It's that time again. Time for the writers of Cosmik Debris, full time and contributors,
to let you know what they think the best music of 2000 was. So ready or not, here it comes!
OK, look, I didn't listen to a whole lot of "new" music in 2000, for a few reasons: 1) I spent the first part of this year in a pain-medicine haze (do you suppose that anybody got the license number of that truck that about put me in the next dimension last January?); 2) I despise friggin' rap-metal-hybrid bands anyway, which it seems like that was all that was popular in 2000; and 3) I couldn't get all those doggone Clarks cds out of my player long enough to listen to much else, hehe. So to tell you the truth, I could only come up with four picks that were eligible for this year, that I really liked. In no particular order:
MARSHALL CRENSHAW: This Is Easy: The Best of Marshall Crenshaw (Rhino/Warner Bros. Archives)
Forget Clapton...Crenshaw is God, and he was from Day One, when the strains of "Mary Anne" first wafted across the musical landscape. From "Something's Gonna Happen" to "Starless Summer Sky", and including "Whenever You're On My Mind", "Little Wild One #5" and "Blues Is King", there is not a clunker is to be found anywhere on this compilation. That's because Crenshaw couldn't write a clunker if he tried. Kudos to Rhino for putting all these great tunes on one cd--why these songs weren't all #1 hits, ever, continues to stagger the imagination.
HARVEY DANGER: King James Version (London/Sire)
To tell the truth, I have no earthly idea why I liked this cd so much, especially since the first track, "Meetings With Remarkable Men" annoyed the bejeezus out of me every time I heard it. But once I got into the habit of just skipping that tune, Harvey Danger's follow-up to '99's "Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone" grabbed me and hit me over the head with its grandeur-masquerading-as-indie-rock. Maybe it's because they actually have something to say; "You Miss The Point Completely" sums up everything I've ever thought about every cocktail party I've ever attended, and "The Same As Being In Love" is simply one of the sweetest tunes I've ever heard. Don't miss it.
MADONNA: Music (Maverick/Warner Bros)
The last Madonna release that I really liked was the torchy jazz stuff she did on the "Dick Tracy" soundtrack. But since last years' "Beautiful Stranger", I'd forgotten how much I'd missed listening to some of her stuff (the operative word here being "some"). I've always had a soft spot in my heart for any artist who can continuously exhibit such diversity--and she has certainly done that over the years. Whether you think she's a calculating wench who's just trying to stay one step ahead of the curve, or you think she's the greatest thing since sliced bread, one thing is for certain; the lady has talent, and it abounds on this release. Give me the weird sonics of "Impressive Instant" or the authority of "What It Feels Like For A Girl" over all the snooze-inducing Britneys and Aguileras of the world any day...
THE CLARKS: Let It Go (Razor & Tie)
Finally! Music that's accessible to the mainstream without being bland, boring, or contrived. One listen to "Let It Go" will make you wonder what in God's name we all saw in Hootie and the Blowfish and the Dave Matthews Band, eh? The Clarks are twice as fun, they're ten times better-looking, and their entire catalog has sooo much more energy, it's damn near criminal that they're still relative unknowns other than on the East Coast. If the Clarks don't become the Next Big Thing, and stay on top with this release, then I am throwing my radio out the friggin' window for good. "I'm A Fool", "Chasin' Girls", "The Letter", and "Butterflies And Airplanes" are among the best radio-ready rock tunes to come out in a long time, and I'm betting this is the release that puts the band over the top. I sure as hell hope so. I hate it when I'm wrong.
Nope, not even an honorable mention this year for anybody. I'm tellin' ya, other than these four releases, 2000 was a pretty retro year for me. I spent a lot of time listening to old blues records and late-sixties psychedelia. Methinks I didn't miss much else anyway. See ya next year!
Making picks for the annual Cosmik Top Five survey is always a curious
blend of torment and joy. I mean, what could be better than going back
to all the best stuff you've heard during a year? And what could be
worse than narrowing the list down, tossing aside one great album after
When it's all over, I usually end up with a jazz-heavy list. This
year's a little different. Because I figure reissues had their shot
the first time around, I don't consider them for this list, and most of
my favorite jazz releases of 2000 were reissues. DeeDee Bridgewater
provided a notable exception. That's OK, because it made more room for
some notable singer/songwriters, a great traditional player and the
Persuasion's latest, all albums deserving a lot more attention than
So here it is, in no particular order - not the best five, maybe, but as
of today my personal favorites...
