Six Months Six Albums

Six Months, Six Albums Everybody Should Own

“There’s no good music these days.”
One hears this phrase a lot, and it’s not just from “old” people. Music fans of all ages are prone to utter this phrase in a variety of forums, from personal interaction to blogs and chat rooms.
It’s simply not true, though. There are many good-to-great albums released every single week; it’s just become more of a task to discover these artists and albums.
If your music knowledge comes primarily from traditional forms of media, including radio and television, it’s easy to have this opinion. Network television is dominated by the likes of Ashlee Simpson, Britney Spears, and the twits from American Idol. MTV’s rare music plays consist of nothing but catch-phrase rap and whiny pop/punk.
Radio is even worse. In fact, it’s probably the worst it’s ever been. Playlists have become nationalized and shrunk, and the majority of airtime in almost every genre is given to the market-researched, middle-of-the-road acts that rarely take any chances.
With the year now barely past the halfway point, it’s time to take a look back at some of the highlights of the past six months. I’ve decided to highlight one album from each month, along with a list of a few other noteworthy albums.

Cat Power, The Greatest.
January is generally a bleak month for new releases, but Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) snuck out the best album of her career. Much of the credit must go to her backing band, a legendary lineup of Memphis session veterans who obviously had never heard of this eccentric indie-rocker. Marshall has never sang better as she has on this collection of old-school sexy southern soul.
Other noteworthy releases: The Gossip, Standing In the Way of Control; Robert Pollard, From a Compound Eye; Steve Wynn, Tick, Tick, Tick.

Willie Nile, Streets of New York.
New York singer/songwriter Willie Nile has jumped in and out of the record business since the early 80’s, but in a perfect world this great album should push him into the major leagues. Streets of New York is a blender of hipster singer/songwriter rock; elements of Ryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, the Stones, and the Clash (most notably on his cover of “Police On My Back”) mash up into the surprise album of the year.
Other noteworthy releases: Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit; KT Tunstall, Eye To the Telescope; The Minus 5, The Gun Album; Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not; Ray Davies, Other People’s Lives; Hank Williams III, Straight to Hell; Deadboy and the Elephantmen, We Are the Night Sky; Rhett Miller, The Believer.

Isobell Campbell and Mark Lanegan, Ballad of the Broken Seas.
In a year full of surprises, this collaboration of duets between former members of Belle & Sebastian and Screaming Trees is probably the most jaw-dropping. Scottish singer Campbell was in the process of recording this album when she met the gruff Seattle vocalist while he was on tour with Queens of the Stone Age. The collaborated over email, with Campbell sending Lanegan rough mixes for his added vocals. The results are a darker version of the classic Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazelwood hits of the 60’s.
Other noteworthy releases: Centro-matic, Fort Recovery; Loose Fur, Born Again in the U.S.A.; New Amsterdams, Story Like a Scar; Mogwai, Mr. Beast; Mudhoney, Under a Billion Suns; Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood; Josh Rouse, Subtitulo; Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones; Exene Cervenka and the Original Sinners, Sev7en; Van Morrison, Pay the Devil; Scott Miller, Citation; Prince, 3121.

Drive-By Truckers, A Blessing and a Curse.
After two high-profile concept albums (Southern Rock Opera and The Dirty South), the greatest southern rock band of the past two decades lightened their load a bit with this traditional eleven-song album. With no storyline hampering their song selection, the band escapes a bit from their typical modern-day version of southern rock ‘n’ roll. The Replacements, Faces, and the Rolling Stones emerge as influences almost as important as Skynyrd and the Allmans, although this album is much calmer than their previous efforts.
Other noteworthy releases: Josh Ritter, The Animal Years; Calexico, Garden Ruin; Flaming Lips, At War With the Mystics; Tommy Keene, Crashing the Ether; Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions; The Church, Uninvited, Like the Clouds; Babyshambles, Down In Ambion; Morrissey, Ringleader of the Tormentors.

The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers.
“Supergroups” rarely work. There’s generally a clash of egos coupled with a desire to go so far against the grain of their more famous work that the resulting albums are lukewarm at best. The Raconteurs debut album is a success simply because they ignore those trappings. White Stripes leader Jack White brought in the blistering bluesy guitar that made him famous; singer/songwriter Brendan Benson put in his trademark McCartney-ish pop touch while Greenhornes’ rhythm section Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler added elements of garage-rock. The results may not sound like the releases that made them famous (or at least cult heroes), but they’re not as far removed that fans of any of these acts will be disappointed.
Other noteworthy releases: Grandaddy, Just Like the Family Cat; Mission of Burma, The Obliterati; Neil Young, Living With War; Twilight Singers, Powder Burns; Alejandro Escovedo, The Boxing Mirror; The Keene Brothers, Blues and Boogie Shoes; Tim Easton, Ammunition. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere; T-Bone Burnette, The True False Identity. Mason Jennings, Boneclouds; Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadium; Paul Simon, Surprise; Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way (believe it or not, this album is great); Dave Alvin, Way of the West.

Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, The River In Reverse.
After setting the world ablaze with a handful of angst-driven releases, Elvis Costello has become the most unpredictable songwriter in the music business. Even Neil Young has never recorded with symphonies or utilized hip/hop backbeats. On this album, he collaborates with Allen Toussaint on not only the legendary New Orleans songwriter’s best-known tunes but a handful of brand new co-writes. Primarily recorded a few blocks away from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, this album is much more than a well-timed curiosity. Costello has never sang better than on these tunes, and Joe Henry’s “live in the studio” production captures the energy created by musicians from both artist’s backing bands.
Other noteworthy releases: Cracker, Greenland; Sonic Youth, Ripped; Camera Obscura, Let’s Get Out of the Country; Cheap Trick, Rockford; The Bottle Rockets, Zoysia; Ice Cube, Laugh Now, Cry Later; Allison Moorer, Getting Somewhere; The Replacements, Don’t You Know Who I Think I Was?.


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