Consider this a preface to tonight's year-end best-of edition of In House. We asked a few Portlanders you may know for their 2007 top fives, and they responded like the engaging, tasteful, funny people they are (not that those that didn't respond don't also probably fit that description). A pattern of familiar titles emerges, but also some wonderful sounding releases that may have slipped through the cracks-- the Levon Helm and Robert Wyatt selections being prime examples for me. I've since tracked them down and listened and can absolutely concur. On with it, then.
James Low, singer-songwriter:
OK. I'm probably not qualified to do this because I usually buy music a year or two after it gets released, and then take another year or two to decide where it fits in my best of list. I may have to cheat a little bit and throw in something 2006, but i'll try to stay honest.
#1 Levon Helm- Dirt Farmer
Something about Levon's voice is like a lullaby even post throat cancer. I can only hope that I sound so good after I have throat cancer. I mean I hope I don't get throat cancer, but Levon sounds amazing. I love a songwriter who is really a drummer and happens to also write great songs. If only all drummers could be great songwriters and vice versa.
#2 Radiohead- In Rainbows
OK so I admit it. I haven't even listened to the whole thing. I didn't sign up for the special pay what you want download, and I have to wait till after January 1 to buy it on Itunes, but what I've been able to listen to sounds amazing. I've always thought that if I had been born a genius musician I would like to have made music something like Radiohead. Plus they get props for fucking with the industry paradigm by letting folks pay what they want for the music.
#3 Robert Plant & Allison Krauss- Raising Sand
When I heard about this project I was primed and ready to hate it. Much thanks to producer T-bone Burnett it's amazing. Plant leaves the "super sized" Plant behind and between the two of them they make some great, understated, soulful music. The choice of songs is impeccable and I'm pretty sure that this is one of those albums that will still sound good in 2009.
#4 Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings- 100 days, 100 nights
In a year where I'm sure that Amy Whitehouse will be on lots of folks tops list I pick Sharon Jones. I missed her show at the Doug Fir recently and I regret it.
#5 Laura Gibson- If You Come to Greet Me
This beautiful record came out late November 2006, so I'm going to call it close enough to 2007 to count. This music is so pretty I'm almost afraid to listen to it. It makes me glad that there is music. I think that if I tried to make this record I would see half way through how perfect it was, and then be unable to finish it for fear of not being able to measure up. I'm glad that she did.
•Courtenay Hameister, head writer/host/associate producer of LiveWire! radio:
Dolorean - You Can't Win-
Not sure when I've heard such beauty come from such pain. When Al James talks about the record, he talks about going into it in this really nasty place emotionally, and you can definitely hear that. But the music is so gorgeous that you have to imagine it helped him get through it. "Heather Remind Me How This Ends" is a particular favorite. So melancholy, simple and heartwrenching.
Patty Griffin - Children Running Through-
I'm very predictable. If Patty comes out with a record, it'll be on my top 5 list for the year. I think she's one of the best living songwriters/storytellers we've got. This one's got more of a gospel tinge than her last release (which had the amazing "Love Throws A Line" on it), which she wears well. Favorites on this one are a stunning duet with Emmylou Harris on "Trapeze" (which will make you cry if you're a wuss like me), the celebratory "Heavenly Day" and "No Bad News," which, with just Patty and an acoustic guitar, sounds like old times for long-time (read: OLD) Patty fans such as myself.
Amy Winehouse - Back to Black-
I know, I know. But I had to do it. She's like Tom Waits to me, in that sounds like it's been around forever yet belongs here now more than anything kinda way. I just try not to look at the trainwreck that her life is. Because, dang.
Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha-
Every record seems to be smarter, more beautiful and more intimate than the last. Plus, I love a man who can handle a fiddle.
Chris Robley and Fear of Heights - The Drunken Dance of Modern Man in Love -
Chris is one of my favorite songwriters and voices in Portland, and he's smart enough to team up with people who are just as good as he is. Which is saying a lot. His melodies sound classic yet modern, his harmonies with Rachel Taylor-Brown (a great performer in her own right) are freakin' perfect and his lyrics...well, they kick ass, frankly. If I may be frank. Which I think I may.
Richmond Fontaine - 13 Cities - Willy Vlautin is a wonder, and charming as hell.
Mississippi Studios Live Compilation III - I can't be too objective because Jim at MS is a friend, but even so, there are some lovely 'n' intimate live versions of great songs by local artists (Weinland, Hillstomp, Buoy Larue, Tony Furtado, Chris Robley) and not-so-local artists (Everybody Fields, Kristin Hersh, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and a funny one from Dan Haley).
Jose Gonzalez - In Our Nature - His voice just calms me. This one's just as mesmerizing as his first to me.
The National - Boxer
Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglova - The Swell Season
Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Mbilly - Today
Jose Gonzales - In Our Nature
Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
Band of Horses - Cease to Begin
The Boss - Magic
•Krist Krueger, Southerly maestro:
Top 5 albums of '07 (in no particular order)
The Weakerthans - Reunion Tour (Epitaph)
* One of my all-time favorite bands. I still listen to Reconstruction Site regularly. We played "One Great City" as the intro to an interview I did in Winnipeg on the college station prior to a show I played there after someone smashed out my van window and tossed it.
