Sky Blue Sky
When I picked this album up, it wasn’t at all what I expected. It didn’t at all resemble the dissonant, fractured experimentation of their last two albums (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was great, A Ghost is Born, not so great). Instead, what I heard was a relaxed, rehearsed-sounding band running through some great choppy tunes that could have been recorded in 1971. It sounded like a band, not a barn in outer space. Some great guitar work, scraggly harmonies, and hopeful lyrics helped this album bloom after repeated listenings. It also boasted my favorite song from 2007 (see below). Definitely worth picking up.
Dan Wilson is the lead singer for Semisonic (currently on hiatus), and fresh off a Grammy-winning stint as co-songwriter on the last Dixie Chicks last album. While I haven’t loved everything Semisonic’s ever done, I’ve always enjoyed his songwriting and the local angle is a strong pull for me. He recorded the album with producer Rick Rubin, and it features a ton of great musicians: Nickel Creek, John Hermanson, Gary Louris from the Jayhawks, and Sheryl Crow, among others. The tracks are pretty organic – lots of piano, acoustic guitars, slide guitar, and harmonies, and most of it was recorded live. The album is probably 2 or 3 tracks too long, but it’s an otherwise refreshing, rootsy run through some very pretty songs. (On a side note, this is probably the lamest, most dull album artwork I came across this year.)
This is not a great or important album at all. It is, however, solidly produced and catchy as hell. It’s likely that this ended up getting popped in on my drive home more than any other album of 2007. There just aren’t that many song-oriented rock groups around anymore who aren’t pushing some hipster angle. As odd as this sounds to say, I really dug the new Collective Soul album.
I’m sure this ended up on a lot of “best of ’07″ lists as almost a knee-jerk reaction in what was otherwise a shallow musical year, but I was really pleased with this album. Like most people, I downloaded it from their website for cheap ($5), and spent the next couple days with it on my headphones. I was blown away by a couple of the tracks right away (Bodysnatchers, Jigsaw Falling Into Place), but some of the slower songs took a while for me to wrap my ears around. At this point, there really isn’t a track I don’t dig. Like all of their work post-1999, it’s a haunted, atmospheric collection, but unlike much of their recent work, the lyrics are relatively straightforward, sometimes disarmingly so. I would definitely recommend picking this one up and living with it for a while. It’s their best since Kid A.
Vincent of the Wild West
This one requires a bit of a backstory. Back in 1998, I got turned on to an obscure British trio called Arnold. Through a bit of online research, I learned that two of the former members of that group had formed a similar spin-off band called Little Massive. I found some audio samples, and was happy to hear that the essence of what I loved about their music was still alive – a hazy, unforced beauty that didn’t stress the flubbed notes and didn’t overplay its hand. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a way to get the album delivered to me in the States. I eventually found the email address of Rob, one of the members of Little Massive, and asked him how I might procure a copy. He was nice enough to send me the disk (along with a solo album of his) for free. This blew my mind, and was certainly my favorite music moment of ’07. In the interests of free publicity for this guy, I’m making mp3s of my two favorite tracks available for a short time only. Both are heartfelt and unfocused in the best way possible.
If You’re Going to Cry
My Favorite Songs of 2007
(for you impatient, iTunes-addled jerks who don’t understand that the album is the true musical artform)
Arnold: Down (free download!)
Derek Webb: This Too Shall Be Made Right
Patty Griffin: Trapeze
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss: Your Long Journey
Travis: My Eyes
Paul McCartney: That Was Me
Dan Wilson: All Kinds
Jars of Clay: Winter Skin
Fountains of Wayne: I-95
Trampled By Turtles: Valley
Collective Soul: Adored
And my favorite single song from 2007…
Wilco: What Light- A beautiful, uplifting gospel song from a broken man. Pick it up now and thank me later.