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Best of 2006: Honorable Mention

If you haven’t read the introduction yet, go there now.

    Honorable Mention Albums for 2006   

  • Spirit Trail by Bruce Hornsby: I put this album on my purchasing list after reading a very favorable review in Stereo Review back in 1988. It remained there until this year because I couldn’t quite convince myself that I would enjoy a Bruce Hornsby album. Boy, was I wrong. Funky and soulful songs interspersed with pretty little piano instrumentals. But why didn’t it make the Top 10? Hornsby’s voice, I suppose. And two CDs makes it a little unwieldy.
  • Women and Children First/Diver Down by Van Halen: Both of these albums contain songs from the soundtrack of my hard-partying life during my teen years. Before the synthesizer virus infected Eddie Van Halen, he fronted a really hard rockin’ band and these two CDs prove it. “Everybody Wants Some”, “Take Your Whiskey Home”, “Pretty Woman” and “Happy Trails” are just a few of the great songs. If you love crunchy metal electric guitar, these are must-haves for your collection.
  • This Is The Moody Blues by The Moody Blues: Earlier I bought The Millennium Collection but was disappointed to find that it was overly polluted with their ELO-ish 80’s output. Thus, I was very happy when I picked up this hard-to-find two CD set. Even though it contains all the best songs from the seven quintessential albums that defined the Moodies’ sound, this is not just another greatest hits collection. The songs are obviously sequenced to flow just like it’s a real album. Even the now-trite “Nights in White Satin” sounds fresh in this context.
  • Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Very few things remind me of my brothers and sisters like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I’ve had this particular NGDB album in various forms for many, many years but, until recently, it was a rare find on CD. Although I am inclined to classify it as “country” or “bluegrass”, those particular pigeon-holes don’t do justice to this music. In the era that this album was made, this was ground-breaking, but nevermind that. Really great songs from start to finish are interspersed with the the charming conversations with Uncle Charlie. Standouts include “Mr. Bojangles” and an instrumental harmonica version of “Swanee River” that will leave you gasping.
  • Running On Empty by Jackson Browne: Even though Neil Young had created the idea several years before, Jackson Browne perfected the “road album” concept with this 1977 classic. Recorded in hotel rooms, rehearsal halls and concert venues, Browne contemplates life on the road including drugs, women and, of course, the music. This is another album where I enjoy every single track, even the title track which was horribly overplayed in my youth. Oh and don’t forget David Lindley’s lap steel guitar playing, which virtually defined Jackson Browne’s sound for years to come.
  • Rock and Roll by John Lennon: John Lennon virtually invented the roots revival album when he released this album in 1975. Covering such early influences as Chuck Berry, Ben E. King, Gene Vincent and Little Richard, you can hear the joy in Lennon’s voice as he sings the songs of all his heroes. Most notable are the covers of “Ain’t That A Shame,” “Stand By Me,” and “Do You Wanna Dance” which all received more successful cover treatments a few years later. And you have to love the album cover which was essentially a “photoshop” of an early Lennon photo.
  • Necktie Second by Pete Droge: Back when “alternative” rock was king, this album came my way via a borrowed CD from a friend. I committed it to cassette and it worked it’s way into heavy rotation. Although the photographs on the CD booklet are hilariously grungy, Portland musician Droge is anything but grunge. More like power pop with catchy hooks and thoughtful, high-quality songwriting. Throw in the occasional Portland name drop and I’m hooked. Pete Droge hooked me back in 1994 and then again this year.
  • My, I’m Large by The Bobs: Another tremendously influential album that I have owned in many formats over the years. I finally tracked down this rare CD this year and couldn’t be happier. The Bobs are an a capella group who use no additional instrumentation in their music. On this album, they do excellent covers of songs like “Little Red Riding Hood” and “You Really Got A Hold On Me” as well as amusing originals like “My Husband Was a Weatherman” and “Helmet”. Forget about the Nylons, this is where it’s at in the a capella world.
  • He’s Drunk/Plus Also Too by Scrawl: My friend Curt Nelson turned me on to Scrawl back in 1989 when he loaned me this CD, which I promptly recorded on to a cassette. After Rough Trade Records filed bankruptcy, this CD became virtually impossible to find. A couple of years ago I transferred my cassette recording to CD but kept it on my wishlist. What a delight to receive it in “trade” from LaLa.com this year when it was going for fifty dollars or more per copy on eBay. As for the music, Scrawl defined indie chick rock long before L7, Babes in Toyland, Hole or even Liz Phair. Raw, emotional vocals with extensive use of two-part harmonies with the emphasis on the message and a de-emphasis on production.
  • Especially For You by The Smithereens: This is the first and best album from the Smithereens. Although later efforts built upon the same successful formula they established here, those don’t feel as fresh and alive. Back in the late 80’s, songs like “Blood and Roses” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep” sounded like nothing I had ever heard. And the ballads, “In A Lonely Place” and “Cigarette”, feel honest and sincere. It’s all dark, mysterious and wonderful.

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