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The ubiquitous top ten - end of the year - favorite records lists. We've got them, just like the other guys. Ours may or may not be better. Check it out and see what you might have missed this year! You might agree with our writers, you might disagree. Aren't opinions fun?

Embo Blake - Music Writer/singing cowpoke

My favorite records of 2007…

1. Dwight Yoakam - Dwight Sings Buck
Seriously folks, this is a no-brainer. It might as well be called Dwight Is Buck… but it is a really brilliant tribute to the Bakersfield sound and the man who created it, from the man who helped to keep it alive. Now if Pete Anderson would record Pete Plays Don, we'd have a great thing going.

2. The Perishers - Victorious
Whether or not you've heard the past offerings from this band, do yourself a favor and at least listen to "Never Bloom Again". This record is possibly life-changing, and easy to listen to, like the best work from Snow Patrol.

3. Ian Ball - Who Goes There
I suppose in the absence of a new Gomez record, I'll settle for a solo record from Ian… I really miss Ben's voice and Tom's unique additions, but this is a solid record of some pretty fine songs. Not as musically diverse as the Go', but real good anyway.

4. Lucinda Black Bear - Capo My Heart And Other Bear Songs
C. Gibbs is a fantastic songwriter and singer… and his new project takes things into a much lower and finer register than his previous solo album. I dig this darkness and hope that it continues unabated for a long, long time.

5. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Raising Sand
This is a weird pairing, and almost doesn't work for much of the record… but the three or four tracks that shine, shine bright enough to eclipse almost every other record this year. An instant classic it would seem, and I'd have to agree.

6. Mission UK - God Is A Bullet
Wayne Hussey and Co. return with the best Mission record since Masque. The interim records have been a bit half-powerful, but this is truly a return to form with some dervish guitar-lines and powerful vocals from the arch-duke of goth… still got some goth, too, probably due to the participation of some old friends, including original member Simon Hinkler. Now, what's Andrew got?

7. Porter Wagoner - Wagonmaster
This collection of songs is solid and really shows that Wagoner held onto his gruff and rumbly voice right until the end. He passed away last fall and I hope we will not soon forget the man's musical legacy, including this new record which is haunting in a similar way to Johnny Cash's last record.

8. Iron and Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
No matter how hard I tried to leave this off my top records list, it works its way back in. I'm not a tremendous fan of the direction Sam has taken his music, but it still beats the tar out of just about every other indie folk/rock thing going these days. Heartfelt and powerful, but not in the quiet way I prefer.

9. Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond
J. Mascis returns with the best record since the inimitable Whatever's Cool With Me. He's resurrected most of the original band, and it shows. These guys are once more not subtle at all, but noisy and melodic and beautiful all at once.

10. The Sadies - New Seasons
The Sadies rock. I mean, you've heard them, right? Go get their new record if you haven't yet. It's packed full of fun and love… all to the tune of some of the finest hootenanny-inducing psychedelic alt. country the world has ever seen. Seriously, go buy it.

The best shoegaze that I can recall in 2007…

1. The BrotherKite - Moonlight Race EP
While it took a long time for The BrotherKite to get around to releasing their last couple CDs, they've been well worth the wait. On the Moonlight Race EP the band moves a bit away from the Beach Boys-ish vocals and re-embrace their noisy wall of guitar beginnings, sounding once more more like Slowdive or Ride. The exception is the amazing alternate (acoustic) version of "Hopeless And Unsung".

2. Adam Franklin - Bolts Of Melody
Ad is not really making pure 'gazer music anymore, but this album can't be included anywhere else. The father of groove'gaze hits hard with his new set of songs… and recalls the past glories easily… now, where's that promised tour?

3. Cat-A-Tac - Past Lies And Former Lives
Denver hasn't known music this great or beautiful since The Czars… Pure traditional shoegaze with a hint of its own personality makes for some very pleasurable listening. Clairecords needs to sign them quickly before Robin Guthrie finds out.

