The end of the year is the hardest time in a critic’s job because that means they have to agonize over each and every choice to go into their “year in review” list. As if that wasn’t hard enough, those same albums and concert tours have to be placed in the proper order as to what were the best that the year had to offer. This is the first best of list for this century, and as always, it’s a mixed bag of commercially successful artists, bands on the verge of stardom, and the more obscure performers that deserve a break at the big time.
U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind (Interscope)
U2 finally seemed to have found what they were looking for on this brilliantly crafted, spiritually enriched, emotionally charged project. Bono and company went back to basics dipping back to their Joshua Tree days, honing in on a roots rock-based sound, rather than the overdubbed dance glitz and electronica glamour, as featured on their last few projects Pop and Zooropa. The lead off single, “Beautiful Day”, will be one of the group’s staples for years to come, in the vein of “Where the Streets Have No Name”.
Jimmy Buffet, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays (Mailboat)
Straight from Margaritaville comes the latest dosage from the man with the parrot head following. All the hits, on one CD in a live setting make this disc a must have for any Buffet fan. It’s sure to cure the wintertime weather blues and put listener’s on the beach of a tropical island. Included is a fun cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”, along with the classic “Margaritaville”, including the lost verse. It may not be the same as being at one of his concerts, but it’s the next best thing until next summer rolls around.
Tim McGraw, Greatest Hits (Curb)
This leading country artist over the last decade was almost overdue for a best of collection. Greatest Hits includes the passionate duets with his wife Faith Hill, like “It’s Your Love” and “Let’s Make Love”, to the more rock-styled “I Like It, I Love It” and “Indian Outlaw”. The project culls material from his last five albums and also features McGraw’s current single “My Next Thirty Years”.
Radford, Radford (RCA)
Although the band never made a huge mark on the scene this year, they did make a starter splash with their two singles “Don’t Stop” and “Closer to Myself”. Radford did some major touring throughout the year with Vertical Horizon, and other sound-a-likes, giving them a solid fan base. Provided the group is given the opportunity to make a follow-up disc, fans should brace themselves for another action packed alternative rock set mixed in with two or three acoustic power ballads.
Michael W. Smith, The Acoustic Set (Reunion)
After a triumphant 1999 featuring an emotional tribute to the Columbine shooting victims with his This is Your Time album, the singer/songwriter and pianist/guitarist returned with a stunning live EP. Included on the disc are acoustic versions of jams like “Love Me Good” and “Secret Ambition”. A greatest hits medley is a highlight, including tidbits of “Place in This World”, “I Will Be Here for You”, and “For You”. The closing track is a tear jerking rendition of “This Is Your Time”, minus the back pipe sequence as featured on the studio version.
The Juliana Theory, Emotion Is Dead (Tooth and Nail)
Emo rockers extraordinaire The Juliana Theory made a triumphant return to the indie scene this year with an amazing collection of high quality, passionate, rock-based jams minus the screeching vocals. Lead singer Bret Detar has obviously matured and his lyrics speak of deep meaning and honest reality. The band is on the same wavelength as The Get Up Kids, The Promise Ring, and Jimmy Eat World, and they are following in the footsteps of such underground favorites to become a national sensation.
Matchbox Twenty, Mad Season by Matchbox Twenty (Atlantic)
Matchbox Twenty broke the curse of follow-up disasters by cranking out a gem better than their first disc. It’s been four years since the release of Yourself and Someone Like You and the time off provided Rob Thomas and company the chance to explore a bit of new ground and refresh. Hits like “Bent” and “If You’re Gone” have driven the album’s shelf life thus far and it’s safe to say there’s at least a few more singles on the way.
Stir, Holy Dogs (Capitol)
Stir’s second major label release may not have shot straight off the charts, but was by far a step above their 1996 debut. Mixing a vibrant pop sound and a fresh rock sound, Holy Dogs foreshadows a bright future for this relatively young band. Their biggest challenge will be to stand out in the midst of other groups hoping to make similar waves, like Stoke 9, Splender, and Nine Days.
Roger Waters, In the Flesh (Columbia)
The legendary force behind Pink Floyd showcases the history shaping band’s illustrious career as well as Waters’ vast solo material. The project was recorded on his sold out US tour which played at mammoth theatres with an incredible stage show. Classics like “Wish You Were Here”, “Money”, and “Comfortably Numb” are re-interpreted with sheer exuberance and stellar musicianship. The closing track is a brand new anthem for Amnesty International called “Each Small Candle”.
Underworld, Everything, Everything (JBO/V2)
Electronica at it’s finest, all set to the beat of a live DJ, makes Underworld’s latest helping a pulse pounding pleasure palace. Only eight tracks grace the set list, but many extend well into the 10 minute range offering the opportunity for the group to improvisationally interpret each tune with new arrangements. Of course, Underworld’s staple from the Trainspotting soundtrack, “Born Slippy”, is a standout track with the highest level of crowd reaction and visual imagery of a hyped up dance club.