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17 December 2008 @ 12:04 am
Bp's Picks of 2008  
It’s that time of year again…thankfully I started this back in August as the ice storm last week and 4.5 days without power would have derailed this if it wasn’t almost a done deal prior to that.

Some of you know my ramblings from the Song of the Week blog, some only know this monster every year, wherever you might fall – enjoy this little recap to 2008. Thanks to everyone who either suggested, supplied, or recommended CDs this year. My annual list started when my brother and I used to compile a list when we were kids and we’d be hard pressed to come up with 20 records that we’d bought in a year. Sticking to that tradition, I’ve only included new albums released in 2008 (exceptions are noted below, mainly imports). There is a conundrum with my list, last year I included Tara MacLean’s Signs of Life digital 7-track EP in my list, but this summer she released those 7-tracks as part of a 10-track physical release in Canada on Nettwerk, Wake. Only 30% is new, therefore it’s not really eligible, but it’s Tara, my favorite female vocalist of all-time. How can she release a full-length and not be included in the list? She would land at the #1 spot if she was eligible. You can check out a few cuts from the album here, but as with most of her stuff, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, but listen and enjoy to the select cuts there (my favorites are not online anywhere sadly). Without further ado…

The list...

Bp's Favorites of 2008

1.) David Ford: Songs for the Road (Original Signal/RED)
This was one of the first discs I heard this year and nothing I heard after it could top it. It's not as sparse as his debut released in 2006, there's a greater concentration of involving more instruments and production, but it's still bare and raw. "...And So You Fell" is heart-wrenching, "Go to Hell" is intense and contains the quintessential Ford sardonic humor, "I thank you for your understanding, I won't be long, and for the things around the house you left unthrown." There are even some really upbeat tracks (bpm wise at least) which gives it a bit more diversity than his first record. His description of the traveling musician in the emotionally charged album closer, "Song for the Road," is poignant and captures the ache for home, but also the love of the road: "...but for this evening I will play back every message that you sent, so I can sleep to the sound of your voice....now I don't lightly use words like forever, but I will love you till the end of today, and in the morning when I remember everything that you are, well I know I'll fall for you all over again."
Key Tracks: Go to Hell, ...And So You Fell, St. Peter, Decimate, Song for the Road
Media Player starts with the line quoted from "Go to Hell" actually and includes the "Song for the Road" quote as well!
"Go to Hell" Live studio performance (with looping)
"Song for the Road" Live TV performance (with tears)

2.) Missy Higgins: On a Clear Night (Reprise/WEA)
I loved Missy's voice and songs from her debut in 2005, but after seeing her live this summer I was enraptured. Her Australian accent is part of the charm, but her songs are so full of passion and warmth that you can't help but be drawn into the story. You feel the pain and the joy she is singing about, intensely. The music has a vulnerability that lets you in holds you. This was a 2007 release in her home country of Australia, but I didn’t hear it until late December and it was released Stateside in February. "Where I Stood" is one of the finest songs I’ve heard in years: "And I won’t be far from where you are if ever you should call, You meant more to me than anyone I ever loved at all, Buy you taught me how to trust myself and so I say to you, This is what I have to do…'Cos I don’t know who I am, who I am without you, All I know is that I should, And I don't know if I could stand another hand upon you, All I know is that I should, 'Cos she will love you more than I could, She who dares to stand where I stood…"
Key Tracks: Where I Stood, Steer, Going North, Warm Whispers
"Where I Stood" video
"Sugarcane" live in-store

3.) Justin Nozuka: Holly (Glassnote/RED)
Jake said "Listen to this guy, he’s amazing and right up your alley." While I’ve heard that before, the production credit really intrigued me on this one as well. It was produced by Bill Bell. My favorite female vocalist, Tara MacLean, used to be married to Bill (guitarist for Jason Mraz, Alex Lifeson's Victor & Tom Cochrane). Justin may be young, but his song-writing is superb, emotional, and powerful. "Save Him" is one of the most powerful and chilling songs I've ever heard – hands down. There's a great groove on these tracks that highlights the soul in Nozuka's voice and really lets him shine vocally.
Key Tracks: Save Him, Golden Train, If I Gave You My Life, Be Back Soon
"Save Him" live at SXSW - stunning
"Golden Train" live in-store