4. A Shoreline Dream - Coastal EP
Another Denver band that makes good with a bit of 'gazey stuff happening. Powerful drumming and droning guitars make for the perfect backdrop to the buried vocals and ambience-enriched sound. Really nice teaser for what I hope is a great next record.

5. The Stevenson Ranch Davidians - Psalms, Hymns, & Spiritual Songs
Old school dreampop that will make your mind wander and wonder with its nice old school sound… of course, it falls a little closer to the Spiritualized side of things, so all you noise rockers sit aside for this dance.

6. Soft - Gone Faded
This band came from nowhere as far as I can tell… but they sound like a gentler My Bloody Valentine, maybe sprinkled with some early Slowdive. Great guitar sounds and solid drumming make for a great record and this is classic stuff.

Best songs of 2007

The Perishers "Never Bloom Again"
I'm telling you once more - listen to this song. It is simply amazing, and simple enough to be understood by anyone.
Snow Patrol "Signal Fire"
If you haven't heard this track from the Spiderman 3 soundtrack, you are missing out. But to really enjoy it, check out the video on YouTube. It's so great.

Lastly, everyone needs to see Amazing Journey: The Story Of The Who DVD. I just can't stop watching it. Among the great treasures scattered throughout the DVD is footage of The High Numbers performing live… that and the Keith Moon footage makes being in front of the TV well worth it.

Gareth Bowles - Music Writer/abundant philosopher

Another great year for music from artists new and old. The only downside was trying to listen to everything I wanted to hear - but sleep is overrated anyway...

Shack - The Corner of Miles and Gil
A new album from Liverpool's Head brothers would be a major event in any year, but Corner makes my top spot by also being the best Shack record yet. A deliciously swirling, heady brew of wistful ballads, psychedelic guitars and impenetrable Scouse accents - worth every penny of the import price.

Augie March - Moo You Bloody Choir
Another one initially only available on import, from Australia this time (but there's now a US version on Jive / Zoomba). Augie March have a healthy following and a major label deal back home, but are well under the radar over here; a real shame, given that their complex and intricate dream pop should make fans of Jeff Buckley or Rufus Wainwright feel right at home.

Wire - Read & Burn 03
OK, kids, here's a band you might actually have heard of. Legendary art-punk pioneers continue their 30 year career with a fine EP that's a taster of a full length record to come in 2008. If the songs here are anything to go by, the new album will be an updated and improved 154 in the same way that 2002's Send reinvented Pink Flag.

Astrid Williamson - Day Of The Lone Wolf
Third and best album for the ex Goya Dress front woman, and first with a US release. A truly gorgeous album of sophisticated, melodic and distinctly adult-themed tunes.

Grinderman - Grinderman
Nick Cave and a few stray Bad Seeds cut one of the surprise albums of the year - a set of grinding and downright dirty tunes that hark back to The Birthday Party in a much more direct way than Cave's recent albums. There's a new Bad Seeds album due next year; let's hope they didn't get quite all of the Grinderman grime out of their systems before they finished it.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Baby 81
BRMC went back to the noisy, shoegaze influenced electric music of their first two albums after taking a left turn into acoustic roots with 2005's Howl. Baby 81 got a lot of disappointed reviews with the general feeling that the band hadn't advanced, but I say to heck with it if the formula is this good to start with. Put this one on and blast down your local highway with the windows open - within the speed limit, of course ...

The Clientele - God Save the Clientele
When you get home from blasting BRMC, sit down and mellow out with this wonderful, dreamy collection of tunes that will dig its way into your subconscious and refuse to let go.

Crowded House - Time on Earth
Another in the long line of surprise reunions in recent years; New Zealand's masters of intelligent yet commercial pop came back with an album that fits right into their catalogue as if they'd never been away.

