1.) James Kinne: Fleeting (SC68)
Written, arranged, performed, and produced by James Kinne. People who love to listen to music usually attach memories to certain songs or albums. The stronger the memories, the more intense the connection. That's why #1 was a shoe-in this year. There are so many memories tied to this album. That's not to take away from how well crafted each song is either. "Touch the Ground" many have heard me talk about as the "Beautiful Day" chill moment of the past couple of years for me - it's all about taking steps outside of the comfort zone. The album stretches that zone over and over and each time hits the mark, thus the album is diverse, but not erratic. There's a subtle, very understated guitar outro to "Finally Home" with a bluesy-texture that weaves between the finger-picked bluegrass-ish feeling instrumental bed of the song that just works beautifully. "Writing on the Wall" - turn it up to a nice volume, start nodding your head, enjoy the perfectly placed harmonies, feel the acoustic start to pulse in your foot as it goes up and down - then imagine how amazing this would be as a summer radio song! (go to the myspace.com link below and test this one out - simple!) "I Become" is a masterpiece - I remember first hearing this a day or so after it's conception, it was yet another side of his songwriting I saw. Vocally you listen to this album and just marvel at the vocal clarity and tone of what has become a truly amazing voice - and when he harmonizes with himself it's breathtaking (see "Somewhere" and "Drip"). A new version of a "For(N)Ever," which was recorded a few years ago with his old band, is here. A song written about his mother, James does something brave and comes out with a gorgeous performance. In the original version, after the emotional vocal, the song went on for four minutes of emotional guitar soloing which to me always carried the majority of the emotional impact of the song. But now, the song has been shortened, ending after the vocal, and James now takes on all of the intense emotion vocally, over a soft acoustic background, and delivers an unguarded, raw, and open performance. The album is essentially perfect in my book. Kudos also for featuring one of the dirtiest bass notes I can remember (see "Found").
If everyone could receive one musical gift for the holidays - my vote would be for a nicely wrapped copy of Fleeting, with the following words: "Experience the joy that real, true music can bring you."
Key tracks: "Touch the Ground," "Drip," "I Become," "Somewhere," "Writing on the Wall," "Heaven Sent"
"Writing on the Wall" & "Somewhere" full streams
2 min clips of each track
Buy the disc or iTunes to download
2.) James Blunt: Back to Bedlam (Custard/Atlantic)
I was first exposed to this via the track "Cry" which was set to a video montage of images from the new season of Doctor Who back in August and I was immediately captivated by the delicate, haunting and wonderful soundtrack it provided to the moving images from a series I was emotionally tied to. It was gut wrenching the music and the images. Hopeful, yet so sad.....then I started to separate the song and the visuals and the song itself held all that emotion even without the images. "Goodbye My Lover" is even more gutting - devastating, but no less beautiful (note for parties - the track was recorded in Carrie Fisher's (yes, Princess Leia) bathroom as he was renting from her at the time and she had an amazing sounding piano in her bathroom, of course). "You're Beautiful" which is starting to make waves here in the States (after holding the #1 spot for weeks in the UK and across Europe, as did the album) is a #1 waiting to happen. A stunning album from start to finish. Each listen you'll fall more and more in love.
Key tracks: "Cry," "Out of My Mind," "Goodbye My Lover," "Wise men"
Videos for "You're Beautiful" & "Wise men"
3.) Within Temptation: The Silent Force [Special Edition] (Gun Records/BMG Int'l) [EU]
Grandiose, symphonic, majestic, layered, and unabashed prog-metal! Sharon Den Adel is a vocal powerhouse - think a combination of Kate Bush meets Sarah Brightman - over a more symphonic and melodic version of Queensryce. My friend Chris Kay got me into their previous CD early last year and this new album came out in Europe in late 2004, but I'm seeing a 2005 release date for the import version so I'm considering this a 2005 release. If you're a fan of Evanescence, they don't even come remotely close to touching these guys. Powerful melodies, amazing vocal prowess, and a very theatrical and beautiful musical texture and landscape. "Pale" is one of the best songs of the year, amazingly tender and aching, with a hauntingly gorgeous vocal. "Jillian" is a full-steam ahead rocker with driving guitars and keys, catching fire at the chorus and you'll be fist-pumping along to down the highway (seriously!). A brilliant all-around release.
