In addition to this fine site, I also occasionally write (but mostly comment) for a couple of other sites, one being my friend JayVee’s site, The Round Table. You can find it at theround-table.blogspot.com. This column was originally written for them. Enjoy!!
Believe it or not, 2008 has not been a bad year for music-unless you happen to be a superstar. Particularly a superstar diva. Janet Jackson, Madonna and Mariah Carey have all released fairly underwhelming albums over the first half of the year-with Janetâ€™s the best of a very weak bunch. Hip-hop has also taken a bit of a leave of absence-unless youâ€™re one of those folks who thinks â€œThe Carter IIIâ€ is a classic, there wasnâ€™t much to gloat about if you were a rap fan for the first part of this year.
However, there have been some bright spots. Soul singers on the other side of the Atlantic continued their renaissance after Amy Winehouse set one hell of a standard (and you have to admit that â€œBack To Blackâ€ is a work of genius, no matter what you think of her personally) last year. In addition to the new Brit divas, a couple of vets returned after short absences with albums that rank among the best of their careers. And thereâ€™s still half a year to go.
Hereâ€™s a list of the albums that rank among my favorites so far this year:
Adele â€œ19â€- The best new British soul singer not named Amy Winehouse. Sheâ€™s less hip-hop identified, more mellow and jazzy, but sheâ€™s really quite good. Give her a listen.
Here’s a live version of the song:
Al Green â€œLay it Downâ€-The voice thatâ€™s been responsible for thousands if not millions of pregnancies has not lost a step in almost forty years. While heâ€™s never gone away, the presence of producers James Poyser and The Rootsâ€™ Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson as well as appearances by John Legend, Corinne Bailey Rae and the sorely underappreciated Anthony Hamilton come the closest to putting this album in the same league Greenâ€™s early Seventies classics.
Estelle â€œShineâ€- Singing, rapping and keeping in step with the likes of Cee-Lo and John Legend, hereâ€™s yet another British soul singer you need to check out. The best vocalist/MC combo since â€œThe Miseducation of Lauryn Hillâ€.
Gnarls Barkley â€œThe Odd Coupleâ€- Yeah, itâ€™s pretty much a retread of â€œSt. Elsewhereâ€, their left-field hit debut, but Cee-Lo can sing just about anything and make it sound interesting. His vocals on â€œWhoâ€™s Gonna Save My Soulâ€ are astoundingly haunting, and â€œRunâ€ and â€œGoing Onâ€ are bouncy and hooky while also being lyrically substantial.
Liam Finn â€œIâ€™ll Be Lightningâ€- His dad and uncle are still making great music, but a 2nd generation of New Zealandâ€™s Finn family is staking his claim as a singer/songwriter to be reckoned with. A bit more whimsical than his relativesâ€™ solo work or Crowded House, â€œIâ€™ll Be Lightningâ€ is an exciting and interesting debut.
Mike Doughty â€œGolden Deliciousâ€-The former Soul Coughing frontman creates a fun, loosey-goosey set that successfully merges borderline absurdist pop (â€œMore Bacon Than The Pan Can Handleâ€) with tinges of seriousness (â€œFort Hoodâ€) and melancholy (â€œWednesday (Contra La Puerta)â€.
Raheem DeVaughn â€œLove Behind The Melodyâ€- This soul singer lives up to the promise set with his intriguing debut. Stronger songs, less gimmickry, and the yearâ€™s hottest lurve-makinâ€™song with the dreamy â€œMoâ€™ Bettaâ€™â€. Heâ€™ll do while we wait for Dâ€™Angelo and Maxwell to come back.
The Roots â€œRising Downâ€-How many folks out there can release their least interesting album in a decade and still have it be tops in their genre for the year so far?
Shelby Lynne â€œJust a Little Lovinâ€™â€- Shelbyâ€™s been a personal favorite of mine ever since she walked away with the Best New Artist Grammy in 2001. This tribute to Dusty Springfield is almost painfully intimate-and was good enough to have me heading out looking for a copy of â€œDusty in Memphisâ€ a week later. Absolutely one of the more underrated artists of recent times.
Vampire Weekend â€œVampire Weekendâ€-Afrobeat meats indie pop with a cultured Upper West Side twist. These guys donâ€™t take themselves too seriously, and neither should you.
There are also a handful of albums that Iâ€™ve enjoyed but havenâ€™t been able to fully commit to: Death Cab for Cutieâ€™s â€œNarrow Stairsâ€, N.E.R.Dâ€™s â€œSeeing Soundsâ€, Santogoldâ€™s self-titled album, Portisheadâ€™s â€œThirdâ€, Van Huntâ€™s â€œPopularâ€, Cold playâ€™s â€œViva La Vidaâ€, Duffyâ€™sâ€Rockferryâ€ and Beckâ€™s â€œModern Guiltâ€ (which has been out for all of 24 hours), among several others. ..and Iâ€™d love to know how I can get my hands on that Girl Talk album.
â€¦and thereâ€™s plenty of stuff coming in the next six months that could make this list completely irrelevant by yearâ€™s end. Iâ€™m excited about new albums from artists as diverse as The Hold Steady, Ray LaMontagne, Raphael Saadiq, Nas and Ne-Yo. If long-promised albums by Maxwell and Anthony Hamilton see the light of day in 2008 (or the loooong in gestation Michael Jackson album shows up), Iâ€™ll be a happy man. Hell, Iâ€™m down with guilty pleasures! That New Kids album might actually be good!!
What are some of your favorites so far this year? And what records are you anticipating