Fields - Everything Last Winter
Like Augie March, I was turned onto these English masters of folk-tinged noise pop by the ever reliable Big Takeover magazine. This is the band's first full length following last year's 7 from the Village EP; the standout, MBV-esque "Song For The Fields" still holds up as a future shoegaze classic, but the rest of the songs hold their ground too.

Linda Thompson - Versatile Heart
A rare jewel from one of the true legends of British folk music. Ex-husband Richard also released a fine album this year, but for me Versatile Heart, with Linda's fine songwriting and alternately warm or heartbreaking vocals, is the one to have.

Spiritualized - Acoustic Mainlines
This one is a bit of a cheat as it's not an actual recording (although you can find quite a few unofficial MP3s out there on the Web), but Jason Pierce's live reinventions of his Spiritualized and Spacemen 3 recordings were a highlight of the year. Acoustic guitar, keyboards, strings and a gospel choir replaced the electric maelstrom of the originals to reveal the true beauty of the melodies and heartbreaking directness of the lyrics.

David DeVoe - Music Editor/faultless knowitall

1. Zookeeper - Becoming All Things
Chris Simpson returns with a full length that fulfills the promise of the self-titled EP from last year. Like The Band and The Gloria Record all rolled into one crazy collective. Awesome.

2. Luka Bloom - Tribe
Luka Bloom continues to impress with some fine songwriting and the continuing evolution of his musical sound that incorporates more and more world music. Awesome.

3. Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests Of…
Though I agree it is a slow burner of a record, it has come to be Ritter's finest album yet. The mythology and literacy of this young man never fail to astound me. Awesome.

4. Son Volt - The Search
While not taking the track that I was hoping for after the incredible Gob Iron record, Jay Farrar turns out another set of rocking songs that move into new sonic territory… Memphis soul included. Awesome.

5. Sister Vanilla - Little Pop Rock
The Jesus And Mary Chain with the Reid sister… what could be better? Almost like a po-mo Brady Bunch... but really, really good. Awesome.

6. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Baby 81
The only thing that comes close to The Jesus And Mary Chain is BRMC… and their new album is a fine juxtaposition of the amazing folkish sound of Howl with the original ferocity of their debut. Awesome.

7. Glen Hansard - Once original soundtrack
Glen Hansard is my second favorite Irishman… but possibly the most powerful songwriter of my generation… and now maybe he won't be so incredibly wrongly overlooked. Awesome.

8. The Cowboy Junkies - At The End Of Paths Taken
While not as defining as almost every other Junkies' record, this is a great collection of songs that fall a bit on the more self-reflective side… beautiful songs about the day to day. I don't know how Michael continues to write such great songs, but he does. Awesome.

9. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
Tweedy finally gets his head screwed back on right-ways and forgets about being John Lennon for a set of amazing folky, alt. country-ish songs with a band that finally sounds like a band again. Possibly the best thing the band has recorded since Summerteeth. Awesome.

10. Dean & Britta - Back Numbers
Not quite the glory of early Luna, but beautiful and highly melodic nonetheless. We are all getting older and Wareham ages more gracefully than I'd have ever imagined possible. Awesome.

Susan Frances - Music Writer/word-tinker

1. Shelly Bhushan - Picking Daisies
Shelly Bhushan is a budding young singer-songwriter who began calling New York City her home in 2000. Her first full length album Picking Daisies is perfect with vocal melodies that display gorgeous summits and penetrating lows and music that will keep you tapping your feet and enjoying the sonic escapes.

2. Mrnorth - Desire & Fear
Mrnorth is a modern rock quartet from Boston, Massachusetts whose debut album Desire & Fear has roaring guitar cuts and a thrilling bass and drum coordination that bares similarities to 30 Seconds To Mars and Theory Of A Deadman. They incorporate orchestral elements and classic piano sweeps into the mix which enhance the melodic rock brew brilliantly.

