Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas music

I LOVE CHRISTMAS MUSIC. Absolutely, no reservations, love it - though I'm picky. Not just any Christmas music will do.
This was my 2008 Christmas playlist.

1. Pet Shop Boys, "It Doesn't Often Snow at Christmas"
2. Ronettes, "Frosty the Snowman"
3. Wham!, "Last Christmas"
4. Cassetteboy, "Up the Chimney"
5. Queen, "Thank God It's Christmas"
6. Johnny Mathis, "Sleigh Ride"#
7. Ronnie Milsap, "Silver Bells"
8. En Vogue, "Silent Night (Happy Holiday Mix)"
9. Boyz II Men, "Let It Snow"
10. Alison Moyet, "The Coventry Carol"
11. Vince Guaraldi, "Skating"
12. Dwight Yoakam, "Here Comes Santa Claus"
13. John Cougar Mellencamp, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"
14. Elvis Presley, "Blue Christmas"#
15. Andy Williams, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"~
16. Waitresses, "Christmas Wrapping"
17. Daryl Hall & John Oates, "Jingle Bell Rock"
18. The Fall, "Jingle Bell Rock"
19. Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl, "Fairytale of New York"%
20. Pretenders, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"#
21. Vince Guaraldi, "My Little Drum"
22. Dolly Parton, "Hard Candy Christmas"^
23. Aretha Franklin, "O Christmas Tree"
24. Kirk Franklin & the Family, "Silver & Gold (Remix)"
25. Prince, "Another Lonely Christmas"^
26. Al Green, "I'll Be Home for Christmas"#
27. Run-D.M.C., "Christmas in Hollis"
28. Stevie Wonder, "What Christmas Means to Me"
29. Elton John, "Step into Christmas"
30. Crystals, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
31. Dan Tyminski, "Frosty the Snowman"
32. Brenda Lee, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"
33. Alan Jackson, "A Holly Jolly Christmas"
34. U2, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"
35. Band Aid, "Do They Know It's Christmas?"
36. Cassetteboy, "Happy Cliffmas"
37. bit shifter, "let it snow"
38. Yello, "Jingle Bells"
39. Celine Dion, "Feliz Navidad"**
40. Mariah Carey, "All I Want for Christmas Is You"
41. Kirk Franklin & the Family, "Jesus Is the Reason for the Season"
42. TLC, "Sleigh Ride"
43. James Brown, "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto"
44. Vince Guaraldi, "Christmas is Coming"
45. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, "A Christmas to Remember"
46. A Plus D, "Xmas Dick in a Box (street version)"
47. Kate Bush, "December Will Be Magic Again"
48. Patty Loveless, "O Come All Ye Faithful"
49. Whitney Houston, "Do You Hear What I Hear?"
50. Vanessa Williams, "What Child Is This?"#
51. Cocteau Twins, "Frosty the Snowman"
52. Willie Nelson, "Pretty Paper"^
53. Sting, "Gabriel's Message"
54. Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"
55. TBC Poundsystem, "Don't Lose My Funky Sledge"@
56. Angela Lansbury and company, "We Need A Little Christmas (from Mame)"
57. JIROB v Paul McCartney, "Pipes of Peace (Gentle Remix)*
58. Paul McCartney, "Wonderful Christmastime"
59. Brian McKnight, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year"
60. Carpenters, "Merry Christmas Darling"#
61. Donny Hathaway, "This Christmas"#
62. Kenny Loggins, "Celebrate Me Home"
63. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, "The Power of Love"
64. Bing Crosby and David Bowie, "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy"
65. Vince Guaraldi, "Christmastime Is Here (Vocal)"#
66. Nat "King" Cole, "The Christmas Song"#
67. Various Artists/DJ Rotten Robbie, "Holiday Greetings Mix '06"
68. Barry Manilow, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve"
69. Dan Fogelberg, "Same Old Lang Syne"

#The definitive version of this chestnut. Period.
~Released in 1982! I'd always assumed, since it was Andy Williams, it was a late-'60s record, but no.
%It truly fascinates me how this has become a cherished Christmas classic in the UK. Can anyone shed any light on why this is?
^Not all good Christmas songs have to be happy ones.
**This might possibly be the most bizarre song on this playlist; hearing any French-Canadian singing "Feliz Navidad," let alone the world's most famous one - including her exultation "We're just getting hot!" at 1:08 - is delightfully WEIRD. If music is the international language, then Celine is like ESL in every language. I had a chance encounter with this version a couple of weeks back - somehow fittingly that it was in a taqueria in the Castro. How did this come out a decade ago (on These Are Special Times) and I'd never heard it until now?!
@I love the vocalist on this track...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Top 10 Albums of 2008

1. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III (Cash Money)
2. Bob Dylan, Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 (Columbia)
3. Hercules and Love Affair (DFA)
4. Girl Talk, Feed the Animals (Illegal Art)
5. Q-Tip, The Renaissance (Universal Motown)
6. Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part One (Fourth World War) (Universal Motown)
7. Presets, Apocalypso (Modular)
8. Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy (MCA Nashville)
9. Nine Inch Nails, The Slip (The NULL Corporation)
10. T-Pain, Thr33 Ringz (Nappy Boy/Konvict/Jive)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Top 40 singles of 2008

1. Hercules and Love Affair, "Blind (Frankie Knuckles Remix)" (DFA)
2. Mariah Carey, "I'll Be Lovin' U Long Time" (Island Def Jam)
3. Grace Jones, "Williams' Blood (Aeroplane Remix)" (unreleased)
4. Mariah Carey, "Touch My Body (Seamus Haji Club Mix)" (Island Def Jam)
5. Erykah Badu, "Honey" (Universal Motown)
6. Justice, "DVNO" (Vice)
7. T-Pain featuring Ludacris, "Chopped N Skrewed" (Nappy Boy/Konvict/Jive)
8. Q-Tip, "Gettin' Up" (Universal Motown)
9. Beyonce, "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) (Maurice Joshua Club Mix)" (Music World/Columbia)
10. The Presets, "This Boy's in Love" (Modular)

11. Cut Copy, "Lights & Music (Boys Noize Happy Birthday Remix)" (Modular)
12. Carrie Underwood, "Last Name" (Arista Nashville)
13. Madonna featuring Justin Timberlake and Timbaland, "4 Minutes (Bob Sinclair Space Funk Remix)" (Warner Bros.)
14. Leona Lewis, "Bleeding Love (Moto Blanco Vocal Club Mix)" (Sony)
15. Lil Wayne, "A Milli" (Cash Money)
16. Jennifer Hudson featuring Fantasia, "I'm His Only Woman" (J)
17. T-Pain featuring Lil Wayne, "Can't Believe It" (Nappy Boy/Konvict/Jive)
18. The Presets, "My People" (Modular)
19. Kylie Minogue, "Wow (CSS Mix)" (Parlophone UK)
20. Carrie Underwood, "Just A Dream" (Arista Nashville)

21. Jennifer Hudson, "Spotlight (Moto Blanco Club Mix)" (J)
22. Usher, "Trading Places" (LaFace)
23. Kylie Minogue, "In My Arms" (Parlophone UK)
24. Lil Wayne featuring T-Pain, "Got Money" (Cash Money)
25. Jill Scott, "My Love" (Hidden Beach)
26. Tim McGraw, "Suspicions" (Curb)
27. Hot Chip, "One Pure Thought (Streetlab Remix)" (unreleased)
28. Usher, "Love In This Club (MSTRKRFT Remix)" (unreleased)
29. Cut Copy, "Hearts on Fire (Knightlife Remix)" (Modular)
30. MGMT vs Justice vs Notorious B.I.G., "Nasty Feel (ddpesh Rework)" (unreleased)

31. Ne-Yo, "Miss Independent" (Def Jam)
32. The Presets, "Talk Like That (CFCF Remix)" (Modular)
33. Wiley, "Wearing My Rolex" (Asylum UK)
34. Rex the Dog, "Bubblicious" (Hundehaus UK)
35. Lee Ann Womack, "Last Call" (MCA Nashville)
36. Ciara featuring T-Pain, "Go Girl" (LaFace)
37. Adele, "Chasing Pavements" (XL)
38. Lil Wayne featuring Kidd Kidd & Bobby Valentino, "Mrs. Officer" (Cash Money)
39. M.I.A., "Paper Planes (Scottie B Remix)" (XL)
40. Usher featuring Beyonce & Lil Wayne, "Love in This Club Part II" (LaFace)

Friday, December 19, 2008

More Rock-ing

Updates, today and a week ago.

re: Auto-Tune

I know I'm not the first person to say so, but the thing about Auto-Tune is that, in the right hands, it can be a thing of wonder. Kanye uses it on 808s and Heartbreak to express his sadness in a way that an unprocessed vocal wouldn't, frankly. And Auto-Tune king T-Pain, at his best, utilizes it as another instrument, another toy in his box; he completely alters the textures of his records with it. (Not to mention that his productions for other artists are increasingly exciting - see Ciara's "Go Girl.")

