Year End Review 2007

State of the Music 2007

It’s been over 50 years since Bill Haley and Elvis Presley started a rock and roll revolution, and where has it gotten us? It’s easy in this day of tabloid scandals, teen pop, and novelty acts to dismiss music as disposable fodder. American Idol winners and losers dominate the charts. Cartoonish acts like Fergie and Akon rule the radio and internet. Pre-teens want nothing other than Hannah Montana and High School Musical. Teenagers are taking over the radio, TV, and movie screens. Presidential candidates dance to Soulja Boy. Paris and Lindsay lip-sync a few words to a generic beat and they are royalty. Sigh.

But there is hope. True artists are flourishing, despite reality TV, America’s obsession with celebrity, and the broken music business. Alicia Keys, Mary J, Sharon Jones, Robin Thicke, and Amy Winehouse lead a soul revival that has never been stronger. Alison Krauss, Robert Plant, Brandi Carlile, Melissa Etheridge, and Bruce keep it close to the heart. Foo Fighters, Muse, White Stripes, and Jimmy Eat World are holding down the rock. And Rilo Kiley, Spoon, Feist, and Ween are coming up with new sounds for a new generation.

Bigger than the music itself though, there are abundant signs of action and intention; pop stars getting involved in causes and raising awareness. Support for global causes was constantly in the news: musicians backing (PRODUCT)RED, the ONE campaign to make poverty history, the explosion of the green movement witnessed at nearly every concert and festival from Giants Stadium to your hometown theater, and massive events like Live Earthand World Peace One. Everyone is following Bono’s lead, and the effect is astonishing.

This is what music can do. It can move us to action and start a revolution. It can break down cultural and political barriers and unite a fractured world. We can tolerate the pop fluff as long as we get substance, purpose, and emotion along with it. Music is our voice. It’s an expression of individuality in a world of 6 billion. Music is our soul. It taps a nerve that we may not expose to anyone else. Music is our life. Without it, we have deafening silence. Rock on.

BEST MUSIC 2007

Here are 20 great singles from this year. Some of them rock, some of them hit you where it hurts, and some of them are pure fun. Click HERE to sample these songs on iTunes.

20. Your Party – Ween
19. Icky Thump – The White Stripes
18. Girlfriend – Avril Lavigne
17. Young Folks – Peter Bjorn and John
16. Lost Without U – Robin Thicke
15. The Sweet Escape – Gwen Stefani
14. Who Knew – P!nk
13. 1234 – Feist
12. Candyman – Christina Aguilera
11. Colorful – Rocco DeLuca and the Burden
10. Nothing Left to Lose – Mat Kearney
9. The Underdog – Spoon
8. Supermassive Black Hole – Muse
7. The Moneymaker – Rilo Kiley
6. Say It Right – Nelly Furtado
5. The Story – Brandi Carlile
4. The Pretender – Foo Fighters
3. No One – Alicia Keys
2. Rehab – Amy Winehouse
1. What Goes Around…Comes Around – Justin Timberlake

And now for the albums. Here are my 10 best of the year. Each unique in its own right, and something on the list for everyone.

10 Paolo Nutini – These Streets
Just stop. I can see you smirking. This young Scottish goofball with Italian blood is easy to dismiss as a randy, slurring, bed-headed casanova. But this kid has that effortless talent that goes for days. His frivolous first single “New Shoes” is a feel-good anthem, but doesn’t hint at the soulful crooning in his repertoire. Love letters like “Last Request” and “Loving You” make his intentions clear, while “Jenny Don’t Be Hasty” is a fun romp. If you want it easy like Sunday morning, just press play.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – 100 Days, 100 Nights / Binky Griptite’s GhettoFunkPowerHour
Sharon who? Dap what? Get the funk outta here! Born in the South and raised in Brooklyn, Sharon Jones is leading a funk soul revival along with the Dap-Kings. This is Aretha Franklin soul and James Brown funk. After a lifetime of jams, the Dap-Kings finally jammed into the spotlight this year as the backing band to a little someone named Amy Winehouse. That exposure led to the release of this double disc – side 1 an old school soul session and side 2 a funky booty-shakin’ block party. Named to Amazon’s best of the year list, it is currently one of their best sellers. Jay Z and Mary J would be wise to learn a few licks from these cats. Dy-no-mite!

James Morrison – Undiscovered
A scruffier, more soulful version of James Blunt, Morrison’s husky voice sounds older than his 23 years and does not match his Northern English pale skin. Tender lines like “I’ve been twisting and turning in a space that’s too small /
I’ve been drawing the line and watching it fall
/ You’ve been closing me in, closing the space in my heart
/ Watching us fading and watching us fall apart” shoot straight to the heart. Surprisingly, the album title seems to be holding true in the US. Check out “Under the Influence” and “Wonderful World”.

Robert Plant/Alison Krauss – Raising Sand
What do you get when you pair the (former) screeching psychadelic 70s god with the angelic voice of bluegrass? Pure organic sugar. This is an unexpected but inspired collaboration of two industry legends that works well. This one has credibility to the nines and has the potential to sell, and sell, and sell – think the first Norah Jones album. It strikes a chord across generations and plays well at coffee shops, breakfast joints, smoky bars, and dinner parties. The best place to hear it, though, is home alone, or on a long road trip. The hardest part might be finding it in your local record store – is it folk, Delta blues, Americana, or singer songwriter? The answer is all of these, and more. Stellar.

Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga feels like Spoon’s Rush of Blood to the Head. Like Coldplay’s landmark album, this one starts off with a political jab “Don’t Make Me a Target”, ends with a comedown “Black Like Me”, and is the band’s breakthrough album. Aside from one low-fi dreary tune “The Ghost of You Lingers” (skip it), this Austin band’s compact set of quirky indie pop candy gets sweeter with each listen. It was impossible to escape the enchanting “The Underdog” this year as it infiltrated college, rock, alternative, and indie radio. Adored by critics and fans alike, this one is sitting in everyone’s best of the year list. Ga ga!

Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
It’s easy to forget that Dave Grohl was actually in Nirvana. Despite their being one of the most important bands in rock history, he has in fact been a Foo Fighter longer than he was in the band that busted grunge into mainstream America. On their sixth album, the Foos explode out of the gate with the political cyclone “The Pretender”: “What if I say I’m not like the others?
/ What if I say I’m not just another one of your plays?
/ You’re the pretender
/ What if I say that I’ll never surrender?”. Start to finish, the Foos take every song to its audible extreme, whether electric rocker (“Come Alive”) or subdued acoustic tracks (“Home”), and the set feels complete in its yin and yang. Up for album of the year at theGrammys, and rightly so. While Jon Bon Jovi and Chris Martin may be cruising toward suburban dullness, the Foos are rocking with their hearts on their sleeves,

Feist – The Reminder
Ah yes, “1234” is the Romper Room meets Broadway video that helped sell a zillion iPods. Clearly inspired by her involvement at the age of 12 as a dancer in the Calgary Winter Olympics, the video is one continuous shoot of flags and domino dancing and general tomfoolery. Canada’s Leslie Feist is this year’s most lovable quirky anti-folk, anti-pop, anti-star. While her debut Let It Die was more of a jazzy chill-out set, The Reminder ventures more into café pop. The album is a cohesive collection of other upbeat jingles “My Moon My Man”, “I Feel It All” and somber tales “The Water, “How My Heart Behaves”. This is warm, lazy, introspective music that is, above all, charming.

Brandi Carlile – The Story
Her self-titled 2005 debut now sounds like a warm-up to a harder, better, faster, stronger collection called “The Story.” Melding rock, alt-country, and folk in the vein of Jeff Buckley, there’s more strumming and screeching this time around, and we’re all better off for it. The title song builds from a quiet start to an unexpected scorcher, with an energy that cannot be forged. Other highlights include “Turpentine”, “My Song”, “Wasted”, and “Again Today”. “I heard you found some pretty words to say / You found your little game to play / and there’s no one allowed in / Then just when we believe we could be great / Reality it permeates / and it conquers from within again.” At times melancholy, wistful, innocent, and intense, Carlile sits alongside Ray Lamontagne and Damien Rice as a fresh breed to carry the torch.

Rilo Kiley – Under the Blacklight
Indie darlings for 3 albums and one solo shot for Jenny Lewis, this year’s Under the Blacklight is Rilo Kiley’s major label debut. Talk about stepping up to the plate. The band was ready for a new turn, a poppier edge with an updated Fleetwood Mac vibe. The inspiration? LA’s seedy and sleazy nightlife. The result? The slickest pop album of the year. Jenny Lewis coos about misguided love (“15”), prostitution (“Close Call”), the giddy freedom in being single (“Breakin’ Up”), and the meet-me-in-the-back-yard “Under the Blacklight”. Single “Silver Lining” made it onto radio and many year end lists. The album caused adverse reactions – love it or hate it – with many longtime fans crying foul. Critics and hipsters united in their love for it though, as the album has personality in spades. Above the gloss, what really shines is sexpot Jenny Lewis – pop music’s best writer and best voice.

Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
Try to remember the first time you heard “Rehab”. 60s era soul with a gritty, modern twist that made it so incredibly NOW. She came seemingly out of nowhere, with style, beehive hair, tattoos, a gutter mouth, friends like Ghostface Killah, and songs about drugs, sex, and booze. It all made for one delicious mess that worked too well. She went from no one to British and American superstar within weeks. The buzz train went full tilt and the tabloid reports of offstage carousing and fistfights with her boyfriend were amusing at first. Until the reports became rampant and “Rehab” turned from a playful rebellious kiss-off into a plea for help; a troubling peepshow into the drunken rail-thin singer’s real life, and then it became a sobering snapshot of an artist on the edge. Unlike her tabloid sisters Britney, Paris, and Nicole, there is a slew of talent behind her celebrity status: juicy slow burners (“Love Is a Losing Game”), hip hop with style (“You Know I’m No Good”), and throwback soul (“Tears Dry On Their Own”). The woman is a true original talent and did more for pop music this year than anyone else. Will she spiral further downward or keep it hanging by a thread? Let’s hope she can hold the line and not burn out now. The world is watching.

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