1. I’m Not There – Original Soundtrack
What a marvel: a two-disc marathon of Bob Dylan songs covered by excellent artists, and almost every single attempt is a knockout. There have been a lot of bad covers of Dylan songs. Too many. But in a year when Dylan was everywhere — on the big screen, on the radio, and all over Bryan Ferry’s latest record — the soundtrack to Todd Hayne’s inspired new film I’m Not There turns out to be a celebration of Dylan that stands above any other tribute to a songwriter that this longtime Dylan fan has ever heard. It’s a thrilling memorial concert, but fortunately Dylan is still here to experience it. (And he’s in such fine form, he may have his best work still ahead of him.)
All Music Guide review

2. Over the Rhine – The Trumpet Child
Call me part of the “Over the Rhine cult” if you must, but honestly, there are seven songs on this album that I think belong on any “Best of Over the Rhine” collection. The others are like good b-side tracks. The album’s about fifteen minutes too short, but when it burns, it burns brightly and brilliantly. Karin’s voice is as strong, or stronger, than ever. It’s an inspired new direction, this not-so-surprising move down timeworn paths of classic American songwriting. Playful flirtations like “Trouble” and “Let’s Spend the Day in Bed,” the New Orleans-sensuality of “I Don’t Want to Waste Your Time,” and the Tom Waits carnival “Don’t Wait for Tom” all prove to be combustible new sounds for this dynamic duo. And the title track is absolutely glorious. Maybe I’ve lost my objectivity, having interviewed them so many times now, and become a faithful OTR concertgoer. But no… when I watch the audience, and listen to the zeal of fans old and new, I know I’m not blinded by love. This band is still one of the greatest shows on earth. I’d say more, but I’ve already published two or three reviews of this album so… enough already!
All Music Guide review

3. The Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
A fiery, fantastic follow-up to Arcade Fire’s breakthrough album Funeral shows that the hype was worth it. If anything, they’ve improved on that first record with even greater intensity.

These songs can stand alone, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Neon Bible coheres into a vivid, troubling picture of religion polluted by individualism, the competition of capitalism, and destructive nature of nationalism. (Hey, those are the themes of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood too!) As the end of the world draws near, they offer invitations to escape into new frontiers: “Keep the Car Running” and “No Cars Go” are anthems that burn with the fever of the best U2 rockers. “Windowsill” is a lament for America’s last days, as the tide of trouble rises. In “Intervention,” we meet a zealous churchman who is so busy following God’s call that he doesn’t see his own family’s desperate needs. “Antichrist Television Blues” turns the most unexpected character into an alarming icon: The father of Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, praying for God’s blessing and his daughters’ superstar success. Few albums have prophesied the apocalypse in such a perfect fusion of lyric and sound. They sing with the fervor of prophets, and better than most pop-culture doomsayers, it’s clear they’ve actually read a few pages from the Good Book.
All Music Guide review

4. Joe Henry – Civilians
Joe Henry turns in his best volume of poetry yet, the most beautiful lyrics written this year. “You Can’t Fail Me Now” is a poignant prayer that promises God’s mercy is “just a warning shot across the bow.” It’s a great album for the intellect, and Henry’s jazzy combo makes it very easy on the ears.

And yet, there’s this nagging little voice telling me how the album might have gone from “great” to “awe-inspiring.” If these songs were designs, I’d ask for more “white space.” Henry’s lyrics are gorgeous, but he doesn’t give them much room to breathe. I wish these sensational musicians had been allowed to contribute more.
All Music Guide review

5. Radiohead – In Rainbows
I’ve come to expect that Radiohead will take me into wild new frontiers of sound and imagination. This time they just wrote a bunch more great Radiohead songs. But hey, they’re great songs, each one like a strange dream you’d like to have night after night. And Thom Yorke’s solo work must have paid off, because his vocals have never been better. The album seems to be about the compromises we make in relationship, the lies we entertain, and the ways we let each other down. It opens with a song about abandonment (“first you reel me out, then yout cut the string”), and closes with Yorke singing about one thread that holds him fast (“You are my center / When I spin away / Out of control on videotape…”) But the famously dark and dismaying Radiohead nightmares dominate even the pretty songs: “All I Need” is a subversive song of obsession that reminds me of two Police songs: “Every Breath You Take” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. And “House of Cards” is painfully vivid in the singer’s appeal for an empty sexual affair that has nothing to do with love. All of these songs about ruinious relationship conclude with a mournful vision about the indelible marks made by every indiscretion, and how none of our sins go unnoticed. He’s clearly longing for some kind of grace, but he’s haunted by the memories of sins that might reach up and grab him while he stands at the pearly gates.
All Music Guide review

6. PJ Harvey – White Chalk
The year’s most memorable nightmare. It’s another masterpiece from Harvey — the piano-record equivalent of her guitar-rock debut Dry — and one of the spookiest, darkest, most unsettling albums I’ve ever heard. But it’s full of references to mythology and scripture that make it a work of literary substance worth studying.

