Bullz-Eye’s Best of 2010: Staff Writer Scott Malchus’ picks

Each year, when I sort through my favorite songs, I have trouble ranking them because each one has a different meaning to me. I always wind up creating a mixtape (or a playlist, for you younger readers) of those songs and arrange them so that the music flows like a great album or concert set. Without further ado, here’s my mix of the twenty songs I returned to for repeated listens throughout 2010.

“Fade Like a Shadow,” KT Tunstall
Tunstall continues to produce pop gems that are spirited, bright and full of life. This single from her latest, Tiger Suit, has everything you want in a single: a passionate delivery, a great melodic hook, and a unique rhythm that helps it stand out from other songs. A great way to kick off a mix tape.

“I Should Have Known It,” Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
The lead single from Mojo has that vintage Petty snarl and bite. The rest of the album may be a mixed bag, but this great rocker builds to kick-ass guitar jam and stands up with some of their best.


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Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Staff Writer Mike Heyliger’s picks

I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve had to struggle with a list of my favorite music in a particular year. Actually, I can, so I should clarify: I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much good music to choose from when paring down my list of favorites for the year. Upon looking at my CD collection (yes, I’m one of those guys), I still see another 10 or 20 albums that could make the list if I listen more carefully. But without the benefit of the free time it would take to check those CDs out, here’s a list of the 20 best albums I’ve heard in 2010.

1. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
As much as Kanye’s childish tirades infuriate me, I’ll be damned if his music doesn’t always win me over. Fantasy is amazing from just about every facet: musically, lyrically, thematically. I’ll forgive ‘Ye for a million idiotic public statements if he keeps making music like this.

2. Gil Scott-Heron: I’m New Here
One of two albums in my Top 20 recorded by artists re-emerging after a 14-year absence, I’m New Here is a haunting listen. The ravages of time have wreaked havoc on Scott-Heron’s voice, but much like Bob Dylan’s most recent work, age has given the artist’s voice additional resonance.

3. The Black Keys: Brothers
Sometimes the album that breaks a band through to a mainstream audience is indeed their best work. That’s definitely the case with the Black Keys’ Brothers. Bluesy garage-rock with enough hooks to keep guys like me interested, I feel like this is the album Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were aiming for with their Danger Mouse-helmed Attack & Release album. As it turned out, they didn’t (really) need Danger Mouse, anyway, just their bad selves and the ghosts of Muscle Schoals, Alabama.

4. The Roots: How I Got Over
Can someone give these guys a medal for the most consistently awesome act not only in hip-hop, but in music period? I feel like the Roots are incapable of making a bad album even if they tried to. Although I suppose if they replaced Black Thought with Jimmy Fallon…

5. Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer
“Fuck You” (or “Forget You,” if you’re easily offended) was a gimmick single, sure. However, even gimmick singles can be genius, and what’s more is that the Goodie Mob/Gnarls Barkley frontman was able to back the promise of that song up with an incredible album. I wish he rapped more, but when you can outsing just about every artist in contemporary pop and R&B, I guess you can be excused.


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Quincy Jones: Q – Soul Bossa Nostra


RIYL: unexpected collaborations, the R&B Top 40, hitting “shuffle”

He’s more of an elder statesman than a hitmaker these days – his last album came out 15 years ago, and his influence has been on the wane since the ’80s – but the term “living legend” may as well have been coined to describe Quincy Jones, and he proves it all over again with the ridiculous number of superstar guests assembled for Q: Soul Bossa Nostra.

Like anyone who’s ever been successful in the music business, Jones isn’t shy about his own accomplishments, and Bossa Nostra functions essentially as an album-length tribute to himself, with modern hip-hop and R&B artists making cameo appearances on a rundown of Q-affiliated classics like “Strawberry Letter 23” (featuring Akon), “You Put a Move on My Heart” (a show-stopping Jennifer Hudson), the “Sanford and Son” theme (walking acronym factory T.I. and B.O.B.), and the title track (Ludacris). Generally speaking, it’s all a lot better than it has any right to be; for one thing, Jones has to have a marvelous sense of humor to invite, say, Talib Kweli to turn “Ironside” into a hip-hop showcase, or ask Snoop Dogg to add his verses to “Get the Funk Out of My Face.” More importantly, most of the artists sound like they have genuine affection for the material, and they produce some genuine highlights, including John Legend’s lovely “Tomorrow,” Mary J. Blige and Q-Tip’s “Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me,” and the Wyclef-led “Many Rains Ago (Oluwa).”

Like most compilations, Bossa Nostra has the occasional bald spot; for instance, it’s easy to assume that Jones tucked Amy Winehouse’s disastrous take on “It’s My Party” late in the album because he listened to the tapes long enough to wonder why it sounds like Winehouse lost her teeth on the way to the studio, and not a few listeners will blanch at the notion of T-Pain lending his Auto-Tune croon to a new version of “P.Y.T.” But these are minor complaints, given the overall strength of the rest of the record – and how much quibbling is really necessary when you’re talking about an album that concludes with a rap-a-riffic version of the “Sanford and Son” theme song? It won’t light up the charts the way Quincy did with The Dude in 1981 – or even 1989’s Back on the Block – but it’s a helluva lot of fun, and proof that the living legend hasn’t lost his touch. (Interscope/Qwest 2010)

Quincy Jones MySpace page

  

John Legend and the Roots: Wake Up!