Country Music Critics Poll 2008 ballot

I'm Thomas Inskeep, of San Francisco, CA. I wrote some reviews for Allmusic this year, and wrote some on my blog (, but spent a lot of the year unemployed (which I still am) and living: I moved from LA to SF and got married in October, then spent a chunk of November protesting the stripping of my equality from me by the bigoted voters of CA (Prop 8, I mean).

I listened to less country music this year than in a while, in part because CMT drastically cut back their video programming, and in part because my lack of writing (I spent most of '06 and '07 writing for Stylus, which went black 10/31/07) resulted in my receiving fewer promos from Nashville. I'm working on rectifying that for 2009, ramping of my production for Allmusic and my blog, and who knows who else.

Carrie Underwood's singles from Carnival Ride ruled '08 for me: just between the back-to-back #1s "Just a Dream" and "Last Name" (my #1 and #3) she proved that she's got the stuff of a career artist, and she just seems to get better. I think Carrie's likely to have a career like that of her Oklahoma idol, Reba, and be around for 30 years. Lee Ann Womack released an album that's a good difference-splitter between the trad of There's More Where That Came From and contempo Nashville, and it featured some of her best singing ever. Alan Jackson did what he did best, better than almost anyone - Good Time really IS a good time. Darius Rucker proved that you can move from pop to country and MEAN it, and the fans could tell.

1. Call Me Crazy - Lee Ann Womack
2. Good Time - Alan Jackson
3. Duets: Friends & Legends - Anne Murray
4. The High Notes - Ricky Skaggs

1. Just A Dream - Carrie Underwood
2. Suspicions - Tim McGraw
3. Last Name - Carrie Underwood
4. Gunpowder & Lead - Miranda Lambert
5. Don't Think I Don't Think About It - Darius Rucker
6. Stay - Sugarland
7. Last Call - Lee Ann Womack
8. Troubadour - George Strait
9. Cowgirls Don't Cry - Brooks & Dunn with Reba McEntire
10. Good Time - Alan Jackson


1. Alan Jackson
2. Darius Rucker
3. Trace Adkins

1. Carrie Underwood
2. Lee Ann Womack
3. Jennifer Nettles (Sugarland)



1. Sugarland
2. Lady Antebellum
3. Brooks & Dunn

1. Darius Rucker
2. Lady Antebellum

1. Carrie Underwood
2. Alan Jackson
3. Lee Ann Womack

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

George Jones - Burn Your Playhouse Down: The Unreleased Duets (Bandit 2008)

This collection of tracks left over from the sessions for 1991's Friends in High Places and 1994's The Bradley Barn Sessions may seem like, well, leftovers, but it's far from it. The Ol' Possum exhibits as fine a voice as ever across this set, but the real draw here is the song selection and his collection of duet partners.

Take as one example Jones' take on "Rockin' Years," originally a #1 smash in 1989 for Dolly Parton and Ricky Van Shelton (check out their version here). In its original form, "Years" is an ode to sticking with your partner through the end, until the end; "rockin' years" encompass everything from "rockin' babies" to "Rock of Ages." Trading Van Shelton's sexy, rich tones for Jones' (ahem) more lived-in voice recontextualizes the song, however (it's still a duet with Parton), as it no longer sounds like a song between two young(er) lovers - now they're a pair who've already seen each other through plenty. There's a sense of gravitas in this version missing from Van Shelton's; then again, when Jones is involved, that's not so shocking.

"She Once Lived Here," done with Ricky Skaggs, has a pleasing, loping quality to it, but there's an element of - is it sleepiness? - to it that leaves it slightly lacking. A Jones/Skaggs duet seems like it should be more fiery than this is. And frankly, I'd expect a sleepy performance from Mark Knopfler, and that's exactly what he bring to "I Always Get Lucky With You" (odd song choice, too). On the other hand is another superstar British guitarist: step up, Keith Richards! His duet of "Burn Your Playhouse Down" is sassy and saucy, damned near everything you'd want in a collaboration between these two salty old coots.

