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15 December 2004 @ 09:47 am
Bp's Musical Picks of 2004  
Bp’s Favorites of the Year – 2004

Happy Holidays to one and all!

It’s that time of year again – for the big list! And what an exciting year in music it was, with a huge number of great releases! I over-extended myself this time around and gave the ol’ college try of at least 2 listens to over 320 CDs released in 2004 in an attempt to search for what I thought to be the best of the year – ie, what I would pack with me for a desert island vacation. My great appreciation to all who assisted me in that respect in one way or another. And now it’s my turn to tell people what I think, a nice break from telling site users how great the new Young Buck or Bow Wow album is. It seems like I may have gotten carried away this year as well with the descriptions, but oh well, read if you like, don’t if you’d rather not. I’ve tried to include media players and/or samplers that are out there for you to sample if you’re so moved. There are 30-second clips for almost all titles listed here at the link at the bottom of this list. Without further delay….

1. (tie) Ayreon – The Human Equation (SPV-Germany) 2-CD/1-DVD version
I listened to a 1-CD promo of this 2-CD set and was utterly blown away and had to pick up the full version immediately. An epic concept album about a man who slips into a coma after a car accident, which coincidentally happens soon after he may or may not have seen his wife in the arms of his best friend. A rock opera musical backdrop that is very Queensryche-like, but with more diversity (folksy at times, Celtic at others, with elements of Kansas as well) and 11 vocalists. The main character’s voice is James LaBrie from Dream Theater who puts in a brilliant performance capturing a wide range of emotions, and he moves from tender to rock and back with such ease. The vocals of his best friend are handled by the Arjen Lucassen (who also wrote the entire piece and handled all guitar work); and his wife’s vocal duties are handled with gorgeous texture by newcomer, Marcela Bovio. Eight (yes, eight) other vocalists represent the internal voices the main character hears in his head during his coma; Reason, Love, Fear, Pride, Passion, Agony, Rage, and his Father. Musically it is adventurous with many songs including in upwards of four or five vocalists. The final song features all 11 in a dizzying climax to the tale. The story is told over 20 songs, split into 20 days, and although it takes twists and turns, it never feels contrived to fit the musical story. Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley adds a Hammond organ solo and Oliver Wakeman (son of Yes’ Rick Wakeman) also adds keyboard touches on one track. The diversity is refreshing in such an epic piece. A look through the instrument list uncovers violins, cellos, flutes, whistles, panpipes, didgeridoo, bassoon and more. I haven’t been blown away like this by an artist that was new to me since Angie Aparo and Blue Man Group, both I discovered in 2000. Kudos also to SPV for always offering great options to fans, with bonus CDs, DVDs, etc. They have a special edition for almost every release and two different special editions for this particular one. Here is a link to a brief teaser trailer for the album and concept: http://www.ayreon.com/media/wmv/the_human_equation_teaser.wmv

