Ya Gotta Have A 10 Best CD List for 2007

It’s been a busy time of year… Thank the gods it’s basically over.

My final piece of business for last year is the obligatory 10 Best CDs of 2007. These were chosen after a rigorous process of wandering around in music stores, reading reviews on the Web, paying attention to the old rockers I like, and then actually buying them and listening.

(I’ve noticed that HMV, a big music store chain here in Canada, is trying to edge out of the CD selling business, since downloads are taking their toll, and slip into the Wii video game market… The CD racks are getting smaller and smaller and more and more devoted to Beyoncé.)

I still relate to music on the album or CD level. None of this tune by tune, cherry-picking the best on the I-Pod for me! I still insist on listening to a lot of of mediocre songs for the pure love of context. And I’m against wandering around oblivious with earphones on anyway… not a real safe habit in the modern world.

So here they are, the 10 CDs that are top of the heap for me over the past year. Although, for all you know, I may have just listened to 11.

#1: Don’t Tell Columbus by Graham Parker

Ever since I bought this CD quite a few months ago, I’ve been listening to it steadily. It’s what we like to call in the biz a grower. I’ve been a Parker fan for years anyway, but this album certainly equals and perhaps exceeds them all.

For those unfamiliar with the man, he began in the British pub rock scene of the 1970s and came to be known as An Angry Young Man and a precursor of punk rock. He now lives in the US, a change alluded to in the album’s title song.

For this album, the aging young man has mellowed slightly, yet with sharp and pointed lyrics, and a voice often taking on the tones of a Bob Dylan who can really sing.

From Stick to the Plan:

Back in the schoolhouse they been cutting the classes
Time is running backwards and the teacher wears glasses
But she only sees the back of her head
Not what’s in front of her eyes

#2: Magic by Bruce Springsteen (and the E-Street Band)

In my earlier decades, I was never much of a Springsteen fan… he was just this East Coast guy with a couple of driving songs. My appreciation changed when I saw him play guitar for his friend in the movie Keep Me in Your Heart about Warren Zevon’s last album The Wind which Zevon struggled to finish before he died of lung cancer. Springsteen’s blazing guitar was played with such passion in the small studio… Zevon looked at him and said, half-jokingly, “It’s really you…”

I’ve now come to appreciate him as the rock god he is, and this album is filled with great songs and his brave voice. Unfortunately, on my CD the production suffers a bit from what seems like too much sound in a small space, but still… From Radio Nowhere:

I just want to hear some rhythm
I want a thousand guitars
I want pounding drums
I want a million different
Voices speaking in tongues
This is radio nowhere
Is anybody alive out there?

#3: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga by Spoon

Yes, I do occasionally listen to music performed by people born since the moon landings…

Although this is a band I had never previously listened to, on the strength of some rave reviews about this Austin, Texas band, I brought it home and listened with growing enthusiasm.

The CD is short but bears relistening. You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb is one catchy pop-rock song among others. Here’s Rhythm and Soul:

Come loosen up
So hung up
Come count them ways to forever
Remember the winter gets cold in ways you always forget

#4: Time on Earth by Crowded House

I was a fan years ago of the New Zealand band Split Enz with brothers Tim and Neil Finn. Since then I think I bought one Crowded House album, the subsequent band started by Neil Finn, and thought it was so-so. The band split up in about 1996 but reformed for this new album, which I’ve grown to like a lot.

I find Silent House, written by Finn along with the Dixie Chicks, especially moving:

Everything that you made by hand
Everything that you learned by heart
Every name that you can’t recall
I will carry it on
And let you forget
I’ll remember the years when your mind was still clear
And the flickering lights that filled up this silent house

#5: Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

This unlikely pairing of the Led Zeppelin howler and the lovely bluegrass voice (and violin) of Alison Krauss has gotten a lot of good press.

Plant and Krauss come together to cross boundaries on songs like the blues tune Rich Woman, the rocking Please Read the Letter, and the country gospel of Your Long Journey.

From Please Read the Letter, written by, among others, Jimmy Page and Plant:

Once I stood beside a well of many words
My house was full of rings and charms and pretty birds
Please understand me my walls came falling down
There’s nothing here that’s left for you
But check with lost and found

#6: Long Road Out of Eden by the Eagles

In a move indicating the current state of the music industry, the Eagles, for their first studio album in 28 years chose to sell this double CD set for $11.88 at Wal-Mart exclusively. Apparently, it was a good move… excellent sales. I know it was out of stock for quite a while at the local Wal-Mart where I was checking for it.

The first listen through, I thought, Okay, hold it, this is too much like the Easy Listening category for me…

But the second time around, the incredible harmonies and the fact they still have Joe Walsh in the band began to bring me around. There are some definite so-so tracks, but there is a lot going on here over two CDs.

There’s a lot of harking back to the days of Hotel California. The main hit to date has been How Long, written back in the 70s, and takes you back to their classic sound. Busy Being Fabulous is typical Don Henley sarcasm. The title track is more topical, about war and oil and shadows on the sand:

Weaving down the American highway
Through the litter and the wreckage and the cultural junk
Bloated with entitlement; loaded on propaganda
And now we’re driving dazed and drunk

#7 Revival by John Fogerty

I was looking forward to this new album by John Fogerty, Creedance Clearwater Revival’s old front man, but as good as much of it is, it still seemed to fall a little flat.

He’s always been a one-man show, and although he captures a lot of that old Creedance sound on this album, I think he suffers from his tempermental isolation. He’s plowing the same fields.

Nevertheless he’s still rocking and singing his heart out, and the fields have grown a good crop. It even has The Creedance Song, a tribute to his old band. They played the sound track for my high school years.

The Summer of Love has some great Hendrix style guitar and rocks hard.

I Can’t Take It No More is considerably more up-to-date:

You know you lied about the casualties
You know you lied about the WMDs
You know you lied about the detainees
All over this world

I bet you never saw the ol’ school yard
I bet you never saw the National Guard
Your daddy wrote a check and there you are
Another fortunate son

#8: Traffic And Weather by Fountains of Wayne

The great Welcome Interstate Managers of 2003 with the memorable Stacy’s Mom, among many wonderful tunes, is head and shoulders above this year’s effort by this band from Massachusetts, named after a lawn ornament store. (This gives a clue to the whimsical, clever angst of many of their songs, classified, I see from reviews, as power pop.)

Yet this album, even if less than completely stellar, stands out among the dross and dreck of many contemporary bands. It’s been described in Blender as “more witty tales of confused young people caught between destinations.”

From I-95:

They sell posters of girls washing cars
And unicorns and stars
And Guns ‘N’ Roses album covers
They’ve got most of the Barney DVDs
Coffee mugs and tees
That say Virginia is for lovers
But it’s not.

#9: The Stage Names by Okkervil River

This is an odd little CD, described in one review as “Okkervil River’s most conceptually gnarled work” to date. (I love that phrase.)

This is another Austin, Texas band with muscular rock rhythms and interesting lyrics like: It’s just a bad movie, where there’s no crying — handing the keys to me in this Red Lion, where the lock that you locked in the suite says there’s no prying.

Or from You Can’t Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man:

This week’s cash for last week’s grass your crew collates, while you sit in the van and wait

Gassed and trashed and smashed young cads roasting away on a sunny summer day (or, okay an August night anyway) and you’re living on air, while on the 25th floor, up there, they’d fan a million bucks before your face.

The band’s name comes from a short story by a modern Russian writer about the river that flows past St. Peterburg. Apparently not deeply meaningful, it was tossed out casually at some band meeting and stuck.

#10: Chrome Dreams II by Neil Young

You can’t have a top ten list without Neil Young on it. I think it’s a rule.

I’m an old Young fan, and while his output can be pretty inconsistent, there’s always something in his music that tugs at me.

I have to admit this album is much better than the hurried Living With War. Young, like Fogerty, covers the same ground yet again in many ways, but manages to keep refreshing his sound.

Apparently the long song Ordinary People (at 18 minutes) is something of a lost classic recaptured, but I’m not too crazy about it, yet. Maybe in a few listens.

But the more rocking cuts like No Hidden Path with those I-don’t-give-a-shit angular guitar solos are more my speed.

Will the northern lights still play
As we walk our distant days?
Ocean sky, sea of blue, let the sun
Wash over you

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5 Comments on “Ya Gotta Have A 10 Best CD List for 2007”

  1. qazse Says:

    Thanks for doing the homework once again Fencer. Spoon and Okkervil I had not heard of . I like the line about Neil being obligatory. He is a poet in so many ways.

  2. fencer Says:

    Thanks, qazse, for your thoughts… Part of why I like Neil Young is that he’s never stooped to advertise for anybody.

    Regards

  3. qazse Says:

    he seems to walk the walk

  4. bloglily Says:

    late, as always, but ever appreciative, I am so glad to have this list. I love Magic — in fact, I think the title song is one of the best songs ever (it’s so cynical and so heartbreaking at the same time) and really liked the Alison Kraus/Robert Plant. As for the Eagles, I’ll have to listen to it a few more times. I had the same reaction as you — there didn’t seem to be anything to really hold on to here. But having been born e before the moon landing, I have more patience than most and will do some re-listening.

    Hope you’re well Mike.

    xo, L

  5. fencer Says:

    Hey, bloglily!

    So nice to hear from you… I’ve been popping in from time to time at your site, and reading of your agent search trials…

    Magic is a great album. But you know, I haven’t heard a single cut from it on any of the radio stations around here in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. There’s all kind of so-called rock stations, but they will play Born to Run 90 times a week and nothing new. Same with all the older rockers… Not just the veteran acts either… you hear very little of all the great new music being made. Kind of fits in with Radio Nowhere. Whatever happened to those halcyon days of FM radio, before the moon landings?

    I found the Eagles album grew on me, but there’s a lot of unevenness there…

    Always good to hear from you, Lily…

    Regards
    Mike


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