PAUL THORN: Ain't Love Strange (Ark 21)
Paul Thorn turned to full time work as a singer/songwriter sometime
after going seven rounds with Roberto Duran, a feat which doubtless
inspired more than one career change. Boxing's loss was definitely
music lover's gain, as evidenced by this outstanding set of original
Son of a Tupelo, Mississippi Pentecostal minister, Thorn's music is
saturated with southern soul and populated with a cast of characters that
seem to be drawn from an alternate universe that might be right next door.
When he's not singing about the neighborhood oddball, he's laying out
his personal torments and emotions. That's dangerous territory, as
likely to repel as to attract, but Thorn invariably pulls you in and
makes you care. This is probably the best album you probably didn't
hear this year.
JOHN COWAN: John Cowan (Sugar Hill)
This solo album by the former New Grass Revival bassist is filled with
an A-list supporting cast (including Darrell Scott, Reese Wyans, Sam
Bush, Wendy Waldman, Karla Bonoff and a host of others easily recognized
by any fan of the Americana genre), some great new songs and Cowan's
astonishing tenor voice. It was a hands-down favorite for this list
from my first listen.
While the new songs are all terrific, it's Cowan's reworking of the
Merle Travis chestnut "Dark As A Dungeon" that continues to bring this
one off the shelf time after time. Of course, once it's in the player,
every track gets played and every track gets better every time.
BRUCE MOLSKY: Poor Man's Troubles (Rounder)
Bruce Molsky has a well deserved reputation as a player's player,
whether he picks up his fiddle, guitar or banjo. Poor Man's Troubles
is proof positive that he's a listener's player, too. When he needs a
hand, Molsky calls on pals like Darol Anger, Martin Hayes, Dudley Connell,
Audrey Molsky, Paul Brown and Beverly Smith. That's what comes of being
a player's player.
Tracks like Molsky's version of Henry Thomas' "Fishin' Blues," which nails
the tune so straight and true that I may have to give up playing one of my
favorite songs forever, are what come of being a listener's player.
There's just joy after joy found on this disc.
THE PERSUASIONS: Might As Well (Grateful Dead Records)
The Persuasions have been the finest acapella group in popular music for
over thirty years and everything they do should be heard by a lot more
people than anything they've done has been. On Might As Well, they
apply their voices to fifteen of the finest songs from the Grateful
Dead songbook to create one of the best albums of the Pers three decade
Breaking a long-standing tradition, the Persuasion perform with instruments
on Might As Well, but with enough restraint that the players, including
David Gans, Peter Rowan, Eric Thompson, Pete Grant, Joe Craven, Andrew
Chaikin and Vince Welnick, are just seasoning for the meat provided by the
Every cut is a gem, but "Ship Of Fools," with Persuasions' bassman Jimmy
Hayes taking the lead in counterpoint to Welnick's gently emotional
piano, is the Hope diamond of Grateful Dead covers. Probably my
all-round favorite album of the year.
DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER: Live At Yoshi's (Verve)
Dee Dee Bridgewater's alternatingly joyful, sultry, hilarious, romantic
and artistically impeccable performance on this disc make it the only
jazz album to make my top five cut this year, a striking departure from
The interplay between Dee Dee's vocal instrument and her backing trio
(Theirry Eliez, piano/organ; Thomas Bramerie, bass; Ali Jackson, drums) is
wonderfully balanced, giving each musician a chance to display great solo
chops as well as strong ensemble work. It's Dee Dee's show, though, and
what a show she provides. Her voice is round and rich for the ballads, and
when she breaks loose she demonstrates her preeminence among her
contemporaries as a scatter, a skill which has given her a strong head
start in the race for Ella Fitzgerald's mantle as the first lady of jazz.
1. LOS LOBOS: El Cancionero--Mas y Mas (Rhino).
The most talented, interesting and creative "roots rock" band to come along since the term was coined. Four CDs, five hours, spanning 23 years, with nary a clinker. And you could compile another, completely different, boxed set tomorrow, and I'd fork over the pesos for it, too.