1. (tie) Marillion – Marbles (Intact-UK) 2-CD/Book pre-order campaign version
I paid $45 for this package 18 months before it was completed. That’s the intensity that comes with being a Marillion fan. Did the 128-page book that accompanied the 2-CD set make it worth the cost? Heck, the first song, “The Invisible Man,” alone was worth it! Arguably the finest single piece of recorded material in 2004 is the aforementioned lead-off track from this album. Steve Hogarth (lyricist, vocalist and keyboardist) weaves a thirteen minute lyrical masterpiece dealing with his hyper-sensitivity to the lives and feelings of people he meets, so much so that he has evaporated and becomes trapped in an out-of-body state, “My body has gone, But my eyes remain, Hovering. Witnessing.” The pain of others sharpens its focus onto the pain of one, “If I close my eyes, I can see where you live, Climb the winding stairs, Up to your apartment, The scent of you preparing, His evening meal, I must watch in dread, When he's cruel to you, In horrified silence, As you make love, I cannot lift a hand, Lift a hand to stop him, I don't exist, What can I do?, What can I do?” This sense of helplessness to affect the lives of people close to him, neighbors, or complete strangers, reaches a peak when it all but consumes him and the song concludes after an extremely slow, building tension (that makes you want to crawl out of your skin the intensity tightens so tightly) the track explodes with fury and Hogarth’s vocals crack (literally) with the confession, “I will scream again, ‘I am perfectly sane’, ‘I am perfectly sane’, but I am, the Invisible Man…” and concludes with an agonizing plea to be free of this helpless, invisible state, “Talk to me, Acknowledge me, Confide in me, Confess to me ... or Leave me be. Leave me be!”
And that’s just the first song! The album doesn’t let down from there though. One particular highlight is the stunning “Fantastic Place,” which is a brilliant song about finding the place that keeps you sane amid the instanity of the world, “Take me to the island, I'll watch the rain over your shoulder, The streetlights in the water, The moment outside of real life.” It also contains one of coolest images of a tortured and broken spirit in need of fixing that I’ve heard all year: “I never could dream while I was sleeping, Put your arms around my soul, And take it dancing…”
There is a 1-CD U.S. version (Dead Ringer/Caroline Dist.) which includes all but 4-songs on the 2-CD version. Highly recommended as the 2-CD import version is a steep investment to make, but for $15, the U.S. version is absolutely worth the price for “The Invisible Man” alone – even if you think the rest is rubbish (but how could you?).

2. Keri Noble – Fearless (Manhattan/EMI)
For a long time this had the #1 spot as it is such a powerful disc. Keri has a beautiful voice and plays a mean piano to boot. Gut-wrenchingly yearning and the pain in her lyrics is superbly captured in her vocals. Delicate and tender (“Look at Me”), haunting (“A Dream About You”), stark and unflinchingly open (“Falling”), gorgeous (“Answered Prayer”), soulful (“Let it Rain”), it’s got a range of emotions and Keri nails every one of them. The empowering “I Won’t” is anthemic in its fury and her voice tackles soaring aggression beautifully. The final cut, “If No One Will Listen,” didn’t reveal its wonder to me immediately, but once it did, I was floored. She was signed by Arif Mardin, who also signed Norah Jones, unfortunately there wasn’t the same amount of publicity surrounding Keri’s debut as Norah’s. This is an absolute stunner of a disc. Listen to four streaming songs (“Talk to Me,” “Piece of My Heart,” “I Won’t,” “If No One Will Listen”) here: http://www.kerinoble.com/av.html?demo=1

3. Kasey Chambers – Wayward Angel (Warner Bros.)
Kasey is a singer/songwriter from Australia who would be classified as alternative-country, although she’s really not easy to classify (and I hate classifying anyway). She can rock with fury and also sound amazing over a bed of dobro and mandolin. This is her third disc and although it doesn’t match the intensity of 2002’s Barricades & Brickwalls, the album is brilliant. It's a touch less aggressive than B&B, but no less interesting. I remember the morning I picked this up, having not heard that she had a new CD, as it had just come out in Australia and wasn’t due in the States for another four months. From the first track, “Pony,” I was hooked and knew this was going to be an awesome disc. She’s got a unique vocal style and her songs are enveloping. She and her band are brilliant live performers as well. The album was #1 in OZ for over 5 weeks and she picked up 2 ARIA’s (the equivalent to our Grammy) for the album. Unfortunately she’s never been picked up by radio and video in the U.S. to the degree that other, more commercial, country artists have.

