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Year in Review

Every year, Alex Shashko, a huge music fan and a graduate student in American history, hosts a week long email list.serv -- formerly called Pop Music Snobs, it now calls itself Da Doo Ron Ron. It compiles a wide range of folks -- music scholars, music critics, and just plain articulate music fans. I always learn a lot, am impressed by the level of discussion, overwhelmed by the amount of posts (always good to subscribe to it in digest form), and come out of it with a wealth of new discs to check out. (Especially helpful for me with other genres, since I can too easily get mired down in my singer/songwriter - alt/country predlictions.)

Anyway, today I submitted my post about my year in music. I'm not going to edit this for blog posting, and am not going to bother linking the albums to Amazon. Here it is.


Beck, Sea Change
Let this be said: I've never been a huge member of the Beck bandwagon. His experiments in music collage and sampling have fascinated me more than they enthralled me. I did love Midnite Vultures, with all its soul and funk noodling, and its fantastic Prince parody/tribute in "Debra." But I was stunned by Sea Change -- an album devoid of kitsch, devoid of po-mo, just a beautiful, heart-felt record about relationships and break-ups, up there, for me, with Blood on the Tracks, Tunnel of Love, and Peter Gabriel's US. It doesn't all work -- there are some boring tracks -- but "Lost Cause" alone makes this worth the listen. A terrific record.

Bruce Springsteen, The Rising
Yes, there's too much of it -- I can think of five tracks that coulda and shoulda been cut. ("Farther Up the Road," "The Fuse," etc) But the highs are so high here -- from "Into the Fire" and "Lonesome Day" to "Let's Be Friends" and its tribute to the Impressions' "We're a Winner" to "You're Missing." Somehow he made an album that at once is about 9/11 and yet won't feel dated, because the songs are about longing, desire, celebration, and survival, themes which are going to last a long, long time. The song that I think does it for me is "Mary's Place" -- which at the first listen, sounds like just a Bruce bar-band rocker. Then you listen to the lyrics. To me, the song is a seance -- hoping that someone beloved makes it home from the disaster, as well as the healing power that music gives all of us -- "I put the needle on and pray." If it's a song about a house party, it's the house of God he's talking about. At least to me.

Mostly, what's amazing about this record is that it could've gone wrong for so many reasons. And yet, it didn't.

Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
The Radiohead riffs dated as quickly as a carton of milk. But then let's look at the 3 or 4 minute songs on the album, which are among the best rockers I've heard in years. From "Jesus Etc" -- with its great homage to the Spinners' "I'll Be Around" -- and "War on War," to the Beach Boys ooh-was in "Heavy Metal Drummer" and the urgent love letter of "I'm the Man Who Loves You." The lyrics, thankfully, were much better than on Summerteeth, where it felt like Tweedy was just attempting a "stream of consciousness" thing that sounded DOA. And "Reservations" was gorgeous.

Dave Alvin, Out in California
Why is DA releasing a live album just 5 or 6 years after releasing Interstate City? Who cares; he's a terrific live performer, and "Abilene" might be one of the best songs he's ever written. As Dave Marsh once said to me, "Shit, boy, Dave Alvin doesn't *make* bad records."

Bob Dylan, Bootleg Series Volume 5: 1975
No, not as amazing as Live 1966 -- but what could possibly follow that up? The best things on this collection aren't the large band numbers, or even the fun for Dylanophiles of hearing the lyric changes. No, it's in the acoustic numbers, particularly his version of "Love Minus Zero No Limit," one of the best things I've heard in years. And years.

Caitlin Cary, While You Weren't Looking
Who knew that the best Linda Thompson record of the year would be by the "other" member of Whiskeytown? Beautiful vocals reminiscient of Christine Perfect McVie as much as LT, with lush melodies. A gorgeous record, and a complete surprise.

Jim Lauderdale and Ralph Stanley, Lost in the Lonesome Pines
This is what the O Brother soundtrack *should* have sounded like: people having fun making music, instead of a square jawed museum piece. Just a wonderful, warm record, and if you can't smile at Ralph Stanley saying that no, that girl in the audience is lookin' at HIM, then you must be a robot. I'll get to the Flaming Lips in a second.