2. SONNY LANDRETH: Levee Town (Sugar Hill).
Who says CDs don't have grooves? "The U.S.S. Zydecoldsmobile" gets my vote for Party Anthem For The New Millennium. Arguably the most innovative slide player since Elmore James, yet its Landreth's compositional strength that impresses most.
3. MARTIN TAYLOR: In Concert (Milestone).
If there's a better straight-ahead, pure jazz guitarist on the planet, I sure haven't heard him (or her). The Scotsman's all-encompassing, self-contained approached to playing in a solo setting (highlighted on a dozen standards in this 1998 concert) is a nice contrast to his slicker ensemble work on his 1999 Columbia/Legacy release, Kiss And Tell. Either way, he never resorts to "playing his technique"; it's always abundantly musical.
4. THE LEROI BROTHERS: Kings Of The Catnap (Rounder).
Steve Doerr's ring-true originals (coupled with his rich baritone) are complemented perfectly by Casper Rawls' snaky Telecaster leads (two parts Buckaroo Don Rich, one part James Burton, channeled through a Clarence White B-bender, with a touch of Hubert Sumlin)--with Austin's most lowdown drummer, Mike Buck, keeping things honest. The definitive Texas roadhouse band--equal parts hillbilly, blues, Cajun, garage-band, rockabilly and anything else that strikes their fancy.
5. LI'L BAND OF GOLD: self-titled (Shanachie).
The thinking drunk's party band, this swamp-pop supergroup is spearheaded by guitarist/producer C.C. Adcock and features the definitive voice (and drummer) of the genre, Warren Storm, along with Cajun accordion's leading light, Steve Riley, and River Road steel guitarist Richard Comeaux. But the best cut is pianist/vocalist David Egan's soul-wrenching "First You Cry."
HONORABLE MENTIONS:DJ JOHNSON
Paul Revere & The Raiders' Mojo Workout! (Sundazed) is Exhibit A for the argument to get this killer band into the R&R Hall of Fame. "Come Rain Or Come Shine," from Resonance (a 1974 club date by Joe Pass; on Milestone), shows why so few jazz guitarists have measured up to the aptly-termed virtuoso six years after his death. The Quincy Jones-Sammy Nestico Orchestra's Basie & Beyond (Qwest/Warner Bros.) is a faithful but vital, never nostalgic, nod to its namesake. Candye Kane's The Toughest Girl Alive (Bullseye Blues & Jazz) offers a refreshingly lively, rather than reverently dull, take on jump and swing, and may be the best evidence yet that this major cult fave should be a mega star. And then there's SRV, the long-awaited Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble box (on Epic/Legacy), a fitting testament to the blues icon's enduring popularity and influence.
Concert of the year: Brian Wilson's inspiring Pet Sounds tour.
My top five picks for 2000 confirm yet again that I have no ability to focus.
Genre-jumpin' all over the place. That's okay, lots of people can't focus.
At least I have a great soundtrack for my fuzziosity. These are the CDs that
keep rotating through the player far, far more often than others.
V/A: The Symphonic Ellington Night Creature (Soul Note)
This was the year of the Duke Ellington reissue. There seemed to be hundreds
of them, all designed to cash in on what would have been his 100th birthday.
Okay, that's cynical. Some of them were heartfelt tributes, and one in particular
deserves everyone's attention. The Symphonic Ellington is a recording of a magical
evening of performances in Milan, Italy. The performers are The Civica Jazz Band,
of The Civica Scuola di Musica (The Civic Music School), and Milan's finest orchestra,
L'Ensemble dell' Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi. Various Ellington
pieces are interpreted and presented in different settings than they've ever been
presented in before. Small group settings, big band settings, orchestral settings,
combinations of, all pivoting around pianist Marco Fumo, whose note-perfect Ellington
solos at once anchor and segue the pieces. It was a grand jazz experiment that
became something far more special than what it probably had been on paper. The
Duke would be very proud. Naturally it had to be done in Europe, as America still
thinks Jazz is Boney G and Kenny James.
THE SCOLDEES: My Pathetic Life (Off Hour Rockers)
An Internet-only release that somehow manages to pop up on my screen wherever I surf.