I must say, thought, that this album really worries me. I can’t tell if Harvey is crying for help, or if she is creating chracters who cry for help. I have a sinking feeling that it’s both. The language and the music take us through the looking glass into a world of mythic imagery, turning an abortion scene “When Under Ether” into a metaphor for the evils that men do in the name of “human kindness.” All along the way, the characters are singing about a world in which they’ve been unloved, abused, and rejected, and they open themselves to darkness out of desperation, because love is nowhere to be found. It’s a fascinating look into broken hearts that might make even Tim Burton have nightmares.
All Music Guide review

7. Mary Gauthier – Between Daylight and Dark
Working with producer Joe Henry (this year’s superstar) and the same brilliant band that played through Henry’s own record, Gauthier’s made a much more musically engaging record than Henry did, and she effortlessly delivers a range of blues, folk, and rock with confidence and authority. She plays a variety of characters here, and I’m impressed with her vocals too. She’s a new artist for me, and she’s got my attention from now on.
All Music Guide review

8. Loudon Wainwright III – Strange Weirdos: Music From and Inspired by the Film Knocked Up
Yet another record from the Joe Henry gang. While Henry’s is contemplative, and Gauthier’s is dark and dirty, Wainwright’s songs are pure joy. This is the happiest, most uplifting record I’ve heard this year.
All Music Guide review

9. Raising Sand – Robert Plant and Allison Krauss
What an inspired collaboration. Their voices go together beautifully, the songs are perfectly fitted to their strengths, and the lyrics take us on a colorful, thoughtful journey.
All Music Guide review

10. Bettye LaVette (with Drive-by Truckers) – The Scene of the Crime
Whoever thought up this collaboration should be given some kind of medal. LaVette’s album is so much better than her breakthrough covers collection from two years ago, and that itself is hard to believe. But her voice is a national treasure, and this time she’s singing about her own story, with a band that gives her the perfect setting for her rage, blues, passion, and glory.
All Music Guide review

If I Could Have Ten More Albums in the Top Ten, I’d Also Include These Amazing Records: (listed in no particular order)

Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
It may not be as imaginative as his last record, but Bird’s Apocrypha feels more cohesive and substantial, somehow managing to be solemn and whimsical at the same time.
All Music Guide review

• Maria McKee – Late December
McKee’s best solo album since Life is Sweet, proving that she’s still an artist with vision and the capacity to surprise us with new ideas and sounds. It’s the kind of record that is so good, it makes you think that the performer’s best work may still be ahead of them. That’s a good feeling to have.
All Music Guide Review

• St. Vincent – Marry Me
The year’s most promising debut, St. Vincent outdoes My Brightest Diamond to become the most engaging solo act from Sufjan Stevens’ backing vocalists.
All Music Guide review

• Feist – The Reminder
As good or better than Let It Die, Feist expands her range impressively. This album evokes all kinds of emotions, and contains some of the most playful, delightful tracks I heard this year.
All Music Guide review

• Elliott Smith – New Moon
A heartbreaking double album of tracks that never made to Smith’s albums. Smith died at the peak of his songwriting powers, that much is clear. These songs are raw not just in their unplugged, homemade quality, but in the intensity of the emotion within the lyrics. Full of anger, sadness, bitterness, regret, loneliness, and longing, New Moon it’s a tough but brilliant piece collection that stands with Smith’s best work, revealing that he may have been at his very best when he wasn’t cloaked in hype and higher production.
All Music Guide review

• The White Stripes – Icky Thump
Just as good as last year’s Get Behind Me Satan. Maybe better. The guitars are as reckless and enthusiatic as we’ve come to expect, and the lyrics range from the playful to the profound. The title track may be the most irresistible riff of their whole catalog, and “You Don’t Know What Love Is” deserves to be covered by other great songwriters who understand the substance within the style. Listening to these lyrics, it’s not hard for me to believe that this man almost went into the ministry.

• Patty Griffin – Children Running Through
Well, she probably couldn’t follow a masterpiece like Impossible Dream with anything quite as good. And this album doesn’t cohere as beautifully as that one. But there are a number of fantastic songs, and her inner rock star really starts to break through on this album. The concert was great too.
All Music Guide review

• Rikkie Lee Jones – The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard
A strange, fascinating, personal work. Beautifully recorded, raw, full of rough edges, and burning with the glow of spontaneous inspiration, it’s going to frustrate as many people as it impresses. Me, I’m really impressed.
All Music Guide review

• Menomena – Friend And Foe / Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Two of the most creative rock records of the decade, by bands bursting with talent, vision, and guts. I won’t be surprised if both of them become Top Ten mainstays in the coming years.
All Music Guide Review (Menomena)
All Music Guide review (Of Montreal)

• Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

A great band, exploring new territory, playing together beautifully, and sounding like they don’t have anything to prove anymore. They’re just loving the music and the mystery. They’ve survived. That’s good enough for now.

