Friday, July 5, 2013

Casual Friday: The Best Albums of far

As the first half of 2013 has come to a close, I present to you my summary of the best albums to be released so far this year for today's Casual Friday post:

John Fogerty - Wrote a Song for Everyone

John Fogerty (former lead singer of Creedence Clearwater Revival) both embraces and re-imagines the music that first brought the singer acclaim over 50 years ago on his new collaboration album, "Wrote a Song for Everyone." While including a few solid originals ("Train of Fools", "Mystic Highway", and the title track), the larger part of the album is made up of collaborations of ubiquitous CCR fare with a wide variety of artists. The Foo Fighters, Keith Urban, My Morning Jacket, Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello, Jennifer Hudson, and Bob Seger all make appearances on the album. Despite the diversity of the supporting cast, the album retains a strong, focused center of twangy, sometimes swampy, southern blues rock. Fogerty appears to be a master of collaborations, as he never overshadows his guests or allows then to overshadow him. Every song on the album comes across as a terrific meld of two artists' visions. Bob Seger and John Fogerty's duet version of "Who'll Stop the Rain" is a mesmerizing update to an old classic.

The album certainly won't include many surprises for listeners familiar with Fogerty's musical past. However, I was caught off guard by how strong the nearly 70-year-old singer/songwriter's voice still is and how good he can make Kid Rock sound on "Born on the Bayou."

Top Songs: "Who'll Stop the Rain (with Bob Seger)", "Train of Fools", "Bad Moon Rising (with Zac Brown Band)"

The National - Trouble Will Find Me

Anyone who says it isn't challenging to write about the the music of The National is simply lying. With that said, "Trouble Will Find Me" is really good. It's mellow and morose at times, and that's not a detraction. In terms of comparative discography, it's better than "High Violet" but lacks the fullness of "Aligator." The sound on "Trouble Will Find Me" is mature, with a good number of surprising sequences of musical tension. That's pretty much all I could possibly type out about the album (as ham-fisted as this paragraph has been). Just listen.

Top Songs: "Don't Swallow the Cap", "Graceless", "Demons"

Bombino - Nomad

Nigerien desert rock is a bit more than a stone's throw away from the radar of most American listeners, but that's a serious shame. Bombino, who learned and honed his top-notch guitar skills while moving between Tuareg encampments in the Nigerien, Algerian, and Libyan deserts, has released a follow-up album to 2011's incredible "Agadez." That album, showing off Bombino's mixture of Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page-like mastery of solo guitar work, could have been more aptly named "Intro to Tuareg Desert Rock."

2013's "Nomad" is different. It's edgier, angrier, more aggressive, and most of all fuzzier. Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys produced, and it's apparent. Bombino's "Agadez" sound is distantly there, but I couldn't help thinking Auerbach had colonized the Tuareg's sound a bit too much. The guitar work, crystal clear on "Agadez," has been replaced by the lo-fi sound ubiquitous on a Black Keys album.

The tracks are still terrific, and Bombino is an exceptional songwriter and guitarist - probably one of the best with a guitar in the world. Despite the differences from "Agadez", the edgier, angrier, rawer songs such as "Amidinine" and "Azamane Tiliade" are the best on the album. "Nomad" alone is a great album and aptly named, conveying the travels and influences Bombino has allowed to seep into his work. The album smartly mixed with "Agadez" is where Bombino truly shines.

Top Songs: "Her Tenere", "Amidinine", "Azamane Tiliade"

Erin McKeown - Manifestra

Erin McKeown, a singer/songwriter/activist who has flown largely under the pop-indie radar despite performing a slew of great originals, has released her most overtly political album to date in "Manifestra." Themes of economic justice, social equality, and popular protest abound in the lyrics, while her punchy guitar work carries her vastly under-appreciated songwriting. The largely spoken word title track "Manifestra" is a catchy, bluesy song and the high point of a solid album. The 10 tracks on "Manifestra" offer a more mature sound that McKeown's earlier albums, but fit perfectly into the whole of her discography.

Top Songs: "Manifestra", "Histories", "The Politician"

Portugal. The Man - Evil Friends

After listening to just the first few songs on "Evil Friends" I was convinced that Portugal. The Man's newest album be an early front runner for Best of 2013. The band scrapped a nearly complete album worth of studio work for the opportunity to have Danger Mouse take over production. The album, 12 tracks deep, doesn't have a weak song to be found. The psychedelic rock sounds from the band's past albums (including 2011's "In the Mountain In the Cloud," which was a top album of that year for me) are back, but even better. There's a track for almost every musical need: the piano and brass-driven "Creep in a T-Shirt; the simple "Sea of Air" shows off some great lyrics and crescendos into a chorus of voices; and the psych-rocker tracks of "Atomic Man" and "Purple Yellow Red and Blue." There's richness in every way on "Evil Friends." From the thoughtful, catchy lyrics (especially on "Modern Jesus") often delivered in PTM's characteristic falsetto or with a full chorus from the band to the dynamic, surreal sound of the album's diverse selection, the album is a seminar of what contemporary popular music can and should be.

Top Songs: "Hip Hop Kids", "Sea of Air", "Someday Believers"

Honorable Mentions:

Radiation City - Animals in the Median
Laura Marling - Like an Eagle
Phoenix - Bankrupt!

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