4. Glen Burtnik – Welcome to Hollywood (Atenzia-EU) CD/DVD
Glen is best-known as the writer of the #1 song, “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” the Patty Smyth/Don Henley duet from 1992 and as the bassist/songwriter for Styx from 1991-1995, 2000-2003. I’d been following updates on his web site since his voluntary departure from Styx in 2003 and I was anticipating this disc, although I didn’t know what to expect other than it included a song he wrote for Styx’s last CD, a punk-ish/blink-182-ish song called “Kiss Your Ass Goodbye.” Also included with the CD is a DVD with 8 “home-made” videos which I figured I’d toss in first when it arrived on my door one Saturday afternoon. The first video was for a rocker/ballad-ish cut, “Anytime.” Blown away. I tried a couple of the other videos and consistently fell more and more in love with the music and the creativity of the promo clips (including a hilarious take on Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” video). But then the CD went in and I was even more impressed! From the opening track’s crunchy guitars, to the acoustic verse/electric chorus of “Heart in 3,” the heartbreaking yearning of “Cry,” and fury of “Spiritual War,” it’s a cohesive collection of superb songwriting. The final quartet of tracks start with a 2-minute re-cap of lines and melodies from the previous 12 songs mixed together so exquisitely that it sounds as if they were written to complement each other specifically for this piece. Then Glen shines vocally with the a capella, “All That’s Yet to Come,” which is simply stunning. “The Muse” is up next and shows its strength in diversity, as the entire disc does, but never-more-so than here, as he combines rock, scat/rap verses, gospel and bagpipes all in one. The last track is a minute long reprise of “The Muse” with a gospel choir. It has something for everyone and brilliance throughout.

5. Trans-Siberian Orchestra – The Lost Christmas Eve (Lava/WEA)
The final installment of the Christmas Trilogy (Christmas Eve & Other Stories 1996, The Christmas Attic 1998). As with the previous chapters there is a narrative written story that accompanies the concept album – extremely touching and full of Christmas hope and magic. Amazing musicians create a holiday atmosphere with traditional and new melodies given the typical TSO hard rock/classical treatment with flavors of jazz and R&B. Highlights include the stunning “Christmas Canon Rock” featuring Jennifer Cella on some seriously gorgeous vocals; “Queen of the Winter Night,” tape the windows or they might shatter; “For the Sake of our Brother” with the late-Daryl Pediford contributing some brilliant R&B vocals; and the stunning, “What Child is This?” There’s a magical poetry to Paul O’Neil’s writing and the first vocal track sets the scene for the magic held within, “In the depths of a night, That’s about to begin, With the feeling of snow, As it melts on your skin, And it covers the land, With a dream so intense, That it returns us all, To a child’s innocence, And then what you’d thought lost, And could never retrieve, Is suddenly there to be found, On Christmas Eve…”

6. Muse – Absolution (Warner Bros.)
The opening lyrics of this disc set the tone, “Declare this an emergency, come on and spread a sense of urgency…” The frenzied, apocalyptic pace never lets up. Even in the slower tracks you can feel the tractor-beam of finality rushing towards you. And that’s where the beauty of this disc lies. There are grand moments juxtaposed with fury – “Stockholm Syndrome” has a chorus with swirling piano and an eye of the hurricane peacefulness, while the verses leading up to and out of these choruses are driven by thundering tom-toms, distorted guitar and urging vocals. “Sing for Absolution” captures one of the best vocal performances of the disc with its intensity and power. The comparison that many reviews draw is that they are Radiohead knock-offs. Arguably you can draw parallels to early Radiohead, but frankly I think this disc is even better than what I’ve heard from Radiohead’s catalog. This is another early 2004 release that held strong through the entire year and continually begged for repeated listens. If you’re looking for sunny day material, I’m fairly sure you won’t find it here, but if you’re in for a great rock album with diversity and texture, this is a great choice. You can try to stream the entire album with this link: http://www.filtermmm.com/muse/#

7. U2 – How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (Interscope/UMVD)
This band seriously does not care about my little list. If they did, they’d release the disc earlier in the year so I could get a better grasp on where it fits in over time – but instead they want to maximize sales by releasing it for the Holiday rush – whatever. Seriously though, this disc will grow on me with each listen and could be a most listened to disc of 2005. The masters of promotion inundated the television watching public with the finest single of the year, “Vertigo,” with its driving guitar and catchy chorus. There are so many great tracks, “Miracle Drug,” “Yahweh,” “Crumbs from Your Table,” etc. “City of Blinding Lights” has a great guitar line from The Edge – as a matter of fact, he is all over this album! He defines this disc – it’s nice to have him back! I loved ATYCLB, but this is their best and most consistent since Achtung Baby.

