Best of 1999
1. Paul McCartney - Run Devil Run (Capitol) The singing alone made this album the best listening experience of the year for me. Fifteen cuts; twelve covers (some quite uncommon) of songs from the 50s and three new originals. That voice combined with the top shelf players assembled here constitutes mind-numbingly great, spirited rock ‘n’ roll music. “No Other Baby, “Honey Hush, and “Shake A Hand are as good as anything Paul McCartney has ever sung (note: Paul says he learned the latter from Little Richard. If you haven’t heard Faye Adams’ 1951 recording, seek it out at all costs).
2. Wilco - Summerteeth (Reprise) This is a record that sounds like it was a ball to make in the way that most Beatle records sound like they were a ball to make. Imaginative, unconcerned with musical boundaries, strong, slightly bent songwriting and a veritable stew of instrumentation. With this album Wilco stepped into the upper echelon of great rock bands for me. “The ashtray says/you were up all night is a line that knocks me out everytime.
3. Macy Gray - On How Life Is (Epic) I fell head over heels in love with this record the first time I played it, have listened to it repeatedly for ten months and still like it more everytime I hear it. Old fashioned soul values collide with nineteen-hundred-and-ninety-nine! I cannot get enough of that peculiar, raspy, magnificent voice. “I Try has the best chorus I heard all year and I still chuckle every time I hear her sing “It’s just a dream I had/last night in my bubble bath (in “Do Something“) Here’s hopin’ she rules the planet by this time next year.
4. Supergrass - self titled (Parlophone import) This 3rd album is as different from their 2nd as their 2nd is from their 1st and that’s a true sign of a great fucking rock ‘n’ roll band if you ask me. Why aren’t these guys huge??!! The little string-bendy guitar riff on “Your Love was one of my year’s most ear-tickling moments and “Moving is another genre-defying feat for the band - Supergrass meets The Love Unlimited Orchestra? It’s great to hear Mickey and Danny outfront vocalizing as well as our Gaz. Rock bands just don’t come any better than this.
5. Tom Waits - Mule Variations (Epitaph) This album fascinated me as much as it moved me. Getting to see it performed live was astonishing. Even the print interviews were art in themselves. Hard not to mention just about every song but ... “House Where Nobody Lives with the lines “What makes a house grand/ain’t the roof or the doors/if there’s love in a house/it’s a palace for sure and “Georgia Lee about a tragic death where he sings, “Why wasn’t God watching/Why wasn’t God listening ... are indescribably beautiful. The Rod Serling-esque spoken word of “What’s He Building In There? is one terrifically brilliant mind at work. And no one should go through life without the sheer beauty of “Take It With Me.
6. Martha Wainwright - self titled E.P. (Querbes Service) This was the riskiest (and sexiest) music I heard in 1999, though the most staggering thing of all might be her potential. A little folky, a little torchy, a little show-tuney. There’s some exciting failure here when she reaches and doesn’t quite make it but the sense of adventure, her unusual arrangements and the most exquisite element of all - her voice - floored me completely. An artist to be reckoned with, no doubt about it.
7. Tim Keegan & Departure Lounge - Out Of Here (Meek Giant import) A first class musical aggregation lead by a young man with a tremendous talent for writing positive, ever-so- British soft pop. I hear shades of the Beatles and the 3rd Velvet Underground album on top of Tim and his ingenious band’s own individual stamp.
8. Stereolab - Cobra And Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night (Elektra) I was mesmerized and inspired by this music I have trouble finding words to describe. “Electronic? Yes. “Melodic?“ Certainly. “Relentless? Uh-huh. The way Letitia and Mary’s voices intertwine is some of my favorite duo singing ever. The songs “Free Design and “Velocity Girl were among my most played of the year.
