What we LOVED this year: National music releases

These 10 national albums are well worth buying, listed alphabetically by artist.

Here’s a scary number on musical trends that was turned up by the Edison Research survey: Combined CD and digital download album purchases have dropped more than 50 percent since 2000 — from 785 million to 380 million.

Meanwhile, Billboard recently launched the Social 50 chart for music moving around – unpurchased – via social media. These 10 national albums are well worth buying, listed alphabetically by artist.

“Suburbs” by The Arcade Fire For ambition, unity and sonic strength, this pop extravaganza topped everything this year except possibly Cee-Lo Green; but he’s in a category by himself this year. This Montreal musical mob reached in all directions, and their aim was true. It’s rock for the cathedral, or the quiet soul.

“The List” by Rosanne Cash These may be can’t-miss country classics — her late father Johnny suggested them, after all — but Cash sings them with either bottomless heartbreak or the hard-won optimism that, apart from prodigies, comes only with experience. This stuff is beyond beautiful and masterly.

“Street Songs of Love” by Alejandro Escovedo The great Texas singer-songwriter’s deepest and most satisfying album in years, recorded with his band The Sensitive Boys. He introduced these songs at the Narrows in Fall River, the Calvin in Northampton and at The Egg — the last of those was one of the year’s best shows — and these recordings stand up to them.

“The Lady Killer” by Cee-Lo Green Everything about it is big and brash, from the singer’s bold, foghorn pipes to the enormous musical forces mustered into graceful shape by his huge, complex arrangements. Forget the viral/obscene hit “**** You” — there’s so much more here that’s deeply wow-worthy.

“Interpretations: the British Rock Songbook” by Bettye LaVette Who knew these British Invasion songs were just waiting for a 60-year-old black woman from Detroit? Her “Love Reign O’er Me” made Pete Townsend (who wrote it) cry at the Kennedy Center Honors. That’s here; along with other classics to bring tears or smiles.

“The Archandroid” by Janelle Monae She makes soul music for some future century — even without the sci-fi/orchestral themes — but it’s firmly grounded in James Brown, Sly Stone and Nona Hendryx. Even its slightest song, “Tightrope” — a soundtrack for her feet to go all electric on YouTube — has a hook that grabs and holds.

“High Violet” by The National Sweet, sweet melancholy. On their most accomplished (fifth) album, these acoustic rockers transmute sadness into something genuinely uplifting through the power of simplicity and sincerity. Call it beauty, and acceptance. They reach for wisdom and often get there.

“Band of Joy” by Robert Plant For his second Nashville album — “Raising Sand” was his first, with Allison Kraus — Plant picked a handful of Music City regulars, turned them into a band, and, as usual, sang his butt off. The flavor is rural but not necessarily relaxed, varied but not nervous: Masters at play, in other words.

“Silver Pony” by Cassandra Wilson No, singing the phonebook wouldn’t prove how great she is: Choosing songs is a major strength of her art. This collection spans Stevie Wonder to the Beatles to Luis Bonfa to bluesman Charlie Patton — without a false note, and without ever sounding like anyone else either.

“Midnight Souvenirs” by Peter Wolf There’s no shame that Wolf’s is the weaker voice on the duets here. He sings with Neko Case, Merle Haggard, and Shelby Lynne, and you can hear their respect. But few artists matched his force or fervor in a pure, straight-on rock record this year, either – except Escovedo.

Honorable mention

—  “Infinite Sums” by Band of Horses. Wow, amazing vocals, classic-rock influences on their sleeves, hope in their young hearts.

—  “Here Lies Love” by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim. An art-rock/hip-hop song-cycle about Imelda Marcos, performed with a kaleidoscopic all-star cast: why not?

—  “Wake Up” by John Legend and The Roots. The Roots loosened up Legend; Legend gave The Roots a sharp focus; and both love the idealism of ’60s soul.

—  “Tin Can Trust” by Los Lobos. One of our most consistent and consistently inspired and inspiring bands, once again telling us street-level truths, writ large.

—  “Tears, Lies and Alibis” by Shelby Lynne. Her own label and production, nobody telling her what to do: feisty country-rock nirvana.

Categories: Life & Arts

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