3. Kaiser Chiefs - Yours Truly Angry Mob
This famous Brit-pop quartet returned this year with their sophomore release Yours Truly Angry Mob showing the band's charismatic harmonies chained to dance-club hooks and catchy synth-pop loops latched to squeezing guitar effects with Brit-pop genetics. It's a fun album without making a repetition of their debut album Employment.

4. Nurses - Hangin' Nothin' But Our Hands Down
Nurses is an art-pop quartet who fuses poppy theatrics with classic rock, gypsy-punk and orchestral tones on their album Hangin' Nothin' But Our Hands Down. Their chorus line rhythmic kicks work in conjunction with the orchestral dynamics and synth-rock skits to make for some exuberant sonic bursts. It's stylish, cabaret-ish, and ear-poppingly upbeat.

5. Lily Allen - Alright, Still
Lily Allen's debut album Alright, Still put Jamaican-reggae and jazz-ska back as a contender in the pop/rock dominion. Her cockney accent mixed in with hip swaying, calypso dance beats and pulsating synths pull you off your feet and onto the dance floor. The songs have a fluid funkiness with infectious jangly percussions and vocals that move to the beat.

6. Great Northern - Trading Twilight For Daylight
This ambient pop/neo folk quartet from California put out a debut album that is filled with elegantly sequenced harmonies and dreamy soundscapes that take you away to a serene state alight with cushiony tones and ethereal atmospherics. This is another album that you can take with any place and always enjoy it.

7. Kate Havnevik - Melankton
This British beauty has both a classic and contemporary synth-pop ambient fare. Her spellbinding vocals have an entrancing feminine lure and the celestial swirls are aurally pleasing. The music transcends time and music genres with a dance-pop vibrancy and melodic crescendos galore. Kate Havnevik successfully delivered on this musical journey.

8. The Dear Hunter - Act II: The Meaning Of And All Things Regarding Ms. Leading
The Dear Hunter is the project of singer and multi-instrumentalist Casey Crescenzo. With The Dear Hunter, Crescenzo proves his stripes as not only a talented songwriter, composer, arranger, and producer but also a creditable force in the prog-rock echelon. His second studio album Act II: The Meaning Of And All Things Regarding Ms. Leading is a cornucopia of chamber-pop elements with hard rock, jazz, and country intonations. It is an ambitious project that really shows Crescenzo's passion for writing compositions that use his talents and allow him to investigate them deeper.

9. Cedarwell - Gamboge
Cedarwell is a folk rock/alternative country duo from Wisconsin who produced a spill canvas of breezy melodies and easy riding rhythms perfect for those long drives into the great blue yonder, where the only sound you want to hear are your innermost thoughts and enthralling music to keep you company. It's good ol' fashion country and fringes of modern folk-rock welded into one.

10. ALO - Roses & Clover
ALO is a soul-rock/Baroque folk quartet from Santa Barbara, California whose 5th studio album Roses & Clover is nostalgic SoCal pop and contemporary adult rock with a catchy feel good ride. Their rhythmic patterns and contemporary guitar rock palette is comparable to Smash Mouth. The album's pleasing esthetics are engaging for a worldly audience and sound like a modern day Bruce Hornsby.

Rachel Fredrickson - Music Writer/superhero

This year there was such a wealth of amazing music released that choosing only 10 albums was practically impossible. I toiled for hours, to bring you my list of top 10 for 2007 (in no particular order, because they'd all be number 1 for me):

1. Chiodos - Bone Palace Ballet
Taking over the music scene with incredibly short shorts and incredible guitar.

2. Anberlin - Cities
Third album's a charm. Anberlin finally found their rhythm and it's undeniably catchy. Perhaps a little more serious and harder than the others, yet still amazing.

3. Sick Puppies - Dressed Up As Life
Hate the name, love the band. Between a chick bassist, insanely deep themes and angry hardcore music, this band has more than enough to offer.

