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For those seeking a musical stocking stuffer, here’s a dozen of the staff reviewers’ favorites for 2000.
“La Peste” (Sony) – A3
Sure, the title’s ripped from Camus, but “La Peste” the album is an original, genre-warping thing of beauty. For the sounds of gospel, grinding beats, hellfire and house music conspiring to make a noise darker than the plague, just step through the saloon doors. (By Adam Corrigan)
“Parachutes” (EMI) – Coldplay
In the race for “slightly mopey guitar album” of the year, Witness, for me, very nearly had it sewn up with “Before the Calm.” Then came Coldplay with “Parachutes,” which surprised mostly by actually living up to the huge hype surrounding it. An intense, wonderful album. (A.C.)
“Music” (Maverick/Warner Bros.) – Madonna
On her new release, Madonna further explores the studio craft first used on her gazillion-selling 1998 album “Ray of Light.” This time out, she collaborates with the French producer-performer Mirwais Ahmadzai.
The result is less layered, less introspective and much more exuberant than “Ray of Light.” The duo takes Madonna’s voice and puts it through everything today’s computerized studio can throw at it. Most times it works.
Ms. Ciccone’s willingness to embrace the up-and-coming has enabled her to stay ahead of the curve in popular music, while many of her peers from the ’80s and ’90s have faded, becoming fixtures of classic radio. “Music,” her 14th studio album, shows a woman confident enough in her abilities to take risks, and most have paid off abundantly for her. (By Dale McGarrigle)
“The Innocent Years” (Mercury) – Kathy Mattea
The veteran country singer comes out at a time of tribulation – dealing with her father’s cancer – with an album that’s wise and insightful and more than a little wistful.
Mattea tackles the big issues on “The Innocent Years,” including love, religion, family, aging and death. The singer, who turned 40 during the recording of the album, is using her life experiences to approach subjects that Nashville’s pretty flavors of the mouth can’t tackle, and she triumphs by doing so.
It’s hard to say if country radio and fans will reward the West Virginia native for her daring on “The Innocent Years.” But on the album, Mattea seems to be beyond such petty concerns as one release’s hit potential. (D.M.)
“Faith and Courage” (Atlantic) – Sinead O’Connor
On her first full-length album since 1994, O’Connor continues to explore her spirituality. She’s long been the poster child for Roman-Catholic angst, but on this release, she praises the Rastafarians.
“Faith and Courage” is a deeply personal album, as O’Connor, who co-wrote 10 of the release’s 13 songs, seeks to make sense of both heaven and earth. The Irish singer shines through, showing off all her facets to good effect on her Atlantic debut. There’s nothing overly fancy or bizarre, which is a good thing in this case.
O’Connor will never be described as mellow. But she’s less angry and more at peace with herself on “Faith and Courage,” and the result is a very listenable, thought-provoking album. (D.M.)
“See What You Do” (InSpirit Records) – Jenny Paquette
This second release by the Saco country singer sounds like it’s come out of the star-making machinery in Nashville. A year of regularly opening for big-name performers and the strong musical support of her North Country Band finds Paquette even more polished and confident than on her 1999 ear-catching debut, “Time Will Tell.”
The album, which is country with a liberal dose of pop, showcases the 24-year-old’s versatility. Paquette and her follow producers have done an admirable job compiling a wide range of tunes.
Paquette has already been taking annual trips to Nashville, seeking to stir up industry interest. If she keeps releasing albums like “See What You Do,” it won’t be long before Paquette is ensconced in Music City. (D.M.)
“Binaural” (Epic) – Pearl Jam
Whenever I hear Pearl Jam on the radio (about 1/50th as often as I hear Britney Spears), it’s usually an old track. The latest effort from the Seattle-based rock band isn’t particularly radio-friendly, but that’s not a bad thing.
In some ways, “Binaural” returns to the philosophy, but not the sound, of “Ten.” It’s gritty, edgy and honest.
It’s been a while since Pearl Jam could neatly fit into the category of grunge or alternative rock. With each album since “Ten,” their sound has grown. In “Binaural,” the band stretches even farther, stopping to look back at where they came from, and giving a glimpse at where they’re going. The road is a little bumpy, with a few twists and turns, but it’s a fun ride. (By Kristen Andresen)
“Exterminator” (Astralwerkz) – Primal Scream
One of the shocks of the year was Primal Scream making one of their best albums ever: the awesome “Exterminator.” While many had written off the Scream as a spent force, this album proved that they will continue to scare small children as they “subvert normality,” for some time yet. (A.C.)
“The Rockfords” (Epic) – The Rockfords
Disclaimer: Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready could play “Dixie” and I’d think it rocked.
That said, The Rockfords’ self-titled debut, featuring McCready on guitar, had that going for it before I even unwrapped the CD.
McCready teamed up with hometown friends Rick Friel of the band Jodie Watts, Carrie Akre, Danny Newcomb and Chris Friel of Goodness to form The Rockfords.
This latest Seattle-pals-jam effort is no Temple of the Dog, but it’s not bad, either. Far from alternative, this album delivers straight rock ‘n’ roll, heavy on guitar, light on brooding.
There’s no pretense, no agenda and minimal polish. They don’t sound like five people who were thrown together to sell records. They sound real. (K.A.)
“Hotshot” (MCA) – Shaggy
This Grammy-winning reggae man shows his versatility on his fourth album, blending the sounds of both his homelands – Jamaica and Brooklyn. There’s reggae and dance hall, soul and R&B, blended into a satisfying sonic smoothie.
Shaggy, nicknamed for the iconic “Scooby Doo” character, has enlisted the help of such stellar co-producers as Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Shaun “Sting” Pizzonia and Gordon Duke. The Gulf War veteran speak-sings and raps with a host of lesser-known vocalists, and his sound is all propelled by a truckload of phat beats.
“Hotshot” is just the album Shaggy needs at this point in his booming career, as it promises to keep his current fans dancing while gaining him a crew of new converts. (D.M.)
“You’re the One” (Warner Bros.) – Paul Simon
This new release, his first album of pop originals since 1983’s “Hearts and Bones,” illustrates why Simon is one of the great tunesmiths of the past three decades.
On “You’re the One,” Simon incorporates pieces of what he’s absorbed over nearly 40 years in pop music. The result is an aural blend that suggests the many periods of this melodic chameleon. Simon returns to what he does best – storytelling – as he weaves magical vignettes that draw listeners while subtly getting across his message.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another decade before Simon’s originals grace music stores again. (D.M.)
“New Day Dawning” Curb/Mercury) – Wynonna
This latest release shows the younger half of The Judds in a mood to follow her muse. To call “New Day Dawning” strictly country would be damning with faint praise, as Wynonna explores all her influences, including soul, gospel, rock and R&B. Horns are just as prevalent as fiddle this time around.
This album also marks the first time that the artist picks up the reins as producer. For a rookie in charge, Wynonna seems supremely confident in her choices. This must stem from her comfort with the 12 diverse songs selected for “New Day Dawning.”
The full-bodied redhead has been through a lot in the past few years: the birth of two children, a divorce and a reunion with mother, Naomi. “New Day Dawning” is her declaration that she’s a survivor who has come back stronger than ever. (D.M.)