Saturday, December 19, 2009

2009 - albums of the year.

This has been a strange year of listening for me – not many new albums have really grabbed my attention. Plus, for a couple of reasons, I spent time rediscovering old albums. The Beatles remasters of course were released in September and, while I’m getting the stereo remasters for Christmas, the mono remasters have been in my rotation for a couple of months and they’re spectacular. I can’t wait for the stereo ones. U2 came out with a remastered Unforgettable Fire which was a great thing to listen to. Between old U2 and the Beatles there isn't a whole lot of room for new music to creep in.

On top of that I spent part of the summer deliberately going back and listening to old classic albums that I had somehow missed the first time around, albums like Blue by Joni Mitchell and Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix. They are clearly on my best listening of the year list. I also continue to enjoy Electric Arguments by the Fireman (Paul McCartney) which was on my list last year.

But none of those are new albums – there actually are only a handful of new ones that got me excited, two of the are live albums of bands playing old stuff. One that surprised me is Over the Rhine’s Live from Nowhere, Vol. 4. I had low expectations for this album since it was all songs from my least favorite OtR period, their earliest days. But the playing and singing on LfN4 is just wonderful – it’s a reunion concert of the early band and Ric Hordinski’s playing is great. Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood (who made up half of Blind Faith in the 60's) released Live from Madison Square Garden which is a very good live album with both Clapton and Winwood at the top of their game. I got to see their tour last summer and Clapton was clearly playing very very well. I never dreamed that I'd actually ever see the two of them playing Blind Faith songs together live. It was great (although they were playing even better when I saw them than they did on the album!)

Three new bands caught my ear this year. Owl City’s album Ocean Eyes is a lot of fun. The song “Fireflies” grabbed me right away and the rest of the album followed suit. It might sound too much alike over all but I'm not sick of it yet. I discovered another new band, the Rescues – I think they’re great and their album Crazy Ever After got a lot of play last summer too. The Rescues is a collection of four solo artists who together have catchy tunes, lush harmonies and interesting arrangements. Dhani Harrison’s band thenewno2 (the new number 2) released You Are Here, an album that has glimpses of his father George’s melodic style but cast in a fresh way. This is not just a son cashing in on his father’s name – I think Dhani might have a real future ahead of him. Even though I got it early in the year I keep going back to it.

Finally, my number one album of the year has to be U2’s No Line on the Horizon. This album is adventurous and risky but there are moments of sheer brilliance like “Magnificent” and “White as Snow.” I even like the lead single “Get on Your Boots.” Whenever I don’t hear the album for a few weeks and listen again I get excited because it’s just so good. I remember when I first got it I listened with my ipod in a hotel in Troy, MI and was just blown away. That was when I realized what a very special record this was. I got to see U2 in Chicago this fall and I will again in East Lansing next summer. The clear high point to my musical year!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thoughts on "River" and Christmas

I haven't blogged for a very long time and it seems trivial to make this my first post in a while but I've been listening to a fair amount of Christmas music lately - no big surprise, seeing it's December 14 - but I've noticed more and more artists including Joni Mitchell's beautiful song "River."

Here's the thing - what does that song have to do with Christmas? The first couplet references Christmas:
It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace.
That's it - it's a song about a broken relationship that happens to reference the idea that it's getting close to Christmas when Mitchell is writing the song. It's not a Christmas song! Just because a song has the word Christmas in it doesn't mean it should be included on ALL new Christmas CDs. OK, that's an overstatement but it's being treated like a Christmas standard and it should not be - it's not even a Holiday song (like "White Christmas") or a seasonal song (like "Winter Wonderland.")

It's a beautiful song - I like it a lot and enjoy it when it pops up in my playlist. But there is no reason why it should be on Christmas CDs but it appears on recent Christmas CDs by Rosie Thomas, Sarah McLachlan, Sixpence None the Richer and James Taylor. Enough is enough.