Like my similar post from last year, this list is not just the best albums released in 2009, but the best music I discovered/rediscovered during 2009, regardless of when it originally came out. And I'll pick one great song from each CD.
First up, albums that were released in 2009:
Robyn Hitchcock, "Goodnight Oslo"
A simply brilliant album from one of my favorite songwriters. I've listened to this CD a lot this year, and it holds up very well through repeated listens. One of my music highlights of 2009 was seeing Robyn in concert and meeting him after the show. Check out "Intricate Thing."
Chris Isaak, "Mr. Lucky"
Great comeback album proving that Isaak still has his great songwriting talent and his gorgeous, haunting voice. This is his first album of all-new material since 2002, it's nice to have him back. Listen to "Mr. Lonely Man."
Nick Lowe, "Quiet, Please: The New Best of Nick Lowe"
Okay, so this is a compilation, but it's the only release we got from Nick this year, and it's wonderful to hear all his great songs spread out over two discs. It makes you realize how many truly great songs he's written. Give "Without Love" and "Soulful Wind" a spin. (I had to pick two songs!)
Elvis Costello, "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane"
The ever-prolific Elvis dropped another album this year, and it's a winner. I need to listen to this CD some more. Check out the funny "Sulphur to Sugarcane."
The Beatles re-issues
I just got these for Christmas. (Thanks Mom!) So I haven't fully explored them, but the sound is amazing! Give "Back in the USSR" another listen. And the promo film clips make me want to see a DVD of all of them! (And can we see all 3 "Hello, Goodbye" clips, please?)
Okay, that takes care of CD's that came out in 2009, so let's move back into the past.
The Fireman (Paul McCartney), "Electric Arguments"
Amazing. Macca continues his 21st century winning streak with this more experimental album. Paul's not trying to please anyone here, it really sounds like he's making music for the sheer pleasure of it. Groove to "Highway."
Bruce Springsteen, "The Essential Bruce Springsteen"
I bought Bruce's single-disc "Greatest Hits" in the summer of 2008, but it wasn't until his Super Bowl performance in 2009 and my subsequent purchase of the double-disc "Essential" that I really became a fan. Bruce picked up social protest music where Dylan left it. And he writes better melodies than Dylan. Give "Badlands" and "Brilliant Disguise" a listen.
Leo Kottke, "Instrumentals: The Best of the Capitol Years"
Kottke's guitar playing isn't easy to categorize. Is it folk, country, Americana, jazz, or some hybrid mixture of all of the above? Kottke is a long-time Minnesota resident, so I've known of him for a long time, but it was just this fall when I started to seriously listen to his music. There's no one quite like him on guitar. Check out "Lost John," and prepare to be amazed.
The Beach Boys, "Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys"
I've loved the Beach Boys since I was about 8 years old. I think it had something to do with the fact that they had so many songs about cars, which were one of my primary obsessions as a youngster. I had numerous tapes of their music, and this CD has all the songs that I loved as a kid. Listening to it all over again it reminds me why I loved this music, it's just so much fun to hear! The beautiful harmonies, the sheer joy that drives most of their songs, the great arrangements, it's really stood the test of time. It's too bad that Brian Wilson kind of lost it after "Pet Sounds" and the group really didn't evolve much after 1966. But from 1962-66, they were working at a very high level. Listen to "California Girls" and "Good Vibrations," and tell me that you don't forget all of your problems for three minutes.
John Coltrane, "The Classic Quartet: Complete Impulse Studio Recordings"
I listened to absolutely every note of this mammoth 8-CD set this fall, and it made me rediscover Coltrane's great group. The lineup was Coltrane on tenor and soprano saxophones, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums. This set collects all of their performances from 1962-65. The first two discs start innocently enough, with Coltrane covering well-worn standards from the 1930's and 40's, played in a relatively straightforward style. The reason Coltrane did this was because many critics at the time were labeling his playing "anti-jazz." So he wanted to show them that he could produce music that was not as "out there" as some of his more recent recordings on the Atlantic label had been. Things change pretty quickly, though, as on Disc 3 we get all of "A Love Supreme," perhaps Coltrane's most eloquent musical statement. In the later discs, song structures start disappearing, and it sounds more like the musicians just jamming. Coltrane's playing was constantly evolving, and one can only speculate where he music would have gone had he lived past 1967 and the young age of 40. The music on this set captures him at the peak of his powers. Listen to the whole album of "A Love Supreme," and if that's too much, go with the haunting song "Alabama," Coltrane's tribute to the civil rights movement.