The Best of 2008, Part 1: The Mainstream

by Pico

It’s less than one week to Christmas, ladies and gents. Still trying to figure out what to give your loved one or boss that perfect music gift? Worse yet, you’re born before around 1965 and can’t figure out the Fleet Foxes from Black Diamond Heavies or Kanye West and don’t really care to?

You’ve come to the right place, my friend.

Unlike last year when I used sports analogy to separate the All Star starters from the alternates and chose an MVP CD, regardless of genre. I’ve decided to make it a little easier for ya’. One post for each broad type of music: jazz (traditional/modern, fusion, whack), blues/Louisiana and the first one, Mainstream. That is, rock, pop, folk and soul enjoyed by baby boomers. Each article will have it’s own “MVP”, or best CD (and best song) of the batch, followed by a non-ranked and non-ordered list of other recommended records of the genre. I’ll even provide links to our reviews to these records so you can get the whole Something Else lowdown on them.

Got it? Good! See, I told you it wasn’t that complicated. Let’s get started, times a’wasting:

Best CD Of The Batch: Steve Winwood – Nine Lives

That Winwood’s got talent by the metric ton hasn’t been in question since he was about, oh, sixteen, but he often needed to a partner to bring out his best. In Traffic, David Mason and Jim Capaldi were his foils. For his solo blockbuster Back In The High Life, Winwood called on Will Jennings to provide the lyrics. Lately, however, Winwood apparently decided to forget about making records for the masses and the refreshing About Time resulted. Nine Lives retains the looseness of About Time while tightening up the songwriting, all written and mostly performed by Winwood. He remains the best Hammond B-3 player in rock, only now, that’s more evident. Winwood calls in his old friend Eric Clapton to play lead guitar on one track (“Dirty City”) and that old magic even rubbed off on Clapton. It’s a late-career renaissance by a guy who employs all his strengths and shows no real weaknesses.

Do you miss that soulful, edgy, organic rock of the late sixties-early seventies? Here it is, done by someone who was making that stuff back then and still has the goods to make it today.

Best Song Of The Batch: Arthur Brown – “Love Is The Spirit”

Just like last year
, I fell for a song that’s positive in the face of adversity. It’s an unlikely approach for a guy who used to strut on stage screaming with his head ignited, but like the rest of us, Arthur Brown has mellowed some. Luckily, Brown’s passion for music that’s forceful and melodiously rich hasn’t. This lo-fi acoustic-driven number is heavy on the strums and light on the electric bill. With Brown belting out defiantly affirming lyrics like “You’ve seen my head hang low and split my heart in two/But you’ll never beat me down no matter what you do,” with total conviction, “Love Is The Spirit” is idealistic hippie music that’s done right.

Best of the Rest:

MudcrutchMudcrutch
: Tom Petty answers a question nobody asked. The shame is on us for not asking.
Barry AdamsonBack to The Cat: This is the only album with some notable flaws I’ll include on this list because when Adamson is on his game, man, he is on.
Arthur BrownThe Voice Of Love: The rest of the songs are only about half as good as “Love Is The Spirit.” That’s more than good enough to recommend this record.
Al GreenLay It Down: Sounds even more like a vintage Al Green record than I remember vintage Al Green records sounding like. That’s “keepin’ it real,” folks.
Tracy ChapmanOur Bright Future: This is what a folky singer-songwriter record is supposed to sound like.
The FiremanElectric Arguments
: Paul McCartney is playing with the edge of someone closer to 24 than 64. The undertold music story of the year.
The PretendersBreak Up The Concrete
: Chrissie Hynde lost James Honeyman-Scott a long time ago but at least now she’s got her mojo back.
Todd RundgrenArena: Funny, I took this kind of rock for granted when it was all over the radio. You don’t miss your water ’till the well runs dry…
Keith EmersonKeith Emerson Band Featuring Marc Bonilla: The reason this record is a better than your typical Emerson record is not a secret; it’s spelled out in th
e title right after “Featuring.”
Marc BroussardKeep Coming Back: Broussard’s more organic approach to soul this time around keeps me coming back to this record.
K.J. DenhertLucky 7: It’s Steely Dan with a cheerier disposition. People, K.J. can write some mean(ingful) tunes.
John MellencampLife Death Love and Freedom: I’m not a fan of Mellencamp, but here he is on my year-end list two years in a row. Does that make me a fan, now?
Nick Cave & The Bad SeedsDig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!: The older Cave gets and the more facial hair he grows, the better he and his Bad Seeds gets.
Drive-By TruckersBrighter Than Creation’s Dark: If they’d had ended this record 2/3’s the way through, maybe this gets Album of The Year instead. Still about as good as Southern rock gets.
Lizz WrightThe Orchard: Is it jazz? Is it blues? Or soul? Folk? Who cares? It’s good stuff, Maynard.
Jordan ZevonInsides Out: Not sounding much at all like Daddy Warren, but quite good in spite of that.
Lindsey BuckinghamGift Of Screws: I don’t know if Buckingham’s got any offspring making music, but I do know that this old rock star is far from being washed up, judging from this record.
James McMurtryJust Us Kids: McMurtry has simple songs and a simple voice but his storytelling leave you transfixed.

Next: Traditional & Modern Jazz…

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews.com.