Key tracks: "Pale," "It's the Fear," "Stand My Ground," "See Who I Am"
Watch the video for "Stand My Ground"
4.) Anna Nalick: Wreck of the Day (Columbia/SonyBMG)
I'm sure that you've all heard me talk about Anna at some point in the last 15 months, ever since that fateful day her 5-track sampler arrived in the mail in August of last year. Then you might have received an email from me after her April performance on The Tonight Show when she raised her hand to stop her band and belted out the emotional climax of "Breathe 2 A.M." a capella for a nationwide audience - bringing it to it's knees - "....And I feel like I'm naked in front of the crowd / 'Cause these words are my diary screaming out loud / And I know that you'll use them however you want to..." Or maybe I sent you another note after I finally saw her live a few months ago when she blew me away more than any artist I can think of (the live audio shows I had of her from late '04, early '05 did not even compare) - I was expecting a good show, but she blew me away! I said it then and I'll say it now, she's the new Pat Benatar, with songs delivered from a more singer/songwriter pov, as she writes all of her own stuff (sorry Pat), and her voice live is stunning, passionate, yearning, powerful, and sultry, oh, and powerful. She's the most impressive female rock vocalist I've seen live (beating out the previous crownholder, Chantal Kreviazuk). The album is so much more than the 'played-to-death-on-your-chr/aaa-radio-s
Key tracks: "Paper Bag," "Breathe 2 A.M.," "Consider This," "Wreck of the Day," "In the Rough"
Full streams of "Breathe," "Citadel," and "Wreck of the Day"
Full video streams of "Breathe" and "In the Rough"
5.) Kino: Picture (InsideOut/SPV)
Uh oh, a prog-rock supergroup! Combining members or ex-members of Arena, Marillion, It Bites, and Porcupine Tree, this quartet is a prog powerhouse, but with it's eyes set ahead towards creating great, melodically lush compositions, not necessarily prog epics. If you're not sold after the first cut, the unlikely day of an artist being courted around to have his music 'sold' to the execs, complete with mid-section breakdown, then you're just not trying. The lush melodies and harmonies streaming from "Letting Go" and "Holding On" will make any true music fans heart swell with Kino love. And of course, although these songs are very strongly focused on what's good for the song and not an ego-fest, there is some brilliant musicianship on the album as these boys all have great chops. I can't say enough good things about this one, it might take a few listens to grow, but once it starts, the garden that results is simply gorgeous.
Key tracks: "Losers' Day Parade," "All You See," "Letting Go," "Perfect Tense"
Download a 4-minute medley of samples from the album
6.) Porcupine Tree: Deadwing (Lava Records/Atlantic)
This one isn't going to make your rainy day full of bright sunshine if that's what you're looking for. But if you're looking for dark and extremely moody, atmospheric, driving rock, with a pinch of psychedelia and Pink Floyd meets Queensryche - then you're in luck. And as dark as it gets, the vocals still make you want to sing along, they make the saddest music sound very happy through lush melodies and Steven Wilson's unique approach to building song structures. The highlight is the meandering 12-minute epic, "Arriving Somewhere, But Not Here" which starts in the studio next to '70s Floyd and passes through time and space with a stunning little guitar solo, dreamy verses and chorus, and driving instrumental break complete with punctuated bass-led melody. They really are an amazing group of musicians and how they weave melodies and textures together is really exciting to hear.
Key tracks: "Arriving Somewhere, But Not Here," "Shallow," "Mellotron Scratch," "Deadwing"
1 minute clips from each track
Quick album preview w/video
7.) Great Big Sea: The Hard and the Easy [CD/DVD] (Zoe Records/UMVD)
I know nothing about Newfoundland culture or traditions. I know that a good friend of mine, Will, moved back home to Newfoundland a couple years ago and that every time I listen to this disc I think of him and miss our talks about music, etc. This is a disc of traditional Newfoundland songs, but it doesn't matter that I don't know anything about logging or horses, or boating, etc. The arrangements and the music is catchy and a blast to listen to! Harmonies galore! The DVD helps explain the background of the songs and the great lengths they took to track down some of them (as many have no recorded history, they're just 'known') including one that had to be transcribed from an answering machine performance. You also get a very intimate performance of almost all of the songs on DVD as well. I could never do it justice by explaining this disc, but if you can, sample it and you'll really love it. Some great sing-alongs, some tender love songs that'll make your heart swell, and even some scandalous mermaid love.