Best Album for Scratching the Rock and Roll Itch:

• Arctic Monkeys – Favorite Worst Nightmare
Rock and roll!!!

Album That Would Be In The Top Ten If It Hadn’t Been Overproduced:

• Iron and Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
I don’t like reviewing an album by expressing nostalgia for an artist’s earlier work. But on this record, I’m afraid I agree with Josh Hurst. There may be a great Iron and Wine album in here. And maybe someday I’ll find it. But the densely layered sounds of this record tend to crowd out what I really love about Sam Beam’s work… the haunting melodies and the wild, literary poetry. The songwriting is as mysterious, troubling, and hypnotic as anything Beam’s written before… and I’d say even darker than his previous work. I’m as intrigued as ever, and there are some tracks here that rate among Iron and Wine’s best. But I think The Shepherd’s Dog shows a little too much enthusiasm for interlaced tracks and experimentation. The leap from a sound that recalls Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” to a sound that recalls Radiohead’s “OK Computer” is, well, quite a leap. And I’m sorry to say it, but after listening to The Shepherd’s Dog about once a week for the past few months, it’s still the songs from Our Endless Numbered Days that are following me around and whispering in my ear.

The 360 Award (an album that completely changed my mind with on a second or third listen):

• LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
I don’t listen to dance-music. But there’s intriguing substance in the beat-driven pop of James Murphy. The music didn’t grab my attention. But the live show did. I saw LCD open for Arcade Fire, and by two songs in, I finally “got it.” I went back to the album, and after a few more listens, I was convinced — yes, there *is* something to the hype. “North American Scum” and “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down” and “All My Friends” deserve attention for their clever, impassioned lyrics alone, and it’s just uncanny that they’re found on an album that will primarily be celebrated for its dance music. This *is* a great record. It just took me a while to learn its unique language. Now, if you see me driving through the Seattle rain in my Corrolla, and I’m banging my head and singing, and the bass is thumping through the car, you can bet that this is what’s on.

The Young Genius Award

• Devon Sproule – Keep Your Silver Shined
All I can say is watch out for this 24-year-old!
All Music Guide review

Best Album For Singing Along in the Car:

• Once – Original Soundtrack
I wondered if I would still love these songs outside the context of the fantastic movie that introduced them. Guess what. I do.

The “Most Improved” Award

• Cowboy Junkies – At the End of Paths Taken
I wouldn’t have expected the Junkies to make another great album at this point. This one knocked my socks off. The guitars are enthralling. Margot sounds great. And the songs weave together with threads about family, longing, and the search for meaning in a maddening world. It’s the best thing they’ve done since The Trinity Sessions.

Favorite Instrumental Rock Record:

• Do Make Say Think – You, You’re a History in the Rust
All Music Guide review

Favorite Live Album: (tie)

• Michelle Shocked – ToHeavenURide
• Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – The Abattoir Blues Tour 2004

All Music Guide review (Shocked)
All Music Guide review (Cave)
They’re both great gospel concerts. It’s just that one is uplifting and inspiring, and the other one rumbles with the sounds of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Best 2006 Music I Discovered In 2007:

• Under Byen – Samme Stof Som Stof
Entrancing. Bjork meets Sigur Ros meets Radiohead meets the rhythm section of Tom Waits’ Bone Machine. I might have to rearrange last year’s top ten list and make room near the top of the list.
All Music Guide review

Most Bang for Your Buck:

They Might Be Giants – The Else

It’s the best Giants record since John Henry, and it comes with a bonus disc of songs recorded for their podcasts… which turns out to be a throwback to those early, spontaneous, consistently surprising Giants albums.

Album I admire, but I haven’t quite “caught the fever” for:

• M.I.A – Kala

• Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

Another List of Fifteen Albums I Greatly Enjoyed:

• The National – Boxer
• Suzanne Vega – Beauty & Crime
• Daniel Lanois – Here Is What Is
• The Ragbirds – Wanderlove
• The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse
• Future Clouds and Radar – Future Clouds and Radar
• Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter – Like, Love, Lust & The Open Halls Of The Soul
• The Innocence Mission – We Walked in Song
• Low – Drums and Guns
• R.E.M. – R.E.M. Live
• Kate Tucker & The Sons Of Sweden – Kate Tucker & The Sons Of Sweden
• Grinderman – Grinderman
• Blonde Redhead – 23
• The Shins – Wincing The Night Away
• Okkervil River – The Stage Names
• Bruce Springsteen – Magic
• Miranda Lambert – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

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