8. Keane – Hopes & Fears (Interscope/UMVD)
Wow. Who knew a band that lacked any guitar presence could sound this good! Ok, well, I guess that Mozart fellow didn’t have much use for the guitar either, but that was years ago ;-). Soaring vocals abound with chorus so lush and grand the Queen would be proud. And while they don’t have a guitar presence of the Edge, they sound remarkably similar to that layered soundscape style of U2, Coldplay, Travis, etc. They don’t sound like them, but they have a feel that’s similar to them, at least in my mind. Yearning is the order of the day, and not that this is an album filled with songs about loss, but there is an underlying sense that I get of a haunting or searching, “Oh simple thing where have you gone, I'm getting old and I need something to rely on, So tell me when you're gonna let me in, I'm getting tired and I need somewhere to begin” (“Somewhere Only We Know”). What a voice Tom Chaplin has – simply wonderful and majestic. Check out two streaming videos and songs here: http://www.bandbuilder.com/keane/

9. The Tragically Hip – In Between Evolution (Rounder/Zoe/UMVD)
Neil Peart calls The Tragically Hip lyricist/vocalist Gord Downie, one of today’s most poetic lyricists. One of my favorite bits from the new album is from the album closer, “Goodnight Josephine,” – “maybe we’re born lost, born to persevere, but honey I’d walk into your painting, until I reappeared, as a speck of comet-tail dust, a blue-green northern light, flickering just, in your eyes’ deepest ravines, goodnight goodnight josephine.”
You either get the Hip or you don’t. Shrek tells Donkey that ogres have layers like onions. Gord Downie’s lyrics have more layers than your average onion. And if you’ve seen them live, then you know where Gord gets his poetic and rambling sense as he will fill most available instrumental areas of each song with stream-of-consciousness rhetorical conversation with the audience. The band weaves layer upon layer as well, never sounding forced or contrived to fit a lyric or musical theme. Rarely do you find a band that combines lyric and instrumentation as well as the Hip – it’s a constantly flowing unit. Ok, what about the new disc though? Brilliant stuff. “Heaven is a Better Place Today,” “Gus: The Polar Bear from Central Park,” “It Can’t be Nashville Every Night” and “You’re Everywhere” are definite highlights. Rob Baker adds some superb lap steel guitar work which adds to a number of tracks. Are they mellowing? Yes. But that’s not always a bad thing. Samples of each track here: http://www.thehip.com/web/discography/index.php

10. R.E.M. – Around the Sun (Warner Bros.)
Subtlety is the name of the game. I remember my introduction to R.E.M. was via a friend of my brother’s who made him a mix tape in the mid-‘80s with “Driver 8” and “Radio Free Europe” and I remember my brother telling me how great these songs were. I liked them, but was more attached to the Nik Kershaw tracks on the mix. Later on I was put off by the over-played singles, “It’s the End of the World…” and “Losing My Religion.” It wasn’t until Brian McCaffery’s glowing words for Reveal that I really discovered the magic of R.E.M. Much like Reveal, the brilliance in this new disc is in the subtle textures. “Leaving New York” has a brilliant hook and kudos to Michael Stipe for leaving the awkward lyric “leaving was never my proud” as is, even though it flies in the face of all that is grammatical. And I’m not a big rap fan, but Q-Tip’s appearance on “The Outsiders” is a brilliant collaboration. The title track and “Electron Blue” are other highlights for me. Painting musical landscapes and textures – they do it so well. That’s what I love about Around the Sun. http://www.remhq.com/flash/discography/discography.html

11. Jo Davidson – The Simply Said Sessions (Fragile Tough Girl Records)
A stripped down effort when compared to her 2001 Edel release, Kiss Me There, and back on her own label after Edel’s demise. With Jo, it’s hard to choose which is more beautiful, her voice or her piano playing. “Bird in the Sky,” written in the weeks after 9/11 from the apartment she watched the days events from, is an amazing piece of work and even more gripping when heard live, “all our voices make a quilt in the sky, hope and sadness like a flag waving high, and our tears could fill up an ocean tonight.” From a frolicking piano romp through “Trafalgar Square,” which is “dressed in pigeons,” to the desolation of a broken love in “Ghost Town,”: “I have paced all the roads in my heart, they’re all dusty deserted and abandoned,” Jo takes you on a stirring and moving trip through life’s many ups and downs. In many ways the songs appear to portray a world that’s broken and shattered, but as she reminds us in “All Around Me” that, “what you see depends on where you stand…all around me, there are good things to look upon,” there’s an inner hope and strength in the songs that’s prevalent throughout the haunting melodies. Listen to tracks and purchase at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/davidson4 (and well worth it).