4.) Def Leppard: Songs from the Sparkle Lounge (Island Def Jam/UMGD)
After the disappointing X and covers album Yeah, Leppard delivers in a big way with their best of the decade. Written in the Sparkle Lounge on tour, this finds them returning to guitar central, both in riffs and solos. They sound inspired and ready to rock! Huge layered harmony choruses, a monster guitar sound with both Phil Collen & Vivian Campbell trading licks and leads. Joe Elliott's voice sounds better than ever (of course live it still sounds like it always has) and Rick Savage & Allen cement the rhythm section. Put this in, turn it up loud and this stands well next to the classic tracks from Pyromania and Hysteria. It might even be their best since Hysteria.
Key Tracks: Love, Go, Gotta Let it Go, Come Undone, Tomorrow
"Come Undone"

5.) Ayreon: 01011001 [2-CD set] (InsideOut/SPV/Ryko)
Arjen Lucassen is a musical genius. While this doesn't match the brilliance of 2004's 2-CD The Human Equation concept album, it comes pretty close. Another 2-disc set with each set spinning a tale. Vocal guests include members of Evergrey, After Forever, King's X, Blind Guardian, The Gathering, Jorn, Pain of Salvation, Magnum, and more. This is a heavy one to digest, and I'm not sure I fully have yet actually, but it's definitely worth the effort.
Key Tracks: Age of Shadows, Beneath the Waves, River of Time
Album trailer
"Age of Shadows"

6.) Marillion - Happiness is the Road [2-CD set] (Racket/Intact - UK)
This came out during the middle of October and I still haven't wrapped my head around both discs. It's a lot of music to digest and discover and it's very dense. By March or April this might have snuck its way higher up the list, but not yet. Some real Marillion-esque gems on here laced with power and emotion, something their previous release lacked. The first disc is a themed album, not necessarily conceptual, called Essence, while the second disc is a collection of non-themed tracks including some really powerful moments.
Key Tracks: A State of Mind, Real Tears for Sale, Whatever Is Wrong With You, This Train is My Life
"Whatever is Wrong With You"
"Real Tears for Sale"

7.) Keri Noble: Let Go (Purple Records/Victor - Japan)
This is officially a late 2007 release from Japan, but since I didn't get around to getting the import until early 2008 I'm bending the rules just a little (hey, they're my rules). 2004 saw this Minnesota songwriter deliver my #2 of that year and she's been working ever since without a label, releasing demos through her website – all of which I had to get. She's somewhat popular in Japan, hence this was only released there. Some of the tracks will see the light of day in the U.S. next year on her Telarc release in February. She has the voice of an angel, with piano-driven melodies dripping with great feeling and emotion. She brings an old-school R&B/Soul feel to many of the tracks. "It's just me, With every single little missing and mixed up piece, I don't know what you wanna see but I am, Individually, Imperfect, Incredible me."
Key Tracks: Watch Me Walk, Say Goodbye, Imperfect, Ooh Oh
"Watch Me Walk" video
"Ooh Oh" video

8.) Great Big Sea: Fortune's Favour (Great Big Sea/Red Eye)
This might be higher on the list, but there are a few tracks that haven't really caught my attention yet, but the ones that have are absolutely brilliant. GBS's typical mix of rock and traditional Newfoundland music, and a touch of tongue-in-cheek, combine for great melodies and harmonies. "The sun must set to rise, The light will leave your eyes again, Then breaking like morning's dawn, Does summer feel the winter come."
Key Tracks: Here and Now, Love Me Tonight, Banks of Newfoundland, Straight to Hell
"Here and Now" & "Love Me Tonight" in full here

