Somehow, it seems, another year has gotten behind us, and it's time once again for the writers of Cosmik Debris Magazine to share their opinions regarding the best music released in that year. 1999, to be precise. We've done this five times since beginning Cosmik Debris in June of 1995, and each time I, as editor, have desperately tried to keep it consistent looking. "Just five picks each, please, and one paragraph per pick!" This has always been answered with this guy's top 20, or this person's top one, with 5 paragraphs per or NO paragraphs per. Editor's HATE this kind of anarchy, you see. This year, after my first half-hearted plea to the writers, I just sat back and smiled as the piece became a study in originality. Therefore I present to you our top five, 10, 92, or whatever these wacky guys came up with. After all, Cosmik has always been free-form to some degree. Enjoy.
Top Five time again, they tell me. And it's just about as impossible this year as any. I'm certainly not prepared to name anything like the "best five." I haven't heard everything, and I've heard a lot that's very good. Out of the hundreds of CD's I've heard and/or reviewed during the past year, these are five favorites, the five that climb back to the top of the replay list most often at my house. Three are new jazz releases that paint a broad picture of a bright future for jazz, despite the attack of the "lite." The other two are remarkable comeback releases by a couple legends of the south...
STEVE COLEMAN & FIVE ELEMENTS: The Sonic Language of Myth (RCA Victor)
The Sonic Language of Myth is, simply put, a magnificent accomplishment. Coleman is best known as a leader of the M-Base collective, which emphasizes the adoption of contemporary urban rhythms in a jazz context. For this one, Coleman plays inside and out in service of a cosmology worthy of Sun Ra, with play worthy of Coltrane and Ellingtonian leadership abilities, guiding more than 20 musicians and singers through seven challenging compositions. If I had to pick one from this list, this is the one. [Find it at CDWorld]
STEVE TURRE: Lotus Flower (Verve)
On Lotus Flower, Turre, exchanges his Shell Choir for his sextet with strings, including Regina Carter (violin), Akua Dixon (cello), Mulgrew Miller (piano), Buster Williams (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums). Turre offers a half dozen new compositions, and tips his hat to former leader/mentors Woody Shaw ("The Organ Grinder") and Rahsaan Roland Kirk (with "The Organ Grinder" and "The Inflated Tear," respectively). Except for one cut, Turre eschews his conch shells in favor of his trombone work, and he proves once again that he's the leading 'bone player of his generation, and among the top in any. This release enhances his stature as a player, composer and leader. Rahsaan would call it a "bright moment." [Find it at CDWorld]
REGINA CARTER: Rhythms Of The Heart (Verve)
As a leader, Regina Carter invokes the spirits of Stephane Grappelli, Stuff Smith and the rest of the rarified pantheon of jazz violin. From the hard swing of "Oh, Lady, Be Good" through the ecstatic soul of "Papa Was A Rolling Stone," past the Latin joy of Steve Turre's "Mojito" and on into the realms of funk, bop and beyond, the diversity of her moods and material is held together by the defining thread of instrumental virtuosity. At the forefront of a new generation of jazz musicians, Regina Carter demonstrates that straight jazz can be played in a manner completely within the tradition, yet widely accessible. Mr. G, I have heard the future of jazz, and it ain't you... [Find it at CDWorld]
JESSE WINCHESTER: Gentleman Of Leisure (Sugar Hill)
Jesse Winchester's first new one in over a decade is full of great songs and perfect performances. He offers a comprehensive survey of southern musical styles, from Memphis R&B to swamp rock, and gospel harmonies to country ballads. The company he keeps along the way includes the likes of Steve Cropper, the Fairfield Four and Vince Gill. There just doesn't seem to be a missing element or unsatisfying track anywhere on this album. If it takes him another eleven years to find his way to the studio, this one will see you through a lot of listens in the meanwhile. [Find it at CDWorld]
WILSON PICKETT: It's Harder Now (Bullseye)
My other comeback pick of the year features the return of the wicked, wicked Wilson Pickett - the man who got more butts moving on more dance floors and had more sweat pouring from teenage pores than anyone before or since. Performed "by actual musicians in real time," these are eleven smokin', sweaty, soulful tracks of raw emotional power. It's a masterful return by an unquestioned master of soul. As I have compiled this list, word's gotten to me that we've lost Curtis Mayfield. We've lost lots of others, too, this year. But we've got Wilson. And he's in fine form. We just might make it... [Find it at CDWorld]
I try to stick to new material for these picks, but I'll toss honorable
mentions to a great pair of archival box sets from Rhino, the 50's rock
collection Loud, Fast & Out Of Control and the comprehensive history
of the LA jazz scene, Central Avenue Sounds. They're each keys to a
meaningful collection in their categories.