9. Joe Henry - Fuse (Mammoth) Along with the apparent hard work there’s an air of mystery in the way Joe Henry made this album, maybe even a little witchcraft. He’s written words full of hidden details, sleight of hand and deliberate deadends. While he creates diversions (look, over there, monkeys and lakes! and over there- angels and beautiful hats!) this record is secretly all about feet. Half-stepping, shuffling, pirouetting, dancing, tapping... in fact, maybe tap-dancing along with this album is the only way to truly appreciate this exceptionally imaginative and rhythmic work of art! Who woulda thought that lone, unassuming, Sly Stone tune on his last album would be such a sign of things to come? Not to mention the sly feat of adroit word-man Joe making the instrumental “Curt Flood the most durable piece on the whole record.
10. Quasi - Field Studies (Up) The simple description: raunchy keyboard pop. In theory this instrumentation wouldn’t seem appealing to me - mostly just keyboard and drums - but in execution I’m won over. Main man Sam Coomes gets lost in his poignant and sometimes funny sort of cynical songs, harmonizing splendidly with Janet Weiss who provides excellent, sensitive and sturdy drum beats. My standout fave is “The Golden Egg but the ‘Nuggets-style’ garage punk of “It Don’t Mean Nothing To Me and the uplifting pop of “Smile were right up there too. Whether the members of Quasi are concious of it or not there are uncanny similarities to the late 60s and early 70s British progressive rock of groups like Pink Floyd, Procol Harum and especially Stackridge (all of which I heartily applaud!).
11. David Bowie - Hours (Virgin) A fantastic record (better than Earthling but not as good as Outside if you’re keeping track of his recent work). There’s a positive quality to the melancholia that I found addictive. Another record that sounds better the longer I listen.
12. Professor Ratbaggy - self titled (Gawd Aggie import) Australian Paul Kelly under a pseudonym in experimental gear sorta reggae dub-style. Loved it.
13. Various - I’m In Love
... With That Song
The Beatles - Yellow Submarine Songtrack (Capitol) - I loved hearing this stuff remixed. Recordings I knew beyond intimately now revealing previously unheard things. Especially “Baby You’re A Rich Man and “It’s All Too Much (though why they didn’t include the extra verse from the latter that appears in the film I’ll never understand). I musta played this about a bzillion times ...
Jack Logan (and various collaborators) - There was so much output from the Logan camp this year it begs for it’s own category. Tinker, Bring Me The Head of Kelly Keneipp/Mature E.P. (on Backburner), the long delayed “3rd album Buzz Me In (Capricorn) and about 100 or so demos that arrived in spurts all year proved Logan is still at the top of his game. I just don’t think I could love this guy any more. One of the most inspired artists of our time.
Robert Wyatt - E.P.s (Hannibal import box set) A compilation of non-L.P. stuff. Pop-ish, jazzy, political, melancholy melodies, wide-eyed whimsicality. Challenging and fun. Few artists in “popular music are more worthy of your hard-earned cash.
Captain Beefheart - Grow Fins (Revenant) and The Dust Blows Forward (Rhino) Ditto: few artists in “popular music are more worthy of your hard-earned cash.
Steve Tagliere - Trust Myself (Pretend) The best undiscovered writer-singer in the state of California. Soft, homemade pop music.
The Possibilities - self titled The Rouch Bros - Big Load Rob Veal - self titled Three from Jack Logan and Kelly & Nikki Keneipp’s Backburner Records (along with two of the Logan titles mentioned above) that constitute a fabulous kick-off for a great new label.
Stan Ridgway - Anatomy (UltraModern/New West) Contains two of my most played songs of the year in “Mission Bell and “Train Of Thought.
Various - More Oar - Skip Spence Tribute (Birdman) A mostly excellent track for track reenactment of the 1968 groundbreaker Oar by artists as diverse as Robert Plant, Tom Waits, Jay Farrar and Beck.
Josh Rouse & Kurt Wagner - Chester E.P. (Ryko) Lovely tuneage with music by the promising Josh Rouse and lyrics by Lambchop head man Kurt Wagne
R.E.M. - Up (Warner Bros) A ‘98 release but a record that didn’t “open up for me until after the first of the year and regularly vied for position on my stereo. The overall impact of this cerebral music resulted in many magical listening experiences. And, God damn it’s too bad that radio doesn’t exist for an obvious hit like “Daysleeper.