Not in ads, but in scuttlebutt. People like this band. Adults do, anyway, because
it's grownup music. There's angst, but it's the kind that grownups relate to.
Nancy Sirianni's voice is wonderful, and when it's delivering the stories of My Pathetic
Life, the words stick. Guitarist Jack Hoffmann's thick, reverbed, dreamy music is the
perfect setting for Sirianni's tales. The album is very nicely done, and with word of
mouth spreading like it is, expect more soon.
LIKE WOW: Burn, World, Burn (Psycho Teddy)
Since Johnny Dowd didn't make an album this year, I was afraid I wasn't going to get my
mind twisted like taffy and bounced like a superball off a back alley wall. Well, I'm
happily bruised and battered, thanks to a band called Like Wow and their surreal songs
about life, death, electric beer chairs and shoe stores with sale items inhabited by
ghosts. A far cry from the old "I saw her walking down the street" formula, ya know?
At the center of this band is Thomas Truax, bassist and songwriter who has a day gig
that involves doing the stop-animation for MTV's Celebrity Death Match. Which comes
as no surprise to me, with my mind all braided, bounced and bruised as it is to the
point where all I can do is stare blankly and say "...like, wow..."
WARREN ZEVON: Life'll Kill Ya (Artemis)
This guy's going to out-live us all, and at the age of 75 he'll still be making music
that's vital and absolutely true to life. This CD knocked me out on the first listen
and started teaching me things on the next one. The classic Zevon visuals are in place,
his metaphors are flawlessly formed and, in the end, his truth is his calling card. Who
else will tell of going to the doctor and describing his ailment as "my shit's fucked
up" besides Warren Zevon? The doctor tells him it's a normal part of getting old, and
that's what Life'll Kill Ya is really all about. Zevon deals with the problems of aging
just like he dealt with the problems of youth; head first, jaw set and clown nose ready
to beep. Maybe it has something to do with hitting my 40s, but this is my runner up for
album of the year.
VICTOR DELORENZO: The Blessed Faustina (bfRecordings)
Knowing that Victor DeLorenzo was the drummer for The Violent Femmes should prepare you
for just about anything when his CD is placed in the player. Yet I was taken completely
off guard by The Blessed Faustina. So many emotions and textures and speeds here.
Victor did a great deal of this by himself over a long period of time in his home
studio, yet none of the things that typically mar a home recording show up here. If
you aren't told it was done this way, you won't know. What got me about the music was
the wide range of emotional weight. When it's light it's not insignificant, and when
it's heavy it's still explorable, open and welcoming. Victor DeLorenzo isn't trying
to sell a ton of albums, and he probably won't. Too bad, because he should be heard.
In any case, his Blessed Faustina is certainly the most fascinating album I heard in
all of 2000, and it's my top pick.
Honorable Mentions:RUSTY PIPES
V/A - Monster Party 2000 (MuSick Recordings) is only just now being reviewed, but it
was an October release and it's a KILLER Halloween comp. Lucky Dube's The Way It
Is (Shanachie) is yet another in a long string of meaningful and beautiful reggae
albums for the South African artist. The Supersuckers' Evil Powers Of Rock &
Roll (Twenty14) just about blew me backwards out of my office chair. One of the most
powerful rockerrecords of the year. The Treehouse Project's independently released,
self-titled album amazed me. It's adventurous jazz that is sometimes electric, sometimes
acoustic, and always original. Unfortunately, it's very hard to find the band or the
CD, and very little information is available, even through search engines. What a shame.
And finally, I'm very pleased to report that the reports of the demise of the instrumental
music scene were premature. A few bands continue to push the envelope and fill the
air with beautiful sounds. Three CDs that make the grade are GT Stringer's Space
Out (Tremolo 10), Laika & The Cosmonauts' Absurdistan (Yep Roc), and The Space Cossacks'
Tsar Wars (MuSick Recordings). Each of these three bands gives me a lot of hope for
the future of the genre. That's it for me. Onward to 2001.
