Tuesday, December 31, 2002

The Ten, or 13, Best CD's of 2002

by Wayne Robins

As sole proprietor of Wayne's Words, there's no need to limit this list of most-enjoyed CD's to ten. And though I suspect I could put them in some kind of order if I were being paid to do so, to fit a format, the truth is, it's been a long year. And to pick a favorite record, well, that's so Dick Clark. So here are my ten best of 2002. The fact that there are 13, not including compilations and reissues, is my fuzzy math.

Chuck Prophet: "No Other Love" (New West).
"His latest album, for New West, “No Other Love” seems guaranteed to be in my year’s end ten best." Or so it was written back during the summer. I'm true to my word. Alternately breezy and blustery, (from that previous blog), Prophet writes ballads (“After the Rain”) like Tom Petty, zen blues (“What Can You Tell Me”) like Tom Waits. "Summertime Thing" is already a perennial in my mind, like Prophet found the antidote for the “Summertime Blues.” And I swear I heard “Run Primo Run” on a radio that plays only on Highway 61.

Eminem: The Eminem Show (Aftermath/Interscope).
I'm picking up the kids at McDonalds last week. I'm wearing a hooded sweatshirt. I cock my head to the side, shrug my shoulders, and say to the pre-teens in particular: "I go on TRL, look how many hugs I get." My own daughter is appalled as she always is when I play Eminem. The slightly older teens, who I don't really know, seem to blush. They're like, whaaaaat? As I used to say when I hit 40, rock and roll is too precious to be wasted on the young. That was a long time ago. It's still true.

Sonic Youth, Murray Street (DGC).
Worst piece of criticism I read this year was the Village Voice's insipid, illiterate review of this excellent, dense, yet limber piece of the rock. Yet it sort of proved Sonic Youth's subtext for the last 20 years: Information is not knowledge. "Murray Street" is not just informed and knowledgable, it's passionate.

Dixie Chicks, Home (Open Wide/Monument/Columbia).
Memo to Shania and Faith: You can still sell millions without bleaching your roots. Happy feet moment: "White Trash Wedding."

Negro Problem: Welcome Black. (Smile)
The music business as popcorn machine, washed down with the the gimlet-eyed wit of singer songwriter Stew and his right hand Heidi Rodewald.

Gomez: "In Our Gun" (Virgin).
Brainy and daring, these sophisticated tunesmiths and increasingly accomplished players and arrangers are England's best rock and roll band.

Verve Remixed: (Verve).
A bunch of current deejays get the keys to the hip Verve Records jazz archives and get to mix it all up: Dinah Washington's "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby?" gets a Rae & Christian remix, while others adapt great tracks by Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan... A purist's potential travesty, perhaps, but a visionary triumph, as the new mixes actually energize the originals without disturbing their essence. Hope they let 'em do it again.

Guy Clark: "The Dark" (Sugar Hill).
More profoundly enjoyable tunes about death and life, and how it can be lived one day at a time. Never a wasted word or false note.

Bruce Springsteen, The Rising. (Columbia)
From an earlier blog: "9/11 looms like a harvest moon over the cornfields of Springsteen's soul... Like the Dow Jones Industrial Average, things are rising and falling, rising and falling, but at the moment, there's not much traction. We're not talking about the difference between despair and rapture. We're talking about the bipolar extremes of our post 9/11 country, which are: Feeling sorta good, or feeling sorta bad. We're stuck in the restless middle, the way we probably always were. It's just now we know it, and have to face it."

Kahil El'Zabar Trio: "Love Outside of Dreams' '' (Delmark).
Like his fellow Chicagoans schooled in the Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), percussionist El'Zabar embodies jazz as a vehicle for Pan-African cultural and intellectual advancement. this trio recording from 1997, released in 2002, features David Murray on sax and the late Fred Hopkins on bass. It's the kind of disciplined, free-blowing session that could've come out of saloons like Slugs or the Five Spot in the 1960's; its swinging Afrotopianism never sounds cliche'd.