Coldplay, a Rush of Blood to the Head
After all the Radiohead and Gomez hype, it's been a strange thing for me that my favorite British bands are the ones that are seemingly the most lightweight: Travis and Coldplay. A good record; not as good as Parachutes; but enough so I'm curious to see what comes next.

The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi vs the Pink Robots
A gorgeous, beautiful sounding record. It'd be up there in the winners, were it not also one of the silliest concept albums I've ever run across. The year is 3000. The robots are at war with the people of Earth. So a little girl, Yoshimi, goes to fight the robots. But they turn to love Yoshimi, and because they love her, they surrender and let the humans win. Eep.

Norah Jones, Come Away with Me
The first few spins I gave to this, it did nothing for me. Then, months later, I started listening to it again, and really enjoyed the sly musical choices, as well as the songs themselves. That might have something to do with mourning a relationship with the lady who gave it to me. Your mileage may vary.

Van Morrison, Down the Road
I had given up after Hymns to the Silence, his last great album. This isn't anywhere near as good as that, but compared to the last few of his, this is a warm, welcome record. I'm completely surprised. And only one song railing on and on about the treachery of the press -- and no songs whining about the music industry big shots. Could Van be getting less bitter? Doubtful.

Ron Sexsmith, Cobblestone Runway
His best record since his debut, showing a much more interesting musicality and instrumentation than any of his previous efforts. "That's what passes for love these days," he sings, in one of the best songs. On this record, Sexsmith comes across much less of a sad sack than he has in the past. Which is good news for all.

Peter Wolf, Sleepless
Nowhere near as good as his last solo album -- "Fool's Parade," which is brilliant and out-of-print and anyone who owns it would do their friends a favor and dub a dozen copies and hand them out -- but the best songs are among the best things Wolf has ever done. Especially, especially "Nothing But the Wheel," where Mick Jagger shows more interest in singing than on anything he's done since, I don't know, "Beast of Burden?" Probably my favorite song of the year, by anyone.

Linda Thompson, Fashionably Late
The first time or two I spun this, I found it disappointing. Aside from "Dear Mary," featuring Richard's instantly recognizable slide guitar, and "Weary Life," it all sounded too samey. But it grew on me. Not a fantastic record, but her voice has grown textures to it to make up for whatever loss there's been in range over the years (and there hasn't been all that much loss).

David Baerwald, New Folk Underground
Nothing on this is as terrific as "The Best Inside You" or "Hello Mary" from his terrific Bedtime Stories. But the roots sound and instruments often make up for songs that don't always go anywhere. A good record.

Kasey Chambers, Barricades and Brickwalls
Nowhere near as good as her debut, but with a terrific duet with Lucinda and a couple other endearing numbers. Still, the whole effort feels a little glossed up, and it features easily one of the most embarrassing "bonus hidden tracks" I've ever come upon -- "Ignorance." Sanctimonious and over-the-top. That said, I think Kasey has the goods. I'll be eager to hear the next effort.

Sam Moore, Plenty Good Lovin'
Sadly, this record reflects more of the 70s Stax sound than the 60s -- less of the melodies that made such S&D songs like This is Your World and One Part Love, Two Parts Pain so good. That said, this was a much better soul treat than the overrated Solomon Burke record.

Guy Clark, The Dark
While this feels like treading much of the same water as Cold Dog Soup -- instead of a cover of a song Steve Earle wrote about Townes Van Zandt, Guy instead here just covers a TVZ song -- it still features some of his best songs in a while. Especially "Song for Queenie," which ranks up there with Neil Young's "Old King" and Elvis' "Old Shep" as the best songs about man's best friend I've ever heard. And "The Dark" itself, a haunting track. I still hope that Guy can eventually muster another masterpiece like Dublin Blues. But I'm fine if he keeps putting out records like this for a while.