1. WILLIAM ORBIT: Pieces In A Modern Style (Maverick)
This all electronic album is a loving update of classics by Beethoven,
Satie,Ravel, Gorecki, Handel and others by one of the best synthesizers
twiddlers anywhere. It comes complete with a disc of dance remixes, but
long after you are too old to dance, you'll still be listening to the
main disc. This mostly somber, painfully beautiful music is one for the
ages, standing shoulder to shoulder with Wendy Carlos's immortal
Switched On Bach.
2. RADIOHEAD: Kid A (Capitol)
Definitely the riskiest undertaking by a group this year. Poised on the
edge of superstardom they could've gone totally pop, but instead they
went to the edge of madness, creating murky, eerily appealing sonic
landscapes. Even after four months I still feel like I haven't gotten to
the bottom of this; maybe it's their reply to Dark Side Of The Moon.
3. PAUL SIMON: You're The One (Columbia)
Paul's finally recovered from a bad experience on Broadway, giving us a
fantastic tour and a fantastic album. I'd be happy to own this just for
the song Old, but there's also Hurricane Eye, That's Where I Belong,
and Darling Lorraine to prove again he may be our greatest poet.
4. WILLIE NELSON: Milk Cow Blues (Uni/Island)
Eric Clapton combined with B.B. King for Running With The King, a dynamite
blues album that certainly deserves an honorable mention this year, but I
listen to this one more. It's impeccably crafted, with a different guest
on each track doing masterfully understated, hand-tooled solos. Performers
include Kenny Wayne Shepard, Dr. John, Susan Tedeschi, Francine Reed and,
oh yes, B.B. is here too. With Willie's leathery voice up front, it just
oozes the blues from every pore.
5. RICHARD CHEESE: Lounge Against The Machine (Oglio)
OK, so it's the same joke every song, reworking angry alternative
anthems into crooner standards but Cheese really knows how to milk these
tunes and give them some culture. Goddamn this is funny stuff, and I want
more! Easily the best comedy album of the year.
Honorable mention goes to Riding With The King as mentioned above, but
also to Neil Young's Silver and Gold, an album you can really curl up
around the fireplace with. Among the biggest disappointments were U2's
All That You Can't Leave Behind which had its moments but should have
been a lot better with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois co-producing. Also Fat
Boy Slim's Halfway Between The Gutte rAnd The Stars bravely tried to
curse us onto the dance floor and somehow didn't move me when I got
5. KENNY DORHAM: Una Mas (Blue Note).
An incendiary session from 1963
that mixes Latin and Afro-Cuban rhythms to produce a work of passion and
integrity that never sounds dated. Dorham, a first class trumpet
player, was joined by Joe Henderson on tenor sax, Herbie Hancock on piano,
Butch Warren on bass, and Tony Williams on drums. With the exception of
Warren, the group was young and exciting. Listen to the way Williams,
only 17 at the time, feeds the soloists great riffs to work off of.
Dorham, inspired by his bandmates, produces some of his greatest music;
his solos are highly inventive throughout.
4. HANK MOBLEY: Soul Station (Blue Note).
Hank Mobley was one of the
greats of tenor saxophone, a player with a wonderful full, smoky tone
and a strong sense of swing. For this 1960 session, Mobley was joined
by a killer rhythm section of Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass),
and Art Blakey (drums). The music consists of four Mobley originals and two
seldom performed standards. Mobley is on fire, his playing almost
perfect, his choice of tempo precise. Highly recommended.
3. ART PEPPER: Meets The Rhythm Section (Contemporary/Fantasy).
Recorded in 1957, Art Pepper plays alto sax for this session with the
then Miles Davis stellar rhythm section of Red Garland (piano), Paul
Chambers (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums). The music soars, often
becoming poetic. Pepper, one of the most lyrical of alto players,
responds to the challenge of this consummate group of professionals to
produce one of the truly classic recordings in jazz history. It belongs
in every serious jazz devotee's collection.
2. SONNY ROLLINS: The Freelance Years (Contemporary/Riverside/Fantasy).
Rollins has a gigantic, sensual sound on tenor sax and an ability to
play perfectly whatever he attempts. This 5 disk set compiles seven
sessions Rollins released during the late fifties and early sixties,
either with him as leader or playing on albums released by Thelonius
Monk, Kenny Dorham, or Abbie Lincoln. Rollins plays with all the power
and beauty of the genius that he is. My favorite sessions are Monk's
"Brilliant Corners" and Rollins own "Way Out West". Brilliant and
1. MILES DAVIS & JOHN COLTRANE: The Complete Columbia Recording
Is there any doubt? Some of the greatest
recordings in the jazz history - "Kind Of Blue", "'Round About
Midnight", and "Milestones" to name a few. Classic music, amazing
solos. One can hear Miles as he changes the direction of jazz and
Coltrane as he matures into a tenor sax giant. This is timeless music,
sounding as perfect now as it did when released 40 years ago. If only
we all aged this gracefully. Definitive music belonging in everyone's
library. Mosaic does it again.
SARAH VAUGHAN: Sarah Vaughan (EmArcy/Verve).
Perhaps the greatest jazz
vocal recording of all time. Originally released in 1954. Sassy in her
prime, with her amazing skill, range, and emotion - backed by an
all-star band of Clifford Brown (trumpet), Herbie Mann (flute), Paul
Quinichette (tenor saxophone), Jimmy Jones (piano), Joe Benjamin (bass), Roy
Haynes (drums), and Ernie Watkins (arranger/conductor).
SONNY CRISS: The Complete Imperial Sessions (Blue Note).
packaging by Blue Note of 3 sessions Criss recorded during 1956. Criss,
on alto sax, is backed by Barney Kessel (guitar), Kenny Drew and Sonny
Clark (piano), Larry Bunker (vibes), Bill Woodson, Leroy Vinnegar, and
Buddy Clark (bass) and Chuck Thompson and Lawrence Marable (drums). Criss
has a big, expressive tone that shines on ballads and standards.
GIANT SAND: Chore Of Enchantment (Thrill Jockey)
Anything Joey and Johnny from Calexico touch is sheer magic,
and this just happens to be the cream of the bountiful crop they
have been associated with this year. As the thought of ice-picking
your way out the door looms, this escape to the red Arizona desert
is an indispensable tonic. The addiction record of the year.
JOHNNY CASH: Solitary Man (American) A new favourite pops up every time I
spin this sucker. Can it really be this good? You bet. The real country
record of the year.
JAI AGNISH: Automata (Blue Bunny)
Subtle Christian pop with dashes of kiddie
electronic instruments. The humming record of the year.
BILLY BRAGG & WILCOMERMAID: - Avenue Vol.2 (Elektra) Better than Volume 1,
Woody Guthrie lyrics prove timeless. The barn
dance record of the year.
VARIOUS: The Powerpuff Girls (Rhino)
Yes the kids dig it, but face it, not as much as you. Bubblegum pop
makes a comeback, but so does the rock from folks like Frank Black.
The family album of the year.
WHITE HASSLE: Life Is Still Sweet (Orange)
A train song, pots for drums and sweet hooks. The rather curt length
being the only glitch. The appetizer record of the year.
ELENI MANDELL: Thrill (Zedtone)
Fats was wrong, the thrill ain't gone. Eleni is the new queen of the cabaret.
The Tom Waits record of the year.
JOHN SOUTHWORTH: Banff Springs, Transylvania (Perimeter)
A brilliantly clever songwriter goes over the top in a flourish of sixties
Donovan style prose. The operatic record of the year.
THE GIRAFFES The Days Are Filled With Years (Orange)
Simple rhymes never go out of style. The charming record of the year.
THEY USED TO CALL THEM SINGLES
SONGS WITH GUSTOST: Germainrose Rouge (Blue Note)
Snappy jazz appropriation of the finest kind.
ASS PONYS: Fighter Pilot (Checkered Past)
A grand pop tune like REM used to churn out.
XTC: Stupidly Happy (TVT)
A classic timewarp after years of doledrums.
MARSHALL CRENSHAW: T.M.D. (Razor & Tie)
As always, one brilliant Buddy Holly tune per album.
MIKE O'NEIL: Camera Shy (Perimeter)
Wispy and soft and totally adorable.
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE: Feel Good Hit Of The Summer (Interscope)
Yes it was.
CAT POWER: Satisfaction (Matador)
A heartbreak lo-fi whisper version that is the best ever. No really.