If there's a chief complaint to be leveled against this set, it's that it's a bit too mannered. I'd have hoped for a bit more grit, say, from the Shelby Lynne duet on "I Always Get It Right with You." As a whole, Playhouse is just too polite for its own good - maybe that's why these collaborations were left off the albums for which they were originally recorded? It's almost entirely midtempo, and can get monotonous in spots. That said, highlights such as "Selfishness in Man," with Vince Gill, are high indeed; Jones' and Gill's harmonies on the chorus are simply pure and gorgeous.

And yes, there's the draw of a previously unreleased duet with Tammy Wynette here, "Lovin' You, Lovin' Me," recorded in 1977. It's good enough, but it's not going to result in any jaws dropping. Which is essentially how one can sum up this album: if you're a fan of the Possum, you'll get some enjoyment out of it; if you're not, it won't convince you. A solid, if unspectacular, addition to Jones' catalog. B

Monday, December 08, 2008

born, not gone, country

I don't remember hearing lots of country music as a kid, but I know that Dad listened to some, at least, out in the barn while he was milking (Did you know I grew up on a farm? And that my Dad spent almost 35 years as a dairy farmer?), and I vividly recall the one and only concert my parents went to during my childhood - meaning, I remember them getting ready to go to it; I wasn't along for the ride: it was the Statler Brothers, sometime in the late '70s. (I also recall the Statlers' The Best of the Statler Bros., from 1975, spending plenty of time on the family turntable, along with my Mom's Carpenters and John Denver records - and while it may not been the reason Mom responded to him, Denver was certainly as country as he was pop.)

As a child, I hated country music. Absolutely loathed it. Country, for me equalled rural America, which I (not coincidentally) also hated, as I was forced to be part of it. (I was a city boy before I'd ever set foot in one, frankly, and since 2000 have lived only in metro areas of at least 1 million people, save for six months in 2004.) Country also equalled, as a kid, the people who didn't get me, or worse were nasty to me, the weird kid with the big white-boy Afro, who had odd obsessions and (once I got to high school) odder musical tastes. Much like with sports, which I also hated for my first two decades of life, I had to come to country music on my own terms.

Eventually, obviously, I did. My first country album was most assuredly Patsy Cline's iconic 1988 12 Greatest Hits; she was the one country singer it was "okay" for a fan of the Cure and the Smiths to like (especially things like the lovelorn "Crazy" and despondent "Walking After Midnight"). I've no idea how I progressed from there - probably via the big crossover acts, most of them female and gay-friendly, like Dolly, Shania, and the Dixie Chicks. And somehow, from that initial toe-dip into country waters, I've become a full-blown fan. The CMAs are never-miss for me (my account of this year's show is here, and as some of you doubtless know, I ended up the go-to country reviewer for Stylus: proof can be found here. This year, I've even been reviewing some country records for Allmusic, hooray! CMT's had two recent specials which have perfectly exemplified why I love country music.

Alan Jackson has become, over time, one of my favorite artists in country. Much like his peer Tim McGraw, I still find his earlier work schlocky at times, but there's no denying the power of his pen, especially; Jackson writes the bulk of his records. His 9/11 response, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" is, possibly, the only good song (let alone classic) to come in the wake of that day, and he's equally as adept at honky-tonking rave-ups like "Chattahoochee" and the recent #1 "Good Time." Not to mention that Jackson's as traditionalist as superstars get. He believes completely in the power of trad country music, as evidenced on records like his superb 2000 duet with George Strait (speaking of traditionalists), "Murder on Music Row."

CMT honored Jackson with their third Giants concert/special, calling in the likes of teen queen Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, and Strait himself to pay tribute at the Ryman Auditorium. The special premiered over the weekend, and actually is special. The performances were fairly uniformly stellar, and the reminiscences and verbal tributes clearly heartfelt. Here's Carrie Underwood talking about "Action Jackson":

Traditionally, I'd never been much of a fan of southern rock, either, but lo and behold, here comes CMT Crossroads pairing Trace Adkins and .38 Special. Were these songs always this good, like "Wild Eyed Southern Boys" and, especially, "Hold on Loosely"?

Trace comes from the other side of country as opposed to Jackson: he's not afraid to be tacky, and vulgar, and ridiculous. (Three words: "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.") And as much as we need Jackson, we need Adkins. He's got one of the sexiest growls in music and is one tall drink of water, too (just like Jackson, come to think of it). His pairing with .38 Special was perfection; he'd match up nicely with ZZ Top, too (but their Crossroads already happened, with Brooks & Dunn a few years back).

I love the diaspora of country music, and I'm not ashamed to say so, y'all.

