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From: ajw@cbnews.cb.att.com (andrew.j.whitman) Newsgroups: rec.music.misc Subject: Favorites of '92 Message-ID: <1992Dec22.165818.20704@cbnews.cb.att.com> Date: Tue, 22 Dec 1992 16:58:18 GMT Organization: AT&T Lines: 276 I use a fairly rigorous algorithm for determining the best music. I award anywhere from 50 to 100 points per album for instrumental virtuosity, figure in the Artistic Hair factor (-5 to +5 points), run the lyrics through the Poetry Analyzer (which yields a value between 36 and 74, except for jazz and country and western albums, which are automatically awarded values of +18 and -4, respectively), determine the Objective Historical Significance (typically a +10, but can go as high as +93 for bands from Seattle), and add in the usual bonus points for appearances on Saturday Night Live, MTV Unplugged, etc. Not surpringly, the BEST ALBUMS of 1992 were Yes's "Close the Edge" (20th consecutive year!) and Pearl Jam's "Ten." Once the objective stuff is out of the way I start thinking about which albums have spent the most time in my CD player, cassette player, and on my turntable during any given year. This gets tricky because it involves filtering out very strong memories of Raffi, Bert and Ernie, and various Disney soundtracks that my kids love. But here's what was left over. It's a mess, and most of it consists of old music or music that was re-issued in 1992 - proof positive, I suppose, that I've officially reached Old Farthood and that it's only a matter of time before I'm yelling "turn down that noise" up the stairs. - The Bats - "Fear of God" Great power pop from New Zealand. Jangly guitars, quirky lyrics, and hooks that won't quit. This is the poppy side of Flying Nun records, and, as such, may be less hip than some of the noisier or more idiosyncratic Kiwi bands like Bailter Space or Tall Dwarfs. All I know is that I like it and play it all the time. - Big Star - "#1 Record/Radio City" The undisputed winner in the CD player. Two of the greatest rock albums ever released put back together on one CD, and about as good as Beatles-influenced music gets. - Boiled in Lead - "Old Lead" The first two albums - "Boiled in Lead" and "Hotheads" - re-released. These days BiL are considerably more polished and eclectic. This is pretty much straightforward Celtic punk bashing, with traditional Irish jigs done up with power chords and feedback. I think it's a great combination. - T Bone Burnett - "The Criminal Under My Own Hat" A great album, full of sweet love songs and ironic little digs at capitalism and politicians and televangelists. But there's more sorrow here than smugness and cynicism, and it's kind of delightful to encounter somebody who can manage to sound like he cares without sounding wimpy. And the bluegrass cum chamber music backup from the likes of Mark O'Connor, Jerry Douglas, and Edgar Meyer is out of this world. A quiet little masterpiece. - Don Byron - "Tuskegee Experiments" Part klezmer music, part jazz improvisation, and all virtuosity and unbounded creativity. Byron's made the most breathtaking jazz that I've heard this year, and he's made it using that most unlikely and underused instrument - the clarinet. - Bob Dylan - "Good As I Been To You" Every time I'm ready to write this guy off completely he comes out with an album that makes me shake my head in wonder and amazement. He's done it probably half a dozen times now, and he did it again this year. Here we have a bunch of traditional folk songs presented in the most unadorned light - just Dylan's guitar, harmonica, and voice. It sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. It doesn't happen. Forget the "Poet of a Generation" stuff, and just appreciate this album for what is - a great folksinger having fun with some of his favorite songs. - E - "A Man Called (E)" I'm a sucker for bright, melodic, acoustic pop songs, and the mysterious E wrote a bunch for this album. Sort of Beatles-esque, sort of folkish songs about girls and teenage angst. Some of us actually think that this sort of thing comes pretty close to musical nirvana. - Aretha Franklin - "Queen of Soul" If there's a celestial choir I know who the soloist is going to be. This 4-CD set compiles most of what Aretha recorded for Atlantic between '67 to '72, and a smattering of what she recorded between '72 and '76. The female voice has