A friend recently wanted to “refurbish” her library on her iPod and asked me for some suggestions. Our tastes in music have a large degree of overlap, so I set out enthusiastically, only to realize how difficult it was to come up with a finite list for great listening. At a time when not a lot of contemporary popular music seems to have a chance of surviving beyond a few years, here is a list of albums that should restore your faith in music.
1. Surprise – Paul Simon
You know the Live at Central Park Concert by heart, you use their lyrics to help you deal with daily strife, and you still hang on to the Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m. cassette that no longer plays. You will be surprised by the urban contemporary tone (without losing out on the lyricism or the wit of the older songs) of this one from Paul Simon.
2. Mercury Falling – Sting
I love everything by Sting. Almost. This album is his maturest best, balancing musical ideas with sentimentality, technology with originality, and middle age cynicism with hopeless romanticism. Two other good but relatively less popular/known listens from Sting would be All This Time which he was recording while 9/11 happened and Live at The Perugia Jazz Festival which sees him freewheeling and improvising like never before.
3. My Rock – Walk Off the Earth
New India band that I found thanks to youtube! Nice and original sound, neat covers. They only have two albums out so far, and they make for good listening. They do not strictly fall into the category of serious music, but they bring a freshness that takes you back to the time when The Beach Boys and The Beatles were putting out there initial music. Their music videos are a visual treat unlike anything you have seen before.
4. Heavy Pick – Robert Cray
Technically a studio album, but really a compilation of the best of this amazing contemporary bluesman. You may also want to take a listen to Take Your Shoes Off if you have not heard a lot of Robert Cray before.
5. Tempest – Bob Dylan
The long awaited album from Dylan captures him at his raspiest, wittiest, and musical best. Age has only made him bolder and sharper. Contemporary in feel, this album rates a notch higher on my list than his other work from the last decade. Too early to decide if it is just the excitement of new material that makes me feel this way though.Of course, you can replace this album by any of his early releases, and it will still work.
6. Two Against Nature – Steely Dan
If you are already a Steely Dan fan, this might seem out of place, and I would agree. Everything of theirs preceding this is classier and crazier. I listed this because of the “matured” sound and songwriting and engineering, and of course the fact that as a band, they are at their tightest best, not a moment out of place. My opinion. If you like it, you would want to go through ALL their work.
7. The New Standard – Herbie Hancock
Jazz covers of popular songs? This has to be the last word. This is Hancock atoning for his much more difficult album – The Definitive.
8. River: The Joni Letters – Herbie Hancock and Friends
Between Hancock and Marsalis, it is hard to tell who has done more to popularize jazz among younger listeners. Rivers, as well as the earlier Possibilities, is a collaboration with contemporary singers/musicians across genres. Unlike Possibilities, which was very squarely aimed at the pop/rock market, this is a tribute to Joni Mitchell with the finest group of people doing incredible interpretations. A must have.
9. Kandisa – Indian Ocean
Indian Jazz-rock fusion with a social conscience. Hard to beat. Indian Ocean has also released a film on its life and times called Leaving Home which is a heartwarming and inspiring film that places India on the global music docufilms map.
10. Love – The Beatles
If you know your Beatles backwards, you will love this. Produced by George Martin and his son Giles, it is the soundtrack to a Cirque de Soleil show on the Beatles called Love and is entirely made up of Beatles tracks and sounds. It takes a few listens to get many of the layers and nuances, and the first couple of times you hear it are like a surprise party. Very creative and intelligent.