It's that time of the year again, me fellow 'Scatters, time to offer up my list of the best music I've been listening to over the past eleven-and-a-half months. This year's list features a couple of departures from past editions in that I've not limited my selections to albums or songs released on physical media. Some of it is new, some it is old, but all of it represents my favorite kind of music: the good kind.
HUDSON: Hudson (DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield) (Motema Recordings)
Hands down, this disc spent more time in rotation than any other here at ScatHQ. A masterful collection of skillfully-wrought covers and original compositions inspired by the Hudson Valley/Catskill region where all of these cats call home. To wit, Hudson's take on Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" does justice not only to the roots of the song but to the composer's own jazzy sensibilities, while the sprawling title track, co-written by all four members, is an homage to the power and majesty of its namesake. My 'desert-island disc' of the year.
THE REPLACEMENTS: For Sale: Live at Maxwell's 1986 (Rhino Entertainment)
The fine people at Rhino Records have done it once again with this lost gem from the golden era of garage-punk rock. Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey was the mecca for any band that 'mattered' or was about to matter, but you had to endure what was also the most uncomfortable venue for live music ever imagined. The music had to be epic in order for you to put up with the bleacher seating, the stifling heat (even in winter) and the trip to the bar for another round. You never knew what you would get at a Replacements show, but this set found them unusually tight, focused and in fine voice (even though Paul Westerberg often swapped verses or simply forgot the lyrics). On a personal note, my mates and I were supposed to attend this show, but someone was sick, another was wishy-washy about it, so we bailed. Thanks to this release, I get a nice helping of what I missed.
PAUL WELLER: A Kind Revolution (Parlophone/WB)
In a year full of fake news, fake leaders and fake promises, The Modfather has given us some welcome relief. Most of "A Kind Revolution" is a message of hope as Weller sings of remembered love, returning cranes (both the avian and construction variety) and new ways of coping. "Pick ourselves up off the floor, try to heal the land once more. The cranes are back! They're all flying back..." Take a listen to this record and you just might like the idea of a kind revolution as well.
LIAM GALLAGHER: As you Were (Warner Bros.)
To those who know me well, you know that Oasis remains my standard for what a rock-and-roll band should be. Founded by the squabbling brothers Gallagher, they burned the brightest of all the BritPop acts that emerged from the 1990's. Since they've split, Liam and Noel have dabbled in various projects yet this is the former's very first "solo" album, more than eight years on. And it's a cracker. He's matured in every way, from the depth of his singing to that of his songwriting. He's still loyal to his beloved Beatles and still sniveling at the foolish world around him yet he also manages a rare show of remorse, in the form of "For What it's Worth", an open apology to his ex-wife. For many of us, that sort of contrition comes easy yet for Liam Gallagher, it's a massive step forward.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~THE SHORT LIST.
There were a few other highlights for me ears this past year, including some older releases that I've just recently discovered, or re-discovered. Here's that short list:
BILL EVANS: The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings 1961(Riverside Records)
SIMPLE MINDS: Acoustic (Caroline International)
OLAFUR ARNALDS & NILS FRAHM: Collaborative Works (Erased Tapes Records)
OLAFUR ARNALDS & ALICE SARA OTT: The Chopin Project (Mercury Classics)
WOLF ALICE: My Love is Cool (Dirty Hit Records)
RYAN ADAMS: Prisoner (PAX AM/Blue Note)
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
RADIO, RADIO it's a sound salvation.
Shouts out and big ups to the following radio stations who never disappoint when it comes to hitting the sweet spot just when you need it:
WQXR-FM, New York City... still the best classical music on the dial. The highlight of the year came just last week as they streamed live Handel's Messiah performed by The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra. The traditional male & female parts in the oratorio were swapped in recognition of the continuing discussion (and, debate!) on gender identity. Thoroughly modern, thoroughly creative and thoroughly extraordinary.
WFMU-FM, Jersey City...The quirkiest of the quirky. Special props to Clay Pigeon and his Morning Wake-and-Bake show which is a compendium of new and old music, stylistically all over the map, and with frequent interludes for features like "HazMat News", "School Lunch Menus", "Civic Showcase" and regular call-ins from a range of smart and funny listeners and friends.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
WHAT SO PROUDLY WE HAIL.
Aaaaaaaaand, finally... your 'Scatter-in-Chief is not particularly patriotic (especially these days) but if any of you happened to watch this year's edition of the classic Army vs. Navy football game (it was the 118th time they've clashed on the gridiron), you witnessed one of the all time greatest. This was football the old fashioned way. Running and blocking. Only two, count 'em, TWO, passes were attempted between both teams, for a total of 24 yards. All of the other yards were gained the hard way: on the ground. Most of the game was played in a driving snowstorm and it ended with a missed field goal attempt as the clock expired, giving the cadets from Army a 14-13 victory and their first Commander-in-Chief's trophy since 1996.
Now to the patriotic part: the national anthem was sung by the combined Glee Clubs from West Point and Annapolis, and it was extraordinary. One could only imagine that if it weren't snowing, how much more those voices would have carried. The planned flyovers by Navy jets and Army 'copters had to be scrapped due to the weather but in the end, we didn't need them... these kids sang as high as the heavens. Booyah. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.