Editing the BC Magazine Best Album of 2006 was a big help to me in compiling my own. There was never a question in my mind as to which album I would select for top honors. Seeing the albums my co-conspirators selected reminded me of just how many great records were released this year. It is good to be reminded of this because the “too cool for school” kids (yes, I mean you, Pitchfork) will try to convince you nothing good is being made these days. That is bullshit. There are a ton of great records waiting to be discovered. I was going to say you just have to work a little harder to find them, but I am taking care of that for you.
These “Best Of” lists can sometimes be a work in progress. Sure, I can rattle off a list of the best albums I listened to with a 2006 copyright. Five years from now I could buy a 2006 album, one I missed, that would render this list moot. It could happen, but I am prepared to boldly proclaim these to be the best albums of 2006… that I heard in 2006.
I have divided my list into two categories: one for new albums and another for compilations, re-issues, and box sets. I have also listed my current favorite track from each of the new albums. In many cases, my favorite song on these albums has changed many times over. These are the songs that are doing it for me today and if you are on limited funds, these are the songs I would check out first. Of course, you will still need all of these albums. This is just to get you started. One last thing before we get to the list. The links that follow will take you to those albums on this list I had the chance to review throughout the year. With that, behold, my Best of 2006. Happy New Year!
Best New Albums of 2006:
Guster – Ganging Up on the Sun: I know some of you wish I would promise to make 2007 a Guster-free year. That won’t happen. I listened to this album from beginning to end three times on the way to ring in the new year with friends in South Carolina. There may be no such thing as a perfect record, but Ganging Up on the Sun comes damn close. So many times an album is proclaimed to be the best of the year and is forgotten by next year. I cannot imagine that happening here. Current Favorite Track: “Satellite.”
Tom Petty – Highway Companion: I looked forward to this record with more anticipation than any other and I was not disappointed. It is a more stripped-down affair than the title or producer (Jeff Lynne) might otherwise suggest, but the songwriting is again first rate. Current Favorite Track: “Down South.”
Barrett Martin – Earthspeaker: Contrary to the prevailing opinions, there are too many great albums released each year to keep up with them all. Earthspeaker is a masterful successor to 2004’s The Painted Desert. Martin continues to play more instruments than I can count with names I often cannot pronounce and somehow manages to meld this sonic diversity into memorable songs. Current Favorite Track: “Agbadza.”
Mark Lanegan & Isobel Campbell – Ballad of the Broken Seas: Did I mention sonic diversity? These two voices are about as different as can be and they work marvelously together. Continuing with that sonic diversity theme, a bullwhip is used as a percussion instrument on the hotter-than-it-has-any-right-to-be cover of the Hank Williams classic, “Ramblin’ Man.” Not every song on the record works, but the best moments here are more than worth the price of admission. I only wish I could see one of the handful of UK dates Lanegan and Campbell are doing together. Current Favorite Track: “Revolver.”
Thom Yorke – The Eraser: If you hated Radiohead’s Kid A, best skip this album. Of course, if you hated Kid A, I have no choice but to question your taste. Where that album often buried the vocals in the mix, Eraser brings them out front utilizing Yorke’s powerful vocal instrument. There are some maddening, tedious moments on the record, but they are outweighed by great songs like the title track. Thanks to The Prestige, TheWifeToWhomI’mMarried and I both have the same Current Favorite Track: “Analyse.”
Bob Dylan – Modern Times: I still prefer “Love & Theft,” but Modern Times is yet the latest chapter in the Dylan revival. I find it interesting that it took Dylan five years to record this follow up and so many of the songs have direct ties to other famous works. “Thunder on the Mountain” worships Alicia Keys over the top of a Chuck Berry riff. I don’t know how Dylan can claim a sole writing credit for “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” when the riff owes so much to the Muddy Waters’ classic of the same name, and “Someday Baby” nicks plenty of influence from Waters’ “Trouble No More.” Is Dylan running out of ideas or is he simply drawing inspiration from all the right places? I suspect more the latter but cannot completely dismiss the former. Regardless, Dylan has crafted another winner. Current Favorite Track: “Beyond the Horizon.”
Robert Randolph & The Family Band – Colorblind: I never expected to love this record as much as I did! It is fun, frenetic, and catchy. It also emphasizes slick over Randolph’s masterful steel guitar work more than what I would like, but the album still works. I am hoping Colorblind follows the pattern of The Grateful Dead and other great jam bands: the album versions are the jumping off point for the stage. Let’s hope a live album follows. Current Favorite Track: “Thrill of It.”
Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions: I have been scolded for daring to heap anything but massive amounts of praise on this album. I will confess, I like it more than I thought I would and like it more now than I did upon its initial release (and subsequent repackaging). The Springsteen version of “Mrs. McGrath” will always make me cringe, but other songs from the record have grown on me. I would love it if this band reconvenes to record an album of Springsteen originals- the best of both worlds. Current Favorite Track: “Jacob’s Ladder.”
Leigh Nash – Blue on Blue: This is another album that surprised me this year. I had no expectations for it- I did not even intend to buy it. I am very glad I did. It is catchy in a sneaky, sublime, and charming way. This is not the type of album that will garner massive sales or rave reviews. It is a simple, sweet little record and I never mind hearing it. Current Favorite Track: “Angel Tonight.”
Barenaked Ladies – Barenaked Ladies Are Me: I have counted myself among the Barenaked Ladies fans for some time now but thought I was over them. BLAM has brought me back into the fold. The album is too long and there is some filler, but I found myself queuing it up again and again. I caught myself tapping my foot and cracking up during “Bank Job.” “Sound of Your Voice” still sounds like a Queen song to me and I love it. Current Favorite Track: “Adrift.”
Built to Spill – You in Reverse: YIR is not a collection of singles but a carefully crafted collection of songs that functions best when taken all at once. It can be a daunting task for those of us with short attention spans, but we are rewarded for our perseverance. I have always loved the Billy Corgan method of layering guitars (for my money, the Zwan record is the best example of this). Doug Martsch’s approach is similar, but he is a far more imaginative player than Corgan. The songs on YIR are filled with huge walls of guitars, complimenting and competing with each other. “Goin’ Against Your Mind” is a staggering opus that builds and deconstructs only to build up again. Current Favorite Track: “Goin’ Against Your Mind.”
Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways: This is as elegant a rumination on death, life, love, and loss I have ever heard. Would Highways feel as poignant if it were not a posthumous release featuring the last song Cash ever wrote and some of the final tracks he recorded before his passing? I will always hear this album through that prism. The ghosts of Johnny Cash and his beloved June Carter Cash are as important a presence as any instrument on the record. Their passing and, according to Cash’s ever-present faith, reuniting make this all the more beautiful. Current Favorite Track: “If You Could Read My Mind.”
The Byrds – There is a Season: This is the best $29.99 I spent all year. Through this box I became acquainted with the great recorded works of the original five man lineup and was introduced to the genius of Gram Parsons.
Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band – Hammersmith Odeon, London 1975: This, my friends, is what a live album should be. A complete show, expertly recorded, documenting a fabulous band at the height of their performing power. If more record labels would use this as a blueprint for future live releases, they could damn near put the bootleggers out of business. This souvenir from the Born to Run tour is a must-own for any serious rock and roll fan. It almost frightens me when I consider that many Springsteen fans say the band was better on the Darkness tour.
John Lee Hooker – Hooker: Finally, a retrospective that brings together important tracks from Hooker’s entire recording career. The early stuff is best, but listening to the sound of the inimitable one develop, expand, and mature is a real thrill.