The Hives: "Veni, Vidi, Vicious" (Sire/Burning Heart/Epitaph)
Comparisons to the Rolling Stones show short cultural memory, or more likely, auditory indolence. Neither were these Swedes forged from the hammer of Thor, the Norse god of thunder, but rather that of Thunders, the swagger and stumble of Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers. Tough as nails and smart enough to play dumb, they're the best of the new breed of continental riot boys.

Radio Zumbido: "los ultimos dias del AM" (Palm Pictures).
A concept by Juan Carlos Barrios recorded in Madrid, Guatemala City, and Lake Atitlan, Guatemala,
poor, picturesque region of volcanos, see www.Atitlan.com. Largely instrumental, electro-Ellington Central American grooves, their ambience transmuted into gorgeousness by a twisting radio dial emanating the sound of static.

Beth Orton: "Daybreak" (Astralwerks). Heartbreak, honestly earned and artfully rendered. Orton seems to listen to what she's singing as carefully as we should.

Sleater-Kinney, "One Beat" (Kill Roock Stars). (from an earlier blog): "Sleater-Kinney aren't even make-believe nihilists: they're positivists... [Their song] "Combat Rock" takes its title from the Clash, but it's a different song about a different time and place. The Clash attacked militant Thatcherism; Sleater-Kinney confronts unilateral Bushism and constitution-shredding Ashcroftism, the stifling of free ideas in the land of the supposedly free. It's not enough for Sleater-Kinney to rag and rage: That's where they leave the conformity and limitations of punk and rock behind. They strive to educate, illuminate, and entertain, the way all good art should."

Best Compilation: "This is Americana" (Sugar Hill).
Exceptional songs from the Gourds, Railroad Earth, Rodney Crowell, and James McMurtry, to name a few of the 16 winners here.

Best Reissues: The Laura Nyro collection, (Columbia Legacy).
I am especially grateful for the CD of "Eli and the Thirteenth Confession," the vinyl version of which I wore out in 1969. Honorable mention: the monthly compilation that comes with every issue of Uncut, the U.K. music magazine that manages to be intelligent without being aloof, timely without being faddish. Nothing in the U.S. even comes close to Uncut, or the that matter the other two British monthly glossies, Q, and Mojo.

(c) 2002, 2003 Wayne Robins. All rights reserved. Write me! Try this new e-mail address: waynerobins@mac.com

Sunday, December 29, 2002


by Wayne Robins

I thought it remarkable that the most heartfelt and comprehensive online package I've seen about the death last week of Joe Strummer was on the BBC Web site. www.bbc.co.uk/6music/artists/joe_strummer/index.shtml. Once the condescending establishment, the BBC.com's music pages are now among the most hip and insightful on the web. While its understandable that Strummer generally declined to play Clash tunes in performances by his current world-roots band, Los Mescaleros, I find that kind of rigid refusal antithetical to the spirit that forged Strummer's music in the first place. It presumes a Lord-servant relationship between artist and audience. Why not simply revise and reassemble, like Dylan does? My Strummer moment of the last few years occurred in the weeks after September 11, riding the bus to work through the Queens Midtown Tunnel, watching the National Guard and New York State Troopers inspect every truck for dangerous cargo. I'd be listening to The Clash's "Rock the Casbah" over and over, creating my own confused meaning (part vengeance, part triumphalism) to Strummer's extremely provocative, prescient, and irresistibly rocking anticipation of the battle between modern Islam and the fundamentalists who were and are running that show. The Clash's only top ten U.S. single, "Rock the Casbah" made the charts in 1982...Listening recently to "London's Calling," "Guns of Brixton," "Complete Control," and a dozen other tunes as the world teeters on the brink of widespread war, it's clear that the Clash have lost none of their visionary impact, and much of of the credit must go to the late Mr. Strummer.

(c) 2002 Wayne Robins. All rights reserved. Comments? Try this new email address: waynerobins@mac.com

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