WXPN Top 50 Countdown - 17 to 1
17. Tom Petty, Highway Companion
Trip: Huge Tom Petty fan here. I’ve decided I don’t need to own this… draw your own conclusions.
Michael: What I’ve heard on the radio is pleasant enough, but “pleasant” isn’t what turns me on about Petty.
16. Corinne Bailey Rae, Corinne Bailey Rae
Trip: This year’s Norah Jones. A warm, relaxed record that’s sure to please soccer moms everywhere. “Put Your Records On” is one of the singles of the year.
Michael: The single sounds good on the radio, but it never occurred to me that there was more to investigate.
15. Snow Patrol, Eyes Open
Trip: Ears Closed.
Michael: I have absolutely no opinion. I’ve seen heated arguments rise up around this band, but they’ve completely failed to register with me. I’m sure I’d know a song if I heard it . . .
14. Thom Yorke, The Eraser
Trip: I liked what I’ve heard, even if there are too many bleeps and squiggles. Now maybe I can finally get into Radiohead if my TK partner comes through with that long rumored non-suck Radiohead comp?
Michael: Why don’t I own this? I have no excuse. One of the most fearless voices in contemporary music.
13. Josh Ritter, Animal Years
Trip: The best singer-songwriter album of the year… was there a better gauge of 2006 than “Girl In The War”? Has anyone made sense of the rambling epic “Thin Blue Flame”? This cd continues to confound and delight.
Michael: I like this album a lot (“Lillian, Egypt” and “In the Dark” are two of my fave tunes of the year), but I don’t seem to like it as much as everyone else I know, and I think it has to do with an unease with the words. Where Bob Dylan’s imagistic stream-of-consciousness lyrics seem profound and beautiful, Ritter’s (to my ears, at least) can seem clunky. When (on “Girl in the War”) he sings “her eyes are like champagne/they sparkle bubble over and in the morning all you got is the rain,” it sounds like he’s trying too hard, and when (on “Thin Blue Flame”) he sings “it’s hell to believe there ain’t a hell of a chance,” it sounds like he’s not trying hard enough, especially near the climax of such an epic song. Feel free to start casting stones in my direction.
12. John Mayer, Continuum
Trip: America…stop buying John Mayer records and start buying Jesse Malin records (Note: Jesse Malin’s Glitter in the Gutter out soon… buy or die.)
Michael: I like my coffee black, my whiskey neat, and my peppers hot. And I like my radio to be off when John Mayer is playing.
11. Emmylou Harris & Mark Knopfler, All The Road Running
Trip: Emmylou… underrated, Knopfler… overrated, this cd is easy on the ears but why would you ever play it when you could spin Making Movies or Wrecking Ball?
Michael: I’m a reasonably big fan of both artists, but what I’ve heard from this offering sounds more tasteful than tasty. Restraint shouldn’t be the central conceit of an album.
10. Amos Lee, Supply & Demand
Trip: The best record, bar none, made by a former Tin Angel bartender in 2006.
Michael: Holy smokes, we’re on a run of non-threatening and restrained albums. Doesn’t anyone rock anymore?
9. The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers
Trip: Is it possible that the 2005 template (with the White Stripes’ excellent Get Behind Me Satan at # 9) was used for 2006 and they just substituted the Raconteurs mediocre cd (full of recycled riffs and banal lyrics) into the # 9 slot?
Michael: I was really excited about this album until I heard it and realized that these guys were holding back their good songs for their primary gigs.
8. Citizen Cope, Every Waking Moment
Trip: I loved the single off this record and I kinda dig this guy’s vibe, so maybe I should check out this record. It won’t bore me, will it?
Michael: All right, it’s clear that I’m out of step with the bulk of the audience. Cope’s laconic, not-quite-funky half-raps have never connected with me. Not enough to make me change the station, nor drive to the record store.
7. Ray LaMontagne, Till The Sun Turns Black
Trip: 12 through 7 is the major countdown slump. LaMontagne is struggling to stay above the Mendoza line.
Michael: LaMontagne is better than I’ve previously given him credit for. His taste in influences (Van Morrison, Otis Redding) is impeccable, even if he’s unable to generate their rare kind of heat. But he’s a sturdy songsmith, and I find myself singing along to “Three More Days” when it comes on the radio.
6. Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
Trip: An album full of 100 year old folks songs? A record company marketing dream, right? Wrong, but the Seeger Sessions is totally enjoyable, rollicking, relevant music crystallizing the timeless power of great songs. The resulting tour was a hoedown revival not to be missed.
Michael: I’ll confess, when I first heard about this project, I thought it would be a snooze. How wrong can a guy be? This is a vibrant, joyous stomp through a set of traditional songs, rescuing them from the dusty shelves of the archives and introducing them to a new generation.
5. Decemberists, The Crane Wife
Trip: I love the Decemberists when they’re going for that Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues vibe, but reach for the skip button when they conjure up the ELP Tarkus vibe.
Michael: This one didn’t appeal to me as immediately as Picaresque did, but it’s awfully impressive. Colin Meloy has the kind of ambition that’s frowned on by some of the too-cool-for-school indie types who lack the talent to pull this sort of thing off. This is an important band.
4. Beck, The Information
Trip: I love the idea of Beck and his audio jambalaya, but The Information doesn’t hold up to repeated listens as the songwriting lags. His recent tour was a total blast, complete with puppets and dinner on stage.
Michael: I have a handful of Beck albums, and they’re all terrific, but I rarely go back to them. So acquiring this one slid down the list of things to do, and then slid off of it.
3. KT Tunstall, Eye To The Telescope
Trip: I’m speechless. Just for perspective, previous WXPN countdowns had as the # 3 record – Beck’s Guero (2005), Dylan’s Love and Theft (2001), Emmylou’s Red Dirt Girl (2000) and Patty Griffin’s Flaming Red (1998).
Michael: Her swaggering live take on our theme song makes Tunstall slag-proof in my book.
2. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
Michael: This album seems like a strange choice amid the strum-a-rama that is this countdown, but it’s a skittish, quirky, funky delight. A truly inspired outing.
1. Bob Dylan, Modern Times
Trip: While I can’t get past his voice on the last three records, there’s no denying his songwriting artistry remains unparalleled, no matter who he’s stealing from / being influenced by. No rock artist has been as consistently bewitching, innovative and relevant… huzzah!
Michael: Ho hum. Another year, another terrific record by AARP’s coolest member. The best touring band in rock and roll brings power and grace to a fine batch of songs by the best writer we’ve known. It wasn’t my favorite record of the year, but it’s a fitting way to end.