RIYL: Bill Withers, The Roots, Raphael Saadiq

john-legend-roots-wake-up-cover-e1279246652953[1] Before he reached the presidency – and thus subjected himself to at least four years of being picked apart, second-guessed, and portrayed as a letdown by pollsters and pundits – Barack Obama was a signal of meaningful social change, and a source of profound inspiration, to millions of Americans. His roots as an urban community organizer served as a reminder of a time when community really meant something – particularly in the black community – and raised hopes for a return to outreach, investing in urban infrastructure, and a renewed focus on the common good.

People were hoping for a paradigm shift, in other words, and those never happen as quickly, simply, or clear-cut as we feel like they should (as a passing glance at any newspaper will tell you). But that’s the thing about major change: As slowly as things might seem to be moving on the surface, moments of inspiration have a way of paying unexpected dividends. Case in point: John Legend and the Roots’ Wake Up!

Conceived during the 2008 election, Wake Up! combines Legend’s political awakening with the Roots’ peerless soul scholarship to produce an album that functions on two levels: One, as a call to greater personal responsibility and communal awareness, and two, as a sort of gateway into the classic records Legend and the Roots chose to cover. As chief Roots ambassador ?uestlove points out in the liner notes, these songs will be appreciated by two generations – the folks who still remember Baby Huey, Bill Withers, Harold Melvin, and Donny Hathaway, and the younger listeners who have grown up hearing bits and pieces of the music repurposed for hip-hop beats. (In a nifty, knowing twist, Wake Up! includes a cover of Ernie Hines’ “Our Generation” that features a guest verse from CL Smooth, who sampled the song 18 years ago.)

There’s something a little off-putting about the fact that a call to attention this powerful has to rely so heavily on songs that have been around for decades, and listening to Wake Up! – as with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s similarly themed 2006 cover of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On album, conceived in the wake of Hurricane Katrina – you may find yourself alternating between feelings of joy and disappointment. It’s hard not to wonder why today’s young soul artists aren’t making new music this marvelously aware – or why, if Legend was going to end the album with an original cut, he couldn’t have come up with something more deserving than the mawkish “Shine.”

On the other hand, great music is timeless, and there’s no denying that every one of these classic songs is every bit as resonant today as the day it was originally released – or that Legend and the Roots prove capable, empathic interpreters of the material. Wake Up! isn’t a new soul classic, but it reaffirms the undimmed relevance of the artists who helped shape the genre’s golden era. Here’s hoping the album expands the spirit of inspiration that brought it to life – and that other artists heed its title’s call. (Columbia/G.O.O.D.)

John Legend MySpace page

  

Herbie Hancock: The Imagine Project


RIYL: Santana’s Shaman and Supernatural, Anoushka  Shankar’s Breathing Underwater,  WOMAD label artists

On the surface, one might conclude that Herbie Hancock’s current release, The Imaging Project, is a Johnny-come-lately effort that builds on the model Carlos Santana rode to great success on Supernatural and Shaman.  That is to say, call in a diverse group of popular artists and have them record songs that infuse their styles with the dominant musical character of bandleader. Hancock and company certainly attempt that, but Mr. Hancock has grander designs other than just creating a hit record.  The Imagine Project is, according to Hancock, part of a global outreach strategy featuring musicians from various corners of the world to foster a kind of globalization that emphasizes mutual respect rather than a top-down cultural dominance emanating from U.S. to the rest of the world.  Does Hancock succeed in his ambitions?  At times he does, but at other times the record sounds like bland smooth jazz that never rises above level of innocuous background music for worker bees in office buildings.

The most interesting tracks (and ones that reach Hancock’s ambitions on this album) are tucked in the middle and end of the CD.  “The Song Goes On” featuring Chaka Khan and Wayne Shorter – and some blistering sitar playing by Anoushka Shankar – demonstrates what I think Hancock had in mind for this album (the same goes for “Tempo De Amor,” “La Tierra,” and “Tamatant Tilay/Exodus”). Alas, there are some real duds that take away from the potential grandness of the project.  “Tomorrow Never Knows” featuring Dave Matthews is as pointless of a cover as it is boring. “Imagine” gets bogged down in pomposity and relegates Jeff Beck to playing a solo that could have been done by any good musician with about a year’s worth of guitar lessons.  And only Pink saves “Don’t Give Up” from becoming a milquetoast cover of the Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush original.

The Imagine Project is not a horrible record by any stretch, but it continually falls short on both fusing various musical styles and finding new wine from the old wineskins of classic songs. However, when it shines (as it does at times), the music does transcend geographic boarders to create a fusion that lives up to Hancock’s stated goal for this record.  (Hancock Records 2010)

Herbie Hancock’s website
Click to buy The Imagine Project from Amazon

  

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