Top Ten '97
If you haven't got 'em all, you're just not cool.
By Various Authorities
DECEMBER 29, 1997:
EVERYONE'S GOT 'EM, and so do we. The following Top 10s
are the personal picks of 1997 from a few of the Tucson Weekly's
regularly contributing music writers:
- Patti Smith, Peace & Noise (Arista). Punk's
grande doyenne follows up the introspective Gone Again
with a tightly wound set of pure rawk, incorporating the free-jazz
aesthetics and hipster-beat lingo that marked her early masterpieces.
- Steve Earle, El Corazon (Warner Brothers). The
album Neil Young chose not to make this year, vibrant and melodic,
lyrically poignant: Earle scratches the working class underbelly
like a mangy dog flailing away at his ringworm scars.
- To Rococo Rot, Veiculo (Emperor Jones). German
electronic outfit picking up the battered Krautrock baton and
ramming it up the sphincter of all those deejay poseurs: Viva
la analog revolution, y'all, no block rockin' beats allowed!
- John Fahey, City Of Refuge (Tim Kerr). This joins
two other new Fahey recordings (The Epiphany Of Glenn Jones,
Womb Life) to herald the comeback-of-the-year from one
of America's most overlooked fretboard innovators and iconoclasts.
- Various, Blaxploitation Vol. 3: The Payback (GTV,
UK). Nudging out Rhino's Beg, Scream & Shout! soul
box by virtue of its hard-assed focus: Isaac, Marvin, Curtis,
James, Bobby Womack, P-Funk, O'Jays, War, etc.
- Labradford, Mi media naranja (Kranky). An electronic
outfit now incorporating guitars, percussion and acoustic piano
to craft sample-rich, romantic soundscapes reminiscent of Morricone
- John Coltrane, The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard
Recordings (Impulse). Four-CD box housing unbelievable contrasts,
from lush melodic meditations to skronkin' outer-orbit oscillations.
- Bob Dylan, Time Out Of Mind (Sony). I'll turn
the mic over to Patti Smith: "He sent me a test pressing
of it, and I just knew people would like this record. He's worked
so long and hard for us."
- Neil Young, Modern World (Luminous). While Year
Of The Horse is sonically pristine, this two-CD bootleg (5-19-97,
Santa Cruz) is raw, raging, Crazy Horsian inspiration and includes
some unreleased songs as well.
- Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One
(Matador). Romance and cynicism melted together like a well-done
cheeseburger, sautéed in Ira Kaplan's secret feedback/drone
- Pavement, Brighten the Corners (Matador). The
most important band in America gracefully continues to re-write
their history in a quiet way for anyone who cares to watch. Again,
they release their most complex and satisfying record: and again,
it replaces their last as essential listening.
- Björk, Homogenic (Elektra). Everywhere are
memorable textures and melodies to loft Björk's athletic
and graceful vocal swoops, and emotion-filled passages. She finally
crafts the music capable of matching her vocal gymnastics.
- Smog, Red Apple Falls (Drag City). After throwing
his diary pages into the flames of minimal folk, singer Bill Callahan
transports his immediate and naked singing into poetic songs with
the weight of the ages. Nine songs of pure genius.
- Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating (Matador).
The Jewish Jimi Hendrix & Co. release as fine an eighth album
as you'll ever hear.
- Wilco, Being There (Warner Bros.). A pretentious
double-album that never fails to deliver both the listener and
the band from the confines of alt.country, straight to the arena.
Both are left laughing at the trip. Essential listening.
- Henry's Dress, Bust 'Em Green, (Slumberland).
The best band you will never see, plays the last studio tracks
to the world. Half Ramones-fueled, girl-singing crush confessionals,
half cooler-than-Radiohead murky, self-deprecating pop gems on
a thudding beat.
- Holiday, Café Reggio (Spin Art). Pop to
take any listener's breath away, on lilting melodies. Not since
the Beatles' Rubber Soul have guitar and personal disclosure
been so happily married.
