A friend of mine posted and article recently (you can find it here) on the sad, sorry state of music these days. To a certain degree I agree with the article (although I certainly wouldn’t hold up Chicago 17 as the pinnacle achievement of the 80’s) but with the following caveat: Top 40 music today sucks, but there is a lot of good music out there. The problem is you have to go find it – its not going to find you. There are still plenty of albums by artists out there that are really good. I consider an album to be good if it has one to two filler tracks (again with the Chicago 17 – it had a few) with the rest being “strong to very strong”. A good example of what I would consider a good album from the last few years would be Bleed American by Jimmy Eat World (or just Jimmy Eat World by Jimmy Eat World for those of you who bought the album after 9/11). Its the perfect example of a great power pop album. As I’m looking at the track list, I see no filler tracks whatsoever. And while Jimmy Eat World did have a Top 40 hit from this album, “The Middle”, everything else they’ve released seems to have been ignored by the Top 40 crowd.
My main problem with Top 40 music these days is that it seems to have been taken over by the Hip-Hop/Rap crowd. Now I don’t have a problem with that type of music necessarily, although I’m not a fan of much of it, but it seems that the Top 40 had a lot more variety when I was growing up than it does today. If you look at this week’s Top 100 you’ll find its like I said; mostly Hip-Hop/Rap with some Country (of course I could write a completely separate article about the sad state of Country music today; it’s basically average pop music with banal lyrics sung with a twang or drawl), generic Rock, Dance and the ubiquitous Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus) thrown in for good measure.
So for all you music lovers who pine for the days when The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, U2, The Police, Led Zeppelin, Elvis (Presley & Costello), Hank Williams (I & II), George Jones, The Rolling Stones, R.E.M., Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, The Cars, and even Chicago ruled the airwaves, here’s some music I think it might be worth your while to check out.
Raising Sand is the new album by the unlikely duo of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. When I first saw that these two had made a record together, I immediately wanted to hear it but didn’t think that it would be very good. Boy, was I wrong! Whoever came up with the idea of putting these two artists together is genius. The tracks on this album range from Country to 50’s-style Rock (a lot of the tracks are covers of 50’s stuff) to what I can only describe as the Gypsy sound of the track “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us”. The other thing you need to know about this album is that is was produced by T Bone Burnett, the genius behind the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and many other albums. With very few exceptions, you’re going to get a great album if he’s produced it regardless of the artist – he always seems to get the best from whoever he’s producing.
One of my favorite bands is the now defunct Cotton Mather. Their two best albums, Kontiki and The Big Picture evoke everything that was great about the British Invasion of the ’60’s, especially the Beatles. Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher said that he wished he had written Kontiki. One of the great things about Cotton Mather is that even though they have an obvious Beatles/Dylan influence, they still manage to make music that sounds original and new rather than merely derivative. If you can still find either of these two albums, pick them up.
Goodbye Blue Monday is a great album by a new artist, Jeremy Fisher (not to be confused by the frog from the Beatrix Potter tale). The tracks alternate between acousticy/folky ballads to jangly upbeat numbers. Its a great acoustic rock album with killer melodies that brings to mind 70’s era Paul Simon and Dylan.
My Morning Jacket is a group from Kentucky that combines the jam-band stylings of groups like Widespread Panic with Neil Young/Crazy Horse and Southern Rock elements. One reviewer described their sound as “stone-souled folkiness” which is better than anything I can come up with. It Still Moves and Z are great places to start if you want to check them out.
Ben Folds is a guy that has been around since the early ’90’s, first as Ben Folds Five, then solo. Pretty much everything he’s released is pure pop genius. Saving Silverman, his latest release with all new material, is probably my favorite, although Whatever and Ever Amen, the Ben Folds Five release, is up there.
Robbie Fulks is another artist that you probably won’t find at your local record store (do those still exist?) or Wal-Mart. His albums alternate between power Pop and Alt-Country and always have great, catchy melodies. For the Pop music version of Robbie pick up Let’s Kill Saturday Night or Couples in Trouble. For the Alt-Country version pick up South Mouth or Georgia Hard. The fact that this guy has never had a hit, Country or Pop, illustrates everything that’s wrong with today’s music scene.
Well, there you go – I think this post has definitely lived up to it’s title, the scatter-shooting part anyway. There’s tons of other stuff out there that I like but I’ve rambled on for way too long.