12. Tesla – Into the Now (Sanctuary/BMG)
By the first minute of the lead-off title track you realize how much you’ve missed Tesla (or at least I did). You’ll also notice that it is closer to their debut, Mechanical Resonance in its heavy guitars and less like the scattered Bust a Nut. Clean, focused and ready to rock (most of the band at least), they deliver the goods on their first studio disc since 1994. The two-guitar formula of Frank Hannon & Tommy Skeoch is well rested and Jeff Keith’s unique gravely vocals rip through the twelve tracks providing a peace-loving message. Remember, this is rock’s most recent hippie-band and never more evident: “Forget color, forget race, and just be one big happy face, Among this sea of people, live among god’s creatures, sharing love…Father, brother, sister, mother, everybody sharing love…” What’s not to like? The typical mix of electric and acoustic guitars keeps tradition and still sounds as good as it ever did. The album’s emotional knockout, which reminds me of a harder and more mature “Song and Emotion,” is “Heaven Nine Eleven,”: “Teach the children what it means to love, Show them, why now, we can never give enough, Let’s work together, we can rise above, And change the ways, change the ways, Change the ways of the world.” It’s a fiery tribute.

13. The Music – Welcome to the North (Capitol/EMI)
Not quite as good as their debut, and much more subdued with some of the raw energy stripped out and replaced with a touch of gloss, most likely due to the production of Brendan O’Brien. It's still a great disc and full of energy. It just lacks the deep groove of their first, more of a chasm than a groove actually – the grand canyon comes to mind. It’s definitely grown the more I listen to it. I heard the first single, “Freedom Fighters,” during EMI’s presentation in September and I really wasn’t impressed at all. The vocals seemed to be done by a pre-pubescent teenage girl and there was little of the groove that I was hoping for. Even after multiple listens once I got the disc I didn’t get that song, but the first time I was able to really turn it up – I finally got it. I think it was the sheen and noticible lack of atmosphere that I missed. Again, the songwriting is great, I just miss the raw production values of the debut and the energy that these guys have on stage. “Welcome to the North,” “Breakin’,” “I Need Love,” and the very mellow, “Fight the Feeling” are highlights.

14. The Blue Nile – High (Sanctuary/BMG)
Paul Buchanan has an amazingly yearning voice. He could make “Let’s Twist Again” sound so painful and full of longing that you’d be weeping in buckets. It’s that powerful and expressive, voice that propels the tracks on High, most of which fall in the 50bpm range (that’s only half joking). There is a faint glimmer of hope in almost every track amidst a dark and somber tone of keyboards and slow drums. Obscure and atmospheric, it's perfect for a rainy day. One of the finest broken-hearted and desperately searching discs of the year. Samples: http://www.sanctuaryrecordsgroup.co.uk/press/bluenile/sampler.htm