SARAH HARMER: Uniform Grey (Zoe)
Pretty voice, pretty song, pretty nice.
CHRIS KNOX: It's Love (Thirsty Ear)
Will put a skip in your step, guaranteed.
I almost didn't throw my hat in the "Top Five" ring of the Cosmik Cirkus this year. There's been so many great new and reissued blues in 2000 that it's been hard for me to narrow a year's worth of must-have blues down to a list of personal favorites. Now, it's true that I haven't heard each and every blues record that was released last year. However, from the dozens of CDs that I have had the good fortune to hear and review on these Cosmik screens, I've picked my top five and a handful of runners-up. These are my personal favorites and ones that I play often; 'cause they tell me something new about one of the oldest forms of American popular music. I've also snuck in a folk record by American Indian singer Annie Humphrey, and rousing live set from the King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier.
JAMES HARMAN: Mo' Na'Kins, Please, Strictly the Blues. Vol. 2. (Cannonball)
James Harman is one of the most exciting bluesmen around, and he's been around a while. In his 30+ years as a harp player and songwriter, he's shared the stage with Big Joe Turner, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, and John Lee Hooker, just to name a few. Mo' Na'Kins Please features previously unreleased, timeless blues from Harman's Extra Napkins sessions in the 80's. He's since released critically acclaimed disks on Black Top, Rhino, Riviera, and Cannonball, and Mo' Na'Kins Please is pure blues magic. Just one listen to "Shim Sham Shimmy" or both versions of the title cut confirm that James Harman and his buddies (including Kid Ramos and "Piano Gene" Taylor) really know their blues.
CLIFTON CHENIER: Live at Grant Street (Arhoolie)
It's about time. Nearly 20 years ago, Clifton Chenier and his Red Hot Louisiana Band played a live show at the Grant Street Dance Hall in the Zydeco King's hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana. Until last November, the tapes of this concert were locked up in Arhoolie's vaults. Chenier himself financed the recording in the heart of French Louisiana, and I'm glad Arloolie has released this great evening of joyful and infectious Zydeco. "You Got Me Crying," "Zydeco Rock" and "Mon Fait Mon L'Ide/I Made Up My Mind" all get me up and moving. Go grab some gumbo and these previously unreleased 15 gems from Clifton Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band!
TOMMY CASTRO BAND: Live at the Fillmore (Blind Pig)
When it comes to the blues, Tommy Castro is a late-bloomer. This talented, 45 year-old guitarist has been a rising star since his early days with the San Francisco Bay-Area's Dynatones in the 1980's. This year, he'll be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Tommy Castro Band, and Live at the Fillmore gives blues fans good reason to raise a glass to one of the most powerful purveyors of electric blues. An Enhanced CD on Blind Pig, Live at the Fillmore features a short interview with Castro and most of his 1999 CD, Right As Rain, in addition to four cover tunes. Live at the Fillmore captures Tommy in front of a hometown crowd, and his powerful guitar work shines, particularly on the power chord-driven "Lucky in Love" or the smoldering cover of "My Time After Awhile." Powerful guitar-driven blues and thoughtful songwriting set the Tommy Castro Band apart from other blues releases in 2000, and I'm looking forward to Castro's next set.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: AND THIS IS MAXWELL STREET (Rooster)
For decades, Chicago's Maxwell Street was a blues incubator. One of America's oldest open-air markets, Maxwell Street nurtured generations of Chicago blues talent, including Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Snooky Pryor, Floyd Jones, and Carey Bell. And This is Maxwell Street features two discs of blues from the legendary 1964 documentary titled And This Is Free, and the third is an interview of Robert Nighthawk by Mike Bloomfield. Many cuts from Nighthawk are also on the excellent Live on Maxwell Street 1964 (Rounder), but And This Is Maxwell Street is an immersion in the loud and crowded market, complete with street corner preachers and hawkers that promise just the right stuff and just the right price. And This is Maxwell Street is classic audio verite: Mike Shea's film crew recorded many of the cuts live as they played on the street. Bloomfield sits in with Nighthawk on the