9.) Brooke Fraser: Albertine (Wood & Bone/Redeye)
Another rule stretcher on this as it was released in 2006 in New Zealand, but didn't make it's Stateside debut until this summer. I hadn't heard of her prior to this, so I can easily bend on this one. A beautiful voice, great tone, and her voice just fits with the piano and guitar to deliver strong and singable melodies. That's what hooked me on the disc was the strength of the vocal and the melodies. It wasn't until afterward when I listened a bit closer that I realized this is a praise album - most of the songs are pretty subtle and if you're not into that (which normally I'm not) it still works. And even one of the more evident songs, "Hymn," is one of my favorites just because the vocal is so good. There is a beautiful song inspired by a trip to Rwanda, and the song and video for "Shadow Feet" are brilliant!
Key Tracks: Deciphering Me, Hymn, Shadow Feet, Love is Waiting
"Shadowfeet" video
"Deciphering Me" video

10.) Duffy: Rockferry (Mercury/UMGD)
This was hyped ad infinitum prior to the U.S. release, so when I got the single for "Mercy" I spun it to see what the hype was about. It wasn't too bad, I thought she had a good voice, but it didn't totally win me over. When I got the full-length I popped it in for a second look and was totally hooked on what would become the second single, "Warwick Avenue" and the album closer, "Distant Dreamer." The retro vibe combined with her voice make this a really fun record to listen to.
Key Tracks: Warwick Avenue, Distant Dreamer, Stepping Stone
"Warwick Avenue"
"Distant Dreamer" live

11.) Circle II Circle: Delusions of Grandeur (Locomotive Records/Ryko)
The voice of Savatage for a number of late '90s records, Zak Stevens heads up his project's album number three. A homage to the multi-layered vocalization of his previous band can be heard on my favorite cut, "Every Little Thing." This is just a solid, hard-rockin’ album with a lot of great melodic vocals and rippin' guitar work.
Key Tracks: Every Last Thing, Echoes, Waiting, So Many Reasons
"So Many Reasons"
Samples from "Every Last Thing" and others here

12.) Kate Rusby: Awkward Annie (Pure Records/Koch)
Another amazing voice that could melt an iceberg. Primarily originals with a couple of traditional English folk tunes, and a brilliant cover of The Kinks' "The Village Green Preservation Society." Her strong melodies and ability to feel so acutely what she’s singing are her strengths, along with that wonderful accent of course, are what she really focuses on those this time around. Her relationship with long-time producer, collaborator and husband, John McCusker, had ended during the making of the album and while the album is not about that, you can sense an even greater sense of loss in the songs. On the flip-side, you can hear her coming into her own a bit more on this record as a result as she steps into the producers chair for the first time. This also was a late 2007 release in England & Canada, but April 2008 in the U.S.
Key Tracks: The Old Man, High on a Hill, Awkward Annie, Daughter of Heaven
"The Old Man," "The Village Green Pres. Society," plus others here.
"High on a Hill"

13.) Brian Vander Ark: s/t (2nd Motion Records/Redeye)
The voice of The Verve Pipe for many years, Brian has created a number of excellent singer/songwriter albums, with this being his best. His voice is so rich and his acoustic tone fits the songs perfectly.
Key Tracks: Lily White Way, Little Man, And Then We Fell
"Lily White Way" (live)
"And Then We Fell"

14.) Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Rattlin' Bones (Sugar Hill/EMD)
I've loved Kasey's work for years, and Shane opened for her when I saw her in 2004, but I was concerned about this release. I really love her solo work, and I like his solo albums (not the difference), but a wife-husband collaboration? I don't know about that. And a couple months down the road I still don't know about it. It definitely hasn't grabbed me like Kasey's records have in the past, but there are some great tracks. I think in a few years I'll love this to pieces, but now I'm still warming to it.
Key Tracks: Rattlin' Bones, The House That Never Was, Once in a While
"Rattlin' Bones" (live)