Rufus King, Cognitive Science
This is one of the strangest things I've come across all year. It's a mash disc -- taking backing tracks that are one song, and mixing them with vocal tracks from another, often to hilarious or interesting results -- which for obvious copyright reasons, you can't find just anywhere. Rufus King is the nom de plume for a legal aid lawyer in the Bronx who spends his evenings fusing completely interesting and seemingly impossible mashes -- that sometimes work. "Baba O'Riley"'s backing synthesizer track comes together with Madonna's "Ray of Light" vocal. On "Simple Twist of Whitney," Whitney Houston's vocal of "I Want to Dance With Somebody Who Loves Me" suddenly becomes a song of intense sadness and depth, when it is accompanied by the acoustic strum of Bob Dylan's "Simple Twist of Fate."

You can't find this anywhere, but if anyone is curious enough -- I can give you Rufus' contact information. It's one of the coolest discs I've heard in years.


Elvis Costello, When I Was Cruel
Every few years, after several "experimental" efforts -- the Brodsky Quartet, the Anne Sophie Muller, the Bacharach album -- there is much fanfare made over a new EC "rock record." Yet 9 times out of 10, there is none of the passion or the breathless oomph that made his rock records of the past -- whether it's Get Happy or the first three -- so exhilarating. There's also none of the musical audaciousness of an Imperial Bedroom, or even the songwriting smartness of King of America. Brutal Youth at least had a couple times where there was something sloppy and real. Here, except for Blue Window and 45, it just feels like listening to apathy.

Jack Johnson, Brushfire Fairytales
This was a record that I'd hear in bars all over the place last summer, and think, who IS this? I found out who it was, then got home, put the record on -- and the magic was gone. It seemed samey, a bit boring.

Patty Griffin, 1,000 Kisses
I know, I'm in the minority of this one. But after loving her first album, and enjoying the experimentation of the second, this one seemed a bit spare. "Chief" is a great song, as is "Rain," but "Making Pies," ugh. And the version of "Tomorrow Night" left me with nothing. I think I was doomed on this one just due to certain friends, cough cough, hailing this as the second coming. It wasn't.

George Harrison, Brainwashed
Such a missed opportunity. I'm convinced that there was a great record in there. I'm also convinced that an enormous mistake was made in giving it to Jeff Lynne to produce -- what could have been an intimate, delicate, heartfelt record instead now sounds like a Wilburys album. With luck, the demos will make it to the boot market eventually.

Peter Gabriel, Up
If there is a record from this past year that has been harder for me to render a verdict on, I don't know it. As always, the production and instrumentation are gorgeous and lush -- there's really no one else who *does* what PG does, and does it so well. Yet there's also the absence here of the *songs* that made Us one of the best albums of the 90s, or So one of the best albums of the 80s. Maybe this one will grow on me. I hope so.


Steve Earle, Jerusalem
After a winning streak of, what, six albums, he was bound to hit a wall. And hit he did. Not a complete loss -- the title track is gorgeous, the Emmylou duet nice. But it's not a matter of having good politics or not -- it's a matter of then wielding and welding those politics into one's art in interesting ways. There was no nuance, no subtlety. Which would be fine, except somehow he also left off all the amazing melodies that had infused his last several records, especially "El Corazon" and "Feel Alright." A complete disappointment.

Jackson Browne, The Naked Ride Home
The title track, the song opener, is a very good song with the driving melodies that have made so much of his best work -- from Rock Me on the Water to The Pretender to I'm Alive -- exhilarating. So imagine my intense disappointment when after an opening like that, he falls back into the boring sledgehammer of political songs, some of which just make you cringe and groan, sometimes simultaneously. Not for what he's saying, but how he's chosen to say it.

Beth Orton, Daybreaker
Zzzzzzzzz. "Concrete Sky" is super, and there's a great duet with Emmylou (Emmylou! The MVP for lackluster albums by talented stars!) But after Trailer Park and Central Reservation, two records which fused electronica and folk elements with a unique voice and beautiful lyrics, this was a big, big dud.

Aimee Mann, Lost in Space
Bachelor No. 5 was an okay record that benefited from non-continuous listening -- after a while, the smarm cut through the often pretty melodies and production. But on Lost in Space, Ms. Michael Penn left out the songsmithing. A boring album.