never sounded so good. - Dick Gaughan - "Handful of Earth" It's always a toss-up in my mind as to who is the finest Scottish singer - Andy Stewart or Dick Gaughan. This year I'm tilting slightly toward Gaughan, mainly on the strength of this great 1979 album. Merge Stewart's keening, high tenor with Billy Bragg's political sensibilities and you've got a fair idea of what this album is like. And when Gaughan latches on to a three-hundred-year-old song like "World Turned Upside Down," a tale of political oppression and starvation and grinding poverty, he could be spitting out those words about Somalia or Bosnia or south-central L.A. That kind of anger is timeless. So is Gaughan's voice. - Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers - Live at the Ryman Emmylou has always been a great interpreter of classic country songwriters and a lousy interpreter of rock 'n roll. So this time out she assembles her finest band since the early '80s, jettisons the Chuck Berry and Beatles tunes, and hunkers down and delivers a dozen country standards and bluegrass romps. The pickin' has me grinnin', and Emmylou rises to the occasion and delivers some of her most heartfelt, soulful vocals. Very fine indeed. - Mark Heard - "Satellite Sky" Mark Heard recorded ten albums for Christian labels wherein he questioned his faith, cut through the pious schmaltz, skewered right-wing political thinking, and made some pretty good rock 'n roll in the process. It's not too surprising that the Christian labels wouldn't touch him after awhile. His last few albums were low-budget affairs recorded in his home studio, but still featured the likes of T Bone Burnett, Bruce Cockburn, and Sam Phillips. "Satellite Sky" was the last album he recorded before his untimely death this year at the age of 42. It's a typical album in that it features Heard's fine electric mandolin work and his beautiful, poetic lyrics that refuse to settle for easy answers or to deal in cliches. "Like bees in a bottle we are flying at fate/Beating our wings against the walls of this place/Unaware that the struggle is the burden of proof/Of choosing to believe the unbelievable truth." Amy Grant this is not. What it is is some of the finest songwriting I've encountered this year, regardless of religious or political persuasion. - Howlin' Wolf - "The Chess Box" Want to know where rock 'n roll came from? Listen to the smoldering blues that Wolf was making in Memphis in the early '50s. So raw and primal that just the *thought* of it should scare the PMRC. Absolutely riveting, awe-inspiring stuff. - Wanda Jackson - "Right or Wrong (1954 - 1962)" Wanda Jackson is wrongly categorized as a country singer. She's not. Dolly Parton is a country singer. Wanda Jackson is the female version of The Killer, and there are times on this 4-CD box set that I swear that she could out-snarl and out-sing Jerry Lee or Elvis or Johnny or any of the other Sun kings of the mid-fifties. Why this woman isn't regarded as a rock 'n roll icon is a mystery to me. - Kronos Quartet - "Pieces of Africa" Look ma, no boundaries. Sometimes I grow a little weary of Kronos' relentless eclecticism, but not this time out. On "Pieces of Africa" Kronos does what I rely on them to do - introduce me to new composers and new ideas in contemporary classical music. I've fallen in love with the music of Crumb, Part, and Nancarrow because of their work. Now it's time to check out the bevy of African composers who are showcased on this recording. Only Kevin Volans has been featured before, so it's almost all new to me. The drums and the vocals are a nice touch, and the whole effort swings like crazy - something that I surely *don't* expect from a Kronos recording. Wonder of wonders - there's actually *joy* here. - Los Lobos - "Kiko" Sure to disappoint those expecting "La Bamba, Part IX." I don't care. This is Los Lobos' most adventurous recording to date, and every risk pays off. This album was released with a minimum of fanfare and sank out of sight almost immediately. Well, consider this at least a personal version of fanfare. Buy this album. This band is too good to languish in obscurity. - L.S.U. - "This is the Healing" I don't know what to say about this album. L.S.U. is yet another Christian band that I've become intrigued by this year. There are two lead vocalists. One has a serious David Bowie affectation; the other sounds like