Another year has come and gone, and while we bore witness to the music industry’s continuing lawsuits against illegal downloaders, the shutting of brick and mortar record stores and fans discovering new music through tv commercials, DISH has plucked the standouts of 2007 from the maddening chaos. Music that moved us, books we couldn’t wait to get our hands on and yes, even toys made the list. So here are the year’s most notable releases:
BAND OF HORSES “CEASE TO BEGIN”
(Sub Pop, $14.00)
Ringing with haunting earthiness and ease, Band of Horses delivers a solid work of heart-on-your-sleeve, anthemic pop on “Cease To Begin”. With Beach Boys-like melodies and song structures reminiscent of The Shins, the group’s self-described “healing and easylistening” music is the perfect anodyne for a broken heart. “No Ones Gonna Love You” is the most gut-wrenching break up song you’ll ever hear while “Is There A Ghost” uses just 14 words to lyrically convey…well, very little, but soars to rock arena heights.
WILCO UNIPO SIX-PACK
Fans of Wilco can now play with their favorite alt-country rock group whenever they want without having to pack up, move to Chicago and join the band. These six Weeble-sized dolls, with big heads, little bodies, movable arms and special edition storage case, represent each current band member and are guaranteed to provide hours of rock star mayhem for the whole family. (Just keep the boys away from your Barbies…they are musicians after all.)
ALISON KRAUS/ROBERT PLANT “RAISING SAND”
(Rounder Records, $18.98)
The most unlikely pairing in 2007 occurred when Led Zeppelin rock god Robert Plant joined forces with Bluegrass angel Alison Kraus. After meeting at a Lead Belly tribute show where they discovered they like the sound of their harmonies, the duo enlisted producer T-Bone Burnett to hunt down just the right songs to record. What he came up with was a collection of blues, country and folk songs written by the likes of The Everly Brothers, Townes Van Zandt and Tom Waits. “Raising Sand” finds a highly subdued Plant and ever-ethereal Kraus delivering sophisticated versions of classic American music.
PORTER WAGONER “WAGONMASTER”
(ANTI- Records, $17.98)
2007 marked both the return and passing of Nashville’s Nudie-suited legend, Porter Wagoner. Best known for his husky baritone, rhinestone outfits and introducing the world to Dolly Parton, Wagoner was rescued from obscurity by L.A.’s alternative ANTI- Records to release “Wagonmaster”, a disc that plays like a vintage Grand Ole Opry show. Produced by Marty Stuart, Wagoner’s 80 years barely show as he smoothly croons the timeless “Fool Like Me” and preaches with gusto on “Satan’s River”. The disc ends with Wagoner reminiscing about Hank Williams and tenderly reciting the lyrics to “Men With Broken Hearts”. “Wagonmaster” is a fitting farewell from country music’s most sparkling of stars.
“WONDERFUL TONIGHT: GEORGE HARRISON, ERIC CLAPTON AND ME” by Pattie Boyd and Penny Junor
From the last person who had yet to utter a single word about being front row/center for the hedonistic days of rock n’ roll comes “Wonderful Tonight”, Pattie Boyd’s intimate account of her life with and marriages to George Harrison and Eric Clapton. From her modeling days to meeting her first husband on the set of “A Hard Days Night” to surrendering to guitar god Clapton’s never ending come-ons, Boyd candidly details what it was like being the subject of not one, but two of the greatest love songs ever written, “Something” and “Layla” and in doing so, gives an historical account satisfying the most curious of rock fans. Coincidentally, two months after Boyd’s book was released, Clapton’s own tome, “CLAPTON: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY” (Broadway, $26.00), hit the bookstore shelves. Read them simultaneously and discover how close (or far apart) two sides to one fascinating story can be.
TEDDY THOMPSON “UPFRONT & DOWN LOW”
With a pedigree that would make any musician green with envy, British singer/songwriter Teddy Thompson (son of folk troubadours Richard and Linda) presents an effortless and moving collection of country music’s most stellar songs. “Upfront & Down Low” finds Thompson covering George Jones’ “She Thinks I Still Care”, Elvis Presley’s “Let’s Think About Living” and Dolly Parton’s “My Blue Tear” with the utmost ease and respect. Even more impressive is when Thompson takes the songwriting reigns on “Down Low” and pens such outlaw lyrics as “Love/You’d be better off dead/With a bullet in your head/Than to come back to me”. As a companion gift, consider LINDA THOMPSON’S “VERSATILE HEART” (Rounder Records, $13.99), Teddy’s mom’s exquisite disc of beautiful, timeless Celtic and folk songs that points exactly to where young Mr. Thompson gets his chops.
AMY WINEHOUSE “BACK TO BLACK”
(Universal Republic, $13.98)
Pray Ms. Winehouse finds her way out of her current personal turmoil so the world may focus on her inherent talents and not her tabloid escapades. “Back To Black” showcases the British phenomenon’s soul-stirring vocals and ‘60s inspired girl rock that blows her peers completely off the map. Hardcore fans must check out Winehouse’s 2003 debut disc “FRANK” (Universal Republic, $13.98). It officially hit the states this year and while it’s a simpler, more jazzy production, it presents an incredibly talented young woman at the start of what we hope will be a long and illustrious music career.
ELIZABETH MITCHELL “YOU ARE MY LITTLE BIRD”
(Smithsonian Folkways, $11.98)
Nothing moves a heart more than a sincere, simple melody. Educator and musician Elizabeth Mitchell excels at finding the perfect songs to tug on your emotions and get your feet dancing. On her third album for children, Mitchell covers the time-honored classic “Down In The Valley”, The Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On” and Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”. While the line-up of tracks might read like a hodgepodge, Mitchell proves they share a universal appeal when stripped down to their acoustic basics. “You Are My Little Bird” is one for all ages.
CARE BEARS ON FIRE “I STOLE YOUR ANIMAL”
(Daisy Explosion Records, $11.98) www.myspace.com/carebearsonfire
I can guarantee you were never this cool at 12 years old! Sophie (vocals, guitar), Izzy (drums) and Lucio (bass) make up this Brooklyn power punk trio that will blow your mind with their crafty, tight, matter-of-fact songs about middle school, animals and MySpace. From the anthemic “Jack Brown” to the fist pumping “Five Minute Boyfriend”, Care Bears On Fire debut CD is my personal pick for 2007’s “Album Of The Year”! A round of applause to their parents for nourishing the three on The Buzzcocks instead of Mother Goose!