Key tracks: "The Mermaid," "Come and I Will Sing You," "The River Driver," "Concerning Charlie Horse," "Graceful & Charming"
Samples of each song on the album
8.) John Wesley: Shiver (Intact) [U.K.]
One of those albums that you don't necessarily say 'there are 6 brilliant tracks,' but instead it's a stellar album from start to finish and all the tracks work well with each other. There are a few tracks that stand out from the rest but the whole album is just solid. While Wes' material many times is dark and brooding, there are many times the spark of light and hope hidden within and this is no different. The production is superb and the mix is helped by Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson (Wes is a touring guitarist with P. Tree), which is something that hasn't been perfect on his previous releases. The title track will give you shivers as one of the best voices in music weaves the passion of a singer/songwriter with the power of a full electric band. It's a great rock album and if you're looking for a modern day Springsteen with a darker tone and more personal lyrics, then this is an album worth checking out. This may be going a bit far, but I don't think so - I think in many ways, he is a new Springsteen with a louder PRS, check out these lines from "King of 17": "We head to the east to catch up to the sun / You smile as you watch it rise / We come from nothing, we leave nothing behind / My world is the hope in your eyes."
Key tracks: "Shiver," "Please Come Back," "Pretty Lives," "King of 17"
Stream the entire album online!
Here or here to purchase only
9.) Missy Higgins: The Sound of White (Reprise/Warner Bros.)
There's good reason that Missy swept the Australian Recording Industry Awards (like our Grammy's) this past year. Missy wrote and arranged the entire album, played gorgeous piano and guitar, and delivered these delicate and haunting songs with the voice of an angel. The Australian accent on her voice only increases the charm as it gives another unique quality to that beautifully yearning instrument. Where Keri Noble won me over last year and Jo Davidson in previous years, Missy Higgins is the vocal/piano album of the year for me. If you've ever loved the sound of a female voice and piano then this is a definite must-have. Upbeat, pensive, yearning, mellow, sultry, haunting - it's everything a brilliant singer/songwriter album should be. Here's a great lyric: "But I will learn to breathe this ugliness you see/So we can both be there and we can both share the dark/And in our honesty, together we will rise/Out of our nightminds, and into the light/At the end of the fight..."
Key tracks: "Nightminds," "Katie," "All for Believing," "Ten Days," "Unbroken," "The Sound of the White"
Full song streaming audio of each track on the album
10.) Coldplay: X & Y (Capitol Records)
From the opening minute of "Square One," Coldplay sets the tone for the album, starting soft and spacey, moving to atmospheric with Chris Martin's lilting vocals, and then switching smoothly to a driving chorus propelled by bass and guitar. They set an atmosphere and run with it - this time around it's stunning. The title track is one of the best compositions of the year and was my first introduction to the album (even before I really heard the single, I heard "X & Y" set to a video compilation of scenes from Doctor Who and it gave me chills). The hidden track at the end is one of the best songs on the album - simply stunning! Their gift is knowing where and how to place textures and instruments (including voice) to add intensity and emotion, without forcing through sudden changes in volume or aggression - it just feels as if it naturally flows there. A great example is "Fix You" which just naturally builds and builds with layer upon layer, all very naturally and organically.