01. GIGOLO AUNTS: Minor Chords And Major Themes (E Pluribus Unum)
With its strong pop sensibilities and smart lyrics, Minor Chords And Major Themes is just as effective blasting from the speakers as it is accompanied by a rainy sunset and a broken heart. Stunningly cohesive, yet easily broken down to one hit single after another. [Find it at CDWorld]
02. BENT SCEPTERS: Hellevator Music (Ginger)
The perfect name for these guys would be "The Garage Doors"...amazingly atmospheric melting pot of psychedelic, fuzz, garage and surf music played with intensity and passion. Any band that covers The Zombies on one record and Frank Zappa on the next is okay in my book! [Find it at CDWorld]
03. CHERRY TWISTER: At Home With Cherry Twister (Not Lame)
Alternately soft and loud, filled with changing tempos, great vocals and ripping guitar solos...usually a strong melody outdone by the chorus, which is in turn leapfrogged by the hook and the bridge. A masterfully versatile pop record. [Find it at CDWorld]
04. WILCO: Summerteeth (Reprise)
Tweedy stripped down the band and reconstructed its direction, a move that alienated some diehard Uncle Tupelo purists but should thrill anyone with an open mind and a respect for the art of songwriting. [Find it at CDWorld]
05. WALTER CLEVENGER AND THE DAIRY KINGS: Love Songs To Myself (Permanent Press)
With a witty and sometimes self-depreciating tone, Walter and the boys meld twang, pop and barroom rock into an energetic and accessible sound that deserves to be pumping out of radios everywhere. [Find it at CDWorld]
06. MATTHEW SWEET: In Reverse (Volcano)
Even Sweet fans could not see this coming - production out of the Spector/Wilson textbook, layered harmonies that run the gamut from simple echo to just this side of Queen, and a renewed confidence that will send doubters to the confessional. And, of course, hook after hook after hook, all adding up to a record that could possibly eclipse GIRLFRIEND in time. [Find it at CDWorld]
07. POOLE: Amongwhomweshine (SpinArt)
Easily Poole's best record, and they're a leaner, stronger band with Harry Evans firmly steering the ship. Comparisons suggest Squeeze and XTC and The Posies because, like Poole, they have a strong emphasis on lyrics and the whole concept of "songcraft". Solid musicianship, excellent harmonies. [Find it at CDWorld]
08. HOEHN/VAN DUREN BAND: Hailstone Holiday (Frankenstein)
Tommy Hoehn and Van Duren!! These two Memphis pop stars have had individual success in the past but this CD proves quality songwriters stand the test of time. An unexpected pleasure that brightened my year. [Find it at CDWorld]
09. DAVID GRAHAME: Beatle School Graduate (Dog Turner)
After last year's dark horse masterpiece, I went into this one with BIG EXPECTATIONS.....and by God, he did it again! Grahame is a major league talent whose brilliant future is hampered only by cultural indifference.
10. IDLE JETS: Atomic Fireball (Not Lame)
My Lennon/Cheap Trick/Early Who fix for 1999, a volume-up windows-down
blast! If only excellent vocalist Pat Buchanan were on the airwaves as much
as his namesake, The Fat White Preacher From Hell.
[Find it at CDWorld]
I have to admit I had a much easier time of it this year than in previous years. Last year, for instance, I had an initial list of 17 CDs I had to whittle down to five. This year I had only 9, and I decided to make it even easier by including four honorable mentions. Here, in no particular order, are my very favorite releases of 1999.
