1. Kevin Gilbert, The Shaming of the True
Musical wunderkind dies mysteriously at the age of 29. His tapes are pored over and something closely resembling the album he intended to release is finished and tossed out to mostly deaf ears. Oh well, no one took notice of him when he was alive either. The Shaming of the True is available only through the official Gilbert site, www.kevingilbert.com, and features virtuoso playing and lyrics that you'll catch yourself quoting to your friends in a voice fathoms below the quality of the man who delivered them to your eager ears. This Herculean effort marks the return of the rock opera and spins the yarn of a would be juke box hero named Johnny Virgil, who discovers the fame that eluded Kevin yet winds up sharing Gilbert's jaded views of the industry that failed to embrace him. The story of the man behind the music is as enthralling as the music itself and helps to make this not only the best-titled album but also the recording of the year.
2. XTC, Wasp Star (TVT)
They've been doing it right longer than most bands have been together and this year the Swindon duo returned to show all the youngsters how a flawless slab of pop is properly carved.
3. Elliott Smith, Figure 8 (Dreamworks)
Everyone jumped aboard this bandwagon when Elliott was nominated for an Oscar for his Good Will Hunting nominated song "Miss Misery". This year's sometimes Revolver-good effort proves that Elliott's not only quite capable of straddling the fence between indie angst and commercial success, he's also comfortable as hell doin' it.
4. Blonde Redhead, Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons (Touch & Go)
A Japanese girl happens upon a set of Italian twin brothers in a restaurant in New York and a cantankerous uncompromising and ruthlessly original band is born. How cliché. This is their fifth amazingly effective album in six years.
5. Michael Penn, MP4 (Epic)
What, a recurring theme? Oh, yes, I see what you mean. This is the fifth pick in a row of bands that deserve to be bigger than they are. Is that what you're getting at? No? Oh, now I see, like XTC and Elliott Smith, Michael Penn is capable of putting together Beatle-ish perfect tunes that will greedily bore into the musical portion of your brain where they'll feed hungrily until replaced by the next song on the disc. I couldn't agree more.
6. Crowded House, Afterglow (Capitol)
This collection of songs that failed to appear on past Crowded House releases is more potent than most artists starting lineup. Talk about a deep bench.
7. Jules Shear, Allow Me (ZOE)
Gritty-assed songs with lovely harmonies and razor sharp hooks. Ultra Vivid Scene creating lyrics coupled with a Tom Petty/Graham Parker/Van Morrison vibe.
8. Dirty Three, Whatever You Love You Are (Touch & Go)
This Australian instrumental threesome (guitar, drums and violin) continues to create minimalist music with maximum effect. This violin-saddened album reminds us that life is beautiful, but it's not perfect.
9. King Crimson, The Construkction of Light (Virgin)
It's no Discipline, but an infusion of new blood allows Robert Fripp's ever changing chameleon of a band to alter its colors once more. This is one of the more challenging Adrian Belew-era Crimson recordings and may help infuse a bit of life into the nearly rigid body of prog.
10. Jaco Pastorius, Jaco Pastorius (Epic)
Completely remastered, this re-release of Jaco's brilliant 1976 eponymous debut effortlessly incorporates jazz with enough styles to make your head swim. This is one of the better albums I know of and had it come out this year it would have easily been considered my album of the year.