Best Music of 2001 Lists
Top Ten Albums of 2001 (in no particular order)
Bob Dylan, Love and Theft (Columbia)
Bob Dylan took an abrupt 180-degree turn from the approach that helped garner him a Grammy in 1998 for Time Out of Mind. Instead, Love and Theft marks a return to the sense of rough-and-ready immediacy that made Blood on the Tracks and The Basement Tapes high water marks in his prolific career. Dylan’s unabashed collection of nostalgia which includes rockabilly barnburners, heavy-handed blues bruisers, and a healthy dose of vaudevillian grace and humor represents his finest take on the cultural patchwork quilt that is modern Americana.
Ryan Adams, Gold (Lost Highway)
Former Whiskeytown front man Ryan Adams has a lot of influences and seems determined to pay tribute to each and every one on Gold. Images of the Allman Brothers (“New York, New York”), the Who (“Gonna Make You Love Me”), Neil Young (“Wild Flowers”) and Van Morrison (“Answering Bell”) are easily conjured and just as quickly discarded as Adams applies his own unique thumbprint on each track. With a ready supply of alt-country anguish and an inexhaustible creative reserve, Adams should be around for a while.
David Gray, Lost Songs ‘95-‘98 (RCA)
The road has been long for UK-born singer-songwriter David Gray, but with the overseas debut of White Ladder in 1999 and an exhausting two-year tour in support of the album, Gray has finally found the mainstream acceptance that has eluded him for years. Now with the backing of Dave Matthews’ ATO Records, Gray’s UK releases are slowly trickling into the US, including this collection of rare gems. Given the electronic leanings of White Ladder, it will be interesting to see if the distinct acoustic flavor of his past work will remain.
Joshua Redman Quartet, Passage of Time (Warner Bros.)
When compared to a few borderline flirtations with commercialized cool jazz in the past, saxophonist Joshua Redman’s Passage of Time is the studio effort so many of his harshest critics and ardent supporters have been waiting for. An ambitious jazz suite told in eight parts using recurring melodic and rhythmic motifs, Redman offers some of his most convincing work yet. And in a genre that bases its commercial survival on classic reissues, it is a welcome change to find a new release with just as much bite as those beloved old guard recordings.
John Hiatt, The Tiki Bar is Open (Vanguard)
Most people are familiar with John Hiatt’s work and probably do not even know it. Songs like “Thing Called Love” (a cover that was instrumental in Bonnie Raitt’s comeback) and “Ridin’ with the King” (the title track to Eric Clapton and B.B. King’s recent collaborative effort) are strong examples of Hiatt’s prowess as a writer. Here, reunited with his old backing band, the Goners, and pensively pacing through another album’s worth of eclectic original material, Tiki Bar shows that the 49 year-old is indeed the complete package.
Shuggie Otis, Inspiration Information (Luaka Bop)
Originally put out in 1974 to critical acclaim but eschewed by mainstream acceptance, this long-awaited funk/soul reissue was ahead of its time. But with the aborted attempt to resurrect his career earlier this year with a disastrous show at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, Shuggie Otis has once again faded into obscurity. In the context of the cutting-edge work by today’s hip-hop heroes, this album may seem somewhat passé. However, given the carefully layered instrumental textures of cuts like “Aht Uh Mi Hed” and “Happy House,” its place in the development of the style is unmistakable.
Shelby Lynne, Love, Shelby (Island)
The darling of last year’s Grammys has followed up her somewhat ironic “Best New Artist” effort I Am Shelby Lynne with another strong outing. Teaming with pop ber-producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morrisette, Dave Matthews), Lynne moves even further from her country roots into soul and R&B but takes the time to look back over her shoulder on occasion with tracks like “Jesus on a Greyhound” and “Killin’ Kind.” Add a tortured turn on John Lennon’s “Mother” as an encore and this becomes one of the best-crafted pop albums put out by a female vocalist this year.
Keith Jarrett/ Gary Peacock/ Jack DeJohnette, Inside Out (ECM)
Most of the time, a jazz trio is led from the piano bench. But when the musicians involved include bassist Gary Peacock, drummer Jack DeJohnette and pianist Keith Jarrett, the effort cannot be anything but a summit between giants. Recorded live in London last year, Inside Out marks a departure from their usual fare of turning traditional standards on their ear. Even though these tracks are technically “free” jazz, this talented trio knows exactly where it is going at every turn.
Phil Lesh and Friends, 4.20.01, Independence Hall - Cricket Arena, Charlotte, NC (self-released)
Started on a lark, Phil Lesh has turned this ensemble into the strongest post-Grateful Dead effort by any of the surviving members. While the doors of the Dead’s vault remain cracked open, barely, Lesh has opened the floodgates on his own work by offering free, downloadable soundboard concert recordings in a lossless (non-MP3) audio format and distributed through a loose affiliation of web sites. This particular show from Charlotte, NC, (recorded during his Spring tour earlier this year) featured some classic Dead, including “Dark Star”, “Franklin’s Tower”, and “Dire Wolf”, with Garcia’s vocals parts hauntingly rendered by keyboardist Rob Baracco.
Ani Difranco, Revelling/Reckoning (Righteous Babe)
Good artists mature. With Revelling/Reckoning, Ani Difranco practically demands that those critics who had written her off in the past as “angry chick music” to begrudgingly take another look. This double-disc collection features two sides of the same coin: a quiet, introspective turn at Joni Mitchell-style acoustic numbers on Reckoning and an ostentatious and surprisingly successful stab at funk and hip hop with Revelling. Outspoken as ever, Difranco continues to challenge not only her fans, but also anyone within earshot to listen to what she has to say. This time, she hits all the right chords.
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