JJ JOHNSON: Heroes (Verve) Aug 99
Fifty years after his recording debut, jazz trombonist J.J. Johnson is still showing everyone how it should be done. The original compositions here are as strong and challenging as ever, and the cover of John Coltrane's "Blue Train," featuring sax man Dan Faulk, fits perfectly. Anchored by pianist Rene Rosnes, Johnson has ample room to roam as he turns in one of his finest performances in what he claims is his swan song. Jazz fans can only hope he'll be inspired to continue, but if this is really the final fling for the great J.J. Johnson, at least he flung it high. [Find it at CDWorld]
THE MALIBOOZ: Living Water (Pop Records)
John Zambetti and his band have been around the surf scene forever and ever, but this release is nothing like what they'd done before, which was primarily vocal surf-pop in the Beach Boys tradition. Living Water is their own religious experience preserved on CD, a series of devotional hymns to God and Ocean, which they seem to feel are one and the same. If you feel a spiritual connection to the ocean, as many of us do, this music may just bring tears to your eyes. And if you don't give a rip about tides, it might just move you anyway because it's beautiful music, plain and simple. One thing's certain, if you have any spirituality at all, this album will reach you. [Find it at CDWorld]
JOHNNY DOWD: Pictures From The Life's Other Side (Koch)
At the age of 49, Johnny Dowd recorded one of the most intense, shattering debut albums of all time. Wrong Side Of Memphis was stark and nerve wracking in all the best ways. His follow-up, Pictures From The Life's Other Side, features more production, replaces the toy keyboard with the expensive stuff, and somehow manages to lose none of the grit and power of the debut in the process. The images are stark and foreboding, but what separates Dowd's music from the rest of the stark-and-foreboding pack is the perspective he allows the listener. You experience his songs from the viewpoint of a fly on the wall, detached yet effected by the unsavory scenes around you. Dowd's sometimes off-key delivery only adds to the feeling of unease as he pilots you through dangerous alleys and filthy hotel rooms. Obviously, this isn't for everybody, but for those who like adventure when they listen, it's one of the most worthwhile albums of the year. [Find it at CDWorld]
WAYNE "THE TRAIN" HANCOCK: Wild, Free & Reckless (Ark21)
For my money, the truest country music of the past decade is being made by Wayne "The Train" Hancock. His first two albums, Thunder Storms & Neon Signs and That's What Daddy Wants, were hard acts to follow, but his third album in bound for timeless classic status. Wild, Free & Reckless is everything country music should be but isn't. It flows with honesty, bursts with cascading steel guitars and acoustic bass, and, most of all, it swings like crazy. If I could have one wish for the future of country music, it would be that all the young stars, and indeed the record label brass in Nashville, would be required to take a class taught by Mr. Hancock. Scheduling being what it is for those people, it's just not gonna happen. Perhaps they could just buy this CD. [Find it at CDWorld]
SEVENTH DAY ROTOTILLER: Seventh Day Rototiller (no label)
This CD surprised me when it arrived in April, and guess what... it still surprises me every time I listen to it. When they segue from surf to power rock and roll, or from grungy rock to exotica, handling each with equal skill and originality, how could anyone not be surprised and impressed? Seventh Day Rototiller is a smorgasbord of sounds and emotions worth every second of your listening time. Carol Muelrath and guitarist Justin Paulsen (son of the great comedian, Pat Paulsen) trade off lead vocal duties from song to song, giving this band more than one sound of its own. Why they haven't been snagged by a label is a complete mystery. Meanwhile, they continue to build a following in San Francisco, their CD continues to find its way into my player, and their songs continue to pop up in Cosmik Radio. Think we're trying to tell you something? [This title can be purchased at their website.]
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Four other CDs battled for inclusion on this list, and
any of them could have been here but for a whim. ERIC DOLPHY's
The Illinois Concert
was just released on Blue Note. Recorded in 1963 at
the U of Illinois right after a heated debate on improvisation, the show
turned out to be a musical lecture on the subject, with Dolphy improvising
on a higher plane than usual. If you know anything about Eric Dolphy, that
statement should boggle the mind. After being around the surf scene for
several years, the highly respected
made their MuSick
Recordings debut with a self-titled gem that reeks of class. MuSick went
the whole nine yards, releasing it on CD and high quality, thick vinyl.
All of which means nothing if the music's not there, but the Pilgrims outdid
themselves on this one, giving us some of the best surf and garage music of
the 90s. Among all of the year's various artist collections, two stand out.
Testify! The Gospel Box
not only contained three CDs of historically
important gospel songs, it also was the coolest packaging job of the year.
The box is shaped like a bible, with a white satin ribbon hanging out of the
top like a bookmark. You gotta love that kind of clever packaging.