4. Madina Lake - From Them, Through Us, To You
Average age is older than practically every new band in their genre. But with age comes knowledge. Knowledge of how to make some excellent music composed of clever hooks and drama-filled choruses.

5. Foo Fighters - Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
Rock veterans you could say. Now on their 6th studio album, they've seemed to get their style down solid. With musicianship that grows in each album, their latest one has some of the most complex guitar I've ever heard.

6. Radiohead - In Rainbows
What can you really say about Radiohead? Nothing can top Radiohead, except more Radiohead. They're brilliant in every sense of the word. If you really listen to comments on the new album, they always refer to previous works. And that's just how Radiohead is.

7. Thrice - The Alchemy Index I & II: Fire & Water
There's a story behind this one and it involves two other albums yet to be released. III & IV: Earth & Air. However, the first two give us a glimpse into what Thrice is doing with their music. Water floats you away to another place, more melodic and almost enchanting than the normal sound. Then Fire snatches you back to a reality that's a little harsher.

8. Linkin Park - Minutes To Midnight
Besides about two….maybe three songs; this is not the typical Linkin Park that everyone has come to know and love. Though Minutes To Midnight could almost be called beautiful, we haven't lost our "In The End" friends, but we've got some new stuff to get used to.

9. Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero
Trent Reznor's mind is a scary place. And he was definitely taking a chance when he wrote a record criticizing the government. Nonetheless, this is the kind of music you have to listen to more than once to really appreciate. And once you do, you're hooked. Rock took a psychedelic turn with this one.

10. The Used - Lies For The Liars
Again, third album's a charm. Or rather freakin' awesome cd! Lies For The Liars is easily my favorite album from The Used. Their emo morphed into all out crazy alternative rock. Between the minds of Quinn and Bert there's a parallel universe of music that is unlike any other. From there, came this album.

Gus the talking mute

The best albums I heard in 2007.

Chesterfield Kings - Psychedelic Sunrise
The Kings are the only band to emerge from the 80's garage revival cutout bin, issuing a release about every four years. They've shown their musical superiority in the genre, but Little Steven's surprisingly clean production pushed the sound to unexpected brilliance. This is the Sgt. Pepper of garage rock.

Dillinger Escape Plan - Ire Works
The jangled, angled mathcore algorithms present on Calculating Infinity join the occasional forays into actual singing Miss Machine introduced. Vocal rage shears away at the complicated rhythms enough to reveal a tuneful skeleton, which disappears back into chaos. But most jarring is the space-rock "Mouth Of Ghosts" and the falsettoed "Black Bubblegum."

The Guts - Sometimes You Can't Win
33 songs' worth of Screaching Weasel-styled sugar-free pop-punk inhabit sock-hops, broken hearts and murdered mates. The vocals are half Green Day, half Dead Milkmen. "Mystery Dance" is the greatest dance song since The Fall's "Deadbeat Descendant." Throw in a couple covers, Stone Pony's "Different Drum" and Rolling Stones' "Out of Time."

Mick Harvey - Two of Diamonds
His first solo efforts traded Bad Seeds' homicidal tendencies for a fixation on booze. Now Harvey distances himself from both demons with a subtler Scott Walker darkness. The originals are as fine as he writes for Nick Cave, lovingly crafted covers of Triffids, Emmylou Harris and Crime And The City Solution.

Richard Hawley - Lady's Bridge
The former Pulp/Longpigs guitarist has a taste for pop's golden age of croon. Unlike the Velour Fog - Michael Buble, Hawley errs on the side of Perry Como. Singing smooth as his Les Paul licks, his flawless arrangements flow fresh from yesteryear's recipes. Not an iota of irony here, just a timeless legacy.

The Horrors - Strange House
The U.K. neo-goths take a page from The Birthday Party. Not just Nick Cave's frantic, avante punk pioneers, but Harold Pinter's disturbed, claustrophobic psychodrama. Confidently neurotic, they emit an irresistible threat, with no attempt to mask their ill intent. Nightmarish theatrics combine equal parts Bauhaus, Cramps and Clockwork Orange.