Paul Westerberg, Stereo
Every few years, Westerberg releases a solo record, and I have to read several dozen articles about how "he's back, and he's found his muse again." I resisted the urge with Suicaine Gratification, but I got roped in on this one. A couple of okay points -- "Baby Learns to Crawl," "Mr. Rabbit" -- but overall, the songs aren't there. At least he hasn't only been writing in puns, as he did on the execrable Eventually. But here's what I still don't get: All Shook Down was bascially a Westerberg solo record, yes? Why can't he duplicate it, then?

Billy Bragg and the Blokes, England Half-English
After the Mermaid Avenue projects, I had hope that Billy would be rejuvenated artistically, and would rise to the occasion. But despite the company of Ian McLagen in his band -- who does do some great work on this record -- Billy just doesn't have the songs here, except for "Jane Allen," "St. Monday," and "Another Kind of Judy." Bragg, unlike Steve Earle, has been someone who has written terrific political songs in the past; but here, he, too, suffers from the same problems with subtlety. Disappointing.

Neil Young, Are You Passionate?
Somehow this record sounds to me like a really bad mash mix -- someone taking Booker T and the MGs backing sound, and putting it with Neil Young slow numbers -- completely incongruous sounds. "Let's Roll" is unforgivable, too, ranking right up there with Tom Petty's "Peace in LA." Which at least Tom had the good graces to not then release on any album.

"Nothing But the Wheel," Peter Wolf and Mick Jagger
"Dear Lord," Joseph Arthur
"Basement Apartment," Sarah Harmer

Tom Rush, McCabes, May 18 -- The same night I first kissed my great love of 2002, Tom Rush covered "Drift Away" and played "Panama Limited," which he hadn't played in years upon years in concert. Just wonderful. I kept the ticket in my wallet for months, and when the relationship fell apart in October, I kept it there as some sort of hope chest thing. Didn't pay off, but it was a great show.

Dave Alvin, The Roxy, September -- He will make you believe in rock and roll, without having to sit out in the nosebleeds at a Bruce show. Just a fantastic band he assembled, with piano, great guitars, mandolins, drums, and terrific songs. There is absolutely no justice that he has not been hailed as California's Steve Earle -- he has the goods, and you don't have to listen to his brother sing the songs anymore.

Linda Thompson, The Troubadour, October
Charming, beautiful, and accompanied by her son and daughter, it was a family affair. She played mostly just songs from the new record and her previous solo albums. But "Dimming of the Day" and "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight" made it into the encore, and for that, I'm grateful. Welcome back, sweet lady.


Warren Zevon, Life'll Kill Ya
Runner-up: Peter Wolf, Fool's Parade
Runner-up: Peter Rowan, New Moon Rising

"Colored Lights," the Blasters

"Mr. Blue Sky" by ELO in that Volkswagen ad

Jimmy Webb to get the Bachrach treatment from Rhino

(tie) Ryan Adams and Paul McCartney

Emmylou Harris

There's a scene in the Rookie -- okay, I liked it, so sue me -- where Dennis Quaid is throwing a baseball by one of those Interstate "you're going this fast" markers late at night. The song playing was Guy Clark's "Stuff That Works." Perfect.

"Happy Together," by Nicolas Cage, in Adaptation

The Sopranos continued its winning streak, even if the first half of the season's actual shows was mediocre. Best moment: the use of the Shins' "New Slang" when Tony and Carmela visit Meadow's apartment.

Masked and Dangerous, where Bob Dylan stars, with Penelope Cruz and Jeff Bridges, in a movie directed by a former Seinfeld writer.

Grand Theft Parsons, about the true story of Phil Kaufman stealing Gram Parsons body and taking it to Joshua Tree to burn it and keep it out of the clutches of Parsons' evil stepfather.

Soon to be released: Bootleg Series Volume 6, the Carnegie Hall concert from 1964.

Ronnie Lane

- 30 -

posted by Anon. 6:35 PM
Blogged down

Slow blogging for a few days, both due to work and due to my finally getting around to making my Palmermix Year in Review 2002 disc. Make that discs: though 2002 wasn't a year for great albums, there were a lot of mediocre albums that had one or two great songs. So it looks like I'll be giving two discs of Palmermix joy out to friends and co-workers.

