Now comes the time to reveal my top ten albums of the year. Before I start, I just want to say that 2006 was the first year that I really started to listen to lots and lots of different albums. It used to be that I liked what I liked and that was it. I was really into the whole jamband scene, but since much of it has fallen into boring repetition, I've gone elsewhere to find other stuff, and I've been pleasantly surprised at the wide range of albums that have made up this list.
Here's a category that I forgot to put on Part One of the list:
Best Music Related Website
An Aquarium Drunkard
Stereogum may be more entertaining at times, but nobody brings out the good stuff like this site. Besides the excellent podcasts, this site brings out rare stuff like The Black Crowes' "Lost Crowes" Material. Any site that posts about Califone, The Louvin Brothers, and the Bowie/Bing Crosby "Little Drummer Boy" track is worth a look. Plus, his Best of 2006 list is pretty much right on.
The Best Albums 0f 2006
10) Blood Meridian - Kick Up the Dust
Another Canadian group but their name and sound makes it sound like they come out of the American West. I consider this country-tinged rock with a hint of weirdness, music that recalls the violent and drunk West that been mythologized in literature and song. The album is a fantastic group of songs about simple themes (jobs, relationships, death) but done in such a captivating, haunting way.
Choice cuts: "Most Days", "Kick Up the Dust"
9) The Black Keys - Magic Potion
One of the appealing aspects of The Black Keys, but it also may be seen as a fault, is that you're pretty certain what you're going to get: straight-ahead blues rock. While Magic Potion may not stray that far from the sound of their previous albums, I think it's a better album than Rubber Factory, their previous effort. The sound here sounds fat, large, and almost impossible to be coming from two people. They may not be re-inventing the wheel, but if you're a sucker for classic guitar riffs and bluesy vocals, this album will appeal to you.
Choice cuts: "Your Touch", "Modern Times"
8) Bob Dylan - Modern Times
This is a natural progression for Dylan after Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft but it just doesn't seem to have the refreshing rejuvination of the first or the sublime nature of the latter. It almost sounds like these songs were outtakes from the Love and Theft sessions, they're that similar in their themes and musical qualities. Still, from Dylan, an album that almost sounds tossed off at times is infinitely better than what most other artists have released in the current year.
Choice cuts: "Thunder On the Mountain", "Rollin' and Tumblin'
7) Cat Power - The Greatest
A lot has been made of Chan Marshall's sobriety and newfound strength as a live performer, and I think some of the credit has to go to the fact she has quality backing musicians instead of just being a solo act. This album could be called Chan in Memphis, seeing that it has so many comparisons with Dusty Springfield, all the way down to the backing musicians. She sounds confident on the album, and her voice fits perfectly with subtle touches of the Memphis Rhythm Band that's been backing her.
Choice cuts: "The Greatest", "Lived In Bars"
6) Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat
Jenny Lewis steps out of Rilo Kiley and makes an album that embraces country and southern soul without a hint of irony. Everything on this album is sublime, starting from the vocal harmonies on the opening track. The vocals clearly stand out but Lewis's lyrics, straight ahead and vaguely spiritual, are just as strong. The Watson Twins' harmonies add a touch of country gospel that really makes the album. I've read some reviews that this album is kind of a campy schtick, but I feel that Jenny Lewis honestly cares about this music and the country influences in it.
Choice cuts: "Rise Up With Fists!!", "Happy"
5) The Hold Steady - Boys & Girls In America
What's surprising to me about the Hold Steady's popularity and positive reviews in hipster circles is that they are making a straight-forward rock record and doing so without any irony. They're really just a bar band with songs that deal mostly with getting loaded and hookin up, none of which I think would appeal to that group. Part Springsteen, throw in a little twin guitar attack of Thin Lizzy, and some english major lyrics by Craig Finn, and you have a great rock & roll album.
Choice cuts: "Hot Soft Light", "Southtown Girls"
4) Solomon Burke - Nashville
Just hearing it, it doesn't sound like that great of an idea; the King of Rock & Soul doing an album of country covers. All it takes, however, is the first couple seconds of the opening track, "That's How I Got to Memphis" to change my mind. Burke understands that country music is just southern white should music, and the songs on this album have just as much passion and emotion of any of his soul classics. His voice may not be as spectacular as it used to be, but Burke's greatest quality on this album is the way he can make it adapt to each song presented. He can do the up-tempo numbers, and he can do the weepies. And the greatest compliment I can give is that Solomon Burke makes me feel what he's singing.
Choice cuts: "Valley of Tears", "Millionaire"
3) Band of Horses - Everything All The Time
When you want to describe Band of Horses to someone, you end up saying that they sound like The Shins mixed with My Morning Jacket. That's pretty much right on target; the songs here exist somewhere between the Americana guitar rock of MMJ and the power pop of The Shins. Ben Bridwell and company create shimmering songs that range from country influenced acoustic numbers to raw, guitar driven ones. Everything All the Time is a short (perhaps too short), concise album that I have repeatedly listened to over the past year.
Choice cuts: "The Funeral", "The Great Salt Lake"
2) Josh Ritter - The Animal Years
This album has been on or near the top of my best of list since I first got it. Up until recently, this was the album I had listened to the most over the past year, just being overtaken by the number one choice. The album is the standard singer/songwriter album, and while Ritter does nothing drastically different, the songcraft is done so well that innovation isn't something to be regarded. The melodies are superb, especially in the first three tracks. "Thin Blue Flame" is my choice for song of the year, with its vivid lyrical imagery and it quiet/loud crescendo. On a somewhat related note, in Stephen King's column in Entertainment Weekly, he declared this his number one album of 2006. Last year, he named Marah's If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry as his top choice. That album was my number two album last year, and Josh Ritter is number two this year. Strange.
Choice cuts: "Wolves", "Thin Blue Flame"
1) Howlin' Rain
Imagine a little more menacing Grateful Dead, throw in some Exile-era Stones, and you kind of have the sound of Howlin' Rain, a side project for Ethan Miller of Comets on Fire. The songs sound like the soundtrack to drinking beer in a isolated cabin on a dusty country road. The songs are more melodic than the Comets but they still feature psychedelic guitar chaos and the whiskey scarred vocals of Miller. The songs are shambling and border on the edge of disinegration, and maybe that's what appeals to me so much. Howlin' Rain isn't polished music; it's rough and imperfect, and yet it's still completely likeable. This album has that something that makes me want to listen to it over and over again. And for that, it's my choice for best album of 2006.
Choice cuts: They're all good but especially "Roll On The Rusted Days" and "The Firing Of The Midnight Rain"