Last week someone asked to name my ten favorite albums and write a line or two about each. The hard part was I had less than an afternoon to do it.
Like all such lists the one I came up with is wholly subjective, and subject to change as life and listening go on. My one bit of disobedience was that I refused to rank them. (Regrets: having to bump Wang Chung's long-forgotten Points on the Curve and They Might Be Giants Flood.)
Bleg: What kind of a list would you come up with in a hurry?
Top Albums (alphabetical by artist)
Common: Finding Forever - Despite all the guest stars and contributors, Common and Kanye West create something that is integrated and whole, at once forceful and majestic.
Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks - There are many peaks and valleys in the mountain range that is Dylan's career, but this really reaches the heights. He's at the top of his form here, no longer the former folkie and not yet the impressionistic pattern weaver he'd become.
Miles Davis: Kind of Blue - Ornette Coleman released "The Shape of Jazz to Come" the same year, but in many ways that title applies more accurately to this collection. This is one of the best-selling jazz records of all time and with good reason: superlative musicians working at the top of their form. (Also see/hear this NPR Jazz Profile on the making of KOB.)
Duke Ellington: Jazz Party - Most of Ellington's brilliant early-career work came before the advent of the long-playing disc and I don't think he ever came to fully exploit the format. Jazz Party is an exception. The several suites and longer compositions seem to work together. Guest stars like Dizzy Gillespie and Jimmy Rushing don't hurt either.
Glenn Gould: The Goldberg Variations - Specifically the original recording from 1955. A true blast from the past, the young Gould picks up Bach's work and blows away the dust and cobwebs of decades of polite deference. It's still a refreshingly brisk experience. (Also see/hear this remarkable film of Gould revisiting the same material in 1964.)
k.d. lang: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues Soundtrack - I remember watching this godawful movie in the theater and thinking, "I've got to get the soundtrack!" An impressive demonstration of the broad range of styles that lang and her collaborator Ben Mink are capable of mastering, everything from mid-70s groove to thrashy polka. What's happened to them in recent years is hard to say.
Yo-Yo Ma: The Bach Cello Suites - Dip in anywhere you like, the water is deep and satisfying. And I think this Yo-Yo Ma kid really as a future.
Willie Nelson: Stardust - Never a patient one in the studio, Nelson reportedly found the process of recording this album with Booker T. Jones a little grueling. The results are well worth it. It's also worth picking up the 30th Anniversary reissue for the versions of "Scarlet Ribbons" and "I Can See Clearly Now."
Prince: Purple Rain Soundtrack - The Artist Formerly Etc. has kept up an amazing productivity over the years, but I'm still stunned by just how tightly conceived and executed the music on this album is. Particularly the last four songs (formerly known as Side B). Once "When Doves Cry" starts, I'm there through "Purple Rain."
Cal Tjader & Eddie Palmieri: El Sonido Nuevo (The New Sound) - So maybe the title is a little grandiose, but the combination of Tjader and Palmieri is still at once hot and ultra cool.