The fun of the moment is figuring out which songs from albums make it onto the discs. For example, which song off of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot? Probably "Heavy Metal Drummer," though I might put "I'm the Man Who Loves You" on Disc 2. My rule o' thumb is to limit the songs by an artist to one per disc, allowing for a second song to creep onto disc 2 if space allows. This means that Disc 2 is likely to feature a second Wilco or Springsteen song. Or even a second cut from Dave Alvin's live record of last year.

An interesting observation: there'll be much more gender equity on this disc than in years past. With Patty Griffin, Kasey Chambers, Beth Orton, Linda Thompson, Caitlin Cary, Norah Jones, and Aimee Mann all making probable appearances. (And possibly Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams, through duets on other artists' records.)

posted by Anon. 6:30 PM



I've lost touch with a friend with whom I used to work back in my Real Networks days in Seattle. Chris Otto left Real a few years ago to go work at Yahoo Music. He's no longer there; but I have no idea where he's at now. So I'm hoping that by typing Chris Otto or Christopher Otto on this site, either Chris Otto or someone who knows him and his whereabouts will stumble upon this site due to the power of search engines.

I'll keep you posted with any results. Chris, if you get to here -- email me.

Update: Lock linked to this the next morning, and then, interestingly enough, Jeff Jarvis did, too, while naming this experiment "Google calling." I'm curious if this will work. I think it'd work better were I looking for someone with a name like Gustavo Lipsztein, but we'll see.

posted by Anon. 9:17 PM
If it makes you happy

Trashing Sheryl Crow's political thought is kinda going after the easy target of all targets. But then again, it's Sheryl Crow, and there's no such thing as too much trashing Sheryl, who famously trashed everyone else in her climb to the "top."

posted by Anon. 12:25 PM

I found a link to Pete Townshend's essay that was on his website months ago, dealing with anger towards child pornography. Essential reading. I had received this essay this past weekend, the day before the story broke wide, but didn't feel it was appropriate to post until it was more widely available. Now it is.

posted by Anon. 12:21 PM
In the shape of a heart

From the wires....
Browne Angry at Portrayal in JFK Jr. Film
The Associated Press
Jan 16 2003 1:36PM
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Jackson Browne is demanding that the TBS Superstation not rebroadcast ``America's Prince: The John F. Kennedy Jr. Story'' until scenes are deleted that the rock star says defame him.

The movie, which premiered on the cable station Sunday, shows Kennedy rescuing Daryl Hannah after Browne allegedly beat her up. The actress is the former girlfriend of both Browne, 54, and Kennedy, who died in a plane crash in 1999 at 38.

``Mr. Browne has never assaulted Daryl Hannah,'' the singer-songwriter's publicist, Michael Jensen, said Wednesday. ``Ms. Hannah never filed a police report claiming such an assault and Mr. Browne was never arrested for or charged with such an assault.''

Browne's attorney, Lawrence Iser, demanded Tuesday that TBS halt future broadcasts of the movie until ``false and defamatory'' scenes are removed.

A spokeswoman with Atlanta-based TBS Superstation did not immediately return a message for comment.

posted by Anon. 11:29 AM
The Wonder of you

Stevie Wonder and India.Arie record Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" for a Target commercial -- and get a Grammy nomination of it.

I have to come clean. I've seen the ad -- it's a great version of an old, um, chestnut.

posted by Anon. 9:51 AM
Free money!

Ken forwarded me this last week, and I had forgotten to put up the information: in a bizarre quirk of a successful anti-trust litigation, the record companies of America owe us, the consumers, money. Provided that we ever brought CDs at a "discount" place -- Best Buy, etc. The strangeness of the case lies in the circumstances: the discount places were putting pressure on record companies to pay them more money to display the CDs prominently, etc. The record companies retaliated and said, well, okay, but you gotta then sell all the discount stuff for 80% of list price. Or something like that. I think.

You may be a member of the Settlement Group and your rights against Defendants may be affected if you are a person or entity that purchased these prerecorded Music Products from a retail store during the period of January 1, 1995 through December 22, 2000.

