Best of 2007
by Peter Jesperson
1. Eisley - Combinations
"Those voices must be what it sounds like in heaven
when you get there." That's what Jennifer said to me immediately following the
first of Eisley's two breathtaking acoustic performances at The Silent Movie
Theater in Hollywood last July ... and that pretty much sums it up. The two
vocalists - sisters Sherri and Stacy DuPree – have an unearthly grace
that positively stupefies me. If you listen carefully, the vocal intricacies
are thrilling. There's a remarkable purity in what they do, these girls sound
to me like they're driven by the sheer joy of singing. But while the voices are
the focus, this is a real band where every member is hugely important (in
particular, younger brother/drummer Weston is a tremendous player). And it's
not all sweetness – they do their fair share of rockin' too. It's also
ambitious stuff - reportedly hearing Radiohead was part of the reason big sis
and main guitarist Chauntelle was inspired to form a band and it's frequently
detectable in her tasteful and often majestic choice of chords. In terms of
number of plays, no other record came close to Combinations for me in 2007. On this, their second album, "Ten
Cent Blues" is my fave, it's arguably their best written song to date (dig
the cool bass licks, courtesy of cousin Garron DuPree). Here, the trading off
of vocal lines has never been more seamless and there's something wonderfully
charming in hearing these nice girls get catty ("She is cheesy, she is
scrawny"..."She just has no wit"..."There is no doubt she's such a
mouse"). There's also no denying the elegant, aching beauty of the closers
- the title song and "If You're Wondering." Two of the bonus tracks
that surfaced in various places - the 20s show-tune-styled "Marsh King's
Daughter" and the contemplative ballad "Like The Actors" - are
so strong, they would have fit nicely on the album. In fact, the latter just
might be my favorite song of the entire year. And we must give serious props to
producer Richard Gibbs (veteran film & television composer, session
keyboardist and former member of Oingo Boingo), the impeccable sonic quality
and arrangements add weight and sophistication to this enchanting record.
Gorgeous, imaginative and enduring music. Yessiree, my current favorite band on
the planet. File under pop rock.
2. Paul McCartney - Memory Almost Full
Another one of the very best post-Beatles Paul McCartney albums. Fuckin' A, just listen to him sing! At 65, he's still one of the best in rock 'n' roll history. He's been on quite a roll since 1997's tremendous Flaming Pie (with the exception of 2001's rather spotty Driving Rain). Out of the 16 tracks on this new record (including 3 bonus cuts), 9 are great, 4 are pretty darn good and there are only 3 stinkers . What sets this album apart you might ask? Well, I think it might be for a coupla reasons: For one, he finally uses his outstanding and versatile live band of the last few years on a fair portion of a record (these boys play with real gusto!); Secondly, though recording dates are not clear and some of these tracks are reportedly from past album sessions, 'Memory' was put together following a rather nasty divorce and, though it's a cliché, it's true that great art is often born out of great difficulty; Thirdly (and this is completely uncorroborated conjecture on my part), maybe, just maybe, his well known fondness for recreational smoke (that had reportedly been banished by ye olde party-pooping wifey) came back into play. I just can't help but think there's a wildly imaginative, 'stoned' quality to a couple of my favorites here; the oh-so-British and slightly silly "Mr. Bellamy" and the completely wacked out, super trippy (bonus track) "222," they practically stink of the stuff. The Outstanding Song Award unquestionably goes to "You Tell Me," a melancholy tune-poem of actual Beatle quality if you ask me. "Ever Present Past," rates as one of the best singles of Paul's solo career, it shoulda been a smash. The fabulous rocker "Only Mama Knows" harkens back to "Junior's Farm," another terrific single of his from1974. "See Your Sunshine" may take the prize for THE most over the top bass playing of his entire career. And, "Why So Blue" (bonus track), is one of the best of the sessions and could've/should've replaced one of the aforementioned stinkers. But - buzzed or not, accompanied or playing all the instruments himself - this is one of Paul McCartney's most consistent works of the last 37 years.
3. Robert Wyatt - Comicopera
When I heard that Robert's new one was to be an opera of sorts, I expected it to be one of his typically brilliant but difficult to listen to albums. But, in fact, while Comicopera IS typically brilliant and challenging as always, it's quite user friendly! All at once tuneful, pop-ish, jazzy, serious and whimsical. For the uninitiated, Robert was a founding member/drummer/sometimes vocalist of late sixties British trail blazing prog rock band Soft Machine and has been making great solo records since the early seventies. He also happens to be one of my favorite vocalists. The artwork is fantastic too, courtesy of wife and collaborator Alfie Benge. This is delightfully oddball, prog-pop-jazz with a generous sense of humor. This is one of those albums that takes you to another place. Genius stuff.
4. Coco B's - (self titled)
This is SO up my alley, a jubilant and timeless sort of rock 'n' roll record, reminiscent of Big Star, Lou Reed, The Modern Lovers/Jonathan Richman, Supergrass and/or The Replacements (though singer Kevin Castillo told me it was R.E.M. that first set him on fire). The song "I Live In L.A." gave me a rush similar to the first time I heard Richman's "Roadrunner" 32 years ago (is it just a coincidence Coco B's have a song called "Modern Lover"?). And "Culture Contact" has a fraction of the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait" riff even though the guitarist who came up with it, Joe Rivera, wasn't familiar that song. If you dig the album, seek out the terrific downloadable demos on the band's website, the track "Downtown" in particular is quite a WOW. Check out http://www.kdouble.com/ and http://www.myspace.com/cocobs (for the fabulous UK remix of "Modern Lover")
5. Tegan And Sara - The Con
A phenomenal follow-up to their 2004 masterwork So Jealous. Inventive, introspective and exuberant rock 'n' roll.