The Defectors - Bruised and Satisfied
Addictive to the point of madness, the immediate reaction to the B-movie creepfest is an appreciative swear. The booming kick-snare combo and thrilling bass sneak under the skin to blister in a juicy, nasty, bursting chorus. The twisted growling sounds eerily authentic. Theremin and organ round out the bloodlust matinee.

Shout Out Louds - Our Ill Wills
The crisp, spry arrangements on bitter Cure meets James pop tunes are so infectious they make silly lyrics "The rumours said it was a serial killer/ but they got hit by a caterpillar" acceptable. Adam Olenius's lisp is endearing; Bebban Stenborg could pass for Hope Sandoval. Nothing feels less than pure and honest.

The Terminals - Forget About Never
The dangerous level of fuzz and distortion The Terminals deliver hasn't been reached since The Monks 1966 Black Monk Time. It's like The BelRays on bennies, amplified through an elephant's butt. The effort required to unearth the authentic 60's soul and Paleolithic garage pays off with unshakable devotion and cultish reverence.

Tiny Masters of Today - Bang Bang Boom Cake
Forgetting that these atonal siblings have a combined age of 25, and that former and current hipsters are offering them rides and candy, the raw tuneage is the real draw. Ear-perking bits of Elastica and The Avengers almost make up for the disappointing return of The Stooges. Next up, voice lessons.

L. Keane - Music Writer/indelible ink marker

In no particular order, my best of 2007:

Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter
Dan Wilson - Free Life
The Fratellis - Costello Music
Chris And Thomas - Land Of Sea
Eskimo Joe - Black Fingernails Red Wine
Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger
Lily Allen - Alright, Still
Shout Out Louds - Our Ill Wills
Amy Winehouse - Back To Black
Jason Isbell - Sirens of the Ditch

Ewan Wadharmi - Music Writer/debutante

In reverse alphabetical order by second track of their previous release.

Stabilisers - Wanna Do The Wild Plastic Brane Love Thing?
This latest weapon in Wicked Cool's world takeover campaign involves B-movies and 60's garage ala The Kinks and The Who fused with '77 punk, to wit, The Jam, Stiff Little Fingers, Adicts - not a far stretch.

The Cave Singers - Invitation Songs
Herman Jolly wrestling Neil Young through a Cohen brothers film.

Angels Of Light - We Are Him
Michael Gira writes better songs than 99.5% of the population. Still he finds ways to improve and amaze.

The Stooges - The Weirdness
Not as good as the classic catalogue, but easily better than no Stooges album at all.

Type O Negative - Dead Again
Rumors of Pete Steele's death (and girth) have been mostly exaggerated. All influences are exploited, punk, goth, Journey. Yeah, Pete's actually got an icing-on-the-cake sense of humor.

The Adored - A New Language
Elements of The Clash, Adam Ant, Madness, and even The Bangles sneak into the batter, that bakes up strong sing-alongs - irritating throwaway "New Language." But the lyrics are strong throughout, even when the music gets more Vapors than Vibrators.

The Lights - Diamonds and Dirt
Like the first time you were blown away by Wire, or confounded by Mark E. Smith's lost-with-a-purpose ranting. The Lights are onto something substantial and know it well. Spastic 60s and '70s garage with accelerated pituitary glands.

Pietasters - All Day
Instead of waiting out the next resurgence, the Pietasters use the off-ska time to create a spot-on 60's soul portrait. Why not, they've got the horns sitting about, and lots of mouths to feed.

Dead City Shakers - Ship Of Beggars
Rockabilly presented in a hardcore format which somehow makes perfect sense in a Meteors meet Misfits sort of way. Singer dude's ferocious growl is like he swallowed three broken bud bottles, a jigger of sand and half of Slayer. Be prepared for songs on killing other folks, killing your ownself, depression and mayhem. Also, bedlam.