full-throttle boogie of "Dust My Broom," and Carey Bell's chromatic harp shines on "I'm Ready" and "Carey'n on." James Brewer's country blues sing-a-long, "I'll Fly Away" recalls the journey that many made to Maxwell Street from the Mississippi Delta to begin new lives in Carl Sandburg's City of the Big Shoulders. Unfortunately, too much about Maxwell Street's musical heritage is in the past tense, as the market has been overshadowed by development from the University of Illinois. And This Is Maxwell Street is a powerful musical documentary of the home of electric Chicago blues, and I hope that the Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition will be successful in its struggle to preserve the remaining blocks of Maxwell Street from the developer's wrecking ball. The set's 59-page booklet explores the musicians and songs captured on And This Is Free and traces the history of Maxwell Street, and it's a Blues 101 for anyone interested in how Maxwell Street grew to a prominent destination of immigrants searching for a better life from 1875 to 1994. For more on the struggle to save Maxwell Street, check out the Maxwell Street Historical Preservation Coalition online at
ANNIE HUMPHREY: The Heron Smiled (Makoche)
Last Summer, I thought Annie Humphrey's The Heron Smiled was one of the year's best folk records. Six months later, I still do. She's a talented singer-songwriter of Anishinaabe heritage of the Midwest, and there's a unique mix of hope, loss, and struggle in these 13 original tracks. Strong songwriting blends with traditional cedar flutes, piano and acoustic guitar on "Falling Down and Falling Apart," and I especially like both versions of "The Spirit Horses" that recall the great herds that ran the plains, pre-Columbus. Her eight-minute epic, "500 Years," is a chronology of stolen lands, smallpox blankets, and broken treaties. In other words, a recipe for the blues: American history from an American Indian and Alaska Native point of view.
My honorable mentions for my favorite CDs released in 2000 include That's It (Blue Rock*It) by Jimmy Thackery and David Raitt, Cannonball Records' tribute to Robert Johnson, Dealin' With the Devil, the re-release of Good Dog Bad Dog from Over the Rhine (Backporch/Virgin), Tim Finn's Say It Is So (What Are Records?), and the reissue of Robert Nighthawk's Live on Maxwell Street, 1964 (Rounder).
Remember, these CDs are only the top ten that shine in my musical constellation for the year 2000. If only I had time and space to talk about Greg Brown, Chicago's Steepwater Band, or....
SWOLLEN MEMBERS: Balance (Battle Axe)
Proof alone that N.Y.C. or C.P.T. isn't the only place to be. Great (times
ten) hip-hop debut from Canada. The sturdiest, most on-top-of-it CD of the
year. Including the rock, pop, alternative, indie rock, boy band stuff,
rap-metal, hip-hop, jazz, R&B, gnu age, opera, techno, and country. I was
there listening to as much of it as humanly possible, and none of it hold a
candle to this.
DELTRON: 3030 (75 Ark)
The Automator (of Dr. Ocatgon fame), Kid Koala, and Del (Tha Funkee
Homosapien) bring out an incredible futuristic concept CD. The reason I'm
writing about so much rap lately is because rock has just been so piss-weak
the past 18 months. Don't even wanna hear about Radiohead. I'm so sick of
people hanging on them anyway. Ever heard the term "over-rated"? I declare
the shoe fucking fits!
DIESELHED: Chico and the Flute (Bongload Custom)
I hate country, but I freaked (childish sometimes) when I won the bid on
eBay for a different CD of Dieselhed's, that's the impression Chico & the
Flute made on me. This isn't "proper" fake-hick-twang county, roots, or
"alt.country" either. Whatever it is I love it. "Snaiiilll trail of drool
runs down the armrest."
SELF: Gizmodgery (Spongebath)
This whole album was recorded using toys. Toy drums, toy pianos and
keyboards, toy guitars, name it. Pure pop like the Beatles never left.
Plenty of crazy samples too.
Napalm Death: Enemy of the Music Business (Dream Catcher)
What can I say about this album? If you hate death metal you're in luck:
despite the length of their collective mops this isn't even close to
Obituary, Nocturnus, or Diecide. Kills on contact all of the newer suburban
"hardcore punk" ranting too. With ease. A cd you just can't make peace with.
That wraps it up for 2000. We'll be back in January, 2002, with our top five picks of music
that, for the most part, hasn't been released yet. See you then!
(C) 2001 - Cosmik Debris Magazine