Picking a best album from the many that were released in 2007 is a daunting task, especially when you consider all the various genres, but it was a challenge the following nine familiar faces to the BC Music section were up to. Keep reading to see what a handful of our writers chose. Did any of them make your personal top ten list?
Michael J. West: Jason Lindner Big Band – Live at Jazz Gallery
I’m over the moon, shouting from the rafters, and piling love all over Live at Jazz Gallery (Anzic), a two-disc release by the Jason Lindner Big Band. We’re talking 21st-century big band here: adventurous post-bop with complex harmonies and rhythms, and just enough electronica for some spice.
In addition to (phenomenal) piano-playing, (spectacular) composing, and (incredible) arranging skills, Lindner demonstrates that Ellingtonian ability to maintain a group of stellar musicians while keeping all of their egos in check. But then, how do you pick a star from — among others — Omer Avital, Avishai and Anat Cohen, Miguel Zenon, Duane Eubanks, Jay Collins, and Eric McPherson?
The answer, according to Lindner, is to first arrange the ensemble passages such that everyone is on an even playing field, then give everyone in the band a feature solo. The dueling soprano sax and trumpet by Collins and Eubanks on the mighty “Suheir” does make an overwhelming splash, but not to the point of dominating the whole band.
What makes Live at Jazz Gallery, though, is the pure, beautiful ebullience that blasts forth from every note. Even this year’s biggest names and most seismic groundbreakers got nothin’ on this one.
Big Geez: Brian Setzer Orchestra – Wolfgang's Big Night Out
So, this is where I tell you how I carefully considered all the albums I've reviewed this year (over 70 of them), listening to each and every one endlessly until my ears were worn to nubs, before finally coming to a thoughtful, well-considered choice for Album Of The Year.
Nope. Didn't happen that way. Truth is, my decision was ridiculously easy. It was actually made in October when I first reviewed Wolfgang's Big Night Out from the Brian Setzer Orchestra. The album reached out, grabbed me by the front of my shirt and slapped me silly. (No, not literally — work with me here, OK?)
After all, it’s an outstanding example of one of my favorite kinds of music — updated big-band versions of timeless classical masterpieces. And if that‘s not enough, Setzer’s strong background in pop music (with the Stray Cats) provided even more oomph, resulting in an exciting sound that was impossible for me to resist.
But never mind me. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this album to anyone who loves good music and is open to a new listening experience. That’s you, right?
Pico: David Torn – Prezens
When it came time to decide which CDs to include in my 2007 All-Stars starters and alternates lists, there was a lot of agonizing over many of the selections. But my top choice came early and easily. In fact, it was all but determined by the end of May, after I listened to David Torn's Prezens a few times.
Prezens is meant to jolt the listener out of comfort zones and long-held notions of how music is supposed to be played. There are plenty of nods to styles ranging from blues to ambient to heavy metal to Middle Eastern, but the music dwells in none of the places it references. The compositions are all very asymmetrical, a product of being conceived on the spot by a crack, whack jazz quartet “live,” and later worked over imaginatively by Torn’s studio processing.
Everyone has different opinions on what makes a great record. The ones I chose as my favorites for this year I thought were good for widely different reasons. But a record that challenges my preconceptions, is played with a high level of creativity, and reveals more of itself each time I listen to it is the kind of record I put in a special category. For 2007, David Torn's Prezens fits those criteria the best.
Chris Beaumont: Tomahawk – Anonymous
This past year saw a lot of good music released from artists like Cephalic Carnage, Iced Earth, Devin Townsend, and Lonely China Day. However, there is one that stood above all of them. No matter how many different albums I listened to, I kept coming back to it over and over again.
Tomahawk's Anonymous is an album that is haunting in concept and unforgettable in execution. Guitarist Duane Denison was researching Native American music, the music he discovered along with drummer John Stanier and vocalist Mike Patton, and then wrote interpretations of said music around their rock and metal sensibilities. The resulting compositions sound completely original while remaining entirely faithful to the source.
The combination would seem to be naturally at odds with each other. Fortunately, they come together in perfect harmony creating music that is infectious. It gets under your skin and transports you to another world where music is more adventurous and originality is the norm.
What else can I say? This is quite simply a striking artistic creation that pays tribute to the past as it looks towards the future.
El Bicho: Uncle Earl –Waterloo, Tennessee
One of life's greatest pleasures is discovering a new band. This year I was introduced to a talented quartet known as Uncle Earl, four females who work in bluegrass and old time music. They created one of my favorite albums of 2007, Waterloo, Tennessee, produced by John Paul Jones.
