Thursday, December 10, 2009

My 20 Favorite Albums Of The Decade

2000-2009 was a very important time for me, musically.  I bought more music than ever before and learned more about music than ever before.  I was introduced to many new-to-me genres and artists.  This decade has formed the foundation for the rest of my music-listening life.

In honor that, and in response to all the best-of lists going around, I decided to choose the albums that were really important to me in the past decade.  Of all the albums I bought, I think these are the best.  They are some of my favorites.  Some of them are familiar albums from mainstream acts, but others are more obscure and won't be on any other best-of list.  I tried to pick as many actual albums as I could.  Compilations don't count, but live albums do.  They are listed in no particular order.  No way could I ever rank them.

Consider this a submission from someone who follows his ears and heart, not trends.

1)  Rainy Day Music by The Jayhawks
This was the last new album from Gary Louris' legendary country-rock band, and I think it's amazing.  I learned about the Jayhawks after hearing a song from this album, "Save It For A Rainy Day."  I love all the great musicianship on this album -- and especially Louris' wonderful singing.  This is an album that makes me feel connected to real American rock and roll.

2)  Los Lonely Boys by Los Lonely Boys
Los Lonely Boys tore up the charts with their hit "Heaven," but the rest of the album is great too.  The songs featured here will be staples of classic rock stations for years to come.  Not only is there some good old-fashioned rock guitar, but the brothers Garza sing in perfect harmony.  This was a fun album, and still is today.
3)  Let Go by Avril Lavigne
Yes, this is pop.  Pop music for teenagers and MTV.  The thing is, it's well-done pop music for teenagers and MTV.  Listening to Let Go is like opening a teen girl's diary.  It doesn't hurt that Avril showed some real spunk and attitude while still retaining some sweetness.  The songs here are catchy and like candy - a guilty pleasure but oh-so-good.

4)  Volume 3: Further In Time by Afro Celt Sound System
I've written about this album many times before, and of course I had to include it on this list.  Afro Celt Sound System were on top of the World Music scene during the past decade, and this album was their most ambitious.  Some big names sing on two of the songs, but the real meat of the album is the heavy percussion and real energy in the music.  This album cemented ACSS' place among the best.

5)   Unclassified by Robert Randolph and the Family Band
This wasn't Robert Randolph's first release, but it is the one that made the music world take notice of his unique talent.  Randolph and his Family Band offer something a little different.  Instead of typical electric guitar, Randolph plays pedal steel guitar.  After the release of this album, Randolph became highly respected among guitar players.  This energetic, passionate album shows why.

6)  Out Of Exile by Audioslave
The musical marriage of Chris Cornell and most of Rage Against The Machine was doomed to failure and was not very well received among most music fans.  Even so, the group managed to release one truly great album -- their second, Out Of Exile.  The songs are all solid and hang together better than the songs on their debut.  This album has beauty, but also rocks.  It's a great-sounding album and was an immediate favorite of mine.  The cover art is spectacular too.

7)  Live In Gdansk by David Gilmour
The Aughts saw Pink Floyd reunite for one gig, and also saw the release of another solo album from guitarist David Gilmour called On An Island.  There is one other live performance of songs from that album, but this performance is especially intense and special.  It was recorded in Gdansk, Poland on the anniversary of the Solidarity Movement, and was Richard Wright's last recorded performance.  David and company rip through many well-known Pink Floyd classics as well as the entire On An Island album.  There's also a symphony orchestra.  The pomp and circumstance isn't what matters, though  -- the killer guitar playing is.

8)  Home by Dixie Chicks
Before they became persona non grata in the country music community, the Dixie Chicks released this wonderful, Grammy-winning back-to-basics album.  Bluegrass and old-timey sounds were all the rage in the mid-aughts, and the Chicks took their inspiration from that to craft a solid album full of great playing, traditional instruments and heartfelt songs.  As I mentioned above, this won Grammys and deserved to do so.

9)  Nightcrawler by Pete Yorn
Pete Yorn released all his albums in this decade, and I think this is his best so far.  The melodies are incredibly catchy and Pete finds a good match between his softer, folky side and the hard rock of his native New Jersey.  It's impossible for me to pick a favorite song from this album because there are so many great ones.  I think it was unfairly overlooked and deserves more acclaim than it received, as well as a hit song.

10)  Rain by Joe Jackson
Over the years, former new-waver Joe Jackson has continued to put out quality material.  Rain is possibly one of his very best albums.  Recorded in Berlin, it's a mature collection of songs featuring only piano-bass-drums.  Joe is in fine voice, and his bandmates give him very complementary support.  This album didn't yield a hit single, but that's alright with Joe.  He'd rather put out good music, and that's just what he gave us with Rain.