Jessye Norman or Kathleen Battle. They sometimes sing together on some songs, and when that happens the Jessye/Kathleen wannabe typically sings in German or Russian. The guitarist wants to be Robert Fripp, and doesn't do too bad of an imitation. They sing songs about terminal cancer and praying for miracles, and in their songs the miracles are not granted. Don't look for *these* folks to show up on the Amy Grant Christmas special either. - Magic Sam - "West Side Soul" Magic Sam Maghett was a great blues guitarist and vocalist who died too young. On the soul numbers he sounds like Sam Cooke, and on the blues numbers he sounds like Buddy Guy. On all of the numbers his guitar sounds like Eric Clapton's on a good night. Listen to where Clapton and Stevie Ray went to school. - W. A. Mozart - "Great Mass in C Minor" How utterly middle-brow, I know. If you know the music then you know I don't have to justify it. If you don't then I can't describe it. But there's a scene in "Amadeus" where Sallieri, after hearing Mozart's music, adopts a look of stunned disbelief. I've heard this music so often that it now rarely has the power to move me. But sometimes it still does. And the fact that it can still do that after hundreds of playings is part of the greatness of this music. - Lou Reed - "Magic and Loss" Thirteen songs about watching a friend die of cancer, wondering what God's role in the process is, attending the funeral, experiencing loss and regreat, and watching the movers carrying everything out of the deceased's apartment. Some fun, huh? Maybe it's because I bought this album this spring shortly before my mom died, and maybe it's because it helped me through a tough time, but this album is really special. Kind of a raw, open wound of an album that will make you uncomfortable and give you hope at the same time. I think it's easily one of Lou's best efforts. But don't play it at your next party. - Sonny Rollins - "Saxophone Colossus" Yeah, it's thirty-five years old, and I've owned it for almost a decade. Still, it's never really registered until this year. The version of "You Don't Know What Love Is" just flattens me every time, and the light is beginning to dawn on why Sonny is considered one of the masters of the tenor sax. - Michelle Shocked - "Arkansas Traveler" My favorite folk album this year. Shocked writes angry, bitterly ironic folk songs about racism and war and sexual oppression. And she also finds a way to wed her scathing lyrics to bright, uptempo bluegrass melodies and instrumentation. It's a bizarre combination, but it works. - Matthew Sweet - "Girlfriend" More power pop songs about finding girlfriends and losing girlfriends. Winner of the Best Beatles Imitation Award for 1992 (for "Divine Intervention"), while also featuring some amazing guitar work from ex-punks Richard Lloyd from Television and Robert Quine from Lou Reed's band. Great tunes. Great harmonies. And Tuesday Weld on the cover. How can you go wrong? - Teenage Fanclub - "Bandwagonesque" Updated Big Star, which is good enough for me. It's also hard to go wrong with a guitarist named Norman Blake. - Travis Tritt - "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" An amazing effort considering that he started out in a -4 lyrical hole. Frankly, I don't care much about the Country Revival, and if Garth Brooks and Vince Gill collapsed at my feet, I'd certainly make no effort to revive *them.* But Travis Tritt is the real deal, and when he leans into a song like "Lord Have Mercy on the Working Man" it's hard not to hear the echoes of ol' Hank and Merle and No-Show Jones. The guy can flat-out sing. - Chris Whitley - "Living with the Law" As usual I came to this album belatedly. He's probably released three other albums by now, won a couple Grammy's, toured eastern Europe, guest-hosted SNL, and overdosed a few times, and I wouldn't know about it. I *do* know that "Living with the Law" is one of those rare albums where a new artist comes out of the gate possessing the whole package - a great, gritty voice and eerie blues moan, superb slide guitar technique, fine, infectious songs, and intriguing lyrics. I can't wait for somebody to tell me about the box sets, tribute albums, and career retrospectives that I've already missed. Andy Whitman AT&T Bell Laboratories, Columbus, Ohio att!cblpn!ajw or ajw@cblpn.att.com

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