THE JOHNNY B SHOW BEST OF 2004, CONT.: MUSIC
Once again, here's the problem I have with my attempts to do "best of" lists...thanks to the lack of disposable income, not to mention Mac OSX (can't get iTunes, y'know) on my part, I don't get to pick up on a lot of the latest sounds until they're not so latest anymore. Sometimes it isn't until the NEXT year that I get a copy of LAST year's best records. So, this disclaimer is to state that these are the best (hell, actually these are ALL) of the 2004 releases that made the journey from the ether into my auditory canals, and if I didn't hear 'em, I can't list em, which simply makes this a very idiosyncratic little collection. So mote it be. Here ya go. Ranked 1 to 5 stars.
1. BRIAN WILSON: SMILE *****
Even if you know or care nothing for the Beach Boys and/or their history, you gotta admit that this is one gloriously whimsical collection of songs, full of more imagination and tunefulness than 95% of what passes for music these days. And then if you consider all that Wilson has been through, plus the personal demons that this music has to summon up (this applies, to a lesser extent, to lyricist Van Dyke Parks as well), it becomes downright inspirational. In 5 years, when somebody assembles a list of the best of the Aughts, I'll be surprised if this one's not on there somewhere.
2. PATTY GRIFFIN-IMPOSSIBLE DREAM ****1/2
Another excellent set of folk/country tunes from singer-songwriter Griffin. Not a happy fun listen because most of the songs deal with heartbreak and angst, but every cut is solid melodically and the production provides each with consistently inventive and interesting textures. She reclaims her own "Top Of The World" from the Dixie Chicks, nimbly inhabits atypical genres in "Kite" and "Rowing Song", and saves the transcendent "Mother of God" for the end- and that's just a few of the highlights. A very strong follow-up to her 2002 effort 1000 Kisses- Griffin is an artist worthy of more attention, for sure.
3. MATTHEW SWEET-LIVING THINGS ****
Speaking of Parks, here he is guesting and playing a host of instruments, and throwing in so much steel drum that I thought I was listening to his own 1975 album Clang of the Yankee Reaper or one of his Nilsson collaborations. Sweet had this one come out at roughly the same time as his 2002 Japan-only effort Kimi Ga Suki, and while I think that right now I kinda prefer Kimi, a real concise rock-pop record, I do believe that this one will grow on me a lot...it's got a more varied palette. Otherwise, this is pretty strong Sweet music; favoring acoustic over electric, with his usual trademark harmony blends- and its adventurousness is contagious after a while. "In My Tree" sounds like a great lost Carpenters song, and I love the driving bass/keys riff in "Dandelion". It might have made an interesting twofer with its predecessor.
4. LOVE ANGEL MUSIC BABY-GWEN STEFANI ***1/2
Best Madonna album I've heard since Bedtime Stories. Aw, I kid- it's the presence of Nellee Hooper, one of no less that five producers here, that made me think of that disc. This is a catchy, fun pop-rock record on which Ms. Stefani sings her pretty ass off throughout while the likes of Hooper, Dr. Dre, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and Linda Perry provide her with scads of aural texture. I liked this album just fine, but I swear if she'd worked the "Harajuku Girls" into one more song I was gonna snap my disc in half!
5. GOOD NEWS FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE BAD NEWS-MODEST MOUSE ***1/2
I was afraid I was going to need years of therapy to get that song "Float On" out of constant rotation in my brain player. Nothing else is as catchy as "Float", but this is a solid album of skewed pop, and I think it will reward future listens. These guys have been around for ten years, I understand, but this is the first time I've heard them. Boy, I'm right there on the cutting edge tip, huh!
Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster- Various Artists ***1/2
Village Gorilla Head-Tommy Stinson ***1/2 (thanks, Mik Cary)
From A Basement On The Hill - Elliott Smith **
Genius Loves Company-Ray Charles ***
Liars-Todd Rundgren ***
All That We Let In-Indigo Girls ***
Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon-Various Artists ***
Various Artists- Power of Soul: A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix **1/2
Jools Holland and His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra- Friends 3 ***