11)  A Rush Of Blood To The Head by Coldplay
This is the album that made Coldplay huge.  The group had some big hits off this collection, but the album cuts are great too.  Yes, there are guitars, but the soft piano and voice of Chris Martin are what these songs are really about.  Coldplay brought beauty back to rock, and this album is their most beautiful.  Others may hate them, but I appreciate what they do.

12)  Alligator Purse by BeauSoleil
Cajun superband BeauSoleil had a very busy 2000-2009 with the release of three live albums and two studio albums, as well as two performance DVDs.  Alligator Purse is their latest studio effort, and it's packed full of fun, energetic tunes.  Never before has the band seemed so full of creativity and vitality.  They take some chances and come out on top, while still keeping the traditional Cajun sounds in mind.

13)  Water From The Well by The Chieftains
The Chieftains have spent a lot of time collaborating (a trend they continued this decade in Nashville), but for 2000s Water From The Well they brought it all back home.  They're joined by some special guests, but these guests speak their language.  That language is traditional Irish music  Songs, ballads, and tune sets fill the track listing here, and there is plenty of magic to be found.  This is the Chieftains doing what they do best and doing it very well.  Personally, it also marked my entry into the love of traditional Celtic music..

14)  American Idiot by Green Day
I've fallen out of love with this album over the years, but even I can't deny that it is an incredibly ambitious work.  Green Day took the political atmosphere of the day and combined it with the universal of teenage angst to create an emotional, powerful rock opera for the 21st century.  American Idiot showed a real maturity from Green Day, aside from the whiny lyrics.  Like it or hate it, it's an important album.

15)  Nickel Creek by Nickel Creek
Nickel Creek took a fairly unhip genre of music, bluegrass, and gave it a youth movement.  The songs here are uncomplicated and straightforward, but very well-crafted.  The singing is gorgeous and the instruments really shine.  The songs are charming.  This whole album is charming and is one of my favorites.  It's good to pull out when you want something honest and good for the soul.     

16)  Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends by Coldplay
Coldplay's third album, X&Y, was decent but did not live up to the promise of the band's past output.  Expectations were high for their 2008 release.  What they gave us was something bold and fresh.  Helped along by the creative Brian Eno, Coldplay laced their multi-part songs with handclaps, percussion, strings, and weird guitar noises.  Fear not, because the piano is still there like an old friend.  With Viva La Vida, Coldplay made an album as grand and inventive as their reputation and sowed the seeds for future greatness.

17)  Why Should The Fire Die by Nickel Creek
Over time, Nickel Creek did something few bluegrass bands will ever accomplish -- become an accepted part of the indie rock scene.  Their third album took their sound even further, mixing their acoustic bluegrass instruments with the attitude and youth of the 21st century rock scene.  Most of all, Nickel Creek made a very good album full of both lightness and darkness, humor and intensity.  Failed relationships seem to be the theme, and the mature direction made for a very powerful statement.  Not only that, but the instrumentals are insanely good.  The band took a hiatus after this, but left us with something to really savor.

18)  Yours Truly by Natalie MacMaster
The title is no lie.  Natalie MacMaster spent years perfecting her blend of traditional Cape Breton Scottish fiddle music and pop music.  This album takes her in exciting new directions.  She wrote quite a few of the tunes she plays here, showing a real increase in her compositional skills.  She made a very daring, personal album and was not afraid to take chances.  Her heart will always be with the sounds of Cape Breton, but Natalie has never before taken those sounds in so many directions.  The studio debut of her touring band doesn't hurt, either.

19)  Thirteens by Leona Naess
After her career and personal life hit a few walls, Leona decided to get back to basics and just write, write, write.  She recorded this album in a very low-key way and the results are amazing.  This is perhaps one of the most intimate, heart-warming albums I've ever heard.  Leona has never sung better and her melodies are as sweet as sugar.  This album is like having a very musical friend play just for you in the quiet of the night.  It's music for the soul, full of comfort and heart.

20)  Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
This was one of the more surprising albums of the decade.  The Led Zeppelin rocker and Union Station songbird might not initially seems a very complementary pair, but they manage to find a common musical ground nonetheless.  The word the comes to mind when listening to the songs here is performance.  There isn't much here to get you moving on your feet, but you have to enjoy the emotional punch the two voices provide.  Producer T-Bone Burnett is an essential ingredient in this mix, choosing very intense and incredible songs to really showcase the abilities of his two singers.  The music is as heavy as the singing and creates a real atmosphere.  Some of the music is very traditional-sounding, which works well for these two.  I wouldn't call this an enjoyable album, but it's an album to appreciate and respect.

1 comment:

Rita said...

Los Lonely Boys' self titiled million seller is my favorite CD of the decade!