15. Chris Caffery – Faces (Black Lotus-Greece)
The guitarist for Savatage and Trans-Siberian Orchestra spent much of 2004 in the studio laying this down and chronicled it on his web site in daily posts to his message board. He detailed every step as it evolved from group of songs into 2-CDs worth of material. It was entertaining and interesting to read the journals and kept me interested enough to plop down for the 2-CD set, knowing full well that it might be much heavier than I’m used to and I might not even be into it – but I’d read about it’s creation from idea to recorded work, I was too invested not to check it out (I won’t go into what a great marketing scheme this is, even though that wasn’t his intention, but it worked out that way). And I was correct, it was harder than I’m used to and there are more f-bombs than you can collect in a wheelbarrow – most evidently in the all out metal equivalent to road rage, “Pisses Me Off,” a song for when you just get into one of those mindsets: “The computer pisses me off, it rules my life this cyber wife, The email pisses me off, the faceless sh*t cuts like a knife, Starbucks pisses me off, 5 bucks a cup, what the f--- is up?, Cuz my life pisses me off, I’m just a pawn in the human race, It’s killing me” – but I kept listening as there were some really good tracks, and Chris had worked so hard on it, so I wanted to give this album the added extra effort. And that helped as it grew on each subsequent listen. It’s his first vocal venture (as he’s a guitarist by trade) and he dives into the new role with passion and tackles a variety of emotions, textures and vocal demands from softer and emotional, to rock and roll, metal and even a touch of quasi-growling. Musically it’s fast and hard, but very diverse with a number of different styles and textures. The acoustic driven “Music Man” is a highlight, as is “So Far Today.” The second CD is his reaction to the war in Iraq – it has even more fire than disc one.
There is a U.S. release slated for January/February. Downloadable clips available at: http://www.chriscaffery.com/music.htm

16. The Coral – Magic & Medicine (Columbia)
Holy psychedelic groove Batman! This makes me feel like I was back in England in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s – ok, well, I’ve never been to England and I wasn’t born until ’74, but you get the point. You can’t help but love the tracks on this disc. From the knockout lead-off cuts “In the Forest” and “Don’t Think You’re the First,” (with whirling organs I never thought I’d hear in 2004), to wondrously bizarre sounds of “Confessions of A.D.D.D.,” it just grooves with infectious melodies. I feel like a hippie again! Wait, I’m too young to have been a hippie…oh well. Peace.

17. Heart – Jupiters Darling (Sovereign Artists)
It’s been almost 10 years since Heart’s last studio disc, Desire Walks On, which although it sold dismally, is a brilliant album. Jupiters Darling, which harkens back to their roots with in-group songwriting, very few keyboards, lots of layered string instruments and some seriously rockin’ guitar work! The live DVD/CD from a year or so back included a tease of 4 new tracks (2 great, 1 good and 1 miss), but strangely enough none of those made the cut for Jupiters Darling. The CD starts in grand Heart tradition with some fine acoustic guitar work from Nancy Wilson before the electrics kick in with a powerful 1, 2 punch. Ann Wilson still has one of the best, if not the best, female rock voices and if it’s aged, she’s not showing it. The full disc though is a mixed bag and there are some stellar cuts (“The Oldest Story in the World,” “Make Me,” “I Need the Rain,” “Perfect Goodbye”), some really good tracks and a few decent, but not great tracks. The addition of song-writing guitarist and producer Craig Bartock is welcomed. Definitely a powerful return to rock for the Wilson’s and let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 10 for more!

18. Five For Fighting – The Battle for Everything (Aware/Columbia)
John Ondrasik has a unique style of writing and that’s why there is so much to love about Five for Fighting. “The Taste” is a brilliant mix of piano-driven folk and aggressive driving rock and the transition between the two is superb! “100 Years,” “Devil in the Wishing Well,” and “Nobody” are among the many highlights. “One More for Love” is stunning. There’s no pretension, it’s all about great music and he’s one of the best male singer/songwriter’s around, it just so happens that he’s hit a streak of popularity. It’s time to push aside those Jason Mraz and John Mayer CDs and saddle up to Five for Fighting.

