It’s the end of the decade as we know it…
…and I hadn’t even noticed, until Kyla wrote a couple days back to ask if I’d post a year-end list, or maybe a best-of-the-decade list, or something. It does not seem possible to me that we are about to summit another decade, and seems, indeed, only yesterday that we saluted the arrival of the new millennium with frothy glasses of Fine du Monde and hoped our computers would still work.
In other decades I have had a stronger sense of history, a more rounded sense of what really was important musically. Not so much. I couldn’t come up with a best-of-2009 list if you held a gun to my head, because I probably listened to a dozen new releases this year. I’m better positioned to tell you what will be good in 2010 because I’ve been listening to a goodly handful of advance releases, in consequence of having been asked to write a series of press bios. Work I used to decline. Work, now.
So, without apologies and in the order they came to me, here are the ten albums that, today, I think will help me best to remember this last decade. In many cases I wrote about these records, which may occasion my prejudice toward them; or else I argued strongly that they should be written about at length in our pages. Which means either that my memory is unaccountably lazy, or that I’m internally consistent. Or both.
1. Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator) (Acony, 2001). Peter and I concurred, when this came out, that it would take one monster album to convince us this wasn’t the best album of the decade. He may have changed his mind. I haven’t. It’s a powerful, brave, ambitious album. I wish only that Gillian and Dave would make more of ’em, and faster, especially as they own their own studio. But it’s their choice, their muse, and so I shall wait with some degree of patience.
2. Buddy Miller, Universal United House Of Prayer (New West, 2004). I shall hope no explanation is necessary. The right album at the right time.
3. Jon Dee Graham, Full (Freedom, 2006). Pain and release. More pain than release, I fear, and I continue to hope for Jon to come to some kind of peace with himself.
4. Various Artists, Como Now (Daptone, 2008). Having come to the end of many musical explorations, I find myself dabbling more and more in gospel, another thing to look back upon that I’ve not begun to master. This is gospel looking forward, still alive in its tradition.
5. Patty Griffin, Children Running Through (ATO/Red, 2007). You will love Patty’s next album, and I will write about it at some point, even though I was paid to write about it for the label. But, for the moment, this is her best set of vocals, and — despite years of people telling me to attend — my final entry point into her special gifts.
6. Crooked Still, Shaken By A Low Sound (Signature Sounds, 2006). To an extent this is on my list as an exemplar of a burgeoning and fertile explosion of string sounds. But it’s also here for the special, compact magic of this particular ensemble at this particular time: A spectacular cellist, a spectacular vocalist. And then the cellist was gone.
7. Lyle Lovett, It’s Not Big, It’s Large (Lost Highway, 2007). I think Lyle may have slid off the radar too far, and I’ve not heard his latest release. This is the first album in a long while in which I felt the power of his wit, and of his vocals. And his maturation, his full grasp of his years.
8. Lizz Wright, The Orchard (Verve, 2005). Just listen.
9. Billy Joe Shaver, The Earth Rolls On (New West, 2001). I’ve already written everything I have to say about this brave, sad record.
10. Otis Taylor, Double V (Telarc, 2004). Smart and enigmatic, my perhaps token nod at the blues. And rather more than that.
When I return, at some point, I have another list: Of songs, since we enter the new era of the single, or whatever the hell this is to be.