6. Vic Chesnutt - North Star Deserter
One of the best songwriters alive delivers yet another record that might be the best thing he's ever done.
7. Mark Olson - The Salvation Blues
I am so stunned by the accomplished, advanced songwriting and soulful performances on this album that I have a hard time finding words to properly describe just how much I love it.
8. Ian Hunter - Shrunken Heads
This is one of the best records of Hunter's career, and that includes his work with Mott The Hoople. Continuing in his tradition of great rock 'n' roll mixed with beautiful ballads and a twist of Dylan.
9. A.A. Bondy - American Hearts
Another record I played countless times this year. Top shelf, smart, often dark songwriting, emotive singing, excellent guitar playing. File under Blues-ey Folk with a Velvets underbelly. http://www.myspace.com/aabondy
10. Bryan Ferry - Dylanesque
All Bob Dylan covers. I was shocked by how great this record was. Terrific versions, smart selection of songs.
11. Lucinda Williams - West
For the song "What If" alone, this record deserves to be on any best of 2007 list. Add to it "Rescue," "Words" and the title song and you've got her strongest material since Sweet Old World.
Other records I liked and played a lot (in no particular order):
- Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
- Joe Henry - Civilians
- Interpol - Our Love To Admire
- Mavis Staples - We'll Never Turn Back
- Tim Keegan - Foreign Domestic
- Nathan Moore - In His Own Worlds
- The Evening Rig - Never Been'er
- The Arctic Monkeys - Favorite Worst Nightmare
- Ed Ackerson - (self titled)
- Nick Lowe - At My Age
- Alabama 3 - M.O.R.
- Macy Gray - Big
- Chuck Prophet - Soap and Water
- Paul Kelly - Stolen Apples
- Son Volt - The Search
- Bettye LaVette - The Scene Of The Crime
- Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
- Rufus Wainwright - Release The Stars
- Neil Young - Massey Hall 1971
- Leonard Cohen - Songs Of, Songs From A Room, Songs Of Love And Hate
- The Bonzo Dog Band - Gorilla, The Doughnut In Granny's Greenhouse, Tadpoles, Keynsham, Let's Make Up And Be Friendly
KILLER LIVE SHOWS
(L.A. unless otherwise noted)
- Eisley - SXSW, Austin, TX (3 shows) - March; The Greek (2 shows opening for The Fray & Gomez)/The Silent Movie Theater (2 shows) - July; The Avalon - September and The House Of Blues - Dallas, TX - November (opening for Mute Math).
- Ian Hunter - The Canyon Club - June
Eisley acoustic at the Silent Movie Theater and Ian Hunter (with an incredible band) were both the kind of mind-numbingly stupendous performances that, for a few minutes afterwards, I was so dazed I couldn't remember where I'd parked my car.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- Rhett Miller & Murry Hammond - Largo
- The Bird And The Bee - Tangier
- The Drams - Knitting Factory, California Lutheran College
- Ryan Lindsey - King King/SXSW - Austin, TX
- Vic Chesnutt - McCabe's
- Dawn Kinnard - SXSW/The Basement - Nashville
- Tim Easton - SXSW
- The Drams - SXSW (3 shows)
- IV Thieves - SXSW
- Rickie Lee Jones & band - SXSW (2 shows)
- Death Ships - SXSW
- Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit - SXSW (2 shows), including the New West afternoon party where Booker T. sat in with them!
- The Last Town Chorus - SXSW
- Terry Reid - SXSW
- Melissa Mathes - The Basement - Nashville - (March & June)
- Joe Boyd - SXSW/The Skirball Centre
- Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 - Spaceland
- Jordan Zevon - The Mint
- Dan Kelly - Largo, Hotel Café
- Tim Easton - Hotel Café
- Last Town Chorus - Amoeba (in-store)
- Tegan And Sara - Malibu Performing Arts Center
- Dwight Yoakam - The Crystal Palace - Bakersfield, CA
- Murry Hammond - Hotel Café
- Everest - Spaceland
- Lucinda Williams - The El Rey Theater (performing Sweet Old World and 'The Rough Trade Album' in their entirety)
- Stephen Bruton - The Mint
- Rufus Wainwright - The Hollywood Bowl
- Coco B's - Spaceland /The Echo (September/November)
- Ben Lee - LASC
- Freddie Stevenson - Hotel Café
- Rachael Yamagata - Martini Ranch - Scottsdale, AZ
- Neil Young - The Nokia Theater
A.A. Bondy - Hotel Café & The New West Office!
IN A CATEGORY ALL BY ITSELF
Cirque Du Soleil - LOVE - Las Vegas - February 2
The highest compliment I can pay this insanely high-class production of dance, acrobatics and Beatle music is that I think if The Beatles themselves were still around, they would have participated in it. I was moved beyond words. Worth a trip to Las Vegas just to see this show. I'm sure I'll be seeing it again.