19. Kelly Clarkson – Breakaway (RCA/BMG)
A super-catchy title-track first single was a late-summer hit for Kelly. It was actually co-written by Avril Lavigne, which as you listen to the album you’d find surprising as the follow-up single, not written by Lavigne, sounds exactly like Lavigne – except with better vocals. The album represents Kelly’s ‘breakaway’ from the American Idol branding and into rockier territory. If only she could have also escaped the high gloss sheen that was slapped on the disc in form of drum-machine sounding drums (and they’re not all drum machines, but they sound like it), rockin’ guitars that could have had some bite to them, and most tragically, Kelly’s vocals that too many times sound too polished. As executive producer, Clive Davis needs to let the girl sing untouched. That’s how she won, AI, singing live. She sounds great without the studio sheen. She shines on “Beautiful Disaster,” a song from her first disc which she did live as a piano/vocal version. I think I need a live Clarkson disc…but I digress. Some highlights are the emotional “Because of You,” which she co-wrote with Evanescence’s ex-, Ben Moody, about the negative effects of a relationship, “because of you I never stray too far from the sidewalk, because of you I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt, because of you I try my hardest just to forget everything, because of you I don’t know how to let anyone else in, because of you I’m ashamed of my life because of you, because of you I am afraid.” Kelly shares songwriting credit on six of the eleven new songs, including two of which also feature the writing talents of two of my favorite Canadians, Chantal Kreviazuk and her husband, Raine Maida (of Our Lady Peace). It’s a solid disc, but I just wish they’d let her sing naturally. This also gets my vote for worst album cover of the year, btw.

20. Dana Parish – It Was Beautiful (Company X Records)
Jo Davidson mentioned on her web site that she had heard this amazing song, “Outta Time,” and that Dana was worth checking out at cdbaby.com so I ventured over, always on the hunt for great female vocalists. They had 2-minute samples from each song on her disc and Jo was correct, she had a great voice and “Outta Time” was a brilliant song. Ordering at cdbaby is always a blast and within a week it was at my door. What really sold me was the beginning of “Outta Time’s” first verse, gently sung over a gorgeous piano line, “I’m hittin’ the road tomorrow, Givin’ up all the comforts of home, Goodbye New York, I’ll come back to you.” The latter half she longingly lets out in a breathy voice that just drips with sadness. Within twenty seconds of listening and she’d already made my heart break – I just knew the disc was going to be great! It takes a special voice and song to create that quick of a response for me – now, I’m a sucker for great female vocalists but she went for the jugular very quickly. It also includes an exceptional cover of Billy Vera’s “At This Moment” (or as I tend to remember it, the song that Alex P. Keaton and Ellen danced to in Family Ties). For streams of three songs, click over to www.danaparish.com

Honorable Mention
Katrina Elam – Katrina Elam (Universal South/UMVD) “No End in Sight” is one of the best singles of the year – amazing voice
Alter Bridge – One Day Remains (Wind-Up/BMG) Guitar solos abound! All the good elements of Creed and now a great singer
Los Lonely Boys – Los Lonely Boys (Sony) “La Contestacion” is one of the most beautiful songs of the year. Hands down.
Ron Sexsmith – Retriever (Nettwerk/EMI) This man writes and sings with such passion
Mindy Smith – One Moment More (Vanguard Records/Welk)
Green Day – American Idiot (Warner Bros)
John Waite – The Hard Way (NB Records)
Joe Bonamassa – Had to Cry Today (Premier Artists/Alliance Ent.)
Evergrey – Inner Circle (SPV)
Collective Soul – Youth (El Music Group)
Tim Donahue – Madmen & Sinners (Magick Records)
Carolyn Dawn Johnson – Dress Rehearsal (Arista/BMG)
Asia – Silent Nation (SPV)
Holly Williams – The Ones that We Know (Universal South/UMVD)

Looking forward to in 2005
Anna Nalick – The Wreck of the Day (Columbia)
I have a 5-track sampler and after the 3rd and 4th listens I was hooked. Gorgeous voice and even more beautiful melodies. She handled Geddy Lee’s parts in a Rush cover band in high school her bio says (but don’t hold that against her), but she’s miles away from that style now. Hunted down a radio performance on KCRW and she sounded just as good in an empty studio with a piano. I can’t wait to hear the rest of this one! www.annanalick.com and www.myspace.com/annanalick

James Kinne – Fleeting (SC68)
I heard a rough mix of James’ song “Touch the Ground” on a snowy evening in January of this year and I was literally shaking with chills for the rest of the night. My head wasn’t the same for a week and to me it is still one of the most powerful musical moments of the year. It hit me like U2’s “Beautiful Day” did in 2000. His first solo disc in 2002 tied with Rush’s Vapor Trials on my annual list and the material I’ve heard thus far from his new disc is even better! www.myspace.com/jameskinne

Coldplay – untitled, March 2005 (Capitol/EMI)
Expectations are high for this one after the masterpiece of A Rush of Blood to the Head. Let’s hope they don’t pull a colossal train-wreck as Travis did on their 3rd release, Invisible Band, when trying to follow-up the brilliance of The Man Who.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Night Castle (Lava)
They’re actually publicly saying that this will have elements of previous TSO work with a progressive rock feel (the kiss of death). Cannot wait for this!

