Cream of The Crop


thegreatestHappy Holidays! When I set out to pick my favorite music from 2006 I probably left off some obviously worthy releases. But with all the digital music available and most record retailers selling the crud major labels force-feed them it can be tricky terrain to navigate. The list below is a distillation of two previous columns plus some late additions that I finally got around to reviewing. And it doesn't include much jazz or classical. I'll leave those reviews to editor Steve Holtje -- far more competent in those genres.I would encourage you to investigate my selections further; buy some of these CDs for your most beloved music fan or download them for your own enjoyment and exploration. And please share your favorite releases with me in the comment section below.

The Byrds There Is A Season (Columbia/Legacy)

The best American band ever and this 4-CD box set proves it. From McQuinn's folk-rock salad days converting Dylan to hit records to his pioneering country-rock days with Gram Parsons, this is a true musical odyssey worthy of the hype and worthy of your purchase. 

Cat Power The Greatest (Matador) 

Ms. Chan co-opted the legendary Ardent studio crew that defined Al Green's oeuvre to hone her white girl soul chops. Her most compelling and lyrically satisfying effort to date.

Cheap Trick Rockford (B3 Records)

These '70s dinosaurs from Chicago still know how to write right hook-laden melodic pop rock songs that crush most, if not all, of the radio-friendly hits of today. Surrender and download "Give It Away" today.

Eric Clapton s/t Deluxe Edition (Polydor/Chronicles) 

Clapton wanted to join The Band, but was befriended by Delaney & Bonnie. And that was a very smart move. Delaney gave Clapton the pat on the back and the production assist that he needed to kick start his solo career. This is his first solo record and one of his best (and my favorite). The bonus CD is the original mix by Delaney, and for me, the favored mix of EC's ragged R&B infused white boy country blues.

David Crosby If Only I Could Remember My Name (Rhino) 

With a little help from the Dead, Airplane and other Bay area rock luminaries, this 1970 reissue is the most gorgeous folk-rock album ever made. One long meditative tone poem that needs be listened to start to finish to appreciate its sweep and majesty. espers2Espers II (Drag City) 

The second long player of psych-tinged English folk-rock from this Philly sextet pushes their sound out even further. That could have be a train wreck for most American bands posing as damaged art school sensitive filigree rockers, but not this outfit.

Grateful Dead Wake of the Flood (Rhino/WEA)

From 1973, it's still my favorite, and still sparkles from start to finish. The bonus track demo of Bob Weir's epic "Weather Report Suite" is stripped-down acoustic magic, a view of an artist laying bare his Dead soul.

The Kooks Inside In/Inside Out (Astralwerks)

Sure, it's derivative in a Gang of Four/Strokes kind of way, but damn if these twitchy alt pop rock songs from this young UK-based quartet aren't catchy as hell.

Jenny Lewis w/The Lewis Twins Rabbit Fur Coat (Team Love Records)

More fragile than Neko Case, this Rilo Kelly singer/songwriter purged her Americana demons on this seductively moody solo effort.

Alexi Murdoch Time Without Consequence (Zero Summer)

Nick Drake is an unfortunate reference but for all the bluster many critics bestowed that honor to undeserving singer-songwriters this year, this Scotsman actually lives up to that lofty standard and hype.

Candi Stanton His Hands (Astralwerks)

Ms. Stanton lets her singing do the talking. No needless trilling and vocal gymnastics that plague most, if not all of, contemporary R&B. With retrofitted grooves and killer tunes you might mistake it for a lost Southern soul classic from the early 70s. All lovingly produced by Mark Nevers of Lambchop.

Harri Stojka A Tribute to Gypsy Swing (Zoho) 

Fusion Gypsy? Like some madcap John McLaughlin channeling Django, Harri shreds with agility while he swings with his marvelous sidemen while paying homage to chestnuts from another century.

Chris Thile How To Grow A Woman From the Ground (Sugar Hill) ]

On hiatus from his stellar bluegrass trio Nickel Creek, this mandolin virtuoso has really come of age. His songwriting's stronger while his young, gifted musical accompanists seem to inspire each other to reach new levels of musical magic on semi-known covers and new instrumental classics.

The Derek Trucks Band Songlines (Sony BMG) 

The best jam band release of the year from the best jam band performer on the circuit. Guitar god Derek shows real marked maturity as a songwriter, too. Pound for pound, my favorite rock guitarist.

vetiverVetiver To Find Me Gone (DiChristina)

Indie dreamy folk-pop from San Francisco-based singer/songwriter Andy Cabic with an assist from Devendra Banhart. Nearly wearing his love like heaven, these songs delicately tickle your senses with all sorts of acoustic wonder and gentle sonic embellishments. At times they seem like trifles of nearly completed songs, but then they lodge in your brain and reawaken several days later, unfolding like a fond memory.

Wolfmother s/t (Interscope) 

Black-Steppen-Sonics retro-fitted rawk trio swims ashore from Down Under and kicks up some tasty tunes perfect for you iPod. I say it's more garage teenage kix than heavy metal thunder, but regardless of your musical proclivities, it crushes the competition.

Ljova Vjola: World On Four Strings (Kapustnik)

More than a classically trained arranger, composer, and violist, Lev Ljova Zhurbin is a folk musician using classical means to define his Eastern European roots. This is wonderfully romantic and at times whimsical chamber folk music played with verve and skill. Converge. - Dusty Wright

Dusty WrightMr. 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 3 solo CDs and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!