only survey that matters, 2005
there is a God, then women are her best invention and music isn't far behind.
Eye to the Telescope comes into focus via the live performance.|
But combine the two properly and you find yourself someplace
close to heaven. And every winter, when my list of the previous year's favorites
gets made, that's the common thread.
Which is exactly how
2006 got off to an exceptionally proper start in January, with a hugely impressive
show by KT Tunstall at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland.
a 30-ish Scot with distinctive songs, a strong voice and an assured way with guitars,
oozed talent eons beyond any televised contest winner despite the likelihood
of being doomed to sell far fewer recordings and relegated to the relative shadows
Her "band" consisted of Tunstall and
a stand-up drummer, although effective use was made of a sampling device, into
which she'd sing a line or two, then loop back to provide harmonies in real time.
Or she'd bang out a simple beat with a fist atop her guitar, then repeat that
sample's steady pulse for her drummer and herself. Yet the trick never got in
the way and the energetic Tunstall never over-sang. What came through was a warm,
inviting, powerful voice that toughened up the textures of all the songs with
an old soul's shadings of musicality.
The only encore, an intricate reworking
of "I Want You Back," the Jackson Five's glorious first hit, was dazzling
as well. In fact, seeing the performance transformed Tunstall's decent but somewhat
homogenized album, Eye to the Telescope, into a snapshot of limitless talent
on the rise the best I'd seen since Leslie Feist pulled the same trick
on the same stage in July. Which brings us to:
albums of 2005
|Let It Die|
Feist, Let It Die
This is the type of
blasphemous statement that starts religious wars, but Feist's Let It Die
has an affect on me very similar to Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. In other
words, there are very few albums that never fail and those are two.
Time, of course, will tell if Feist's stands a half-century-plus
test like Davis's.
But I wouldn't be shocked, because for
more than a year now, Let It Die has served me incredibly well. What lifts
it to top-of-list heights, then, are two things:
It Die got played at my house far more than any other album last year; and
2) Feist's roughhouse live show (even more so than Tunstall's) transforms the
album's already celestial songs into earthy, engaging and powerful art. This is
the fifth time Feist has found her way into tripewriter
in 13 months, a real tattoo in a lick-and-stick world.
|Dimanche a Bamako|
Amadou & Mariam, Dimanche a Bamako
An unlikely duo known throughout much of the world as "the blind couple from
Mali," Amadou & Mariam joined up with European mix-master Manu Chao to
concoct a thoroughly gratifying album that most likely will end up getting lost
in "world music" bins.
Too bad, because the record
snaps and crackles and belongs in bins labeled "pop," "dance,"
and "alternative" as well. But to hell with labels this
album is really good. Amadou Bagayoka and Mariam Doumbia are both around 50
years young and apparently reaching the height of their powers.
Spoon, Gimme Fiction
I've loved Spoon for several
years, but last summer's opportunity to see
them for the first time (Crystal Ballroom) and to hear their excellent new
album was a treat and a thrill.
Honestly? These days I put a new Spoon album
on a par with the anticipation a new Steely Dan release would bring in the '70s.
These guys are that good, all their albums are exceptional and their live show
totally satisfies. I've read where the main Spoon, Britt Daniel, lives in Portland
these days; he did a solo show at Dante's a few months back and I was unable to
attend. Here's hoping it's all true and there are lots more shows like that.
Maria Taylor, 11:11
Maria Taylor's first
solo album, 11:11, defies any attempt to pigeonhole and there are no apparent
bounds to the seemingly limitless styles at her command. The singing she's done
on other people's projects (Bright Eyes, Moby) has worked to put her on a fruitful
path of her own.
Just now reaching 30, Taylor has been wowing
small masses for half her life starting out in her hometown Alabama band,
Little Red Rocket. This recent album's diverse, masterly strokes may be a springboard
to a much wider audience. But with the way the world works, probably not.
Eliza Gilkyson, Paradise
The music of Eliza Gilkyson has a timeless, earnest quality
and it's not surprising to find that her father, Terry, was a successful songwriting
folksinger in the '50s and '60s (he's credited for "The Bear Necessities"
of Disney movie fame). Paradise Hotel, the daughter's eleventh album, is
intimate art that effortlessly flows from folk to country to blues to pop to Tex-Mex
to Latin to hymn to rock leaving topics of love, God and politics in its
gentle wake (after metaphorically listing the current president's laundry list
of dubious doings, she sings in eloquent dirge: "... that ain't the teachings
of a man of God ...").
