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CD Reviews:
The Best Albums Of 2006
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

If one were so pre-disposed, 2006 was the kind of music year where it was easy to be engrossed in who was dating, who was marrying — and how quickly they were getting divorced — who was being boycotted and who was feuding. And, of course, where was the next Guns N’ Roses album, anyway?

Fortunately there was more than enough good music during the past year to keep us focused on the tuneful rather than the tawdry. There was no runaway phenomenon — no “Thriller” in these decentralized days of downloading, fi le sharing and YouTube-ing — but a handful of discs that not only stood above all others but also proved that, contrary to some recent sentiment, the album is still alive and well as an art form and remains the crucial creative vessel for the best musicians.

These, then, were the dozen best releases of 2006 (alphabetically by artist):

Johnny Cash, “American V: A Hundred Highways”

(American/Lost Highway) — An icon stares down the barrel of mortality with the same complex mix of pride, humility and grace with which he long carried himself. One final road, successfully traveled.

Rosanne Cash, “Black Cadillac” (Capitol) — Her father’s death sent this Cash deep into her artistry, yielding a somber and celebratory tribute to the resilience of a human spirit.

Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint, “River in Reverse”

(Verve Forecast) — What’s better than an album by one genius? How about an album by two bona fi de masters, propelled not only by exceptional material but also by a sense of post-Katrina mission to pay homage to Toussaint’s home town.

Dixie Chicks, “Taking the Long Way” (Open Wide/Columbia) — Fiercely, proudly and maybe a bit gratuitously defiant, the Chicks superseded the issues that surrounded them on this stunning set of country-fl avored pop.

Bob Dylan, “Modern Times” (Columbia) — Maybe it is an album that an iTunes commercial made No. 1, but when the songs are as consistently vibrant as these, he can make hygiene product ads for all we care.

Alejandro

Escovedo, “The

Boxing Mirror”

(Back Porch) — The long underappreciated Texas troubadour was another who stared down mortality, but in this case Escovedo came out the other side with rich music and thoughtful insights.

Vince Gill,

“These Days”

(MCA Nashville) — Four CDs with 43 new songs — and all of ’em good. That’s about 41 more than some single albums that topped the country charts this year.

Gnarls Barkley, “St. Elsewhere” (Downtown) — Thomas “Cee-Lo” Callaway and Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton made a potent pair as they blended soul and pop conventions into an exciting and provocative bundle. No wonder we went “Crazy” for it.

Nellie McKay, “Pretty Little Head” (SpinArt) — This sprawling, imaginative cabaret romp was almost consigned to oblivion after McKay and her previous label parted ways at the last minute in late 2005. Fortunately a new year brought new life — and a “Head” that’s as pretty as ever.

Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Stadium Arcadium” (Warner Bros.) — Even if some of the exper- iments go out there and never come back, there’s well over a single CD’s worth of keepers on this two-CD set. And more than most bands have produced on any single album.

Bruce Springsteen, “The Seeger Sessions” (Columbia) — Americana at its best, buoyant of spirit yet pointed enough to resonate deeper than the raucous hootenanny in the grooves of these large band arrangements. The expanded “American Land Edition” made a good thing even better.

Tool, “10,000 Days”

(Volcano/Tool) — After what seems to have become a de rigeur fi ve-year wait, another captivating hard rock set more progressive than any other group that turns it up to 11.



10 HONORABLE MENTIONS

Arctic Monkeys, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” (Domino)

The Beatles, “LOVE” (Capitol)

Lindsey Buckingham, “Under the Skin” (Warner Bros.)

The Decemberists, “The Crane Wife” (Capitol)

My Chemical Romance, “The Black Parade” (Reprise)

Tim O’Reagan, “Tim O’Reagan” (Lost Highway)

The Rapture, “Pieces of the People We Love” (Universal) Rhymefest, “Blue Collar” (Allido/J)

Van Hunt, “On the Jungle Floor” (Capitol)

Butch Walker, “Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let’s Go” (Powerballad/Epic)



FIVE DETROIT MUST-HEARS IN 2006

The Fags, “Light ’em Up” (Idol)

Hard Lessons, “Gasoline” (No Fun)

Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, “Sonic’s Rendezvous Band” (Easy Action)

SSM, “1” (Alive)

Thunderbirds Are Now!, “Make History” (French Kiss)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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