Kate and Anna McGarrigle - The McGarrigle Hour (Hannibal) Another non-’99 item that I was a latecomer to but was in my play pile all year. A record bursting with fantastic performances, incredible musicianship, ensemble playing and singing AND (as if that weren’t enough!) a perfect sounding recording for which we have the great Joe Boyd to thank. I don’t know of another example of a musical family with the jaw dropping talent of The Wainwrights’ and The McGarrigles’. This is Kate and Anna’s show for the most part but along with Lily Lankin (Anna’s daughter), Emmy Lou Harris, Martha, Rufus and Loudon Wainwright they have created a masterpiece of gut wrenchingly beautiful traditional folk and pop.
records I feel certain
I’ll be looney about when I spent more time with them:
There’s also the live music factor. I saw more great live music in 1999 than any other year of my life. Here’s a quick rundown (shows in L.A. except where noted):
Bob Dylan - twice - The Pond in Anaheim, CA. and Hollywood Bowl. Best I’ve ever seen him play outside of a ‘74 show in Chicago with The Band. Powerful stage presence. Phenomenal band. “Not Dark Yet at the Bowl with Charlie Sexton playing the riff, bouncing off the Hollywood Hills was one of the great concert experiences of my life.
The Everly Brothers - twice, The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano and The Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana, CA. They still harmonize better than anyone else.
Brian Wilson - twice - The Wiltern and Bridge Benefit, Mountain View, CA.. Even half present Brian was magnificent, the thrill of a lifetime. Never thought I’d hear a reasonable facsimile of “Good Vibrations live. Now I have. Also, “Love And Mercy performed with the kids from the Bridge School on stage behind the band is something I will never forget.
Neil Young - three times - The Wiltern (twice) and Bridge Benefit. Hard for me to believe but Neil sang better this year than I have ever heard him sing in nearly thirty years of seeing him perform. “Slowpoke was my theme song for the year, “when I was faster I was always behind indeed.
The Jayhawks - 1st Avenue - Minneapolis. Doing material from their upcoming Bob Ezrin produced album set for Spring ‘00 release. Again, rock bands don’t come any better than this.
Golden Smog - three times - House of Blues in L.A., Belly Up Tavern in San Diego and The Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana, CA. A buncha ridiculously talented guys who love playing together. Almost more fun than humans should be allowed to have.
Tom Waits - four times - Paramount Theatre in Austin, TX, Storytellers taping in Burbank, CA., The Wiltern and Bridge Benefit. Never seen him before. I was completely spellbound every time though the last two were heavier on theatre than music and I kinda prefer it the other way around.
Martha Wainwright - four times - Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, Troubadour and Largo (twice) She’s such a great singer and has such vast potential it boggles my mind.
Van Dyke Parks Trio - Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara - He played piano incredibly, told stories and even read a poem. Did everything from “FDR in Trinidad to “Orange Crate Art. A show I will file away in a “unlike anything I have ever seen category
Robyn Hitchcock with Kimberly Rew/Tim Keegan & Departure Lounge - Troubadour - Best I’ve seen Robyn in 5 years. Amazing!
Tim Keegan & Departure Lounge - three times - Troubadour and Largo (twice) - Such fine ensemble playing it took my breath away.
Son Volt - Hollywood Bowl! (opening for John Mellancamp) R.E.M. - at The Greek! Dave Davies - Hollywood Athletic Club! Perla Batalla - two times - Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco and Genghis Cohen Joe Henry - four times - Conga Room, SXSW (twice) and Troubadour Jack Logan & band - Smart Bar in Atlanta Quasi - Toubadour Stereolab - Troubadour Vic Chesnutt - four times - House Of Blues (twice) and The Mint (twice) And, lastly, my first Bridge Benefit - Mountain View, CA. ... Neil Young, Lucinda Williams, Green Day, Brian Wilson, Tom Waits ... well organized, great sound, beautiful setting ... couldn’t have asked for more.
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