Best CDs of 2005 revisit the past: Many top CDs took years to materialize

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I am obsessed by the music of the '60s and '70s, and the selections I have made for the top CDs of 2005 will come as no surprise either. The common theme running through my top five choices this year is...

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I am obsessed by the music of the '60s and '70s, and the selections I have made for the top CDs of 2005 will come as no surprise either. The common theme running through my top five choices this year is that many of them took decades to materialize, but they were all well worth the wait.

Al Kooper

My favorite CD of 2005 is Al Kooper's first album in 29 years, Black Coffee, which is dedicated to Kooper's love of the 1960s rhythm and blues. Black Coffee comes closest to Kooper's finest work: the 1968 debut album by Blood, Sweat and Tears, Child is the Father to the Man. As he did on the Blood, Sweat and Tears album, Kooper again uses his background as a producer to create an eclectic song collection from the R&B of "Get Over You" to the roots blues of "Am I Wrong" to the classic organ showcase "Green Onions."

Kooper's wide range of chameleon-like vocals makes every song sound as if they were each recorded by a different singer, going from his growling moan on "How My Ever Gonna Get Over You" to a Smokey Robinson-style falsetto on "Imaginary Lover." Black Coffee also showcases Kooper's ability to play nearly any instrument, with five of the 14 songs performed by Kooper as the entire band. One of Kooper's standout performances is the blues guitar solo on "Keep It To Yourself," which is reminiscent of his associate, guitar great Mike Bloomfield.

On the remaining numbers Kooper is accompanied by his outstanding, heavy-on-the-horns blues band, The Funky Faculty. From the Rolling Stones-sounding-opener "My Hands Are Tied" to The Band-like "I Want You To Tell Me the Truth," this album is a wondrous assemblage of blues, jazz and rock.


Bob Dylan

The question asked by many Bob Dylan fans concerning No Direction Home, the seventh volume in the Dylan Bootleg Series, is what took them so long to release these amazing versions of Dylan's earliest work? Disc one of this chronological collection of Dylan masterpieces showcases rare live and alternate versions of acoustic work, including his most important anthems "Blowin' In The Wind," "Chimes of Freedom" and "Masters of War."

Disc two is this collection's real gem, featuring alternate versions of Dylan's mid-'60s electric rock classics. Since the majority of Dylan's studio work is done live, with no over-dubs, these songs are as vibrant as the recordings used on the original albums. Many of these include sterling alternate guitar solos by blues genius Mike Bloomfield.

Besides being a collection of some of Dylan's finest work, the two-CD package also includes a 58-page booklet featuring amazing, never-before-released photos, essays of Dylan's work and track-by-track analysis of the songs. I am thankful that these alternate treasures finally surfaced, even if it did take four decades.

Louis XIV

The Best Little Secrets Are Kept by the San Diego-band Louis XIV caught my attention when my 14-year-old daughter bought the CD, and I felt it was my parental duty to check out the "Explicit Content Advisory" label on the cover. True, the lyrics are risqué, but to my surprise most of the sex innuendo is pure, straightforward, trashy rock and roll of the classic kind.

Lyrics like "Milkshake, milkshake/I love to see you sweat" are sleazy the way rock and roll should be. This type of lyric seems gigglingly harmless; I become much more alarmed by music that contains graphic violence -- that to me is truly obscene.

Throughout this recording, Louis XIV pays homage to T-Rex and David Bowie's 1970s glam rock, borrowing their pounding rhythms, irresistible hooks and even their British accents. The two psychedelic numbers that Louis XIV ends the disc with -- which are somewhat uncharacteristic of the rest of the CD's songs yet tied to their '70s sound -- make me feel that this band has even more to offer us in the future. Louis XIV is a wild, fun, naughty new rock band that is boldly continuing the 1970s sound into the 21st century.


John Prine

After a nine-year gap between recordings, John Prine put out Fair and Square, his first collection of original songs in 2005. Prine clearly has not lost his flare nor his trademark pithy phrase and sly commentary in his country-flavored music. On the song "Taking a Walk," he sings "She looked me in the face/like she never did before/I felt about as welcome as a Wal-Mart Superstore."

Never afraid of a controversial lyric, Prine uses his straightforward wit on "Some People Ain't Human" to jab at President Bush saying, "Or if you're feeling your freedom and the world is off your back/some cowboy from Texas starts his own war in Iraq." Prine's voice, recovering from throat cancer, has lost a bit of its strength but his ever-present cleverness with a lyric and captivating tune makes his music as vigorous as ever.

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney's 2005 release Chaos and Creation in the Backyard is the former Beatle's finest all-solo album ever. Playing nearly all the instruments on this album showcases not only his ever-growing mastery of the acoustic guitar but his multi-instrumental virtuosity.

For this CD McCartney has tapped directly into the Beatle genius to construct a career masterpiece. McCartney's use of minor keys on many of the songs transforms them to a new level of almost eerie atmospherics.

Each song on this album represents pure McCartney acuity. Sir Paul has never sounded better, never written better, never played better. This album is sincerely a masterwork from one of the biggest talents in pop music. To name my favorite songs I would have to list all 13 entries because they are each sublime. A magnificent album like Chaos and Creation makes it abundantly clear why an artist like McCartney, who seemed to have already triumphed in all he could musically, continues to create into his 60s.

Honorable mention


Five other standout CDs from 2005 that also deserve mentioning as music worth searching out include the following:

n Bruce Springsteen's Devils and Dust is an acoustic collection of spare and dark story-songs about real people from one of America's truly great writers.

Cream Live at Royal Albert Hall: London is the impressive live reunion of the '60s powerhouse trio of Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton following a 37-year absence. It includes some of Clapton's finest electric guitar work in decades.

White Stripes Get Behind Me Satan is the group's fifth release of raw, basic, no-frills, blues-based rock and roll from the minimalist duo of Jack and Meg White, who expand their sound with the inclusion of a pounding piano and marimba.

The Rolling Stones live up to their reputation as the world's greatest rock and roll band on A Bigger Bang, churning out more hooks and energy than most rock bands whose members weren't even born when the Stones started up. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards write a rock and roll classic, ranging from house-rockers to delta blues, which is their strongest in more than 20 years.

Alternative pop/rock pianist Ben Folds assembles his sweetest sounding disc with Songs For Silverman, a group of piano-laden tunes that range from tributes to his daughter "Gracie" and fellow musician the late Elliot Smith to his disapproving view of the red states on "Jesusland," which features superb Beach Boy-esque harmonies.

I marvel at how much rock music continues to fascinate and surprise me with interesting new artists, rare unreleased recordings finally emerging and classic artists continuing to generate energetic music into their 60s.

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