The Year in Music

Our 2007 listening party with Vanilla Ice, Davy Jones, and Al Franken

The holidays are a time of family and of schmaltzy Christmas commercials that somehow make you cry. If you're a music journalist, they're also the time for making lists — lots and lots of lists.

Over the past few years, the availability of year-end critics' lists has grown faster than the worry lines on Ben Bernanke's brow. Right about now, the net and the magazine rack at your local Borders and Barnes & Noble are brimming over with a cornucopia of rankings, featuring such de rigueur albums as the Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, the National's Boxer, Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, M.I.A.'s Kala, Radiohead's In Rainbows, LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver, and Battles' Mirrored. If you want to debate the exact sequence of those albums on the best-of lists in your favorite publication or on your top website, have at it. We're going in a different direction.

In a few cities from here to Los Angeles, we asked semifamous musicians, DJs, and politicians to tell us what music they loved most this year. It could be albums, songs, or the collected works of an artist, and it need not have come out this year. We just wanted to know what was moving folks right now. The way people listen to music these days — with everything available to everyone free — probably means that waiting for an album's release date and treasuring new music are going out of fashion. John Nova Lomax, executive music editor, Village Voice Media

 

South Florida's Motley Crew

With a Monkee, two indie rockers, a Latin-soul DJ, and the Ice-Man, it's just a pity this quintet hasn't formed a band

It's been a while since Fort Lauderdale resident Davy Jones was hip (if indeed his former band the Monkees ever was), but that doesn't mean he doesn't have good ears. Jones staves off old age these days by listening to tunes that are at least new to him. "I'm mostly into music from the '60s and the '80s," he says. "I actually missed the '80s the first time around, so I'm catching up finally and listening to lots of music from that decade." Jones kindly gave us an annotated list of albums on his radar:

Sir Paul McCartney, Memory Almost Full

"I got used to it after a while. He's getting older, but I especially like the song 'Dance Tonight.' "

Kenny Chesney, Just Who I Am: Poems and Pirates

"I kept hearing so much about the album, I figured I'd go out and buy it. I like it, but I'm thinking, Country Artist of the Year?! There's more meat on Willie Shoemaker's whip than there is on Chesney's whole body."

James Blunt, All the Lost Souls

"It was a bit twee, but he's got great songs on there."

Norah Jones, Not Too Late

"My favorite artist of the year was Norah Jones by far. My grandchild was born to Norah Jones' music — that probably says a lot about me. I'm old, man. I'm at the point where, when I walk up a flight of stairs, by the time I get to the top, I forget why I went there and walk back down again."

You might think rapper/hardcore vet Vanilla Ice wouldn't know good music if it bit his ass. He's been the butt of a million jokes from his early days behind "Ice Ice Baby," but the Palm Beach County-based MC actually has eclectic tastes, especially for a one-hit wonder. Robert "Ice" Van Winkle is keeping his career afloat these days by recording with rapcore legends Insane Clown Posse and making fresh tracks in his spare time. "I've got a subculture following in the hard-core hip-hop scene," he explains. "I've got the 16- to 25-year-old market. They totally missed the 'Ice Ice Baby' stuff — and that's a good thing."

The White Stripes, Icky Thump

"They're just an amazing band. Jack White is one of the most amazing musicians in the world, ever. Just to hear him put it down, he's one of the most original artists out there right now, and this album is incredible."

Slim Thug, Serve and Collect

"He's really doing it for Houston right now. I like his whole style."

Chamillionaire, Ultimate Victory

"I really like that slow flow. Ever since [DJ Screw] started slowing everything down and screwing up the beats, I've really been into this music. Chamillionaire is just a dope rapper. I'm feeling this one."

Korn, Untitled

"They keep reinventing themselves. They've got a great live show, and just when you think their whole style is dead and gone, they find a way to stay on top of the game."

Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds

"Man, I never liked him when he was a Disney act, but he's laying it down right now. I've forgotten about all that 'NSync shit. You gotta give credit where it's due... This album is solid."

Slipknot, Collector's Box

"They're one of my favorite heavy-metal bands of all time. You gotta realize they get no radio play, no real support, and still sell millions of records without MTV. That's phenomenal. I've recorded with them before, and they're just great guys in person as well."

Rihanna, Good Girl Gone Bad

"That's a bad-ass album. She's crushing it right now. That song 'Umbrella' is sick. I don't know who wrote that song, but it's great... The whole album is good."

Young Jeezy, The Inspiration

"He's holding it down, man. He's got the Midas touch right now: All of his songs are like gold."

Jay-Z, American Gangster

"This album is just ridiculous. Everybody in the world knows that Jay-Z is the hottest rap act in the world right now. He owns hip-hop — and since Biggie and Tupac are gone, somebody's gotta own it."