Actually, I might be screwing it all up. So read here for details.

posted by Anon. 9:48 AM

It's easy to laugh off the Bee Gees. Their greatest success would end up being their greatest prison, as it's impossible to separate Maurice, Robin, and Barry from that image of them floating, angel-like, above Travolta on the lit dance floor, the cover of a soundtrack that sold millions, and, in doing so, forever linked the Bee Gees to disco.

But in thinking about the Brothers Gibb, and the loss of Maurice this past week, it's helpful to remember that before disco, the Bee Gees did produce some lovely singles. Namely, two songs which would later be covered by great soul singers -- who elevated the songs from the Bee Gees' version, yes, but they would never have had the opportunity were it not for the Bee Gees' originals.

"To Love Somebody," which hit for the Bee Gees in 1967, would soon be covered by James Carr, of "Dark End of the Street" fame. Carr's version is just gorgeous.

And then there's "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," which Al Green would later turn into a gut-wrenching 3 in the morning weeper.

Much later on, in the late 80s or early 90s, the Bee Gees managed a meager comeback. They even received some airplay on Vh-1. The single, and the album, were titled "One," and I confess: it was a good single. The saddest thing about the Bee Gees, perhaps, is that one has to confess liking songs of theirs, rather than embracing.

posted by Anon. 9:38 AM


I wanna go back

Recently, I was at a friend's home, looking through his CDs, as I am wont to do. I then found a secret stash of CDs in a separate cabinet. There, I found the CDs he didn't want others to know about. Indigo Girls. And Eddie Money.

"What's this Eddie Money disc doing here?"

"Oh, that's from high school. I never listen to that."

After a run of hits from "Two Tickets to Paradise" to "Take Me Home Tonight," which featured Ronnie Spector singing "Be My Baby" in the background, the former cop who grew up in Levittown, NY, has kept a rather low profile. He did appear on an amazing TV ad for west coast burger chain Carl's Jr., where he and his band are rehearsing "Take Me Home Tonight," but something's off. Then, looking at the sheet music while eating a Carl's Jr. burger, a bit of ketchup splurts out onto the sheet music.

Suddenly, the song is fixed, thanks to the notes created by the ketchup stains. And "Take Me Home Tonight" sounds like we always wanted it to sound!

Anyway, here's a where-are-they-now piece from People.com. Eddie, 52, ain't looking too good.

posted by Anon. 11:45 AM


Girls of fifteen

The sad news today is that Pete Townsend was arrested under charges of child pornography possession and production. I had heard word this weekend that he was under investigation, but had also received an essay that Pete had posted on his website last summer that was stridently against child pornography, after a friend of his committed suicide after a depression triggered by being sexually molested. Pete described in the essay, which I"ve read but haven't found on the web (it was taken down from his website for legal reasons), how easy it is to access horrible child pornography on the Web, and how spam etc. makes it almost impossible to avoid it.

That said, these new charges of producing child pornography -- well, I don't know what to make of it. We'll find out soon enough, I guess. In any case, sad news any way you slice it. The only silver lining is that this news has been eclipsing Joe Lieberman's announcement today of his entrance into the presidential sweepstakes.

posted by Anon. 3:44 PM

One of the more disappointing records of 2002 for me was Beth Orton's Daybreaker. I was a fan of her debut record, Trailer Park, especially the buoyant "Live as You Dream" and her fine cover of Smokey Robinson's "I Wish I Never Saw the Sun Shine." I then loved her follow-up, 1999's Central Reservation, especially the gorgeously sad "Pass in Time." Both records merged electronica elements with folk, complete with Orton's beautiful, melencholy voice.

Daybreaker, sadly, was a dullsville, except for a ebullient single, "Concrete Sky," and a duet with Emmylou Harris, "God's Song."

For me, that duet might've just been too hard to process. After all, let's look at this little interview with my psyche:

Q. Which living musicians would you most like to date?
A. Emmylou Harris and Beth Orton.

For those keeping score, no, there aren't any non-living musicians I'd want to date, either, come to think of it.

Anyway, here's a nice piece and interview with Beth from CNN.com. Six feet tall, a British accent, and musicially talented. I have to excuse myself now to mop my brow.

posted by Anon. 11:38 AM