Sunday, December 07, 2008



Thursday, December 04, 2008

Aretha Franklin - "Touch My Body" (live in Washington, DC, October 2008)

Is there any way we can get this nom-nom-nominated for a Grammy?

re: Grammy nominations & NARAS' fire-up-the-troops concert

First of all, that Grammy noms concert. The whole conceit of it was pretty silly - and Taylor Swift and LL Cool J are not particularly good hosts - but the idea to have artists perform songs from the Grammy Hall of Fame was actually pretty smart, or at least potentially interesting.

Mariah's opening performance of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" was fine, but it felt as if she was singing off a teleprompter. In contrast, Celine Dion's take on Janis Ian's "At Seventeen" was surprisingly moving and came off as very heartfelt; it's one of the best things I've ever heard from her. Their cover of "You're So Vain" proved that still, the most interesting thing Foo Fighters have done this decade may be their appearance on Top Chef last week. (Memo to Dave Grohl: please stop. And could you have read the noms for Country Duo/Group with a little more smarm in your voice? Asshole.)

Performing "I Loves You Porgy" in the style of Nina Simone was slightly shocking - the fact that Christina Aguilera pulled it off (what a rich lower register she's got - wish we'd get to hear it more often) with such panache shouldn't have been. Absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately, Taylor Swift provided the opposite, showing off a very thin voice on Brenda Lee's "I'm Sorry." She may be a good, burgeoning songwriter, but she's not become a star on the back of her voice. Letting her segue into a snippet of her new single felt like cheating, too. As for John Mayer and B.B. King, their "Let the Good Times Roll" (originally by the leviathan Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five) was damned good, owing more (naturally) to King than to Mayer (who, it pains me to admit, really is a shit-hot guitarist).

Before heading headlong (don't worry, it won't be that deep) into the nods themselves, I'll hand off for a moment to my friend Ben, who emailed me this, today: "I'll give you a call tomorrow afternoon to talk about all the Grammys Lil Wayne won't win and how it was nice that Robert Plant got nominations in the two big categories so that all the old people who vote for Grammys will have someone to vote for." (He's got further Grammy thoughts on his blog, linked with his name above. I love how cranky he gets about them every year.)

The full list of Grammy noms is here.

The "big 4" Grammy categories are full of (somewhat) surprising nods this year, making them overall more good than not. Here's two words: "Paper Planes," and a further five: Record of the year nominee. I'm stunned and thrilled that M.I.A. made it into the Record of the Year bake-off - and it's not, contrary to what you may have heard, her only nomination: as the "Paper Planes"-sampling "Swagger Like Us" made it into Best Rap Song contention, she's up there, too (as are the members of the Clash, since "Paper Planes" itself samples "Straight to Hell"... got that?). I'd already figured that Coldplay would be up here (as they are in all of the biggies), so whatev; "Bleeding Love" is better than you think; "Chasing Pavements" is marvelous; and "Please Read the Letter" was a no-brainer. In Album of the Year, even though Tha Carter III is the year's biggest seller, I'm still blown away by Lil Wayne's name here. A victory would be a huge shock, though, since Weezy - the year's leading nominee, with 8 - is up against both Coldplay (in Grammy terms, they're mini-U2) and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss (living legend + Grammy queen = possible juggernaut). Radiohead and Ne-Yo are delightful surprises here as well.

Song of the Year is, as is often the case, the dullest of the big 4; along with Adele and Coldplay's Record nominees, Jason Mraz (barf) and Sara Bareilles (more barf) landed here, along with the surprise of Estelle and Kanye's "American Boy." And as for Best New Artist, along with the shock of Lady Antebellum and Jazmine Sullivan making appearances is that of Katy Perry and Leona Lewis being absent. I especially expected Lewis, Simon Cowell's pet and a Record nom for "Bleeding Love," here. (Plus, she's kind of the UK version of old-school Mariah.)

This post is long and I've tired of writing it. More, perhaps, in the 2 months between now and the actual handing out of Grammy hardware (Feb 8th).

name that tune

Is it wrong that I identified Keith Sweat's "I'll Give All My Love to You" this morning in about 10 seconds?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Back on the block

Hi there, I'm back. Time to slap a fresh coat of paint on this place and get back to work. Coming: full(ish) album reviews (first up: George Jones' Burn Your Playhouse Down: The Unreleased Duets), links to my stuff at Allmusic ('bout to start back up there, too), and perhaps even a rescusitation of the cassette rack over here. Stay tuned.

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