Musically, it was only out-cooled by Del-Fi's
Delphonic Sounds Today, twenty
classic Del-Fi songs performed by modern bands that made the songs their
own. When the pool of material to choose from includes songs by Ritchie
Valenz, The Bobby Fuller Four and The Lively Ones, how can you go wrong?
This one also gets points for kink value for having Man Or Astro-Man cover
Yo Yo Hashi's "Yo Yo's Pad." All four of these CDs deserve honorable
A strange year with few new breakthroughs, so my list is mostly people you've heard from before.
1. SANTANA: Supernatural Columbia
Santana came roaring back onto the scene with his best album since Abraxas and reintroduced himself to a new generation of listeners by allying with a powerful group of younger musicians and someone named Eric Clapton. [Find it at CDWorld]
2. UNDERWORLD: Beaucoup Fish
Definitely the best electronic album this year, mysterious in dark pastels that hold up to repeated listenings. These guys know how to make some beautiful melodies. [Find it at CDWorld]
3. LOU BEGA: A Little Bit of Mambo
Sure Mambo #5 is a huge MTV hit. It also happens to be the most universal dance hit in years. [Find it at CDWorld]
4. THE AQUABATS: The Aquabats Versus the Floating Eye of Death
Their brand of comic book ska pop is just too much fun, the more I hear it the more I like it. [Find it at CDWorld]
5. BECK: Midnight Vultures
I considered calling this a tie with Moby's Play or the Chemical Brothers Surrender, but the fact that Beck really sings and lyrically is much more interesting than his fellow digital production wizards gives him the nod. [Find it at CDWorld]
Honorable mention - Cibo Matto: Stereo-Type A
Much to the dismay of our editor who wished for five, there were actually fifteen worthy records this past year.
OLD 97S: Fight Songs (Elektra) Big, big hooks to go along with cranked up guitars. The Wilco album of the year. [Find it at CDWorld]
THE MURDER CITY DEVILS: Empty Bottles Broken Hearts (Sub Pop/Scratch) Motor City mayhem from youngsters who copp the best Iggy riffs available. The in your face garage rawk record of the year. [Find it at CDWorld]
BIG RUDE JAKE (Attic/Roadrunner) Smarmy carny swing that doesn't grate - even with a full blown horn section. The surprise record of the year. [Find it at CDWorld]
THE DAMNATIONS TX: Half Mad Moon (Sire) Sweet harmonies, fancy string pickings and tunes that just won't go away. The Lucinda Williams record of the year. [Find it at CDWorld]
WASIS DIOPTOXU (Mercury/Cour de Lion) Warning: body movements are forthcoming. The intoxicating African record of the year.
CASSANDRA WILSON: Travelling Miles (Blue Note) Cassandra got flack for butchering Miles Davis' catalogue. A clever attention ploy for an album that is quite void of covers. The sumptuous jazz record of the year. [Find it at CDWorld]
TRI-DANIELSON!!! Omega (Tooth & Nail) Gospel music presented with a clever mix of quirky hymns and danceable rhythms. The bible thumping record of the year.
ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO: Bourbonitis Blues (Bloodshot) Effortless Americana roots rock. The nurse yer drink record of the year. [Find it at CDWorld]
MAYOR MCCA: Welcome To Mccaland (Sonic Unyon) Swell pop tunes and a wonderful opera that puts Tommy to shame. The Beck album of the year.
CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE: Continental Drifter (Pointblank) Only four glorious tunes to be had here, but they are truly grand. The Cuban appropriation album of the year. [Find it at CDWorld]
THE LONESOME ORGANIST: Cavalcade (Thrill Jockey) Simple yet complex. The Lonesome Organist makes his mark with a virtuostic masterpiece that retains a warm friendliness. The one man band record of the year. [Find it at CDWorld]
TRAILER BRIDE: Whine De Lune (Bloodshot) A good whine makes country great. They also use a saw so you know this is the real shit. The country record of the year. [Find it at CDWorld]
LONG JOHN HUNTER: Ooh Wee Pretty Baby! (Norton) Rippin' El Paso party rock unearthed by the Norton sleuths. The reissue of the year. [Find it at CDWorld]
JOHNNY DOWD: Pictures From Life's Other Side (Koch) This hit the spot during the long wait on the Tom Waits record. The creepy record of the year. [Find it at CDWorld]
CESARIA EVORA: Cafe Atlantico (BMG)
Sweet music makes a comeback. The romance album of the year.
[Find it at CDWorld]