Radiohead: The King of Limbs (XL) - What happened to this brilliant band is something that can be easily remedied by one very strong-willed, no-nonsense A&R person or a domineering producer. While I admit that I really have grown to "hail" the detached beauty of Kid A as an ambient juggernaut and consider OK Computer one of the greatest albums ever released, everything since has been one long hangover. Yes, this record "sounds" sumptuous, thanks in part to expert playing, Mr. Yorke's signature falsetto, strong arrangements, and the predicatably pristine production by longtime enabler Nigel Godrich, but these songs need a bit more work and melody to give them 4-star status; 5-star status is reserved for OK Computer. (Remember how you fell in love with the songs and the boys on 4.5-star The Bends?) We music fans deserve something more to hang our collective headphones on than rubbery limbs.
Hot Club de Paris: Free The Pterodactyl 3 (Moshi Moshi) - The title track, from their debut of the same name, is my favorite single of year so far. This Liverpool-based trio is as much informed by The Strokes as Talking Heads. Quirky, twitchy rhythms, yelping vocals, incessant beat. Top notch tuneage.
The Sway Machinery: The House of Friendly Ghosts Vol. 1 (JDub Records) - Featuring legendary Malian vocalist Khaira Arby. Guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood has combined the chops of his grandfather, Cantor Jacob Konigsberg, and his mentor, renowned blues artist Carolina Slim. This heady stew of Afro-beat, ancient Jewish Cantorial music, rock, and the blues is intoxicating.
Miles Davis: Bitches Brew Live (Columbia/Legacy) - Yes, the studio album was meticulously stitched together, but the music still worked live. And here's the proof -- a complete live repertoire from that landmark album performed in concerts at the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival and in front of 600,000 strong at the 1970 Isle of Wight.
Dr. John: Tribal (429) - Who dat, you ask? Why it's the good Doctor gettin' his funky, bluesy, and jazzy Nawlins gris-gris on on his best effort since Anutha Zone. And though I missed this release back in late August, Mardi Gras is just around the corner, so it's clearly in the right place at the right time.
Cassandra Wilson: Silver Pony (Blue Note) - And speaking of live. Wow! The tone and texture of Ms. Wilson and her band have produced one of her best albums ever. The skeletons of most of these tunes were live improvisations captured at European concerts in Granada, Warsaw, and Seville. John Legend adds his vocal prowess and piano on Big Star's "Watch the Sunrise," too.
The Jayhawks: Tomorrow The Green Grass Reissue (American/Legacy) - The roots-rock/country-alt scene flourished in the early '90s thanks in part to this wonderfully engaging and melodic outfit fronted by Gary Louris and Mark Olson. Some critics cite Hollywood Town Hall as their tour de force, but I prefer the more melodic 1995 effort Tomorrow the Green Grass, now with an 18-track bonus disc of previously unreleased tunes from 1992 entitled The Mystery Demos. Either way, you can't lose. Hell, buy both.
Bart Davenport: Searching for Bart Davenport (Tapete Records) - Cover songs are a very slippery slope, especially an entire album's worth. Thankfully this L.A.-based singer/songwriter and former frontman for The Loved Ones and The Kinetics didn't go for songs that anyone really knows, let alone remembers. This is deep, deep track territory; from Broadcast to Gil Scott-Heron, Caetano Veloso to Bert Jansch, even the Kings of Convenience.
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 4 solo CDs, and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was a William Morris agent.