- Hayden, Moving Careful (Outpost/Geffen). Bill
Callahan's doppleganger finally lives up to his hype with a personal,
affecting record almost without affect. Hayden is two parts Smog,
one part Palace, and, judging from these songs, all heart.
- Centro-Matic, Re-do the Stacks (Steve). A gem
from a Denton, Tex., band that reaffirms the primacy and value
of both lo-fidelity, and anthemic music. Each song is deceptively
simple, and masterfully executed in near-flawless vision. A record
for the ages.
- Whiskeytown, Stranger's Almanac (Outpost/Geffen).
This alt.country band rewrites itself into an incarnation of mid-'70s
Stones and Fleetwood Mac with songs filled with soul. Damn if
lead singer Ryan Adams didn't go and fire his whole band (except
the violin player). It might seem childish if he himself weren't
22. Watch this band, or regretfully, read about them after the
- Jimmy Webb, Ten Easy Pieces (Guardian). Arguably
one of the best songwriters of the century finally tackles the
material others made famous, including "Wichita Lineman,"
"The Moon's A Harsh Mistress," and "By The Time
I Get To Phoenix."
- Miles Davis, Live-Evil (Columbia/Legacy).
One of the nastiest jazz albums ever recorded. Two hours of
pure jungle funk.
- Marshall Crenshaw, Miracle Of Science (Razor
& Tie). Another solid outing from this underrated rocker.
As usual, lots of rockabilly influence and killer hooks.
- The Everly Brothers, Stories We Could Tell and
Pass The Chicken And Listen (One Way). From this listener's
perspective, these two reissues contain the best stuff the duo
ever recorded--and prove that they could have taken their career
far beyond "Wake Up Little Susie" had they stuck together.
- Various Artists, Paint It, Blue (House of Blues).
A handful of contemporary blues players tackle Stones' classics,
and consistently turn in versions grittier than the originals.
- Houston Person, Personified (HighNote). The R&B
tenor-sax king growls his way through a load of familiar ballads.
- Pete Seeger, Pete (Living Music). Oddly, jazzman
Paul Winter produced this collection of re-recorded Seeger classics.
The emphasis is on the folksinger's paeans to nature rather than
his protest music.
- Todd Rundgren, With A Twist (Guardian). Bossa
nova versions of Rundgren's most popular songs. Not authentic
Brazilian music, but great stuff nonetheless.
- Gary Stewart, The Essential Gary Stewart (RCA).
A reissue of a much-missed honky-tonk legend's work from the
- Kip Hanrahan, A Thousand Nights And A Night
(American Clave). No one turns out more sultry jazz than this
New York composer, this release being the first in a series based
on the Arabian Nights legend.
- Lee Scratch Perry, Arkology (Island). Although
heavy on vocals and light on dub, Arkology contains enough
gems and rarities from the eccentric Jamaican genius to make it
essential for the curious and the converted.
- Various Artists, The Inner Flame (Atlantic).
Rainer the songwriter. Beautiful contributions and collaborations
with Emmylou Harris, Chris McKay, et al.
- Dr. Octagon, The Instrumentalyst (Dreamworks).
This instrumental companion to the vocal album explodes with unpredictable
sounds and samples. Menace and beauty rolled into one by a talented
- Miles Davis & Gil Evans, Porgy And Bess reissue
(Columbia). Miles' trumpet never sounded more like a human voice
than it did over Evans' astonishingly textured arrangements. If
you can't afford the box set, this is the one to get. Remastered
and with extra tracks.
- Calexico, Spoke (Quarter Stick). Stripped-down,
unpretentious western pop, perfect for a day of surfing on the
- Billie Holiday, The Complete Commodore Recordings
(GRP). When Sony balked at the militancy of "Strange Fruit,"
Commodore answered the call. Stellar vocal performances by an
- Erykah Badu, Baduizm (Universal). Echoes of Lady
Day and Nina Simone without sounding retro. A sensual, hypnotic
antidote to what's passing for R&B these days.
- Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Fela's London Scene reissue
(Sterns Africa). Fela took soul music full circle when he brought
James Browns' groove back to Africa. A strong Afro-pop set showcases
his power as a band leader, vocalist and political activist.
- Duarte 6, Command Performances (Bloat). A recent
fave. This loopy Tucson group combines Velvets with 13th Floor
Elevators for a kick-ass instrumental stew.
- Wyclef Jean, The Carnival (Sony). A lame Bee
Gees retread doesn't diminish the rest of this album's brilliance,
which offer a complex mesh of hip-hop, world beat and reggae more
original and enjoyable than the Fugees.
- Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One
(Matador). The only consistently excellent record I heard this
year came from this endlessly likable trio who've quietly plied
their indie-rock trade with intelligence, humor, and a low angst-quotient
for over a decade now.
- Lateef and Lyrics Born, Latyrx (Solesides). If
there's a hip-hop heaven, I imagine it as a place where the halo-topped
figures of Lateef and Lyrics Born take turns kicking Puff Daddy's
skinny ass unto eternity.
- Belle and Sebastian, If You're Feeling Sinister
(The Enclave). While the pastoral pop made by this fey Scottish
seven-piece is immediately appealing, it reveals new folds of
melody and cleverness with each listen. With stylishly literate
and miserably funny lyrics, this record single-handedly revives
that Northern British pop tradition (Smiths, Aztec Camera) for
which we '80s children have a pathetic soft spot.
- Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out (Kill Rock Stars).
With their duo-guitar interplay and scrappy rock-goddess assault,
Sleater-Kinney created something that seemed nearly impossible
in 1997: a truly dynamic and vital punk album. Plus, they're one
of the only bands going that could get away with it when they
dip into completely non-ironic, celebratory rock.
- Rakim, The 18th Letter (Universal). In a rap
scene where it's hard enough to stick around and nearly impossible
to come back, hip-hop's most legendary MC has returned, 11 years
since his brilliant debut (and five years after he split from
partner Eric B.). Amazingly, he's lost none of his skill and even
gained some wisdom with maturity.
- Nick Cave, The Boatman's Call (Reprise). With
only traces of the madness and brutality that once consumed his
work, the Bad Seed has sprouted a shade tree with a plain-but-stunning
record that finds Cave finding God in the arms of earthly love.
Always more pretentious in perception than reality, Cave's writing
here is beautiful in both its obviousness and understatement.
- Papas Fritas, Helioself (Minty Fresh). This instantly
gratifying slab of sonic caramel fudge is intricately crafted
to sound lightweight and effortless. Ear candy has rarely sounded
- Aphex Twin, Richard D. James (Sire/Warp). While
1997 was to be--and was, in a self-fulfilling sort of way--the
year of electronica, mostly the glut of techno-based compilations
and crossover dreamers served to underline how lame so much of
that music is. Richard D. James was one of the few techno
records that didn't try to pass off lazy repetition as "trance-inducing"
- Cornershop, When I Was Born for the 7th Time
(Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.). For all the talk of this record's blend
of South Asian and northern English pop sounds, the music here
sounds neither daringly cross-pollinated nor strangely juxtaposed.
Rather it's a conventional pop record that harks back to the days
when pop didn't have to be sonically conservative and genre-specific.
Cornershop's willingness to make a pop record--rather than its
desire to reconcile its leader's British and Indian heritage--is
what makes this a great breakthrough album.
- X-ecutioners, X-pressions (Asphodel). Like their
West Coast equivalents the Invisible Scratch Pickles, the four
maestro deejays who comprise New York's X-ecutioners take the
art of turntable manipulation to such an advanced level they become
four instrumentalists who create entirely new music. And unlike
the avant gardists who've tried similar things, this stuff actually