2006: A Rebuilding Year
In baseball they call it a rebuilding year… that in-between space where you’re more preoccupied with missing the past and looking forward to the future than with focusing on the present you’re inhabiting. I can’t say the year 2006 made a big impression on me musically. Other than the few standouts noted below, the biggest news for me this year was that Fountains Of Wayne, the Redwalls and Jimmy Eat World are all back in the studio working on 2007 releases. That said, here are a few randomish awards:
Album I Most Regret Not Reviewing This Year
Like many latter-day fans of the Jayhawks (at last count there were at least 17 of us), I despaired at the fate of Gary Louris and company, lapsing into hiatus after issuing two of the finest and most underappreciated albums of their career, 2000’s Smile and 2003’s Rainy Day Music. The good news is, Louris and Jayhawks compatriots Marc Perlman and Kraig Johnson also had an active side project going with Soul Asylum’s Dan Murphy and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy in the alt-country supergroup Golden Smog. The Smog returned in 2006 with their finest effort yet, a compendium of compelling melodies, jangly guitars, urgent vocals and off-kilter humor. ‘Twas Another Fine Day indeed when these guys got together to make music again.
Local Boy Made Good Award
The weird thing is, I’ve never even seen Jackie Greene live here in our mutual hometown of Sacramento, CA -- I finally caught him in concert two hours away this past summer up at Lake Tahoe, and did he ever impress. This precocious 24-year old talent’s major-label debut American Myth melds everything you ever loved about Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen into a package that’s modern and classicist all at once. The sure-handed prodigy covers a rich, distinctly American musical landscape that ranges from hard boogie to acoustic folk and just about everything in between.
Progressive Instrumental Albums Of The Year
No that’s not a misprint. Not only is there reason to make such an award this year – there are two. First up, in the indie category, we have Pete Prown and Guitar Garden, who delivered the bold, fluid Satch-meets-Gilmour stylings of Secret Space. Meanwhile, over on Zoe/Rounder, Ken Ramm and Euphoria blew my mind with the evocative, eclectic world-blues-electronica of Precious Time. Two of my favorite listens of the year, without a doubt.
The Annual “Sometimes With A Million Bucks I Still Couldn’t Buy A Clue” Award
Last year it was Jet’s Get Born, the year before it was Ian Hunter’s Rant. It seems every year now I discover an album that came out a while before that I simply missed out on, and that upon further inspection turns into an instant favorite. This year it was Switchfoot’s Nothing Is Sound that took my CD player by storm and stayed there for weeks. Call it U2 lite if you must, but this talented quintet has emerged from the CCM ghetto to light up your radio with lyrically searching, melodically rich, stadium-sized anthems for the soul.
Indie Release Of The Year
Jon Troast sent me an e-mail one day asking if he could submit his independent release Second Story. Having never heard of the Lake Geneva, Wisconsin resident and having had more than my fill of sensitive-guy singer-songwriters over the years, I was prepared to be underwhelmed, and delighted to sit down to a hearty meal of self-prepared crow. Second Story is full of sweet acoustic grooves and endearingly over-the-top sentiments, and finished a strong second in my personal indie sweepstakes this year.Indie Of The Year
Chris Cubeta wowed me with 2003’s out-of-nowhere Sugar Sky, but even that superb disc in no way prepared me for the sheer quality – no, majesty -- of 2006’s Faithful. By turns exuberant and introspective, tender and fierce, matter-of-fact and elegiac, Faithful is literate rock and roll of the first order, and the best excuse all year to use the adjective “Springsteenesque.” Do not miss it.
Major Label Release Of The Year
In a year when the majors put out a bare handful of discs worth listening to, Continuum stood out above the crowd. Showing remarkable (and admirable) musical growth, John Mayer graduated from the school of love balladeers, grew up and earned a graduate degree in the blues. Continuum is full of mature musical statements that resonate with tight grooves and thoughtful, often powerful lyrics. He caps off the best set of songs he’s written to date with outstanding guitar playing and increasingly nuanced and soulful vocals. In the liner notes, Mayer tips his hat respectfully to Eric Clapton, but he shouldn’t be so modest -- with this album, they’re now officially peers. No, really… I'm serious.
Other Albums That Earned Numerous Spins: Gin Blossoms – Learning The Hard Way; Tom Petty – Highway Companion; Jake Stigers – Comin’ Back Again; Dixie Chicks – Taking The Long Way; Andy Timmons Band – Resolution; The Who – Endless Wire; Jet – Shine On; Ben Folds – superdunnyspeedgraphic, the lp.
Most Painful Listening Experience Of The Year: When I suggested we do a retrospective focusing on arena rock, I did not count on getting stuck reviewing not one, but three of the genre's low points. On the other hand, I did manage to have some fun while assessing the finer qualities of these albums by Asia, Foreigner and REO Spedwagon.
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