Jon Wilkins has had a whirlwind year. A guitarist for South Florida indie darlings the Postmarks, he was on the road for most of '07 pushing his band's self-titled debut album. Lucky for Wilkins, his steady road work also means he finds lots of under-the-radar releases. "Most of my picks are from the various tours I've been on this year, exploring new record stores and meeting other musicians with great recommendations," he says. "The Jonny Greenwood mix for Trojan is my favorite. And I've been a big fan of Mavis Staples and all the women of soul. As for pop music, it was an amazing year, most notably the Clientele record. Touring with the Apples [in Stereo] really got me into their latest and also turned me on to Aqueduct, both incredibly great records and the nicest people you'd ever want to meet. And I can't help but put John Ralston's record on there... I really do listen to it, and it will always be special to me."

Trojan Records, Jonny Greenwood Is the Controller

Mavis Staples, We'll Never Turn Back

John Ralston, Sorry Vampire

The Clientele, God Save the Clientele

The Apples in Stereo, New Magnetic Wonder

Aqueduct, Or Give Me Death

Sondre Lerche, Phantom Punch

Jason Falkner, I'm OK, You're OK

The High Llamas, Can Cladders

Josh Rouse, Country Mouse, City House

When it came time to compile these year-end lists, the first name that came to mind was hometown indie hero Chris Carrabba. But news came back that Carrabba was on tour promoting his stellar new record The Shade of Poison Trees (with John Ralston, above) and would not be available. Bummer. Then from the heavens came an email with Carrabba's top ten albums of the year:

John Ralston, Sorry Vampire

Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Bruce Springsteen, Magic

Say Anything, In Defense of the Genre

Against Me!, New Wave

Kanye West, Graduation

Motion City Soundtrack, Even If It Kills Me

Minus The Bear, Planet of Ice

Chuck Ragan, Los Feliz

Albert Hammond Jr., Yours to Keep

Born in Montreal as Andrew Yeomanson, internationally acclaimed DJ Le Spam has become a South Florida legend by spinning rare grooves and Latin soul cookers. One of the best salsa-fusion DJs in the country, Le Spam always keeps an ear cocked for quality compilations and danceable reissues. Besides his monthly residence with the Spam Allstars at famed New York club S.O.B.'s and garnering write-ups in all the right places, from Rolling Stone to the New York Times, Le Spam was tapped by Fania, the label that once was home to Hector Lavoe and Willie Colón, to record Fania Live 02, released in November.

Various artists, Florida Funk: Funk 45s From the Alligator State

"This is a great sampling of rare, early-'70s funk 45s from around the state. It goes a little deeper than the Miami Sound compilation from Soul Jazz a few years back. All of these 45s are obscure gems."

Various artists, The Outskirts of Deep City: Eccentric Soul

"Here's another great compilation of rare soul 45s from Miami's legendary Deep City label. This is the second Deep City comp that the Numero label has put out; they do an excellent job of researching and remastering their reissues."

The Budos Band, The Budos Band II

"Great second album from this band in the Daptone stable. Daptone is recording soul, funk, and groove music the right way and has been one of my favorite labels for years. Get it on vinyl!"

Eddie Palmieri:

Azucar pa' Ti (Sugar for You)

Molasses

Recorded Live at Sing Sing With Harlem River Drive

"Here are three essential Eddie Palmieri albums reissued in the past 12 months by the Fania label, who are remastering many long-unavailable albums from their huge catalog. Live at Sing Sing is like a funky Latin version of Johnny Cash Live at Folsom Prison — crazy bottled-up energy on that recording. I know most of these are older recordings, but that's what I listen to!"

AZ ACTION FROM PHOENIX America's Idol keeps Phoenix's mercury rising

Arizona native Jordin Sparks has the distinction of being the youngest American Idol winner in the show's history. The 17-year-old, whose father, Phillippi Sparks, played for the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, says, "If you could see my iPod, it's the craziest mix of stuff ever. I like post-hardcore, country, rock, hip-hop, '80s music — I'm all over the place." Even though she spent most of her summer listening to songs from her new album, she still managed to quickly name some other stuff that's been in her heavy rotation this year:

Rihanna: "I love her song 'I Hate That I Love You,' the one she does with Ne-Yo. The first time I heard that song, I knew it was going to be a hit. I have it on repeat on my iPod. It keeps growing on me, and I never get tired of it. I like the way their voices blend together."

Chris Brown: "I haven't heard his new CD [Exclusive], but two years ago, when his first CD came out, all I wanted for Christmas and my birthday was his album. I'd love to tour with him. It would open me up to his R&B audience, and it would open him up to my pop audience. We're both somewhere in the middle."

Plain White T's: "I remember hearing 'Hey There Delilah,' and it was so simple — guitar, voice, and strings. [It shows] you don't have to make a complicated song to have a hit single."

Kanye West: "Yeah, I listen to hip-hop. I hope my mom doesn't kill me. I like Kanye West and 50 Cent, and I didn't take a side in that whole battle. But I did buy [West's] Graduation, so I guess I took a side. The album is in heavy rotation on my iPod. 'Stronger' — that song is genius."

