5. - Neil Young & The International Harvesters - A Treasure
Okay. Another cheat here.
But one well worthy of inclusion on this list. This compilation of live performances from one of Neil Young's many genre-hopping experiments during the "lost eighties" — for his ongoing Archives Performance Series — actually lives up to its name as a lost treasure of sorts.
Performing with the expanded International Harvesters band during his country phase, Neil Young offers up surprisingly radical takes on obscure chestnuts like "Southern Pacific" and "Flying On The Ground Is Wrong," in addition to previously unreleased gems like "Amber Jean." The song "Grey Riders" also rocks as convincingly as anything from Crazy Horse.
4. Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning
On his second solo album, the two CD Grace For Drowning, Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson serves up little bits and pieces of everyone from Joy Division and King Crimson, to Brian Eno and Radiohead in the mix.
Wilson also gets a little help from Dave Stewart and original Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. But what you mostly hear on this record is Steven Wilson himself, offering up a crash course in modern-day prog-rock, that ranges from the swelling mellotron, wildly swirling saxes, flutes and clarinet of "Reminder The Black Dog," to the epic Crimson-esque prog of "Raider II." This is textbook modern prog, and absolutely great sounding stuff, courtesy of Wilson's expert production.
3. Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow
Kate Bush's first album of new original material since 2005's Aerial is one of those weird little records that creeps up on you slowly, and then really starts to get under your skin. Taken on its surface, the seven songs on this album are quietly reflective pieces — either performed solo by Kate on piano, or with a small trio of bass and drums — revolving around the central theme of snow.
But a deeper listen reveals a more layered lyrical experience, where the songs are populated by ghosts — not to mention a certain snowman — stranded in a purgatory of romantic longing, and almost impossible loneliness and regret. Since the first time I heard it, I have yet to get the simple, but hauntingly catchy "Misty" out of my head. Damn you, Kate.
2. Tom Waits - Bad As Me.
Despite being one of our greatest songwriters, Tom Waits hasn't made an album with this many great and unexpectedly accessible songs in years. On what is easily his best record since Rain Dogs, Tom Waits revisits many of the same questionable haunts, inhabited by the usual cast of shady characters, that he has for going on a half century now. But there are some surprising new twists.