Wilco - Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch)
* It might seem premature but I put Wilco at the belt-buckles of my all-all-timers (Willie Nelson, Woody Guthrie, Paul Simon, John Lennon). Meaning, as much as I would like to, I can't quite put them at their shoulders...YET. I mean jesus! Nels Cline! I had the chance to hang out with John Stirrat a bit after a show they played at Red Rocks in Denver and they are really kind and genuine people. I had played the night prior and broke down in town, saw they were playing and chanced sneaking in after camping in the Rockies the night before. It worked! And then we camped at the Flying J...again.
Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - Etiquette (Tomlab)
* One of the only albums that I can think of in recent history that makes mention of Credence Clearwater Revival as an important connection between former partners. I love Casiotone for that and so many other things though we shared the saddest meal anyone has ever had at a vietnamese restaurant after the last show on our package with The Donkeys in Houston. But then we all got (more) drunk and happy.
The National - Boxer (Beggars Banquet)
* I feel like I got to this album a little later than I could have, which is likely because I did. But once I put it on I was hooked. I mean, they lived above the Comet Tavern in Cincinnati and got to eat the most amazing burritos everyday!
Southerly - Storyteller And The Gossip Columnist (Greyday/PIAPTK)
* I'm of the belief that your own album(s) should be your favorite, being that you can make the exact, specific record that you want to hear. So...yeah!
Top 6 honorable mentions:
Pseudosix - s/t (Sonic Boom)
Boat - Let's Drag Our Feet (Magic Marker)
Minmae - ?Ya Te Vas?/True Love, re-issue (Greyday)
David Bazan - Fewer Moving Parts (Barsuk)
Dat'r - Turn Up The Ghosts (Hush)
Thee More Shallows - Book of Bad Breaks (Anticon)
•April Baer, OPB Morning Edition host:
Blitzen Trapper - Wild Mountain Nation-
Could there be a more perfect realization of what the regional scene embodies than this exhuberant release from Portland's own? Dial up the title track and you're cruising I-84 through the Gorge, wild mountains and untamed rivers on either side. Swing wide for a few heavy grooves like "Miss Spiritual Tramp", then detour into pomo-retro airspace with "Sci Fi Kid". I love BT's willingness to mix up sharp left turns into punk styling mid-song, and their unabashed adoration of Eagles-quality songcraft. Who says you can't we have it all? I could not leave this record alone.
Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha-
Nice to see Chicago's Andrew Bird reach full speed in 2007. If you caught his Portland dates for the last few tours, you know he's an ambitious multi-instrumentalist who's brought a new dimension into the act with extensive use of sampling. Just as his arrangements have become more modern, Byrd's songwriting is bolder this year. He's getting outside his head, dipping into more overt political themes, while retaining the quirky charm that makes his lyrics stick in your head. Never predictable, and now he kind of rocks, too! I just worry he's so good he'll never play smaller venues again! Well, if you love someone, set him free, or something like that. What do we have to do to get him to move here?
Nellie McKay - Obligatory Villagers-
Is the United States ready for a woman in the White House? I nominate Nellie KcKay! Mouthy little piece of work, isn't she? Obligatory Villagers finds her taking on more ambitious, outsized arrangments. On several tracks she matches wits with the classy yet cozy jazz master Bob Dorough. It's an excellent pairing--Hepburn & Tracy for the YouTube era. Watch out--Nellie bites. And you'll love it.
Amy Winehouse - Back to Black-
I don't know what's more titillating: checking out La Winehouse's boozy exploits in the tabs, or getting down with this sturdy, well-made blockbuster of a record. Forget about the hype, this was hands-down the most listenable thing around in 2007. Lots of white girls can ape Donny Hathaway, but Winehouse owned every line on every song. Sure she's derivative, but maybe there's an emerging genre here: bands that steal from the best and don't care who knows it. Whether she'll have time to follow up between bail hearings is another matter....
Meshel Ndegeocello - The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams-
2007 felt solid in the soul/funk department, with Prince cranking out new stuff (still flipping off the labels in great style). Stevie Wonder's victory lap tour was one of the live events of the year. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings got the recognition they deserved. But here's the release I was waiting for: Meshel N'degeOcello consistantly surprises and challenges, all the while laying down the most exquisite grooves around. This is a little heavier fare than her previous outings like Peace Beyond Passion, but, like all great art, it sticks to your ribs.
The Ocean Floor - Tall Tales & Small Tales-
This Portland band left me slack-jawed with surprise and delight. It's the perfect record for tramping around in your favorite old-growth forest, watching the ferns grow. Lane Barrington's springy good humor and light-as-a-twinkie vocals make me smile every time I hear them. The acoustic jazz sound takes some very unusual turns--some tracks are perhaps less than accessible. But on songs like "A Simple Adventure", he's really on to something.
•Loch Lomond, chamber-folksters
1. Robert Wyatt—Comicopera
2. Rufus Wainwright—Release the Stars
3. The Builders and the Butchers—Self-titled
4. Dolorean—You Can't Win
5. Port O'Brien—The Wind and the Swell
Tagged: Best of 2007