Post-hardcore and screamo: I like Silverstein and a local band called Greeley Estates that's doing really well. My favorite is a band called Dizmas. They're really good, and I love their music. They came and performed at my church, and it was really funny, because people were like, 'Are they screaming?' But I like post-hardcore because it's really cool for when you're angry. Anybody who can scream like that and not blow their voice out is amazing. It takes a lot of skill and practice to be able to do that. I can't do it."

Alicia Keys: "I haven't heard all of her new album [As I Am] yet, but I like her new single ("No One"). Alicia Keys just amazes me. She plays piano like no other, she's got a great voice, and she writes her own songs."

LA CONFIDENTIAL From the other coast: Los Angeles

Looks like Dave Navarro is going to be all about instant gratification next year. The L.A.-born and -bred guitarist, who launched his own internet TV show and directed his first porno in 2007, has been inspired by the immediacy of the web and the quick turnaround of the adult film industry. "These things come out during that burst of inspiration, whereas with records, by the time you're talking about it, it's something you created long ago," he explains. "That's one of the things I'm looking forward to with future music projects. I'm just going to immediately put out stuff online as I record it, song by song." This eccentric rocker has battled his share of addictions over the years. Here are his musical addictions of 2007:

Gravenhurst, The Western Lands

"I discovered them watching The Unit, the TV show about an undercover military group. During the end credits on one of the episodes, I heard this song called 'Black Holes in the Sand.' It just struck me. I'm never one to search something online that I happened to hear on a television program, but it just really hit me hard. They're pretty mind-blowing — my favorite band right now. Instant melancholy. I have to be careful what time of day I put them on because I could easily find myself in a suicidal state, which is actually saying quite a lot if a band can evoke that much emotion."

kHz, Reality on a Finer Scale

"I played on a track from their next album. They're a metal band from New York with an amazing lead singer named Raiana. She's got this beautiful, operatic voice that goes on top of this real hardcore metal. Just a really nice juxtaposition. A lot of females in the metal world try to emulate the singing chops of men. She remains feminine, and the combination is really sexy."

The Start, Ciao, Baby

"A great band. Love Aimee Echo's vocal abilities."

Mickey Avalon

"Don't believe he's put anything out this year, but I think he's just an incredible genius. His personality really comes through in his vocals. The music is very simplistic, and there's something to be said for that. It's all about highlighting the personality, and he does that really well."

The Procussions and Mr. J.

"Kind of a hip-hop thing. Real emotional. Stripped-down and positive lyrical content. These guys came on my show with a microphone and a drum set and pretty much blew everybody away."

Datarock, Datarock

"Fun. Kind of reminds me of Love and Rockets with the sax and the hokey guitar stuff."

Daniel Johnston

"He's a bipolar schizophrenic who's a really brilliant songwriter. Heavily influenced bands like Nirvana and Sonic Youth. I would highly recommend looking into this guy and the documentary about him."

FFROM THE COLD HEART: MINNEAPOLISThe Music that moved Al Franken in 2007

Former Saturday Night Live cast member, screenwriter, and New York Times best-selling author Al Franken is living in Minneapolis and campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Here's what he had to say about the music that's been making him move lately:

"First of all, I have to make a confession. My favorite music of 2007 bears a striking resemblance to my favorite music of 1975. Also to my favorite music of 1976, 1977, 1978, etc., etc.

"See, I'm a Deadhead — as anyone who listened to my radio show knows; I used the Grateful Dead as my bumper music going in and out of breaks. And there's a real community of Deadheads out there. At an event the other day, a guy handed me a new remix of Cornell '78.

"That said, I do allow a few new influences into my musical consciousness every once in a while. So here's my list of five non-Grateful Dead things I've been listening to in 2007":

Trampled by Turtles

"I'm a big bluegrass fan. I got turned on to this band by Tom Saxhaug, the state senator from Grand Rapids, Minnesota. I thought it was a little suspicious that he spent most of our first meeting telling me how great their new album was — and wouldn't you know it, his son turns out to be the bass player. But the album really is great."

Fountains of Wayne

"Specifically, their song 'Better Things,' which is a cover of a Kinks tune. I think it's going to be our campaign song because of its message, which is that better things are up ahead."

The Grateful Volunteers

"OK, this is kind of a cheat. The Grateful Volunteers are a Dead cover band composed of some great Dead followers who are kind enough to play at some of our events and even kinder enough to let me sing once in a while. Specifically 'Brokedown Palace.' "

Call Time: The Musical

"This warrants some explanation. As you know, running for Senate requires that I raise a great deal of money... So I spend hours and hours a week calling people to ask for support. To keep myself from going crazy, I've been entertaining myself by composing and singing hundreds — no, thousands — of songs for a musical titled Call Time: The Musical. Some songs are only 15 seconds long, such as 'I Left a Message and I Hope They Call Me Back.' Or 'I Don't Think That Was His Office Number (I Think That's His Home).' Most of the songs have original music, but some simply use existing tunes, such as 'Pick Up the Phone, Arlen Lundahl' to the tune of 'Don't Cry for Me, Argentina' from Evita.

"I should probably have just put 'Springsteen' for this, huh? (I really like his new album.)"

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