The Also-Rans: Five More Great Records from 2008
It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Listmaking season, that magical time when music critics and bloggers look back at the previous twelve months of music, pick out the albums that sounds like they’re built to last, and celebrate the most entertaining, enduring, moving, challenging, provocative, and rewarding recordings of the year. My own list– fifteen favorites from 2008– will be posted on Monday. But to prime the pump, The Hurst Review presents five more great albums– albums that didn’t quite make the cut, but stand as very honorable mentions, fine records that don’t need to be swept under the rug. Check some of these out over the weekend, then come back on Monday for the official Hurst Fifteen.
In no implied order other than alphabetical:
Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson
Who knew that two Australians would come up with the year’s best Appalachian tunes? The husband and wife duo share top billing for the first time, and the result is an album that effectively serves as an encyclopedia of traditional country tropes and flavors. The harmonies are heavenly, and the songs– which mix tears-in-beer heartache with religious imagery straight out of Flannery O’Connor’s gothic chapel– make the album a timeless mix of the traditional and the edgy.
Sex and Gasoline
Gracefully stepping out of his role as a country music shit-stirrer, Rodney Crowell makes a move toward the kind of undefinable singer-songwriter turf previously occupied by folks like Joe Henry and Tom Waits. Henry happens to be the producer of this set, proving yet again that he’s simply the guy for singer-songwriter affairs, and Crowell brings his A-game for a set of deeply moving and witheringly funny songs of social and personal insight that don’t discriminate between country, folk, blues, and gospel influences.
Harps and Angels
Randy Newman’s albums– the best ones, anyway– mix devilish humor with nasty, misanthropic social commentary. His latest is no exception– it’s one of his most wickedly funny and downright meanest albums in decades– but there’s something new here: Compassion. Newman’s never achieved quite this sort of balance between nastiness and self-deprecation, cruelty and kindness. Musically, it’s a rollicking good time that sounds like it marched right out of New Orleans, Dixieland horns and jazz flourishes bringing tasteful flourishes and textures to Newman’s perpetually mush-mouthed performances.
Rap is often characterized by its excesses and its sprawl, but Q-Tip– the genre’s reigning craftsman– is a model of brevity, focus, and restraint. Those may not sound like positive qualities in a rap album, but the former Tribe Called Quest star proves here that smarts and savvy can make for truly exhilarating music, as he breaks down the wall between jazz and rap for a record that’s warm, spontaneous, and utterly kinetic. Elegant and addictive, it’s a rare hip-hop album that feels genuinely smooth and inviting.
Thing of the Past
For some bands, an all-covers album is a stopgag, a way to clear the decks and keep fans occupied while they restore their creative spark. For Vetiver, it’s nothing less than a statement of purpose, as Andy Cabic and Co. rummage through the attic for some of the most obscure songs you can’t think of, and piece them together for a positively joyful, open-hearted collection that’s rich with emotion and humor, and feels less like a novelty or a minor work and more like a celebration of music, a set of secrets whispered reverently among friends.