Rapidly approaching their 30th anniversary as a band, and now almost 25 years since the release of their debut, Boy, I can think of few bands who have not only continued to impact popular culture but who also continue to make great recorded music. Undeniably, U2 is one of those bands. If it's even imaginable, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb may be U2's best album since The Joshua Tree. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb is a superb album, containing all of U2's timeless musical and lyrical signatures. Songs about faith and the intimacy of love are couched in sounds that often recall the spaciousness of records like The Unforgettable Fire yet reach back even further to the melodic toughness of their 1983 classic War. From the opening moment of the album when Bono counts down to the power chords of "Vertigo" in Spanish to the cathartic finish of the album's last song, "Yahweh," U2 have once again confirmed their place as one of the greatest rock bands of all time - and getting better at it with each new release. You can only say that for a few - if any - rock bands still recording 20 years into their careers.
Welcome to the shape of jazz to come. He is pianist and singer-songwriter Jamie Cullum, currently one of a handful of "twentysomething" "jazz" artists interpreting pop songs old and new, and writing originals on his own unique terms. With a band that's not afraid to hit the groove or flirt with whimsy, Jamie Cullum is an exciting new talent. He'll charm you in his Black high-top Converse sneakers, his pixie-ish good looks and his Billy Joel-esque vocals. If any part of the music lover in you enjoys Steely Dan, Norah Jones, Joel and yes, dare I say even the pop side of Harry Connick then Cullum's album is worth checking out. And if you come to this party favoring the originals of some of the artists Cullum covers like Radiohead and Hendrix and Jeff Buckley, then you might be surprised by Cullum's confident verve.
The Battle For Everything is Five For Fighting's and Ondrasik's brilliant follow-up to America Town. The production and overall sound of this record count for a lot; from the sweeping string arrangements, the rich and resonant piano sound, the well placed guitar effects and the insidious percussion and rhythm. The record is dramatic without being corny. Passionate without being affected. Clearly inspired by the classic rock he grew up listening to, John Ondrasik manages to make the genre sound relevant. This is his Tumbleweed Connection for the 00's.
I'm sure the question of "what do you do for an encore?" came up to Ms. Jones during the creative process for following up her smash success debut. The answer? Feels Like Home is like Norah's debut album, only better. The arrangements are more musical and fully realized. Her choice of cover songs, by Tom Waits and Townes Van Zandt are high quality. The guest appearance of Dolly Parton on the song "Creepin' In" is as fun as a hoedown on a Saturday night. And the songwriting contributions from Norah and her bandmates Lee Alexander, Adam Levy, Andrew Burger, Daru Oda, Kevin Brest along with New York-based singer-songwriter Richard Julian are top notch, well crafted songs. Perhaps Norah didn't think for a moment about the pressure of the follow-up that became Feels Like Home. It seems like she put her head down and captured on tape (or on a hard drive) what she does best, with excellent results.
Wilco is a difficult yet intelligent band that demands your love and attention. They can be equally frustrating and exhilarating, and are one of the last remaining artistically challenging and interesting American bands. Wilco is the American equivalent to Radiohead; what Thom Yorke and his colleagues have created by continuously exploring, experimenting and challenging traditional pop songwriting structure, Tweedy and his bandmates have also done over their five album career (not including their collaborative efforts with Billy Bragg, the two Mermaid Avenue albums). If Wilco's last album - the very acclaimed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, was what OK Computer was to Radiohead, then Ghost is Wilco's Kid A, a uniquely different variation on Wilco's musical isolationism but still clearly connected to Wilco's canon of work and progress.
Drawing on R&B and hip-hop, Cope also draws inspiration from various styles of roots music including blues, folk and reggae. Like many artists, Cope fell victim to record company consolidations after releasing his debut, only to surface on a new label with a stellar supporting studio musician cast that includes Carlos Santana, Me'shell Ndegeocello, and James Poyser on keyboards. The Clarence Gatewood Project has a similar vibe as his debut, however it reveals a more mature sense of musicianship and songwriting. Cope reprises "Sideways," plus new tunes like the powerful "Bullet and A Target," "Sons Gonna Rise," "Hurricane Waters," "Nite Becomes Day," and "Pablo Picasso" will have you returning back to this massive collection for repeated listenings.
Extraordinary songwriting, brilliant production, remarkable performances and a voice that sounds as confident as it did when she debuted 40 years ago in Nashville mark one of the year's best albums from a country legend pushing 70 and produced by one of rock's alternative hot shots. Loretta Lynn's collaboration with Jack White of the White Stripes is a union that far exceeds any expectations about the album when it was being produced and recorded and word started circulating in the music world about the project. Van Lear Rose is one of the most distinctive sounding, unique pop records of the last decade.
For her debut on the distinguished Nonesuch label, k.d. lang's new album is filled with songs that she says are "part of her cultural fabric, my Canadian soundtrack." On Hymns, lang chose to cover songs written by some of her favorite Canadian singers and songwriters including Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn, Leonard Cohen, Ron Sexsmith, Jane Siberry, and Joni Mitchell. k.d.'s vocals are always haunting & emotive and the album's perfect pacing and arrangements only heighten the fairly straightforward takes on these songs. k.d.'s versions don't really deviate from the originals, which is not only a testament to the songwriting but also to lang and her band's beautiful presentation of the material on this album.
Named for the legendary Malibu, California recording studio where it was recorded, Shangri-La is a classic Mark Knopfler album. Including his great body of work with Dire Straits, Knopfler's signature guitar sound, vocals and intelligent lyrics and songs have made him a favorite artist of XPN listeners and members. Like Richard Thompson and Steve Earle, Knopfler is a superb song "crafter" whose work almost always embodies the highest qualities of popular music.
The fact that Keane stand on their own, with songs so gorgeously filled with shimmering pop radiance is the reason, why we've chosen the band as one of our Artists to Watch for 2004. Songs like "This Is The Last Time," "Everybody's Changing," "Can't Stop Now," and "Somewhere Only Know" are dramatic and beautiful. You can hear Keane's driving ambition on every song on the album. Words like "sweeping" and "majestic" are often overused in describing music. For Keane, who stand to match Coldplay song for song for their own distinctive qualities, these words are an appropriate description of a very hot band to watch.
In the mid-90's Rachael was studying theatre and piano and landed at Northwestern University. She became a member of Bumpus, a funk band that became a mainstay of the local Chicago music scene. She signed a solo deal in 2002 and Happenstance is the result of two years of touring and recording. Songs like "Worn Me Down," "Be Be My Love," "Meet Me By The Water" (complete with a musical nod to Rod Stewart), and the undeniable "Letter Read," are an outstanding handful of the 14 songs on this marvelous debut.
Good News For People Who Love Bad News is one of the freshest sounding releases of 2004. Lead singer Isaac Brock is full of creative ideas and energy that carries throughout the entire album with charisma and vitality. The album, bouyed by the single "Float On" brought the band to a much deserving, wider audience this year. From Issaquah, Washington and formed in the early Nineties, Modest Mouse were probably the indie-rock band fans would least expect to breakthrough to greater success. The good news about Good News - Modest Mouse's 6th album - is that they made an excellent proper album that flows nicely from song to song with inventive musical changes and arrangements along with Brock's interesting, albeit quirky, lyrics.
It's been two years since the release of Bruce Hornsby's Big Swing Face and on his debut for a new label, Columbia Records, Hornsby comes out swinging with 11 great songs. On Halcyon Days, Hornsby is in classic form; it's a 21st century album that recalls some of his best work. Halcyon Days, is inspired and filled with excellent playing and songwriting from a great artist who has always had a home on XPN.
One Moment More is the striking debut album from singer-songwriter Mindy Smith. It's an album filled with intelligent well-crafted songs characteristic of releases by artists like Norah Jones, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, and Patty Griffin. Drawing on a variety of acoustic genres including country and folk the songs are honest, organic and from-the-heart - a winning combination for any artist to touch listeners regardless of the genre.
Drag It Up captures the Old 97's doing what they do best: mixing up rock, country, and psychedelia with the occasional surf guitar riff thrown in for good measure. Recorded on 8 tracks, and mostly live in the studio, Drag It Up is a record sure to satisfy '97's fans. The band sounds relaxed and confident. Songs like "The New Kid," "Won't Be Home," "Bloomington," "Adelaide," "Friends Forever," and "Smokers" highlight a collection that sits alongside the '97's previous work as some of their best.
Everyone Is Here is Neil and Tim Finn's first collaborative studio album in eight years. Throughout their careers, the Finn's have enjoyed global success alone and together. Between their solo careers, Crowded House, and Split Enz, Neil and Tim Finn have written more than their fair share of classic tunes we have come to love over the years. There is no doubting that Everyone Is Here stands with the best of their work, particularly that of Crowded House. One listen reveals the brilliance of their songwriting and their voices harmonize as good as ever.
The story behind Smile is fairly legendary by now - the masterpiece Beach Boys album that never was, is finally here. The Beach Boys' uncompleted 1967 album Smile has remained the Holy Grail of Brian Wilson's long, incredible, tortured genius career in pop music. Thirty seven years since its intended release as the follow-up to their classic album Pet Sounds, Smile is very much the groundbreaking art-rock record it was rumored to have been.
Just 16 when she released her incredible debut The Soul Sessions, Joss Stone proved she was wise beyond her years and established her as singer of impressible worth. Coming a year after her debut, Mind, Body & Soul is her first album of all original material and doesn't deviate greatly from The Soul Sessions. It may be more of the same, but its a same that works overtime. The album features more fleshed out arrangements and stylistic depth intended to bring her to wider audience. This girl can sing and the songs have thick, deep grooves.
Elvis Costello's first album for the Lost Highway label is a roots-rock laden collection of songs inspired by the history and cultural import of the location where it was recorded - mostly in Oxford, Mississippi, but also in Clarksdale, Mississippi and Nashville. Costello - working with his band Steve Nieve on keyboards, bassist Davey Farragher and drummer Pete Thomas - touches down on gospel and soul, sweet ballads and rollicking rock.
Trouble is about as honest and organic a record you'll hear these days. Like Norah Jones, Ray Lamontagne channels old soul wisdom and has a voice that elicits a beautiful, haunting and otherworldly response from the listener. These are songs of longing, love and desperation. By the end of this excellent collection of ten songs, a spiritual optimism unfolds and you're hooked on Ray's singular talents.
Around The Sun is REM's first album since their 2001 studio album Reveal. Throughout the 13 songs on their 13th studio album REM have produced a pensive, mid-tempo collection of songs that recalls the lushness of their best records from the 80's like Reckoning, Fables, and Life's Rich Pageant. The album opens with the gorgeous "Leaving New York," and continues to engage on songs like "Wanderlust," "Boy In The Well," "I Wanted To Be Wrong," "Electron Blue," and "High Speed Train."
Back In The Circus is Ms. Brooke's fourth solo album and it reveals her at the top of her musical game. It is an intimate, musically mature body of work. Less polished in a production context than her previous efforts, Circus reveals warm keyboards and programming, interesting vocal processing, and cool instrumental sounds. She closes the album with "Eye In The Sky" by the Alan Parsons Project and her exquisite heart-wrenching no-holds-barred performance of that tune completely reinvents the song.
Nellie McKay's tin-pan alley-esque social commentaries are draped in comparisons to Doris Day, Randy Newman, Eminem, even Linkin Park and Tom Lehrer. Get Away From Me is a double disc tour-de-force of ideas and songs not always so suitable for radio play (be mindful of that Parental Advisory sticker on the cover) that mines ragtime and jazz with the same fervor as it represents for hip-hop and late night Blossom Dearie ballads. She admittedly wears enough of her influences on her sleeve like Lennon and Dylan and Marlene Dietrich, but clearly about thirty seconds in to this debut you recognize pretty quickly that something extremely unique is going on.
Los Lobos's latest album pulls together some of the best songs from their back catalogue, throws in a handful of new tunes and features collaborations with some all-time great musicians. Joining Los Lobos are guests with wide-ranging musical styles as eclectic as those of Los Lobos themselves. Highlights include appearences by Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and Richard Thompson to name just a few. After 30 years, Los Lobos have not lost one musical measure of vitality.
Easily one of the most bittersweet releases of 2004 year due to his passing away this year, Genius Loves Company finds Ray collaborating on duets with Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Van Morrison, James Taylor, Elton John, BB King, Willie Nelson and others. Unlike other "superstar duet" albums, each song finds Ray on equal footing with his singing partner and the result is a highly likable, gentle collection from one of the giants of popular music.
Jem Griffiths hails from Cardiff, Wales - home of Tom Jones. If you're a fan of Beth Orton, Dido, or even The Sundays and Everything But The Girl, you'll appreciate Jem's wonderful debut collection of pop-oriented and orchestrated beats. Finally Woken is a fairly straightforward, almost simple collection of beat-heavy pop songs about love and the loss of it. Yet the attraction of the album lies in its unique simplicity, its immediate infectiousness and Jem's sweet vocals.
One of the most promising singer-songwriters to emerge from the Boston folk music scene, Patty Griffin has been winning over the hearts and minds of music lovers everywhere since her sparse yet beautiful 1996 debut, Living With Ghosts. Impossible Dreams builds on Griffin's signature sound; gorgeous, longing vocals, and unique, rustic instrumentation. At heart Griffin is a terrific storyteller and uses her songs to create emotionally haunting memories.
Morrissey's first album since 1997's disappointing Maladjusted is a solid, completely important comeback from the former Smiths' frontman whose music never quite found the level of popularity in the States as it deserved. Morrissey's rich vocals sound as good as ever. Lyrically, he's in full and predictable command of his subjects: rallying against Bush and Blair, his critics, organized religion, the politics of sex and loneliness. He's still crooning, literate, intentionally outrageous and audacious.
All That We Let In, The Indigo Girls' 11th album since their debut in 1987 finds Amy Ray and Emily Salier at the top of their folk-rock singer-songwriter game. Songs like "Perfect World," "Heartache For Everyone," and "Free In You" contain their excellent trademark harmonies and exceptional knack for great hooks and melodies.
On his new album, Eric Clapton covers 14 of the 29 songs that legendary bluesman Robert Johnson wrote during his lifetime. Musically stripped down to a primary four piece that includes Clapton on guitars, drummer Steve Gadd, bassist Nathan East and harmonica ace Jerry Portnoy (himself a legendary member of the Muddy Waters Blues Band), Me And Mr Johnson is an inspiring and fun collection of songs that comes a decade after the release of his all-blues covers' collection From The Cradle.
If you're a fan of Zevon, you'll agree that this is a heartfelt collection of songs that confirms his status as one of the truly great - albeit underrated songwriters of our time. Many of the same friends who helped Zevon record 2003's The Wind show up on this great tribute album. Bruce Springsteen ("My Ride's Here"), Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt ("Poor Poor Pitiful Me"), and Bob Dylan ("Mutineer") are just a few of the notable contributers.
Just under ten years since Earle's return to recording that followed by a period of drug addiction and prison, Earle gets more prolific and better at his craft. He's also become more outspoken and increasingly politically active. If 2002's Jerusalem was influenced by 9/11, then The Revolution Starts Now was clearly inspired by the war in Iraq and the Presidential election campaign. It's highly doubtful that George W. Bush got a copy of this to play in the Oval Office, however with politically infused songs like "Condi Condi," (a lustful love song written for Condeleeza Rice), "Rich Man's War," and "Home To Houston" Earle managed to capture the sentiment and disillusion of many Americans going in to the election. Hard to believe, but this is one artist whose vision and focus gets wiser and stronger with each new release.
Just 14-years-old in 1985 when she first signed with Rounder Records, Krauss and her band continue to make sweet, beautiful roots music well deserving of the critical and popular acclaim they have received over the years. Produced by the band and recorded in Nashville, Lonely Runs Both Ways features songs by some of their favorite writers, including Robert Lee Castleman, Sidney & Suzanne Cox, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Mindy Smith, Del McCoury, and Woody Guthrie.
There are definitely Tom Waits fans who long for the days when he was a gentler, kinder songwriter and performer. But ever since 1983's Swordfishtrombones and the classic followup Rain Dogs, Waits has never looked back. There is nothing conventional about Real Gone either in songwriting, production and even the performances, and with Les Claypool and guitarist Marc Ribot on board there's nothing easy or kind about this record. Real Gone gets high grades for experimentation and provocation; it's equal parts Howlin' Wolf and Captain Beefheart with intense risk-taking and more often than not, great success.
One of true architects and legends of reggae, Toots Hibbert & The Maytals are responsible for some of the reggae classics of our time. Taking a page out of Carlos Santana's playbook in his making of the Grammy award winning Supernatural, Toots gathered a wide range of guest stars for the making of this album. True Love is great from the first song to the last. The collaborations are inspiring and fun; this is definitely a "roll down your windows and sing along" kind of album - and Toots and The Maytals are in rare form.
Claiming to be re-energized by the 2004 Presidential campaign, the politically focused title track to Fogerty's Deja Vu was indeed deja vu when it came on the radio as it hearkened back to the classic songs he wrote with Creedence Clearwater Revival (most notably "Have You Ever Heard Seen The Rain"). With guest appearances by Jerry Douglas, Mark Knopfler and drummer Kenny Aronoff, the album has some trademark Fogerty stylings; from swamp-rock and rockabilly to acoustic ballads. Even though some of these songs are below standard fairly by-the-numbers Fogerty songs, he reclaimed some of his musical greatness with this record in addition to being well recieved on the Fall tours with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Ashes is McDermott's best album in a long line of fine records. Songs like "Everything I Got," "Arm Yourself," "Hellfire Tonight In The Holyland," and "Dance With Me," find Michael in great voice with strong, confident playing from a stellar band. This is a collection of rock and roll - quite simply - at its best. Passionate, committed, great songs, intense playing - it's all on Michael's album, Ashes.
Based in Nashville, the Old Crow Medicine Show are a "new school" bluegrass quintet. Meeting in New York, the band travelled across the country together learning to play their instruments and old bluegrass songs eventually busking outside of the Grand Ole Opry before they were invited in to play. OCMS are the band that play the "Wagon Wheel" song, a regularly requested re-interpretation of an unreleased Bob Dylan song. "Wagon Wheel" is just one example of the group's high energy and informalness in the studio nicely captured by David Rawlings. This one will remind you of a folk revival but with lots of rock and roll energy.
No stranger to the airwaves of XPN, Harper's collaboration with the Blind Boys of Alabama is a match made not only in heaven but in the studio as well. Seven Harper originals sit alongside covers of traditional gospel tunes all wonderfully performed by Harper and the Blind Boys. There Will Be A Light is soul music in the purest form. Literally recorded in two sessions, it has a loose feel yet totally hits all the right grooves.
Hailing from Richmond, Virginia the five piece Carbon Leaf have been playing their Celtic influenced rock music together since the mid-Nineties to adoring fans, mostly on the East Coast. Since their 1995 debut they've become a successful independent band who have developed an exciting live show in conjunction with their five previous self-released albums. With Indian Summer, the Leaf make the jump from one of America's best unsigned bands to one of America's best newly signed bands as their new album is released on the legendary Vanguard Record label.
Always the innovator, yet not really straying from his eccentric, ahead-of-the-curve musical sensibilities, Grown Backwards is Byrne's eigth solo outing since the Talking Heads stopped recording. In addition to the collaboration with the British DJ's X-press 2 on the hot dance floor song "Lazy," Byrne collaborates with the Texas based classical chamber group the Tosca Strings, an operatic duet with Rufus Wainwright and his usual brand of Tropicalismo-meets-New York multiculturalism. Pair this album with the re-release of the classic The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads and you've got a pair of musical bookends from a true icon of pop music.
As a female singer-songwriter Harmer sits in the upper tier with newer artists like Jonatha Brooke and Patty Griffin and recalls the warmth and intimacy of Suzanne Vega. She pays special attention to the small details of life and the human experience gives them a universal appeal. All Of Our Names is near perfect acoustic music from an artist near and dear to XPN listeners' hearts.
Ms. Boucher's debut is a confident collection of imaginative rock songs. Her vocal style and sound defy categorization; she's got a new wave-ish Australian accent that adds richness to the crafty arrangements on songs like "Soul Back," "Another White Dash," and the perky "Life Is Short."
Our Shadows Will Remain is Arthur's most focused and melodically accessible release to date. In addition to driving rock songs, Shadows is balanced by songs like "Echo Park" and "Failed", both of which surge with acoustic beauty, and the flavorful beat-laden "Wasted." Shadows is a truly remarkable album from an underappreciated artist.
The level of musicianship on Martin's debut is beyond reproach. Her piano playing is exquisite, melodic and rhythmically engaging. The musical performances on On Your Shore are rich and powerful, the lyrics are ripe with powerful emotion and openness. Her strong & confident vocals match the elegance and strength of the album.
Jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall enters into new territory on this new album interpreting songs by Tom Waits, Chris Smither, Mose Allison, along with songs co-written with her new husband, Elvis Costello. The Costello/Krall songs shine throughout and are emotionally charged and exquisitely performed.
Eight years after her she made a bit of a stir with her beautiful album Dreamland, Ms. Peyroux returns with a collection of songs equally as good as her debut. Though born in the States, Peyroux grew up in France and as with her debut she sounds like a sultry chanteuse as much at home covering songs by W.C Handy and Hank Williams as she is with Elliot Smith and Leonard Cohen. With vocal similarities to Billie Holiday, Careless Love is a perfect framing of acoustic blues and ballads, torch songs and jazz classics that is both timeless yet very up to date.
Bluesman Keb' Mo's Keep It Simple contains his hallmark blend of smooth, organic rootsy blues and R&B. His slide guitar playing is outstanding as usual and the warm groove of songs like the title song, "Prosperity Blues," "France," and "Let Your Light Shine," result in a stylistically varied classic Keb' Mo' album.
Ben is an honest and earnest songwriter of immense talent whether doing a solo gig with an acoustic guitar, as a member of the Philly super-group 4 Way Street or leading his own highly engaging rock band. Calico is Ben's debut album for Sci-Fidelity Records, the Boulder, Colorado based record company started by the String Cheese Incident.
Van Hunt's exciting debut will transport you back into the 70's when funk, soul and R&B were real and gritty. Van Hunt has all the characteristics of a classic album in the making - regardless of the genre. It's got incredible musicianship, attitude, confidence, excellent songs and Hunt's sweet soul crooning.
51. Ani Difranco - Educated Guess
52. Air - Talkie Walkie
53. G. Love - The Hustle
54. Govt Mule - Deja Voodoo
55. Adrienne Young & Little Sadie - Plow To The End Of The Row
56. Bob Schneider - I'm Good Now
57. Phish - Undermind
58. Kasey Chambers - Wayward Angel
59. Olabelle - Olabelle
60. Various Artists - Garden State Soundtrack
61. David Berkeley - After The Wrecking Ships
62. Alanis Morissette - So Called Chaos
63. West Indian Girl - West Indian Girl
64. Beastie Boys - To The Five Bouroughs
65. Elliott Smith - From A Basement On The Hill
66. Marah - 20000 Streets Under The Stars
67. Cowboy Junkies - One Soul Now
68. Jill Sobule - Underdog Victorious
69. Marc Broussard - Carencro
70. Melissa Etheridge - Lucky
71. Snow Patrol - Final Straw
72. Zero 7 - When It Falls
73. Scissor Sisters - Scissor Sisters
74. Various Artists - Live At The World Cafe Volume 18: I'll Take You There
75. Railroad Earth - The Good Life
76. Cure - The Cure
77. Hem - Eveningland
78. Crosby/Nash - Crosby/Nash
79. Holmes Brothers - Simple Truths
80. Gomez - Split The Difference
81. Tears For Fears - Everybody Loves A Happy Ending
82. Gary Jules - Trading Snake Oil For Wolf Tickets
83. Interpol - Antics
84. David Mead - Indiana
85. Polyphonic Spree - Together Were Heavy
86. Guster - Guster On Ice Live
87. James Mcmurtry - Live In August Three
88. Bodeans - Resolution
89. Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
90. Camper Van Beethoven - New Roman Times
91. PJ Harvey - Uh Huh Her
92. Drive By Truckers - The Dirty South
93. Stereophonics - You Gotta Go There To Come Back
94. Calexico - Convict Pool
95. Amy Correa - Lakeville
96. Patti Smith - Trampin'
97. Sam Phillips - A Boot And A Shoe
98. Big Head Todd The Monsters - Crimes Of Passion
99. Badly Drawn Boy - One Plus One Equals One
100. Steve Forbert - Just Like Theres Nothing To It