Randy Newman - harps and angels (2008)
One of America's greatest songwriters is back after a long layoff with a CD that belongs on every one's best of list. Randy is a master of sarcasm, great political insight and the sweet and sentimental. And sometimes, they happen all in the same song. Killer songs like "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country", "Potholes" and the title track, "Harps and Angels" represent the best of Randy Newman. Don't let this one get away.
Susannah Blinkoff - Let's Pretend (2008)
As you start to listen to this excellent CD, it seems to be a hot piece of pop music. But the farther into the CD you go, the more interesting it becomes. Susannah's very pop voice can move toward emotional and even sultry sounds. Every song is a surprise in waiting. All of the songs were co-written by Rich Jacques, so he must get a lot of credit for sound of this CD. They make a great team and I hope they continue to work together in the future. http://www.susannahblinkoff.com .
Neil Young - Sugar Mountain - Live at Canterbury House 1968 (2008)
Hearing the very young Neil Young chat on stage is worth the price of admission here. And to hear these wonderful songs with just Neil's guitar is a special treat. My favorite of the live releases from Neil, so far.
Future Clouds and Radar - Peoria (2008)
Robert Harrison, who is Future Clouds and Radar, has a lot of nerve. His first release was a 2 CD set and now his latest has only 8 songs on it. But Robert is a serious artist who follows few rules. This new CD, which is very much about our mortality, isn't a downer of a CD at all. There are only a few hints at the Beatles like sound that he is so capable of, but you can't help but be drawn to this unusual CD. "Eighteen Months" is the big rocker on this one and it's chorus is "Eighteen months, buried alive". You don't suppose he is talking about Peoria, do you?
Ray LaMontagne - Gossip in the Grain (2008)
What a turn around from last year's slow and depressing CD. He opens with a horn section signally a change of sound and mood. His voice is as sexy as ever and the mood change has lead to a powerfully beautiful CD. Whether using a Stax like horn section or leading a soulfully driven love song, Ray seems to have all of the musical answers. This is one of the best of the year.
Tom Bolton - When I Cross the River (2007)
I have to stop myself from using the word "Americana" here. How about Australiacana? This CD of folk like sounds is too exciting to just call folk. But we can't call it Americana (which is where all the folk/country like songs end up) because he is Australian. The basis is acoustic folk, but it moves out in many directions and leads to some very original songs. There are also some very powerful lyrics here. You can find out more at Tom's site: http://www.sensibletom.com
These low priced EPs are just what you need for those little gifts to give your music friends.
Todd Snider - Peace Queer (2008)
This probably belongs with the rest of the CDs, but at only 8 songs with one an instrumental and the other a reading of one of the songs, it is more an EP than a full CD. But what an EP! These six songs will make you laugh, they'll make you cry and most important, they will make you think. "Is this thing on" is a bully song with the best ending twist I've ever heard. His mellow approach to John Fogerty's "Fortunate Son" adds to the poignancy. "Mission Accomplished..." is, well, you just gotta hear to. Go to Todd's web site and pick this one up. You will love it. http://toddsnider.net
Alejandro Escovedo - Live Animal (2008)
If Alejandro's "Real Animal" didn't rock enough for you, or if you just can't get enough of one of the best CDs of the year, pick this hot 5 song EP up. http://www.buymusichere.net/rel/v2_viewupc.php?storenr=13&upc=5099924346221
Shark and Co. with Cindy Wasserman - Don't Give Up (2008)
Peter Gabriel's great "Don't Give Up" is taken for a nice spin by the guitarist for the Wild Colonials and the sister of Grammy winner Bob Wasserman (and she is currently in the band Dead Rock West). It is all for a good cause, Farm Aid and the Red Cross. http://www.sharkmusic.net
Mudcrutch - Live! (2008)
Tom Petty leads his old band through a rockin' set of 4 songs; but of course. The "Crystal River" solo/jam is probably all you need to know when considering buying this. http://www.buymusichere.net/rel/v2_viewupc.php?storenr=13&upc=09362498242
Dave Boutette - Boomtown & Candidate (2008)
I usually don't mention singles, but these two songs are really really good. Dave's last CD was no fluke. I"m not sure if these are for sale, but check them out at http://www.myspace.com/daveboutettemusic . I can't wait for his next CD!
Liam Finn - Live at the Wiltern (2008)
Neil's son toured with Eddie Vedder earlier this year and this CD came from one (or maybe 2) of the shows. Watch out for this guy. With his first CD a solid release and the pedigree of being in the Finn family, there is sure greatness to come. Meanwhile, if you buy Liam's CD from http://www.yeproc.com/ you get this live EP free.
Running out of time... Some short quick reviews.
Thea Gilmore - LieJacker (2008)Another solid CD from Thea. Not as good as the last couple, but maybe I just need more time with it.
The Watson Twins - Fire Songs (2008)
The sisters seem to have found their sound with their first full length CD ("Southern Manners" was only 8 songs). Landing somewhere between Jenny Lewis and Natalie Merchant, they weave together a near dozen songs that show off their wonderful harmonies and solid songwriting abilities.
Bruce Hughes - Shorty - An Album of Momentary Songs (2008)
Listening to this CD you can see where he's been. Time spent with Poi Dog and Bob Schneider have given this artist a quirky, funky, pop sound.
Jakob Dylan - Seeing Things (2008)
Not a bad CD, but I don't think he is the right person for the Rick Rubin stripped down approach.
KFOG - Live From the Archives 15 (2008)
A decent selection of new live music. Maybe the second or third best live compilation on the market. You can find out more by going to kfog.com
Radiohead - In Rainbows (2008)
I've never been a huge fan. I thought they were too derivative of some of the great prog rock of the 70's. But I love the mix of styles in this CD. I may have to go back and check out the older stuff.
Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - Cardinology (2008)
Lyrically this may be his weakest CD. I did enjoy the move back to mid tempo rock and roll and like it better than the last couple.
Joe Bonamassa - Live from nowhere in particular (2008)
Can't believe there are guitar fans who still don't know this guitar God. As with most guitar wizards, it's the live stuff that really stands out. This two CD set is a bargain.
Rodrigo y Gabriela - Rodrigo y Gabriela (2008)
Uhmmm, Spanish flamenco acoustic rock. What else do you need to know. Pretty impressive playing and lots of fun.
Shawn Mullins - Honeydew (2008)
Shawn has really become a great storyteller. Add to that a good sense of melody and you have a wonderful CD.
Tristan Prettyman Hello...X (2008)
She is right up there with the other female heavyweights of singer/songwriter/pop/rock. There are some real hits here and several seriously good songs. If you like Missy or Alanis, you should check Tristan out.
The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely (2008)
In the pure rock genre, there aren't many who really can compete with just about anything that Jack White does. I love the feel of "no rules" that seem to permeate these CD's. You are never quite sure where they are going next. Not all that typical in rock and roll these days.
Aimee Mann - @#%&*! Smilers (2008)
Classic Aimee Mann and maybe my second favorite CD packaging this year. This is her best CD in years with really not a bad song on it. Some nice orchestrations flesh out some of the songs, but it is, as always, all Aimee.