Key tracks: "X & Y," "Til Kingdom Comes," "Fix You," "White Shadows," "A Message"
11.) Robert Plant & the Strange Sensation: Mighty ReArranger (Sanctuary/SonyBMG)
Teaming up again with the band he used on 2002's blues based Dreamland, Plant weaves African rhythms, blues, folk, rock, and Eastern influences for a set of diverse tracks. Plant's voice shows no signs of wear from his years screaming above Page's guitar, and I think it sounds better than it ever has. It rocks with Zep-like abandon on "Tin Pan Alley" and then slides easily into "All the Kings Horses" which features only an acoustic and Plant's voice. Without a doubt, Plant's best solo effort, and it rivals some of the better Zepplin albums as well! I love this quote about it and it probably sums the album up better than I can: "[It's] a literate, ambitious, and sublimely vulgar exercise in how to make a mature yet utterly unfettered rock & roll album that takes chances, not prisoners, and apologizes for nothing." (AMG) It's a damn shame though that you'll never hear the CD on the radio....the DJ is too busy cueing up "Kashmir" again.
Key tracks: "All the Kings Horses," "Shine it All Around," "Let the Four Winds Blow," "Mighty ReArranger"
Streaming 2-min audio clips from each song on the album
12.) Our Lady Peace: Healthy in Paranoid Times (Columbia/SonyBMG)
One day the stars will align and I will end up seeing OLP live. Had I seen this tour I'm thinking that this disc would have cracked the top 10 because from what I've seen on video, these guys put on an amazingly intense live show. That and I haven't spent as much time with it as I would have if it would still play in my computer, but it won't. Along with the Tragically Hip, OLP are one of the most consistent and important contributors to modern Canadian rock. Raine Maida has a brilliant way with words and they are a tight, cohesive unit who never fail to impress.
Key tracks: "Angels/Losing/Sleep," "Love and Trust," "Don't Stop," "Boy," "Where Are You"
Clips of three tracks
13.) Embrace: Out of Nothing (Lava Records/Atlantic)
Apparently these guys are pretty big across the pond, going #1 with this album. I just love the energy and huge, enormous chorus' that they deliver on most of the tracks. Haunting piano, driving guitars, these are definite arena anthems. Reminds me a bit of the Keane album last year, but this one has more instrumental flavor than that did, and more variation in tempo and texture. "Someday" is the builder of the century, starting out with guitar and voice, exploding into a gigantic chorus that begs for the windows down driving in the summer. It continues with a crescendo build until the end, ending with a choir-like chorus. (it's not nearly as cheesy as I'm making it sound - it's quite magical actually). It's atmospheric Brit-rock at it's finest. Scotland on Sunday (paper) gives it a rather intriguing quote: "Rather big, and really quite clever." I couldn't say it better myself (obviously).
Key tracks: "Someday," "Ashes," "Spell It Out," "Wish 'Em All Away"
Song samples of the full album
14.) Blue Rodeo: Are You Ready (Rounder Records/UMVD)
They've been around for quite some time, but this is my first Blue Rodeo experience (apart from a Jim Cuddy track or two on a Canadian Famine Benefit CD) and I was more than pleasantly surprised. More diverse (or so it seems) than their previous efforts, they combine their typical country-folk-rock with some more rockin' influences to deliver Are You Ready. At times it reminds me of 1970's acts like Firefall or The Eagles., but with a definite modern feel and some wonderful guitar lines. The gem on this is "Tired of Pretending" which begins and ends with a very dark and somber minor-key trumpet solo while the song itself steams ahead with an intense and guitar-driven fire, hard-edged and vocally menacing. A gorgeous dichotomy.
Key tracks: "Tired of Pretending," "Are You Ready," "Runaway Train," "Finger Lakes," "Don't Get Angry"
Song samples, plus full length stream of "Rena"
15.) David Gray: Life in Slow Motion (iht/ATO/RCA/SonyBMG)
The first few listens to this disc left me wanting more, a lot more. I was looking forward to a return to sparseness, after his last somewhat over-produced release, and I didn't feel it. I liked a few tracks right off ("Hospital Food" and "Nos Da Cariad"), but I was swept away. It wasn't until a couple of months later that I stumbled upon a promotional electronic press kit DVD that showed footage of Gray recording in an old church and I heard him talk about the recording that I realized as they played clips from the album that I felt I was missing something. After a couple more spins I really took to the disc and realized that I was going in with one too many pre-conceptions, it still had his great gift for majestic and emotional songwriting, even if it wasn't as sparse as White Ladder.
