the End of It” (Yep Rock) — A dozen years after their last U.S. label release, these Canadians have been mired in a somewhat off-the-radar, DIY world. But hooking up with a U.S. imprint again, the quartet give us a whopping 30 tracks — and all of them are good.

Porter Wagoner, “Wagonmaster” (Anti-) — Like Rick Rubin with Johnny Cash, Marty Stuart helps one of his heroes craft a moving, intimate set that strips things down to the essence of what made the late Wagoner a country giant. A fine send-off to that great wagon trail in the sky.

Amy Winehouse, “Back to Black” (Island); Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, “100 Days, 100 Nights” (Daptone) — All hail the Dap-Kings, the common ingredient here that serves these Queens of Soul-inwaiting. Winehouse gives fresh voice to a well-worn style, while Jones’ sounds like her authentic forebear, an older sister figure without the tattoos and tightly spiraled hair.

The White Stripes, “Icky Thump” (Third Man/Warner Bros.) — They left Detroit and dissed the town on their way out. But there’s no denying the duo’s sharp chops and focused vision as Jack White channels his inner Jimmy Page for a ferocious set and a fresh take on the White Stripes’ paradigm.

Some more

Another dozen must-hears from 2007: Arcade Fire, “Neon Bible” (Merge); Blanche, “Little Amber Bottles” (Loose); Chiodos “Bone Palace Ballet” (Equal Vision); Kid Rock, “Rock N Roll Jesus” (Top Dog/ Atlantic); Miranda Lambert, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (Columbia Nashville); Bettye LaVette, “Scene of the Crime” (Anti-); Annie Lennox, “Songs of Mass Destruction” (Arista); Lori McKenna, “Unglamorous” (Stylesonic/ Warner Bros.); Radiohead, “In Rainbows” (radiohead. com); Bruce Springsteen, “Magic” (Columbia); Kanye West, “Graduation” (Def Jam/ Interscope); Wilco, “Sky Blue Sky” (Nonesuch).



The 12 best releases from the Motor City in 2007:

“Marcus Belgrave Presents: A Tribute to New Orleans, Ray Charles and the Great Ladies of Song” (DJMINC)

Deadstring Brothers, “Silver Mountain” (Bloodshot)

The Detroit Cobras, “Tied & True” (Bloodshot)

The Go, “Howl on the Haunted Beat You Ride” (Cass)

Gore Gore Girls, “Get the Gore” (Bloodshot)

Great Lakes Myth Society, “Compass Rose Bouquet” (Quack) J. Moss, “V2 ...” (Pajam/ Zomba) Overloaded, “Regeneration” (self-released)

Paradime, “Spill at Will” (Beats at Will)

Send More Cops, “Send More Cops” (self-released)

Us Vs. Her, “Everybody La La Lah” (self-released)

Alex Winston, “By the Roots” (Pratdral)



Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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