15.) Steve Reynolds: The Carnival Papers (429 Records/WEA)
Great voice, great finger-picking guitar, great story writing, great songs = an excellent album.
Key Tracks: House I Built, Winter Stories, Save Your Best, Coming in Too Low
1:30 second clips of all tracks here
"Save Your Best" video
"House I Built" (live)

16.) Snow Patrol: A Hundred Million Suns (Fiction/Geffen/UMGD)
I didn't like their first, really dug their second, and love their third. "Crack the Shutters" and "Disaster Button" just beg for repeated listens with their grandiose, soaring melodies. Brilliant.
Key Tracks: Crack the Shutters, Take Back the City, Disaster Button
"Crack the Shutters" video
"If There is a Rocket Tie Me To It" (live)

17.) Alanis Morissette: Flavors of Entanglement (Maverick/Warner Bros.)
I think I was trying really hard to make sure this didn't make the top 20, but every time I listened to this I couldn't help but really like it. The biggest strength in this album is the diversity - she skirts back and forth from one musical style to the next and it works so well!
Key Tracks: Citizen of the Planet, Underneath, Versions of Violence
"Citizen of the Planet"

18.) Raine Maida: The Hunters Lullaby (King Noise/Nettwerk)
To hear his wife, Chantal Kreviazuk, say how much she loved working on this project last year when I had the pleasure to hang out with her for a bit, you could tell how intertwined their partnership is. Raine is at his most passionate and outspoken, even moreso than on recent Our Lady Peace records (his day-job). A great singer/songwriter based album.
Key Tracks: Careful What You Wish For, The Less I Know, Yellow Brick Road
"Careful What You Wish For"
"The Less I Know"

19.) Jack's Mannequin: The Glass Passenger (Sire/Warner Bros.)
I don't remember hearing their previous releases, but popped this in one day and was very pleasantly surprised. Really catchy choruses, great melodies, and some passionate vocal performances - how could I not like it.
Key Tracks: Miss California, What Gets You Off, Spinning, Annie Use Your Telescope
"Annie Use Your Telescope"
"Miss California"

20.) Primal Fear: New Religion (Locomotive Records/Ryko)
Melodic metal from Germany.
Key Tracks: Fighting the Darkness, Too Much Time, Everytime It Rains
"Everytime it Rains" (featuring Simone Simons of Epica)
"Too Much Time"

Honorable Mention (in alpha order):
Black Keys: Attack & Release (Nonesuch/WEA)
Carrie Rodriguez: She Ain't Me (Back Porch/Manhattan/EMD)
Dana Parish: Uncrushed (Echo-Vista/Koch – promo’d but never released)
Daniela Cotton: Rare Child (Cottontown/Adrenaline/ADA)
Eric Hutchinson: Sounds Like This (Let's Break/Warner Bros.)
Griffin House: Flying Upside Down (Nettwerk/SonyBMG)
Jewel: Perfectly Clear (Valory Music/UMGD)
Jody Raffoul: Big Sky (Hi Five/Fontana)
Jon Oliva's Pain: Global Warning (Locomotive Records/Ryko)
Karma's Army: EP (karmasarmy)
Keane: Perfect Symmetry (Interscope/UMGD)
Lili Haydn: Place Between Places (Nettwerk)
Manraze: Surreal (VH1 Classic Records/Fontana)
Neil Diamond: Home Before Dark (Columbia/SonyBMG)
Paddy Casey: Addicted to Company (Part I) (Victor/SonyBMG)
Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It (Columbia/SonyBMG)
Ray Davies: Working Man's Cafe (New West/RED)
Rob Dickinson: Fresh Wine for the Horses (Fontana)
Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: Cardinology (Lost Highway/UMGD)
Tantric: The End Begins (Silent Majority/ADA)
The Parlor Mob: And You Were a Crow (Roadrunner Records/WEA)
The Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely (Third Man/Warner Bros)
The Tangent: Not As Good As the Book (InsideOut/SPV)
Whitesnake: Good to be Bad (Steamhammer/SPV/Ryko)
Will King: Come On In From the Cold (Will King Music)

