TOP RECOMMENDATIONS: ROCK/POP
By Bob Gendron
It’s only January, but number of very worthwhile records have already—or are getting ready to—hit shelves (of both the physical and virtual variety). Whereas the winter months were once seen as dead zones for new releases, strategies have changed, largely as a result of the revolutionary shifts in distribution methods and fact that both artists and labels realize they can get more mileage during slow months than in traditionally busy times such November.
Keeping up with it all can be a challenge. To help, I’ll post a Top Recommendations for Rock/Pop and a separate list for Jazz and Classical at least once per month. These guides will normally focus on new music but will also contain a notable older title or two and, of course, at least one must-hear LP selection.
In that spirit, three 2009 releases, a late-blooming 2008 record, and a few recent audiophile delights get things started. Classical and Jazz will follow later in the week. Enjoy.
William Elliott Whitmore: Animals in the Dark. Anti 86974 (CD or LP).
Americana singer/banjoist William Elliott Whitmore’s fourth album yields bracing contemporary updates of field hollers, jug-band stomps, and populist folk tunes. Moving beyond personal tragedies, the Iowa native confronts issues of moral wrongs and fundamental rights on what is at once an engaging, honest, and sonically true record.
Various Artists: Dark Was the Night. 4AD (two CDs or three LPs).
Spoon, Arcade Fire, Cat Power, My Morning Jacket, Bon Iver, the National, Decemberists, and Feist are among the Who’s Who of indie-rock contemporaries contributing exclusive material to this stunning AIDS benefit compilation, one the best charity records ever made.
Andrew Bird: Noble Beast. Fat Possum 11242 (CD or two LPs).
Andrew Bird’s fifth studio effort is a welcome return to form as the violin virtuoso swings from warped folk tales of to more rhythmic cuts that sound cobbled together using looped strings and smashed dinner plates. While lyrically archaic, the music and production are more alive than ever. (Andy Downing)
Adele: 19. XL/Columbia 31859.
20-year-old British folk-soul singer Adele Laurie Blue Adkins encompasses an intimate combination of blues, pop, R&B and jazz songs on a heartbreak-themed debut that’s far beyond her years and better than anything offered up by her vanilla coffeehouse (hello, Norah Jones) and over-hyped retro-soul (go to rehab, Amy Winehouse) contemporaries.
Neil Young: Live at Massey Hall 1971. Reprise/Classic Records 43328 (two 200-gram LPs).
The much-delayed audiophile LP edition of the second installment from Neil Young’s “Performance Series” is a gem. Seizing on the music’s acoustic properties and recording’s intimate perspective, this is a case where transparent analog sound betters an already magnificent program.
Chuck Berry: Berry Is On Top/From St. Louis to Liverpool. Mobile Fidelity 776 (gold CD).
Of the countless Chuck Berry compilations on the market, this is one to have. Combing the contents (and titles) of a 1959 compilation of the icon’s hits (“Johnny B. Goode,” et al.) and a 1964 LP of stellar mid-period material, the set is the best-sounding Berry offering on the planet, as the 27 tracks here were transferred from a sum total of 15 reels of analog master tape. Essential.