Nothing About Grover – tba
A new singer/songwriter duo from Connecticut with gorgeous vocals by Tara Orion. www.myspace.com/nag

Favorite 2004 Compilations, Re-releases, Covers, etc.

Blue Man Group – The Complex 5.1 mix
Rush – Feedback
Lacuna Coil – Comalies w/bonus CD
Blackmore’s Night – The Romantic Collection CD/DVD
Dream Theater – Live in Budokan
Scorpions – Box of Scorpions

Favorite 5 Live Shows:
To me there is a distinct difference between an arena and a club show – they’re too hard to compare, the intensity of a club gig to a large venue one.

Favorite Arena Shows (didn’t see more than 10 of these this year)
1. Rush – Radio City Music Hall, NYC 8/18/04
2. Rush – PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ 8/14/04
3. Rush – Tweeter Center, Mansfield, MA 8/12/04
4. Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Civic Center, Hartford, CT 11/26/04
5. Rush – Meadows Music Theater, Hartford, CT 8/6/04

Favorite Club/Theater Shows
1. James Kinne – Albany, NY 7/8/04
1.5 Marillion – Toad’s Place, New Haven, CT 10/10/04
2. Kasey Chambers – Calvin Theater, Northampton, MA 11/13/04
3. The Tragically Hip – Northern Lights, Clifton Park, NY 10/21/04
4. The Musical Box – Palace Theater, Albany, NY 12/9/04
5. James Kinne – Van Dyck, Schenectady, NY 5/8/04

Coolest Musical Moments of the year (in no particular order)

*Standing in the control room next to the board that was used to record Blue Man Group’s The Complex album.
*Hearing an early mix of “Touch the Ground” by James Kinne in January and shaking with chills for the rest of the night.
*Rush at Radio City Music Hall – a dream come true and shared with great friends Chris, Joe, Ray, Monica & Bill.
*Marillion live in the U.S.
*Kasey Chambers live in the U.S.
*Disco ball illumination during “Comfortably Numb” at the Australian Pink Floyd show at the Pepsi – I love a good disco ball.
*Randy Jackson (of Zebra) performing at the Trans World convention.
*“Christmas Canon Rock” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra live – every music fan should experience this.
*James Kinne performing in July in Albany – a perfect day.

2003 Top CDs Re-cap:

1. Blue Man Group – The Complex (Blue Man Group Records/Lava)
2. Shaye – The Bridge (EMI Music Canada)
3. Angie Aparo – For Stars & Moon (Angie Aparo)
4. Live – Birds of Pray (Radioactive/UMVD)
5. Iron Maiden – Dance of Death (Columbia)
6. The Music – s/t (Capitol)
7. Evanescence – Fallen (Wind Up)
8. Styx – Cyclorama (Sanctuary)
9. Kelly Clarkson – Thankful (RCA)
10. Blackmore’s Night – Ghost of a Rose (SPV)
11. O.S.I. – Office of Strategic Influence (SPV)
12. Matt Nathanson – Beneath these Fireworks (Universal)
13. Longwave – The Strangest Things (RCA)
14. Stage – s/t (Maverick)
15. Idlewild – The Remote Part (Capitol)
16. Queensryche – Tribe (Sanctuary)
17. Sam Roberts – We Were Born in a Flame (Universal)
18. Jesse Malin – The Fine Art of Self Destruction (Artemis)
19. Plumb – Beautiful Lumps of Coal (Curb)
20. Josh Kelley – For the Ride Home (Hollywood)