Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Soul Shack's Top 10 Picks Of 2007

1) Mavis Staples - We'll Never Turn back.

With this Ry Cooder produced album Mavis really revived her career. Ry's approach is much the same as the Joe Henry productions on Solomon Burke and Bettye Lavette, sober yet penetrating. I was pleasantly surprised at how well Mavis' voice had aged. Her singing might not be as full as it was in her prime days, but she never lost any of her emotional strength. In an decade where civil liberties have come increasingly under pressure an album that revokes the civil rights struggle of the sixties, the time of segregation and Vietnam, is much needed. A civil rights anthem like "Eyes On The Prize" suddenly felt shockingly timeless.

2) The Arctic Monkeys - Your Worst Favorite Nightmare

It is very seldom these days that a band comes out with a follow up to their debut album that is actually stronger. The Arctic Monkeys were one of the few bands out there who had been able to use the Internet to their advantage, creating much of their own hype. Where bands as Franz Ferdinand or the Kaiser Chiefs failed to impress with their second outing the Monkeys came out rocking in full force, playing better and writing better than they had done before. The Monkeys may just be the best thing that has happened to R&R in a long time.

3) Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Baby 81

After going to the roots of American music on "Howl" two years ago the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club felt it was time to plug in again. On "Baby 81" the band infuses the Blues and Folk sensibilities they had tapped into with "Howl" with a heavy dose of R&R that harks back to the hey days of the Rock Super Groups without sounding dated. This is what a Rock record should sound like, raw, sexy and rough.

4) The Detroit Cobras - Tied & True

Garage rockers the Detroit Cobras seem to have found their groove on this one. With help from Greg Cartwright from the Reigning Sound the Cobras have delivered and album that sounds more accomplished and subtly produced than anything they've ever done. As usual the Cobras manage to dig up some great R&B nuggets and transform them into superb Garage Soul with the help of Rachel's husky and oh so sexy voice. The Cobras make great albums for you to do a little digging in stacks of 45s as well, while maintaining a great sense of originality.

"As Long As I Have You"

5) Bettye Lavette - The Scene Of The Crime

After Bettye's superb come back just two years ago with "I've Got My Own Hell To Raise", I was very pleased to see her do a second album for Anti-records. This time Bettye was backed by the Drive By Truckers, a fine band in their own right, with the help of legendary Spooner Oldham. To top it off the album was recorded in the legendary Muscle Shoals studio. That doesn't mean that the album has a retro sound though. The band proves to be a rough and gruff backing, underscoring the hard knocks of life that just seem to ooze out of every syllable that escapes Bettye's voice.


6)Nathaniel Mayer - Why Don't You Give It To Me

Nathaniel's new album might not give him the success he so much graves but it might just give him what he needs right now. The fuzzy Garage guitars seem to be the perfect backing for his ragged and beaten voice. Nathaniel's years have not been kind to him, seeing him on stage you'd give him at least 20 years over the 61 he has under his belt. It is the stark honesty of this album that makes it one of 2007's best. Nathaniel doesn't try and hide his decline yet displays it for the world to see, enjoying every second of it. "Better than getting pussy" he admitted to me earlier this year.

"White Dress"

7) Bruce Springsteen - Live in Dublin

Maybe an odd choice in the year where Springsteen his long awaited new album with the E-Street Band, "Magic". But that album was somewhat disappointing in my book, lacking the cinematic songwriting he so excelled in on past albums. "Live in Dublin" is a registration of the tour he did a year back with a different band, doing the songs of Pete Seeger and covering much of America's traditional music in the process. Bruce and the Sessions Band mixed it up in a way that might offend the purist lovers of folk music but in my mind the approach sounded quite revolutionary. Everything from New Orleans to Memphis, from Zydeco to Blue Grass got mashed together in that great American melting pot. The results, in which he reworked much of his own material, was a stellar and surprisingly fresh show.

8)Grinderman - Grinderman

2007 was also the year that Nick Cave found his Rock voice back with a new band. Nick Cave had been moving more and more to grim and moody balladry on his solo albums. Although the results were often moving, sometimes no more than a notch away from true brilliance, Nick always had a dangerous and aggressive side to him that is best expressed in R&R. "Grinderman", oozing with a perverse sexuality, has got that in spades. You'd almost wish Cave would abandon his solo projects and stick with his new guns. Quite a few year in his career it is jaw dropping to hear him still being so inspired and creative.

9) The Hives - The Black and White Album

The Hives returned in full glory this year. You think they might have been humbled when their last album turned out to be somewhat of a dud, yet the Hives continue to make themselves bigger than they are. Delightful R&R bravura, one of the best "Garage" albums of this year. The Hives managed to work with unlikely producers such as The Neptunes yet managed to remain one of the most vicious R&R acts in the business. No small feat.

10) Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Finally, with Wino Winehouse getting all the praise, the band that made her success possible. Fronted by one of Soul's greatest vocalist the Dap-Kings hark back to Soul's golden age with just enough of a modern edge to prevent it from becoming a nostalgia act. Sharon Jones has a voice that reminds you of Aretha Franklin with a little bit of Tina Turner thrown in, propelled by uncut James Brown Funk with a Motown Beat, greased of course with some honest to God Stax gravy. Forget Wino, this is the album you want.

No comments: