Una Docena del Panadero ("A Dozen from the Baker")
I'm going with a slightly different approach this year. Instead of ranking the following releases by quality, I've ranked them by which ones I listened to the most. Largely the order rolls out the way the "best of" list would, I imagine, but with one notable exception.Songs for the Deaf (Interscope) by Queens of the Stone Age is a terrific album, a dense epic from a band that's really a collective playing stoner rock that's really "robot rock." This is also the best sounding CD these tired ears beheld in '02 by far. [buy it] The Jelly Jam's self-titled album (InsideOut) is one of the many Ty Tabor side projects. Once this band stopped being Platypus they focused more on melody, and the payoff is an irresistible CD. [buy it] Corsario Negro (Small Stone) by Los Natas might just be the CD I'd play if a little green man wanted me to explain what "rock" means. It's just got that sound like something incredible is going on, and we get to experience it with a sense other than vision. [buy it] New Ground (Vanguard) by Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise is a guilty pleasure. Bradley and his remolded Blackwater Surprise play a brand of soul-informed pop that I find comforting when I'm feeling too dense to be challenged. (Those of you who find the setup for the joke too tempting can email firstname.lastname@example.org.) [buy it] Spiritu's self-titled record (MeteorCity) is exciting because no matter how big and bad these stoner juggernauts are, this whole album sounds like they've almost put the pieces together for a stellar second CD. [buy it] Wine Cooler Blowout (Tee Pee) by JJ Paradise Players Club is loud and ugly, and we should be thankful that CDs aren't encoded with scents, because this one would smell like sweat and beer. Good for bludgeoning the ears while you bludgeon your kidneys with the beverage of your choice. [buy it] Lapalco (Star Time) by Brendan Benson marks the long-awaited return of the Great Pop Hope. Catchy and clever and all that it should be, while hinting that once he really gets his land legs back he's going to turn us on our respective ears. [buy it]
Where It Lands (Joy-Ride) by the Damnations is just a gorgeous, intuitive and natural rootsy thing. It's sly and sinewy, and hypnotizes almost unnoticeably as it's seducing you. [buy it]
Ballad Legacy (Rounder) by Texas Gladden is one every kid who wants to be "Goth" should hear. A walking encyclopedia of folk songs, Gladden sang about the harsh realities of life. "Camptown Ladies" this ain't. [buy it]
Sha Sha (ATO) by Ben Kweller is cheeky and clever and damn likeable anyway. [buy it]
Jughead's self-titled LP (InsideOut), a Ty Tabor power pop project (well, it is), is what you all should be listening to instead of the Hives or the Vines or the Knives or the Whines or whatever. [buy it]
Storms of Life by Bernard Allison is one rollicking blues CD by the son of the late Luther Allison. Good songs, good singing and good guitar playing will certainly suffice. [buy it]
Things Change (Leap) by Lonesome Bob is the anomaly, the CD that belongs near the top of the list but got listened to the least of this year's good CDs. It's just too much pain to bear. "Where Are You Tonight," Bob's howling lament for his dead son, is an emotional black hole that just makes a memorable CD too intense for casual listening. As cathartic as it must have been for Bob, it would probably put me back on the psychologist's couch. [buy it]
And now for a bonus list:
Here's a little secret: critics don't buy new CDs. [I beg to differ. Well, not very often, admittedly. -ed.] At least none of the ones I know do. Yeah, we get a lot of promo CDs. That's not all it's cut out to be, as the ratio of germs to gems is astounding.
So it's not like we get so many good CDs that our musical appetites are perfectly sated. Oh no. We still buy stuff, but we buy it used. That's right. I won't go into the reasons at length. Let's just say that your average critic is too jaded (and broke) most of the time to drop $15-$20 on a CD he or she is dying to own. No matter how we look at the math involved, it doesn't seem to particularly benefit the two most important parties in the transaction: the artist and the fan. You will see us supporting our favorite bands in a live context with our hard-earned dinars, however, as label reps can almost never manage to actually get us on the guest lists.
Anyway, here are the CDs that I picked up used that spent a great deal of time in the disk player:
Rock for Light by Bad Brains. The CD Warehouse manager said a guy sold his Bad Brains CDs and a few other titles because he said he'd "outgrown" them. For any fan of punk/hardcore, this one is essential as oxygen. I was just disappointed that someone snagged the poor sap's Minor Threat CD before I got there. If growing musically means giving up Bad Brains, please remember my "do not resuscitate" request when you find me trying to slash my wrists with a Mariah Carey CD. [buy it]
Ace of Spades by Motörhead. It'll clean out your brain like a spoonful of Drano. [buy it]
Buena Vista Social Club presents Omara Portuondo is sweetly exotic and smoky, and every time a copy of Santana's Supernatural is sold Portuondo should get the royalties. Next to Al Green, Portuondo is an amorous husband's best bet. [buy it]
The Greatest by Jellyfish is actually a Japanese compilation; why this was at a Half Price Books and Records in Hurst, Texas is anyone's guess. As great as the songs from their two studio CDs (Bellybutton and Spilt Milk) are, the real nuggets are the six live songs, including an amped-up run through Paul McCartney's "Jet." [buy it]
Shoki Shoki is, from what I gather, Femi Kuti's second-best CD, next to Fight to Win. Wow. It's hard to imagine that he's done a better job somewhere of capturing his jazzy Afro-funk. CDs like this make me want to go to Sam Goody and beg Bon Jovi fans to cast off their blinders. [buy it]
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