Key tracks: "Hospital Food," "Slow Motion," "Nos Da Cariad," "Alibi," "Ain't No Love"
mp3 clips from each song on the album, plus the video for "The One I Love"
16.) The Coral: The Invisible Invasion (Deltasonic/Columbia/SonyBMG)
These U.K. rockers put out more almost as many albums as Ryan Adams does (haha). But they're so good it doesn't matter. This disc didn't grab me as quickly as their last one did, but then one day I was listening to it again and it hit me. "Arabian Sand" is a driven by a great guitar lick that follows the vocal and everything about the song is just exactly what I love about these guys (although near the end of the song it gets a tad strange). Not nearly as spacey as they last disc, more straight-forward rock, but still diverse as they always tend to be, but each song breathes nicely without having all the strangeness packed into each song - such a cool creepy organ sound on "Leaving Today." Great stuff!
Key tracks: "Arabian Sand," "In the Morning," "She Sings the Mourning," "Leaving Today"
Samples of each track on the album
17.) Long-View: Mercury (14th Floor/Columbia/SonyBMG)
"Further" starts off with a driving, richness and the album just opens up from there with gorgeous melodies, soaring vocals, and a variety of lush textures. The album has an sorrowful and mournful feel overall, but there's a hopeful undercurrent. There are a couple of tracks that meander a bit, but the songs that are strong and pure brilliance!
Key tracks: "Can't Explain," "Further," "If You Asked," "When You Sleep"
Videos and audio streams
some audio clips
18.) Stream of Passion: Embrace the Storm (InsideOut/SPV)
From the mind of Arjen Lucassen, who created last year's masterpiece, Ayreon's The Human Equation, comes a straight-forward rock/metal album (with the faintest hint of prog mixed in) with one of the vocalists on The Human Equation, an unknown female vocalist from Mexico, Marcela Bovio. The album was composed with her band and Arjen over the internet from his home in Holland to theirs in Mexico (hence the 'stream' in Stream of Passion). Is it ground-breaking, not really, but Marcela has a gorgeous voice (can be very powerful as well) and Arjen is an incredible composer and guitarist.
Key tracks: "Whereever You Are," "Deceiver," "Passion," "Embrace the Storm," 'Out in the Real World"
Multiple sound clips, and a promo video
19.) Neil Diamond: 12 Songs (Columbia/SonyBMG)
I went into this with a fully open mind, considering I had been reluctantly brought up on way too many Diamond cassettes as a child. But the collaboration with producer Rick Rubin, detailed in the liner notes, was inspiring for Neil as he took pen to paper for the first time in a long while and had a hand in composing the entire album. It's sparse, on most tracks light acoustic guitar and vocals with some incidental instrumentation. Diamond opens up his heart on paper and the results are an extremely honest, open, raw, and brilliant collection of songs. From the lush acoustic sounds of "Delirious Love," to the yearning, almost pleading ache of "Save Me A Saturday Night," the somber opener, "Oh Mary," Heartbreaker Benmont Tench's ripping hammond organ solo on "Man of God," and the album's gem, "Hell Yeah." If only all of us can stand up and sing "Hell Yeah" when we're Neil's age, then we'll all be able to say we've done it all and made as much of our time on Earth. I never thought I'd have Neil on this list, but this album took me by surprise.
Key tracks: "Hell Yeah," "Oh Mary," "Save Me a Saturday Night," "We"
Clips on the home page player
20.) Kate Rusby: The Girl Who Couldn't Fly (Pure Records/Compass Records)
She's from Yorkshire, England and writes traditional English Folk songs as well as takes traditional songs and puts a new spin on them. When she sings you can hear her lovely accent and the more you listen, the more you can't help but fall in love with her vocal delivery, accent, love for the material, and how she breathes life into these special songs. I know nothing about this genre or it's deep history, but she makes me love it and that's good enough for me.
