1) Neko Case: Middle Cyclone
Fox Confessor Brings the Flood seemed a little off and it didn’t warm up to me the way Blacklisted, and Furnace Room Lullaby did but this record was on rotation in my music player for countless weeks. Radio friendly tracks like “This Tornado Loves You”, “People Got A Lotta Nerve” and “Red Tide” have a sleek, polished feel that could some day make them Alt-Country classics but the real gems here are the acoustic, non-traditional songs like “Polar Nettles”, “Fever”, “Vengenance is Sleeping” and the title track. These numbers weave in lovely harmonies, melodies and lyrics that are nothing more than memorizing.
2) Islands: Vapours
This album actually surprised me. Islands, a montreal based band, followed their remarkable 2005 debut Return to the Sea with a disappointing, overproduced and swollen album Arm’s Way. Vapours doesn’t revert to the sound of Return to the Sea. It’s more like a new beginning. It pulls the best sounds from the 80s and lays them on top of some very cleverly crafted indie-synth-pop tunes. This is fun music and each time I listen to this record I marvel at how well these songs are arranged. “Tender Torture”, “Devout” and “Switched On” are my favorites.
3) U2: No Line on the Horizon
I was talking to a guy at a campout this summer who described U2 as the “Beatles of our generation.” This pisses music critics off. When at the beginning of Rattle & Hum Bona said, “This song Charles Mason stole from the Beatles and now we’re stealing it back” wasn’t he implying that U2 was good enough or better than the Beatles and thus claiming their spot as the top rock act of all time? Oh, the nerve. As clique as it sounds, U2 does know how to reinvent itself very well and on this record they did it again while maintaining their core unique elements: Edges infinite guitar notes, Larry Mullen Jr’s creative rock drumming and Bono’s soulful, rock vocals. Great songs: “Breathe”, “Magnificent”, “Fez”
4) Morrissey : Years of Refusal
It’s not that obsessed with my 7th grade heroes, it’s just that they are still putting out great music. Morrissey returns from the melodrama of Ringleader of the Tormentor with an album that has much heavier, rock influences. His new band is tight, full of punk/pop hooks, raw and energetic. Of course, the lyrics are great too. Only one voice can successfully belt out lines like “It’s not your birthday anymore, did you really think we meant all of those syrupy, sentimental things that we said yesterday”.
5) George Jones Musicor Recordings Box Sets (1965-1971)
While this isn’t “new” music, these two box sets were released this year and are must haves for any fan of old country. They are appropriately titled Walk Through This World with Me and A Good Year for the Roses after two of his biggest hits of the era, possibly of his career. You’ll find plenty of saloon jumping honky tonks and soothing “lost my wife” ballads (literally, one is called “When The Wife Runs Off”). All of these are decorated with beautiful piano parts, thick female background harmonies, whiny slide guitars and one of the greatest voices in country music. Due to pressure from his manager and a changing country scene, this was a very productive period for George. The sheer size of these 2 box sets is a tribute to that: 10 Discs, 320 songs and 12 hours and 38 minutes of music. Not every song is a gem but that’s why there’s a next button on your mp3 player. However, there are songs here that you can’t miss: “Love Bug”, “I Cried Myself Awake”, “No Blues is Good News”, and one my all time favorites, “You’re Still On My Mind.” Country gets a bad rap from a lot of folks these days but this box set is simple, American music at its finest.