Music 2006

Posted By on December 26, 2006

The year just past was a geezer year, with many of my top spots occupied by oldsters. These spanned usual suspects Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, but they also included unexpected old whippersnappers like Cheap Trick, Bob Seger and Sonny Rollins. The best new albums of 2006 were Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere and Frank Black’s Fast Man Raider Man, the first disk I ever “got” by the former Pixies frontman. Also dynamite: Madeleine Peyroux’s Half This Perfect World, the sultriest release of the year. Some key duds: Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Last Man Standing” and Cristina Aguilera’s numbingly narcissistic “Back to Basics.”

Another really cool album by an artist long MIA was After Hours (Columbia), former NRBQ stalwart Big Al Anderson’s swinging oddity. On the jazz front, my favorite was Husky, from Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet. I also must cite Alejandro Escovedo’s The Boxing Mirror (Back Porch), a brooding work that brought his battle with hepatitis C into the light. Also memorable: Paul Shapiro’s It’s in the Twilight, a gorgeous helping of avant garage Jewish jazz on John Zorn’s singularly rewarding Tzadik label. But you gotta cut, gotta select. It’s called editing. My top 10 albums for 2006 are:

1. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere, Downtown/Atlantic. The best Parliament/Funkadelic update in decades, this weird hybrid dances great, sounds better and stars “Crazy,” hands down the best single of the year. Don’t miss the “Gone Daddy Gone” video.
2. Madeleine Peyroux, Half This Perfect World, Rounder. The smoky “Blue Alert” (by Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas) is the keeper, the original “Once in a While” suggests Peyroux is getting ever bolder as a songwriter and the killer version of “Everybody’s Talking,” makes her third “official” album her best. For sheer sonic beauty, it’s the top production of the year.
3. Bob Dylan, Modern Times, Columbia. One of Dylan’s most musical albums, it rocks like crazy, and there are times it’s so romantic you swoon.
4. Frank Black, Fast Man Raider Man, Back Porch/EMI. This ambitious double album conjures Exile on Main Street in its darkness and unanticipated tenderness, but it’s decidedly clear-headed and perhaps more diverse. Lotsa pedigree and legacy in the musicians, and a very modern point of view.
5. Tom Petty, Highway Companion, American. This embering beauty signals Petty’s return to songwriting form in tunes like “Turn This Car Around,” the southern Gothic “Jack” and “The Golden Rose,” surreal, romantic Americana of a particularly swashbuckling sort. Sharp, minimalist, memorable.
6. Bob Seger, Face the Promise, Capitol. It sounds big, the songwriting is deft, and the working class gets its due again. Tunes like “Simplicity” and “Between” put the meat back in Seger’s motion.
7. Cheap Trick, Rockford, Big3 Records. Effectively sequenced, this rocks hard and it features “If It Takes a Lifetime,” the song “The Flame” really wanted to be when it grew up.
8. Sonny Rollins, Sonny Please, Doxy. The newly widowed Saxophone Colossus regains his voice in his first independent release. This is supple jazz as swinging as anything Rollins has released in years.
9. Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet, Husky, Hyena. Politically charged, aggressively conceived and gratifyingly gritty, “Husky” is the funkiest jazz album of the year.
10. John Legend, Once Again, G.O.O.D. Music/Sony Urban/Columbia. Better than his 2004 debut, Get Lifted, this unimaginatively titled effort is the best Stevie Wonder album in decades. Beautifully sequenced, unabashedly warm, it scores points on equal parts musicality and technosavvy.

Honorable mentions: If the first had been better edited and the second less calculated, either could have been a solo occupant of the 10 spot: Tom Waits, Orphans (Anti) and Solomon Burke, Nashville (Shout! Factory). The Waits is a sprawling, frequently brilliant three-CD collection of tracks old and new and transmogrified; its very ambition compromises its focus even as it signals its singularity. The Burke is duets and country-oriented, both commercial moves. But Burke’s treatment of Springsteen’s “Ain’t Got You” leaves both Burke and the listener breathless. Other honorable mentions are Big Al Anderson’s suave, meaty After Hours (Columbia) and Paul Shapiro’s In the Twilight, a loving slice of avant garage Jewish jazz on John Zorn’s singular and regularly rewarding Tzadik label. Another don’t miss: Eric Clapton and J.J. Cale, The Road to Escondido (Reprise). This is the first Clapton in almost 30 years I’ve been able to listen to more than once, and that’s because it’s largely Cale’s. It swings, it’s mellow, and it’s wise. Besides, the musicianship is startlingly cool and sophisticated.

Top singles (after “Crazy”): “Bossy,” Kelis; “Ain’t No Other Man,” Cristina Aguilera; “Promiscuous,” Nelly Furtado, “Promiscuous” (though “Say It Right” smokes, too); “SexyBack,” Justin Timberlake; Fergie, “Fergalicious”; My Chemical Romance, “Welcome to the Black Parade.”

Some afterthoughts:

Some of the year’s best albums were by vets long MIA, like Seger and Petty; Tom Waits, Solomon Burke and Lindsey Buckingham turned in fine work, too, though Last Man Standing (Artists First), Jerry Lee Lewis’s “comeback,” was a major dud. I liked new albums by My Chemical Romance and, for sure, Gnarls Barkley. I still don’t listen to much rap, though I caught a lot of singles courtesy of my girls, 11 and 14, who turned me onto cool stuff by Pussycat Dolls, the ubiquitous Justin Timberlake (God forbid he discovers plastic surgery like his model Michael Jackson), even Ciara. I listen to XM Radio, particularly Deep Tracks and particularly, DJ Earl Bailey (give that guy his props). I usually avoid commercial radio, though I’ve gotten back into it a little now that I’ve published my first solo book, a perfect talk subject for classic rock radio, which is big in Cleveland: Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories.
As its title suggests, CRRM is a book of nostalgia. Focused on the ’60s through the ’80s, it above all celebrates the fans that give Cleveland its distinctive rock profile. It’s an oral history with a factual, narrative backbone that touches on the shows, clubs, promoters, record stores, fashion and fans that made places like the Agora and La Cave legendary and gave bands from the Raspberries to Pere Ubu their profile. Producing Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories put me back in touch with my inner rock fan–a good thing.


Leave a Reply

About the author

I'm a veteran critic and business writer who reads and listens and writes about music, books, hotels and travel. I've been in the business for many years and still enjoy it. My pride and joy is my book, Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories. Follow me on Twitter: