Musical Chairs

Posted on January 22, 2009 – 3:07 PM | by OldManFoster
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SteveSteve Martarano currently works as a senior information and education specialist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Sacramento. A former reporter at the now defunct-Sacramento Union newspaper, Steve reviewed concerts for the Union in the mid-1980s, and considers the long gone Cal Expo Amphitheater as the best musical venue in Sacramento’s history. He and his wife, Sharon, have lived in the Curtis Park neighborhood of Sacramento for 25 years.

A Tough Task: Picking the Best Albums of 2008
Steve Martarano
For almost a decade, I’ve compiled a two-disc Best-of-the-year CD set given out to friends, family and co-workers, listing my top 45 or so songs of the year (check out my complete list at http://stevebestof.blogspot.com/). Putting it together is a lot of fun, and single songs, not albums, are the way we gobble up music these days. I’m as guilty as the next guy by frequently downloading only the songs I want, playing albums that I do buy using random shuffle, and generally throwing the format I grew up on by the wayside, as the digital revolution has taken over how most of us listen to music.
Yet, albums have survived and they continue to be the way the music biz operates, for good and bad. I still buy a lot of albums – maybe not a hard, jewel case version anymore – but the LP format is still how I categorize and remember an artist’s body of work.
Picking best of lists is a tricky business, and I make no excuses for what’s here. These are the albums that I listened to the most this year because they stood out, often times for reasons only I really understand. But that’s the way it works. I had to laugh when I recently saw the top 50 albums lists for two magazines I subscribe to, Rolling Stone and Paste. Paste had listed the album by She & Him, consisting of actress consisting of actress Zooey Deschanel and songwriter M.Ward, as its Album of the Year; Rolling Stone didn’t even have it in its top 50 . . . That said, here are my top eight (there are eight for no particular reason) albums of the year and how, ultimately I will remember 2008:

Hatfield1. Juliana Hatfield — How to Walk Away: You may remember Hatfield from her early-90s indie work as a solo artist and with the Blake Babies, or by the song “Spin the Bottle” featured in the movie Reality Bites. Her career never took off the way many envisioned, and she battled the typical rock star demons – mainly depression and creative burnout. But in 2008 she reemerged, with an intense autobiography, When I Grow Up, and a pleasingly crafted album. I found both the book and album fascinating, and both should be read/listened to simultaneously. Key tracks: “Law of Nature,” and “This Lonely Love.”

2. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges: This Tennessee-based group is hard to define, and has emerged as one of the best live acts around, based on its southern rock guitar power and the incredible pipes of lead singer Jim James. Any release by MMJ is worth noting, and Evil Urges is the band’s most sonic and experimental, and ultimately layered, piece of work. James never wastes an opportunity to show off his vocal range, thankfully. Key tracks: “Librarian,” and “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Part 1.”

3. Coldplay – Viva la Vida: Not wanting to rely on the same old formula, despite ungodly success from the first three studio albums, Coldplay utilized famed producer Brian Eno to tighten things up. The result was yet another mega-hit, and then for good measure, the band released the EP Prospek’s March at the end of the year, featuring a few remixes from Viva and a few new tunes. Key tracks: “Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love” and “Viva la Vida.”

once4. Glen Hansard & Marketa IrglovaOnce Soundtrack: While the movie Once came out in 2007, the duo (now romantic partners as well) from the low-budget Irish film, really hit paydirt in 2008, as the endearing “Falling Slowly” came out of nowhere to win the Oscar for Best Song at last February’s Academy Awards ceremony. The tunes are simple, well-written and guaranteed to stick with you for a while; Hansard and Irglova’s chemistry can’t be denied. And oh yeah, definitely check out the movie. Key tracks: “Falling Slowly,” and “When Your Mind’s Made Up.”

5. Carolina Liar – Coming to Terms: If poppy, southern-flavored rock has a new champion, it could be through Carolina Liar’s debut album. A good hook will reel me in every time, and these guys know hooks. I caught them on the same bill last summer with OneRepublic at the Empire Club in Sacramento, one of the best shows I saw all year. Key tracks: “Better Alone,” and “I’m Not Over.”

Blind Pilot6. Blind Pilot – Three Rounds and a Sound: When a mellow, indie album was a favorite of critics in 2008, most seemed to prefer the offerings of Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver. I liked both of those albums, but enjoyed Seattle’s Blind Pilot’s debut more. The songs form a stream of consciousness that is highly listenable. Key tracks: “Go on, Say it” and “The Story I Heard.”

7. Everest – Ghost Notes: This was a true album, with no notable “singles” that went anywhere. But the strength in this debut album is with the sonic and sometimes experimental body of work introduced by this Los Angeles-based band known prior because of the great acts they’ve opened for – currently Neil Young.  Sacramento bonus trivia: These guys played the massive Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco last August on a Friday night, then the tiny Old Ironsides bar in downtown Sacramento the following Sunday. Anybody catch it? Key tracks: “I Can See it in Your Eyes,” and “Rebels in the Roses.”Everest

 8. Aimee Mann — @#%&*! Smilers: A strange title that alludes to chaos, but this was probably the most straightforward mix of keenly crafted ballads and lyrics of her lengthy career. Every song sparkles. Key tracks: “Columbus Ave.” and “Thirty-one Today.”

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