All this Grammys talk got us thinking about music from last year that fell below the radar. There are a handful of 2007 discs that are still giving us goose pimples. Here are a few of ‘em.
Manu Chao – La Radiolina
The ultimate cosmopolitan icon remains a boho experimentalist with a yen for high-flying horns and bouncy bass lines. He’d love to rub your face in some incendiary headlines, but at no point on this ever-shifting program does he allow the groove to dissipate — even while he chants how politik kills, or hollers slogans such as “Senor presidente George Bush: Cuidado!”
Bettye Lavette - The Scene of the Crime
The celebrated soul singer is a magnificent communicator, able to give you a look into her heart any time she chooses. This follow up to her seismic I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise connects her with unlikely bedfellows: Southern rock renegades the Drive-By Truckers. But the sixtysomething singer and the scrappy band make lots of hay, especially in the ballad department. “I Guess We Shouldn’t Talk About That Now” is about as eloquent as simmering desperation gets.
The gypsy renegades throw a giddy rampage that has smarts and heart. Like the Mekons circa Fear & Whiskey or the Pogues circa Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash, their party music is full of social barbs and political woes that wrap around each other as effectively as their fiddle and accordion do. Hats off to wild-eyed fervor of singer Eugene Hutz — an irresistible frontman.
The middle-aged singer may have been a hard ‘n’ fast dude 30 years ago, but for the bulk of the past three decades his Gary Cooper mix of tough guy and romantic has amplified the persona he created in forever revered and recently reunited X. On his most convincing solo disc, Doe sings track after track in a way that proves just how natural that vulnerable roughneck character really is. If you’re a fan who’s been frustrated with the quality of his recent discs, Wilderness is a great spot to get back on board.
The Motor City is well known for its fab primitivism, the garage flavor of the Cobras has been central to the city’s scene for years now. They’re a girl-centric gang that slants towards snarling R&B, raunchy lyrics, and plenty of ’60s camp. The Winehouse crowd might fall for ‘em quickly; both acts share a yen for yesteryear, and both bring a big dollop of white soul to the table. Meow!
Major Stars – Mirror/Messenger (Drag City)
The big-ass riff rock that dominated arenas ages ago still crops up now and again, and if a band knows how to mess with its arrogance and deflate its pomp, it can still be a gas. This Boston outfit knows how to to it. They’ve been around in various incarnations for years, and this disc puts a punk mentality onto a traditional template. There’s psych and screaming and sex flying through the air, like Superchunk messing around with Blue Cheer.
A bit more politically astute than your average rock outfit, these guys are always punching. They blend a fierce guitar attack with lyrics that fight the power. There’s an inviting viciousness smeared all over this disc, one of last year’s fiercest punk broadsides. A longstanding Clash fan, Leo is a rather intense Jersey boy who erupts with a vengeance on tunes such as “Bomb. Repeat. Bomb,” which blends the Minutemen’s fractious shards with thrash metal’s obsessive vigor.
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Wisconsin boy Justin Vernon made disc by his lonesome during a three-month winter stretch in a rather isolated cabin. In an eerie falsetto he concocts a series of ruminations on iromance that waft around the room, calming everything in their path. A guitar strumming, a plaintive voice attending to an ancient wound – a question leaps forth: do ghosts have hearts?