Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Best Music I Heard in 2009

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.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Live at the Dakota: Dorado Schmitt All-Stars

I saw an amazing concert on Tuesday night at the Dakota jazz club. The concert was part of a series celebrating Django Reinhardt's 100th birthday. Dorado Schmitt, a French Gypsy guitarist who plays in a similar style to Django Reinhardt, brought his great group to Minneapolis. The line-up was Dorado on guitar, his son Samson on rhythm guitar, the blind accordionist Marcel Loeffler, Pierre Blanchard on violin, and Brian Torff on bass. They played some original songs, and some songs associated with Django and Stephane Grappelli. (Samson was able to copy Django's licks on "Minor Swing" just about perfectly.) Dorado is able to perfectly capture Django's impossibly quick, impossibly perfect-sounding runs up and down the fretboard, no small feat. Whether it was an uptempo song or a ballad, all the players were outstanding. They were all able to get just the right feel for a piece. These are clearly musicians who enjoy playing together. Dorado can play as fast as Django could, but he can also bring the required emotion to slower songs.

This show is as close as I will ever come to seeing Django Reinhardt live. It was like taking a trip back to Paris in the late 1930's. Amazing. Tres bien.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hall of Fame Voting 2010

I'm finally back after an extended Winter Break from the blog. The goal in 2010: post more! So, today's post is about baseball, my favorite sport. Today the voting results for the Hall of Fame were announced. Only one player was elected, outfielder Andre Dawson. Bert Blyleven, one of my favorite pitchers, who played most of his career for the Twins, fell just five votes short! Oh well, I guess next year will finally be Bert's year.

I think that Andre Dawson definitely deserved to be elected, he was one of the best players of the 1980's, and he combined speed and power. Dawson played 20 years, despite having terrible knees, (I read today that he had 12 knee operations!) and the numbers he put up are very impressive. 2,774 hits, 503 doubles, 438 home runs, 1,373 runs, 1,591 RBI's, 314 stolen bases. Okay, so his batting average of .279 and on-base percentage of .323 are pretty low...but I would still want him on my time any day. When you add 1 Rookie of the Year, 1 MVP, 8 Gold Gloves, 4 Silver Slugger awards and 8 All-Star Games, it's an amazing career that Dawson had.

Bert Blyleven was stuck pitching for some pretty crummy teams throughout his career, which prevented him from reaching 300 wins. He ended his career at 287 wins, which is still impressive. Blyleven also threw 60 shutouts, good for 9th on the all-time list. And, perhaps most impressively, when he retired in 1993, he was 3rd on the all-time strikeout list, with 3,701. The only two pitchers ahead of him were Steve Carlton and Nolan Ryan. That's very select company to be in. I'm really glad that it looks like next year will be Bert's year to get in, he's definitely the best pitcher not in the Hall of Fame.

For players on the ballot for the first time, Roberto Alomar came very close to making it in, with 73.7% of the vote, so he'll surely make it in next year. Alomar was a slick-fielding second baseman who also put up great numbers at the plate. Barry Larkin and Edgar Martinez did well in their first years, 51% and 36%, respectively. Larkin could have a chance to get in, as he was a good fielding shortstop, but Martinez could have a more difficult time, as he spent the bulk of his career as a DH. Fred McGriff was the only other first-year player to garner more than 5% of the vote, and thus ensure getting listed on next year's ballot. The "Crime Dog" got 21% of the vote, a rather tepid response to some pretty solid offensive numbers. I think McGriff was a great player, but I'm not quite sure that he's a Hall of Famer. I was sad to see the "Big Cat," Andres Galarraga, drop off the ballot in his first year, he was an awesome hitter who came back in 2000 after missing all of 1999 due to cancer. In 2000 he posted one of his best seasons, hitting .302 with 28 home runs and 100 RBI, at the age of 39.

Most other players on the ballot increased their vote totals, Jack Morris, Lee Smith, and Tim Raines all went up. Dave Parker and Dale Murphy held steady at 15% and 11%, pretty low totals for two great players. And Harold Baines, one of my favorite players growing up, just narrowly avoided falling off the ballot again, moving up slightly from 5.9% to 6.1%!

Well, I'm excited for next year when Bert finally gets in!