Los Campesinos! - Sticking Fingers Into Sockets EP
A gang of Welsh persons blending the clever humor of Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine with the scientific minded intelligence of They Might Be Giants = party in study hall.

Dan Warren - Music Writer/explorer

1. Pelle Carlberg - In A Nutshell
When I reviewed this album earlier this year, I wrote that Carlberg was the frontrunner to head my 2007 year-end list. Since then, no one has challenged the Swedish singer-songwriter, and former Edson frontman, for top honors. In A Nutshell is disarmingly sincere, rich with ingenious pop melodies, expert musicianship, and vocals that are at times fragile, at times buoyant, often tongue-in-cheek, and always genuine. Carlberg also has a gift for clever, often self-effacing, lyrics - like his music, his words are direct and unaffected. Add to all of this some of the best song titles I've ever seen ("Clever Girls Like Clever Boys Much More Than Clever Boys Like Clever Girls" is the most notable, and also the record's most irresistible pop song) and you have a brilliant record that has garnered far less attention than it deserves.

2. The Shins - Wincing The Night Away
Few contemporary bands are as revered as The Shins, which meant that few records in 2007 were released to expectations as daunting as those that met the band's third release, Wincing The Night Away. And while songwriter/frontman James Mercer and his bandmates may not have matched their first two records - particularly the phenomenal Chutes Too Narrow, released in 2003 - they crafted a record that puts all of their strengths on brilliant display. Mercer is a peerless songwriter, so the record centers on his intuitive, unorthodox melodies, crystal-clear tenor, and evocative lyrics. The album succeeds because it fleshes out and builds on the band's trademark approach. It may not be the visionary album many fans were hoping for, but Wincing is fascinating proof that The Shins remain irreplaceable.

3. Eddie Vedder - Into The Wild (Music For The Motion Picture)
Eddie Vedder contributed this concise set of folk-rock songs as the soundtrack to Sean Penn's 2007 film Into The Wild. It's a quiet, poignant record, but those who've explored Pearl Jam's back catalog know that Vedder is as capable of performing restrained songs like these as he is full-scale rock and roll. The record is focused and engaging, and is actually more satisfying than some of Pearl Jam's studio records. Best of all, the CD is available through iTunes with bonus tracks that are better than the album itself - particularly a masterful update of Phil Ochs' "Here's To The State Of Mississippi," reworked lyrically by Vedder and actor/director Tim Robbins into an impassioned attack on the current political and religious leaders they feel are subverting the ideals of American society.

4. Patti Smith - Twelve
Punk-rock legend Patti Smith achieves something that can trip up even the most accomplished musicians: recording a covers album that spans a list of some of music's most legendary artists, and making it sound like a fully-realized - in this case, truly captivating - record. Smith may be 60, but her trademark alto is still rich, earthy, and resonant. The record also works because of its ambition. It's hard to imagine a more intimidating list of artists to cover: Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, and Nirvana are all represented (she doesn't confine herself to rock icons, though, as the inclusion of Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" illustrates). She takes them all on with confidence, backing her vocals with tasteful, minimalist arrangements that let the songs and the singer make the record great.

5. Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals - Lifeline
Few artists are as versatile as Ben Harper, whose substantial body of work finds him integrating rock, blues, folk, gospel, reggae, rhythm and blues, and funk - among other genres - into a musical aesthetic that somehow manages to sound effortless and organic. As a vocalist, he always projects a disarming sincerity. Lifeline, Harper's latest record with his dynamic backing band The Innocent Criminals, is great for all of those reasons, but it's also intentionally simple - Harper and the band recorded the album in one week. Ultimately, what matters is that the songs themselves are uniformly strong, and the record is gripping from start to finish. There's nothing trailblazing here, but by scaling back ambitions Harper and his band may have ended up with something better.


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