Key tracks: "Fare Thee Well," "The Game of All Fours," "No Names," "The Lark"
mp3 samples of 4 tracks from the album
21.) Spock's Beard: Octane [2-CD Special Edition] (InsideOut/SPV)
The first 7 tracks of the proper album are a conceptual piece about a man who crashes his car and flashes back through his life through his parents' separation, high school, starting a family, etc. Not your typical prog-rock fare though, as they dropped that the hard-core progging when Neal Morse left a few years ago. This is more straight ahead, and although there is a loose concept, and some instrumental passages that stray, it's definitely more controlled structurally (in both good and bad ways as I got into the old Beard). The second part of the album is a set of short non-conceptual rockers, including some of their post-Morse finest work in the gem, "There Was a Time." It took me a long time (months) to get into this disc, actually until I heard most of it live on their 2-CD live set released in the fall, but out of context it started to sound better, and now the album works for me.
Key tracks: "The Ballet of the Impact," "She Is Everything," "There Was a Time,"
Scroll for Spock's Beard and you can download 2 full MP3 tracks including "There Was a Time"
Ryan Adams: Cold Roses [Lost Highway]
Blue Merle: Burning in the Sun [Island]
The Clumsy Lovers: Smart Kid [Nettwerk]
Dishwalla: Dishwalla [Immergent Records]
Dream Theater: Octavarium [Atlantic]
Hot Hot Heat: Elevator [Sire Records]
Eric Johnson: Bloom [Favored Nations]
King's X: Ogre Tones [InsideOut Music/SPV]
stellastarr*: harmonies for the haunted [RCA Records/BMG]
The Wrights: Down This Road [ACR/RCA/BMG]
Zucchero & Co.: Zucchero & Co. [Concord Records]
The Tragically Hip: Hipeponymous
U2: Vertigo Tour Live in Chicago
Def Leppard: Rock of Ages
Most listened to discs in 2005 that weren't released in 2005:
Damien Rice: O
Queen: Various Catalog Titles
Pat Benatar: Various Catalog Titles
Songs of 2005 (a few off the top of my head that are worth mentioning that are not on albums listed in the Top 20):
"Nothin' 'Bout Love Makes Sense" - LeAnn Rimes
"Real Fine Place to Start" - Sara Evans
"Pure Love" - Zucchero & Dolores O'Riordan
"Because of You" (a cappela version) - Kelly Clarkson
If you're still bored from everything above:
Other CDs from 2005 worth a listen if you're looking for something to spin (it's a shame that these good discs don't get a plug):
Abandoned Pools: Armed to the Teeth
Trey Anastasio: Shine
Antigone Rising: From the Ground Up
Better Than Ezra: Before the Robots
Blues Traveler: Bastardos!
Tracy Bonham: Blink the Brightest
Alison Brown: Stolen Moments
Solomon Burke: Make Do With What You Got
Kate Bush: Aerial
Ryan Cabrera: You Stand Watching
Chris Caffery: W.A.R.P.E.D.
Conjure One: Extraordinary Ways
Nikka Costa: can'tneverdidnothin'
Cross Canadian Ragweed: Garage
Depeche Mode: Playing the Angel
The Devlins: Waves
Mike Doughty: Haughty Melodic
Dredg: Catch Without Arms
Kathleen Edwards: Back to Me
Ben Folds: Songs for Silverman
Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have it So Much Better
Go-Betweens: Oceans Apart
HammerFall: Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken
Josh Joplin: Jaywalker
Institute: Distort Yourself
Tracy LaBarbera: Debutante EP
Miranda Lambert: Kerosene
Ben Lee: Awake Is the New Sleep
The Like: Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?
Louis XIV: The Best Little Secrets Are Kept
Lauren Lucas: The Carolina Kind
Nickel Creek: Why Should the Fire Die?
Keri Noble: Summer '05 Demos
Glen Phillips: Winter Pays for Summer
The Raveonettes: Pretty in Black
Secret Machines: The Road Leads Where It's Led EP
Bruce Springsteen: Devils & Dust
Switchfoot: Nothing Is Sound
Symphony X: The Odyssey
Rob Thomas: Something to be
The Vanity Project: The Vanity Project
The Wallflowers: Rebel, Sweetheart
Ricky Warwick: Love Many, Trust Few
We Are Scientists: With Love and Squalor
Young Dubliners: Real World