Most Disappointing Album
Radiohead -- In Rainbows
God help me, I have tried to love Radiohead. I own the majority of their albums, and when In Rainbows was announced in a downloadable, choose your own price, form, I had to support the band regardless of what I felt about their music. In Rainbows had a lot of buzz, and so here it was: I was going to play the record, love it, and lavish praise upon Radiohead. After listening to enough of this soulless affair that I nearly slipped into a coma 3/4ths of the way through, I had had enough. Another dead end.
Biggest Surprise Of The Year
Kanye West -- Graduation
OK, so to Kanye fans this album probably would have been par for the course. However, for an admittedly cynical fan of the hip-hop genre, I remained skeptical of just how good this guy was. After making the investment for Graduation, I realized this was not some random assortment of samples set around terrible lyrics. West isn’t Dylan, but he’s not Paul Anka either. And the samples; oh my goodness are they expertly crafted and utilized. This definitely opened my eyes to Mr. West, and the genre as a whole.
Best Michael Jackson Impersonators
Maroon 5 -- It Won’t Be Soon Before Long
No, Adam Levine and Co. are not weirdos who apparently enjoy the company of small children waaayy too much. What I mean is that, for my dollar, these guys are the best pop musicians out there, as Michael was way back when. With their last two albums, Maroon 5 has put their perfect production and incredibly hooks and melodies on display for the whole world. Who else out there churns out more catchy singles, with some gasp musicianship to back it up?Honorable Mention: Fountains of Wayne -- Traffic & Weather
Best Vocal Performance of the Year
Amy Winehouse -- Back To Black
Yes sports fans, I have tasted the Winehouse Kool-Aid, and it quenched my thirst. Winehouse is the latest media darling, despite (because of?) her latest round of personal life disasters. None of that changes the reality of how impressive she was on Back To Black. I was convinced I was listening to outtakes from Motown in its prime in the 60s, that had some modern day production thrown in for good measure. Her producers may have a hand in crafting her sound, but her voice is straight-up compelling and ballsy on its own; and no amount of glossy sheen or critic hype can diminish that.
Best Remastering of the Year
Pink Floyd -- The Piper At The Gates of Dawn
Look, it’s still not my favorite Floyd album. However, it does improve significantly in its new, expanded form. The music is clear, and crisp, and of course decidedly trippy. It is a worthy addition to the Floyd catalogue, and represents the best efforts of the Syd Barrett-era lineup.
Honorable Mention: Traveling Wilburys -- The Traveling Wilburys Collection
Best Soundtrack of the Year
Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof
Any fan of the Q-man knows and loves each of his soundtracks for his movie, because they are so perfectly synced with the visuals. I identify countless songs with scenes from Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs because of Tarantino’s films, and Death Proof was no different. The mix of the music is eclectic, but not cheesy. Each song was chosen for a particular feel, and accomplishes that feat. Best discovery I made? “Hold Tight” by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich.
Honorable Mention: Ocean’s 13
Best Production of the Year
Rufus Wainwright -- Release the Stars
Rufus was going to make his way into this list, because Release the Stars blew my socks off in so many different ways. The man certainly knows how think “big” and “grand.” In my review, I stated that the production reminded me of Brian Wilson’s work, and I’ll stand by that. It’s not as mind-shattering, but it’s close to the same tier.
Best Performance by a Classic Rock Artist
John Fogerty -- Revival
This one was a no-brainer. Despite the efforts of The Boss, Neil, and the Eagles, John Fogerty reclaimed his CCR roots in a note-for-note perfect album that sums up his entire career, and does it without being over-indulgent. Dirty up the sound a little bit, and you would not know you were not listening to one of those classic CCR albums during the late 60s.
Honorable Mention: Ian Hunter -- Shrunken Heads
Best Live Album of the Year
Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds -- Live At Radio City
I’m not that big of a DMB fan; lately I feel they have been going through the motions. However, it’s albums like these that shine a spotlight on Matthews’ genuine talent, as well as the immeasurable skills of Tim Reynolds on acoustic guitar. It’s a tad overlong, but the listening for the most part is compelling, and worth the experience to hear Matthews sound like he actually cares again.
Best Album of the Year
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss -- Raising Sand
Over the course of the year, there have been multiple albums that I labeled as being album of the year candidates. When it came to choosing them, I had a difficult time. Each one was strong in their own way. Luckily thanks to the flexibility my Best Of list format affords me, most have made their way into this document. However, when it came down to it, Raising Sand was the one that impressed me the most, coming out of nowhere. It touched me the most emotionally, and featured two veterans at the top of their respective games. This record is a modern-day anomaly. Hopefully it won’t be lost in the shuffle.