Looking forward to in 2009:
Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Night Castle (this was on last year's list, and the year before, and the year before...)
Keri Noble - February on Telarc
James Kinne
Chris Caffery – House of Insanity (Locomotive/Ryko)
Kelly Clarkson
Bruce Springsteen

Favorite Live Show (large venue)
1.) Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TU Center, Albany, NY 12/7 7:30pm)
2.) Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TU Center, Albany, NY 12/7 3pm)
3.) Rush (SPAC, Saratoga, NY 7/5)
4.) Rush (Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, CT 7/7)
5.) Heart (SPAC, Saratoga, NY 8/24)

Favorite Live Show (small venue)
1.) Schrodinger's Cat (Reid Castle, Purchase, NY 9/20)
2.) Missy Higgins (Revolution Hall, Troy, NY 7/26)
3.) Grace Potter (Revolution Hall, Troy, NY 9/27)
4.) Jewel (TWE Dinner, Rainbow Room, NYC 3/11)
5.) The Parlor Mob (TWE Convention, Saratoga, NY 9/5)

Best Live Performances:
1.) "Loch Ness Monster" - Schrodinger's Cat (Reid Castle 9/20)
2.) "Tracers" - Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TU Center 12/7 3pm show)
3.) "The Way the Wind Blows" - Rush (SPAC 7/5)
4.) "Nightminds" - Missy Higgins (Revolution Hall 7/26)
5.) "I Know You Won't" - Carrie Underwood (TU Center 2/19)
6.) "Crazy on You" - Heart (SPAC 8/24)
7.) "Freedom" - Schrodinger's Cat (Reid Castle 9/20)
8.) "Mozart/Figaro" - Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TU Center 12/7 7:30pm show)
9.) "Nothin' But the Water" - Grace Potter & the Nocturnals (Revolution Hall 9/27)
10.) "Warm Whispers" - Missy Higgins (Revolution Hall 7/26)
11.) "Digital Man" - Rush (Mohegan Sun 7/7)
12.) "Believe" - Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TU Center 12/7 3pm show)
13.) "You Were Meant For Me" - Jewel (Rainbow Room 3/11)
14.) "Tide of Tears" - The Parlor Mob (Saratoga 9/5)

Favorite Musical Moments of 2008:
Meet & Greet photo with Geddy & Alex of Rush
Schrodinger's Cat – seeing them after 9 long years and catching up with them
Pre-show hanging with friends at the Rush shows

Looking Back at my Favorites from 2007:
1.) Rush: Snakes & Arrows (Atlantic/WEA)
2.) Tara MacLean: Signs of Life EP - digital only release (Nettwerk)
3.) Shaye: Lake of Fire (EMI Canada)
4.) Threshold: Dead Reckoning (Nuclear Blast/Caroline)
5.) Editors: An End Has a Start (Epic/SonyBMG)
6.) Within Temptation: The Heart of Everything (Roadrunner/WEA)
7.) Joe Bonamassa: Sloe Gin (J&R Adventures/IDN)
8.) Porcupine Tree: Fear of a Blank Planet (Atlantic/WEA)
9.) The Dollyrots: Because I'm Awesome (Blackheart Records)
10.) Grace Potter & the Nocturnals: This Is Somewhere (Hollywood/UMGD)
11.) Chris Caffery: Pins & Needles (Locomotive/Ryko)
12.) Dream Theater: Systematic Chaos (Roadrunner/WEA)
13.) Matt Nathanson: Some Mad Hope (Vanguard)
14.) Bruce Springsteen: Magic (Columbia/SonyBMG)
15.) Scorpions: Humanity, Hour 1 (New Door/UMe)
16.) Saga: 10,000 Days (InsideOut/SPV)
17.) Marillion: Somewhere Else (Intact/MVD)
18.) A Fine Frenzy: One Cell in the Sea (Virgin Records/EMD)
19.) James Blunt: All the Lost Souls (Custard/Atlantic)
20.) Alison Krauss/Robert Plant: Raising Sand (Rounder)