The album, solid all the way through,
finds its slow-cooking peak near the middle, when Gilkyson reels off "Think
About You," an irresistible mid-tempo country offering, followed by a cover
of Karl Wallinger and World Party's "Is It Like Today." Gilkyson's smoky
voice has a slight edge but is never less than inviting and labeling her "country"
would be grave disservice. Just know that Paradise Hotel seems built for
Five favorite songs of 2005
from Lizz Wright's Dreaming Wide Awake|
The "original" version of "Stop,"
by Joe Henry in 2001, was already a gem. But Lizz Wright's moody rendition takes
it a step beyond. Based around piano and classical guitar, Wright finds perfection
with an elegant groove that Madonna's rigid 2000 cover version never sought (Madonna,
Henry's sister-in-law, actually "covered" it as "Don't Tell Me"
before Henry's version came out).
"Tell me everything
I'm not," sings Wright, "but don't tell me to stop." Under most
circumstances that couplet's lack of true rhyme would bug me, but not here. The
rest of Wright's album, Dreaming Wide Awake, is a middling investment,
but "Stop" is timeless and classic. A keeper.
from Louis XIV''s The Best Little Secrets Are Kept|
XIV, "Paper Doll"
"Paper Doll" is a dirty little song
by a raunchy bunch of bad boys from San Diego who sound like cocky, randy Brits.
As their song says, "... if you want clean fun go fly a kite." Maybe
it's the overripe teen-ager in me, but this guitar-loaded two-chord number is
silly, dirty, giddy fun. It also rocks.
I can't vouch for
the rest of the album because I've only heard this one particular track. But,
ever since I found the song on a lark, I've been willing to live with the assumption
that hearing the entire album would probably provide some sort of letdown. I play
"Paper Doll" often and loud.
Bring Me Down," from the Like's Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking? |
The Like, "You Bring Me Down"
paper, the Like is a trio of spoiled 20-something brats who got to make a recording
because their daddies are music-biz vets. But in reality, Are You Thinking
What I'm Thinking?, the Like's rocking debut, contains 13 sharp, well-played
songs and is a worthy investment. The band has been together for years.
the real secret is that these girls sound good onstage, too their November
show at the Doug Fir was surprisingly solid and impressive. The Like looks
to be a band from which we'll hear plenty more. But for now the one that I incessantly
return to is the album's melancholy ballad, "You Bring Me Down."
|"Tess Don't Tell,"
from Ivy's In the Clear|
"Tess Don't Tell"
Another irresistible piece of guitar-based
pop, "Tess Don't Tell" is the sort of sing-along staple that ought to
be coming out of car speakers as if it was still AM radio's heyday.
my mind, Dominique Durand's soft and seductive voice should be singing the word
"Kiss" instead of "Tess." But feel free to substitute any
words you like and keep the volume at full tilt; words are not really the issue
here, it's all about that sound. The rest of this New York band's album
is ho-hum, but that's one good thing about this modern world: If all else fails
there are likely places to download it for 99 cents, maybe less.
|"What Does That
Mean?," from Us3's Questions|
Loose," from Verve Remixed 3 (Lyrics Born remix) |
Us3, "What Does That Mean?"
Smith (Lyrics Born Remix), "Stay Loose"
These two great songs
go together simply because they happened to land next to each other on the homemade
disc that played in my car most of the summer. Us3's album is unremarkable and
by now the Verve Remixed projects have been done to death. But any album can launch
a home run and here are two of the back-to-back variety.
Does That Mean?" is a semi-serious play on words that ruminates on various
meanings of "peace" and "piece" amid scratching, a soulful
backing track and a tasty hip-hop beat. "Stay Loose" takes a 1968 song
by renowned jazzman Jimmy Smith and gives it a radically tricked-out treatment
from the modern mix-master Lyrics Born. Both songs stand on their own, but together
they form the sort of eight-minute vibe that can turn an ordinary party into a
March, of course, is an ideal time to formulate
a list such as this the extra weeks afford the luxury of avoiding the clutter
else's year-end list, along with the opportunity to look over their shoulders
before beginning the task. (I've been making a list since the '80s, ever since
a group of friends called it "the only survey that matters," and there's
a story attached if anyone's interested.)
on the topic of lists, if you're wondering what follows women and music on tripewriter's
list of God's most heavenly inventions, well, pitchers and catchers reported to
spring training just the other week ...