The stories told are mostly reflections on life, love, and death but that doesn't mean the g'Earls are always serious. A party breaks out during "D & P Blues," and you have to have a good sense of humor to sing an old traditional number in Chinese, "Streak o' Lean, Streak o' Fat (a.k.a. Hongshao Rou)," and make it work.
The g'Earls are all skilled musicians who take the lead playing and singing, but when they harmonize together, nothing sounds better. Do yourself a favor and give the album a listen because if you don't like Uncle Earl, you don't like music.
Donald Gibson: Bruce Springsteen – Magic
A good storyteller knows how to craft a convincing narrative, one in which specific circumstances and characters express a universal sentiment or ideal. Rock and roll allows a story to be told to the beat of a drum, the chords of an electric guitar, and the rhythm and melody of music. In 2007, Bruce Springsteen blended his literary songwriting skill with the energy and resourcefulness of the E Street Band to create Magic, the best album of the year.
Springsteen’s distinguished ability to lyrically personalize abstract issues is apparent throughout this album. As well, his deftness in delivering a dark message with often-incongruous music is remarkable. “Gypsy Biker,” for instance, is ostensibly a eulogy to a war-fallen friend, with eloquent lyrics imparting condolence. Yet an onslaught of raw guitar symbolizes anger toward the powers that allow such senseless death to happen in the first place. Such dichotomy of words and music, the conflation of two divergent elements to tell one story, manifests throughout Magic.
Indeed, this effort illustrates much of what makes Bruce Springsteen such a significant artist. He’s Steinbeck with a Stratocaster and this is his Winter Of Discontent.
Mat Brewster: Norah Jones – Not Too Late
There are many reasons to pick an album out as the best of any given year: inventiveness, creativity, originality, production value, and so on. For me beyond all that, the true litmus test is my ability to listen to it often and over long periods of times. Like an ontological argument for records, the question should be asked, if the greatest of all albums is never listened to, is it really that great?
While there was a lot of great music released in 2007 Norah Jones' Not Too Late makes it to the top of my list for not only being a great album, but one I find myself turning to constantly. Norah's voice continues to sound soothing, sensual, and lovely as ever. The music is her most mature, and interesting to date.
Interesting is a good word too for where her other albums had a tendency to fade into the background calmly,Not Too Late jumps and sizzles and moves. The horn on "Sinking Soon" is worth the price of admission all by itself, and when you add in that punchy groove coupled with Norah's voice singing "I've been thinking about you," well then all you need are some candles and clean sheets and then the night is yours.
Tom Johnson: Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
Opening with the gentle guitar of "Either Way," a film begins to unreel in my mind. The black screen, the titles, and then Jeff Tweedy's soft, scratchy voice crackles out "Maybe the sun will shine today" just as a scene of the open road is revealed. That's what Sky Blue Sky is to me – road music, an escape, transportation away from the everyday nothingness that often drives us insane. And, more than any other piece of music, escape is exactly what I did with this album since it came out earlier this year.
Wilco may have taken a quiet and calming turn here, but there's so much more going on. The music is subtle, revealing layers of intricate, thoughtful, and sometimes downright weird stuff going on underneath the top coating of amiable, easy-going tunes. Listen close and it's impossible to ignore jazz guitarist Nels Cline's contributions, or the unusual drumming that Glenn Kotche lays down behind the band. These elements take Sky Blue Sky from simply being a good album to being something that needs to be listened to again and again. It's an instant modern classic rock album – a rarity these days.
Mark Saleski: Bruce Springsteen – Magic
Norah Jones' Not Too Late was released just before the end of January. I thought it was so good that nothing could knock it out of my top spot. The vast majority of the musical year stretched out ahead of me, but I just could not imagine anything coming along to nudge out incredibly beautiful songs like "Wish I Could," or "Not My Friend."
Well, it happened. Bruce Springsteen came out with Magic, an album so painfully good that it occupied almost all of my listening time for several weeks. It's unfortunate that I didn't use a camera to record the looks that flashed across my face during my initial listen as I could hardly believe my ears. Finally, the 'true' E Street vibe exploded from those grooves. It was like bumping into a long-lost friend. And what do long-lost friends do? We ducked into the nearest bar, knocked back a cold one, and reminisced about Norah Jones.
Thank you to the writers who participated in this year's column, and to the rest of you, please feel free to chime in below. Let us know if you agree with the choices made and share your favorite album of 2007.