Fortes's 2007 Year End Music Review
1. Herbie Hancock: River: The Joni Letters
What’s better than Joni Mitchell going back on her retirement and threatening to release an all-new album? Hearing her songs get the Herbie Hancock treatment, that’s what. And the cherry on top is the participation of Wayne Shorter, whose telepathy with Hancock has not diminished one iota during their nearly 45-year association. Even the obligatory guest vocalists can’t keep this affair from sounding anything short of sublime. Norah Jones? Right on. Tina Turner? Who would have thought! Even Joni herself adds her voice to the mix, and a spoken-word reading of “The Jungle Line” by Leonard Cohen ultimately keeps this jazz record rooted in the bohemian atmosphere from which Joni (and her beloved jazz) developed. Everyone here sounds inspired, and the urge to spin this one on repeat is tough to resist.
2. Paul McCartney: Memory Almost Full
One would hate to wish bad luck on someone as good-hearted as Paul McCartney, but let’s face it: 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard certainly benefited from the strains in his relationship with both his wife and producer. Memory Almost Full goes one further, and one can’t help but get the impression that the pressure of the divorce just pushed Paul to work harder. What we get are (1) all the good rock tunes that the last album was missing, (2) a great medley (don’t let Paul fool you, it’s more like Wings’ Red Rose Speedway medley than the one on Abbey Road, which isn’t a bad thing at all!), and (3) the return of Paul’s seasoned road band on half of the tracks. If Paul were to stop here (which is highly unlikely), this album would be a most glorious bookend to his career.
3. Radiohead: In Rainbows
Sure, it’s not much different sonically from the last two Radiohead albums, but a par-for-the-course Radiohead record still has the power to inspire and enchant the minds of those who let its sounds into their consciousness better than most other records. Thom Yorke & Co. outdid themselves with mind-bending gems like “All I Need” and “House of Cards,” and their simple yet totally effective guitar dynamics elevate “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” to classic status. This one’s got legs, and they’re rushing for the stage to show us all just how far they can go.
4. The Spring Heeled Jacks Original Swinging Jass Band: The Dicky Comstock Show
Created in the Gulf Coast resort town of Port Aransas, Texas, by principal Jacks Nathan Dunton and Josh Morrow, The Dicky Comstock Show takes the Sgt. Pepper concept of record making into the 21st century by stepping back in time. The album plays like an old 1930s radio program, with an actual “announcer” (that would be the charming Mr. Comstock himself) appearing after the “show” theme, and between songs as well. As for the music, it’s all over the map – from the kitschy Broadway-jazz of “Mr. and Mrs. Bones,” to the Brian Wilson-esque dreamscape “Stargazer,” to the straight-up barbershop vocalizing in “I’ve Often Dreamed” and the stark, voice-and-guitar simplicity of the moving “Take Me Home.” This “show” achieves both musical excellence and emotional resonance.
5. Chris Robley: The Drunken Dance of Modern Man in Love
The second album by Portland’s Chris Robley is overflowing with imagination and expertly crafted pop sounds. With most of the songs based around the acoustic guitar, Robley assembled a cast of local players to add an organic flavor, favored by the pop artists of yesteryear, to his numerous tales and character sketches. The ultimate effect is that of Elliott Smith pumped up with the humor and musical taste of Harry Nilsson, the insight of Randy Newman, and a sum total that sounds new all the while.
6. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss: Raising Sand
Forget that over-hyped Led Zeppelin reunion: THIS is what Robert Plant should be doing now. His voice is way too deep to hit those castrato notes he used to belt out in the ‘70s, but the blend he achieves with the sweet-voiced country and bluegrass singer Alison Krauss is perfect for where he’s at now. With T-Bone Burnett guiding the proceedings, it was all but guaranteed that the results would be classic. And as a bonus, “Please Read the Letter” was rescued from the less-than-stellar Page/Plant album Walking into Clarksdale, and now has its definitive reading.
7. Twilight Singers: A Stitch in Time
Greg Dulli has been making good on his promise to be more prolific since declaring the Twilight Singers his full-time band. Within this half-an-LP’s worth of tunes, coming just months after 2006’s Powder Burns, we have a Dulli-McCollum collaboration, “They Ride,” that recalls the glory days of the Afghan Whigs, and a couple of monster covers featuring Mark Lanegan. The disc is worth picking up just for Lanegan’s stellar interpretation of Massive Attack’s “Live with Me,” but everything here is killer. The only flaw? It’s only an EP!
8. White Stripes: Icky Thump
Jack and Meg thankfully rebounded with Icky Thump, finding a satisfying middle ground between the weird-because-we-can feel of 2005’s Get Behind Me Satan and their more electrifying previous albums. The title track is one of their most infectious and gripping singles ever, and everything that follows (except “Conquest,” the album’s one misfire) stands up to the bar raised from note one.
9. Modest Mouse: We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
Even though the Mouse has sharpened its songwriting and slicked up its sound a bit, the quirkiness we’ve come to expect from Isaac Brock and crew is as intact as ever. The electronic beats that anchor “Fire it Up” help create one of the band’s most mesmerizing songs, and the Shins’ Jay Mercer adds some lovely harmonies to the excellent single “Missed The Boat.”
10. PJ Harvey: White Chalk
Polly Jean has made a habit out of switching up her style every so often, and we love her for it. This time, she gets all spooky on the piano and scares the living daylights out of us, in the best possible way. Recommended for night listening, with or without a night-light.