Douglas Heselgrave's Lucky 21: The Top Albums of 2008

First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2009, Volume 16, #2

Written by Douglas Heselgrave

Mon February 9, 2009, 06:30 AM CST

gif

Miles from India: A Celebration of the Music of Miles Davis1) Various Artists - Miles from India: A Celebration of the Music of Miles Davis

Miles from India is a tribute to Miles Davis that was created by musicians from India. As unlikely as this concept might seem to be on paper, the setís execution exceeds all expectations. While the songs themselves bear only passing resemblances to Davisí original recorded versions, the distillation of the cantankerous trumpeterís rebel spirit is right on target. Featuring the finest Indian musicians on the planet, Miles from India is the best kind of tribute outing because it takes great delight in exploring the spirit and intent of Davisí art rather than contenting itself with simply recreating pale renditions of his material. Daring, intense, and provocative, Miles from India is the most exciting, creative, and sublime effort to come out this year.

Full Review of Miles from India: A Celebration of the Music of Miles Davis

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Sound of the World Presents: Beyond the Horizon2) Various Artists - Sound of the World Presents: Beyond the Horizon

This two-disc compilation presents many of the highlights from Charlie Gillettís influential Sounds of the World radio show. It also is one of the best world music samplers ever to be conceived. Not only does it contain the freshest new music from around the globe, but also its informative liner notes are designed to lead the listener toward further explorations. Terrific cuts from artists such as Manu Chao, Youssou NíDour, Dengue Fever, and Yasmine Levy are what make this collection absolutely essential.

Full Review of Sound of the World Presents: Beyond the Horizon

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Patti Smith / Kevin Shields - The Coral Sea3) Patti Smith / Kevin Shields - The Coral Sea

When Patti Smith is on her game, no one can touch her. The Coral Sea is her homage to controversial artist Robert Mapplethorpe, and it serves as a fantastic reminder to those who have been disappointed with her recent output just how talented Smith can be when the Muse is with her. The album contains two distinctly different performances of her poem The Coral Sea, both of which were recorded with help from guitarist Kevin Shields. Sensitively and intuitively, he provides a thrilling, musical backdrop to Smithís haunting tale of despair and rebirth. Itís safe to say that The Coral Sea is the most challenging album of the year.

Full Review of Patti Smith and Kevin Shields' The Coral Sea

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project4) Various Artists - Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project

Tragically, Andy Palacio died earlier this year, just after he had completed work on Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project, which was his follow-up to Watina, and, for my money, was the best album of 2007. This time, though, Palacio wanted to emphasize the songs of Garifuna women. Like its predecessor, Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project is a beautifully recorded, soulful collection of folk songs that stand among the best tracks to be released in 2008. Though this outing didnít achieve the widespread recognition of its predecessor, it is a fine tribute to Palacioís recorded legacy, and it likely will earn more critical esteem as the years pass.

Full Review of Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Ferron - Boulder5) Ferron - Boulder

A new recording by Canadian folk singer Ferron is always cause for celebration. Featuring fresh versions of her time-tested songs, Boulder is especially good. Fans of intimate music that is played with skill and conviction will love this record. Contributing to Boulder is a veritable whoís who of female songwriters that includes Ani DiFranco, Sam Parton, and the Indigo Girlsí Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. Together, they ensure that Boulder will be an enduring classic.

Full Interview with Ferron about Boulder

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Bob Dylan - Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 86) Bob Dylan - Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8

With Bob Dylan, the official rendition of a song often tells only half of the story. This collection of outtakes and alternate versions, which date between 1989 and 2006, is better than many of the other releases in his bootleg series because of how well it provides insight into Dylanís artistic transformation during a critical point in his career. Among the highlights are two revealing and different stabs at Mississippi Ė a song that eventually saw the light of day on 2001ís Love and Theft. Also included are rarities such as The Lonesome River, which is delivered as a delightful duet with Ralph Stanley.

Full Review of Bob Dylan's Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Veda Hille - This Riot Life7) Veda Hille - This Riot Life

This charming recording by Veda Hille, a composer and songwriter based in Vancouver, is one of the most musically interesting albums to be issued this year. Running through a gamut of styles that range from folk to show tunes, Hille clearly takes enjoyment from regaling her audience with her quirky tales. Her work often is reminiscent of Kate Bush at her strangest. Likewise, Hilleís Thelonious Monk-influenced piano chops help to transform This Riot Life into a thoroughly entertaining journey, from start to finish.

Full Review of Veda Hille's This Riot Life

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Issa Bagayogo - Mali Koura8) Issa Bagayogo - Mali Koura

Malian kora player Issa Bagayogo is back with his third release. Throughout the set, Bagayogo fuses traditional African songs with cutting-edge, electronica-imbued arrangements. Much more than the sum of its parts, Mali Koura reminds listeners that there is plenty of undiscovered musical territory left to explore. It also is an inspirational and intense record that fans of world beat and club music will find satisfying.

Full Review of Issa Bagayogo's Mali Koura

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir - Tibetan Chants for World Peace9) Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir - Tibetan Chants for World Peace

Tibetan Chants for World Peace is actually a reissued rendition of the 2001 set that was assembled by Mickey Hart. It couldnít have come at a better time, either. Released in the shadow of the Beijing Olympics, this haunting collection of ageless chants highlights why Tibetan culture is worth saving. This is a beautiful album that deserves a spot in everyoneís music library.

Full Review of Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir's Tibetan Chants for World Peace

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Michael Franti & Spearhead - All Rebel Rockers10) Michael Franti & Spearhead - All Rebel Rockers

Although he consistently has staged incredible concerts, Michael Frantiís albums have often been somewhat disappointing. Recorded in Jamaica with Sly and Robbie, All Rebel Rockers doesnít succumb to the problems that plagued his prior endeavors. Its musical arrangements are complex and intense, and Franti has never sounded as radical as he does here. Although his lyrics are often a little heavy-handed, the glorious beats and rhythms that adorn his songs make All Rebel Rockers the perfect soundtrack for starting a revolution.

Full Review of Michael Franti & Spearhead's All Rebel Rockers

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Sidestepper - The Buena Vibra Sound System11) Sidestepper - The Buena Vibra Sound System

Columbiaís Sidestepper recorded some of the hottest dance grooves of 2008. The band borrows from reggae, salsa, and Cuban styles, and its reworking of Que Sera provides reason enough to buy the album. The Buena Vibra Sound System is a sizzling record that will chase away the worst cases of winterís blues.

Full Review of Sidestepper's The Buena Vibra Sound System

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Seckou Keita Quintet - The Silimbo Passage12) Seckou Keita Quintet - The Silimbo Passage

This album by Senegalese expatriate Seckou Keita is one of the most beautiful recordings of acoustic music to be released this year. The Silimbo Passage is one of several outings to feature the kora, which also graced wonderful efforts by Issa Bagayogo and Toumani Diabate. Keitaís music shares a common spirit with Stephane Grappelliís Cafť de Paris outfit. The Silimbo Passage is a delightful endeavor that features strong performances from all of the musicians who contributed to the set. The violin work of Samy Bishai, in particular, is breathtaking.

Full Review of the Seckou Keita Quintet's The Silimbo Passage

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Woody Guthrie - Live Wire: Woody Guthrie in Performance 194913) Woody Guthrie - Live Wire: Woody Guthrie in Performance 1949

This recently unearthed concert recording by Woody Guthrie is the archival release of the year. What can one say about Woody Guthrie that hasnít already been said a thousand times? He wasnít a good singer, and his guitar playing was simplistic and unpolished. His songs, however, are without parallel. Live Wire: Woody Guthrie in Performance 1949 contains essential, uplifting, and timeless music from one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th Century.

Full Review of Woody Guthrie's Live Wire: Woody Guthrie in Performance 1949

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Bombay Dub Orchestra - 3 Cities14) Bombay Dub Orchestra - 3 Cities

The British duo of Andrew MacKay and Garry Hughes pulled out all of the stops for their second album under the moniker of the Bombay Dub Orchestra. The collection was recorded primarily in India, and in crafting the effort, MacKay and Hughes utilized the talents of some of the greatest living classical artists as well as a 77- piece Bollywood orchestra. 3 Cities is an intoxicating journey across some very lush musical terrain. Fans of Pink Floyd and Brian Wilson will revel in the layered instrumentation and trippy soundscapes on the album.

Full Review of Bombay Dub Orchestra's 3 Cities

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Cheb i Sabbah - Devotion15) Cheb i Sabbah - Devotion

The popular San Francisco DJ Cheb i Sabbah has outdone himself with this one. Long enamored with the sounds of India, Sabbah has created a musical travelogue that explores the mysteries and origins of devotional music. By tastefully mixing organic and electric sounds, he has crafted a record whose influence will be felt well beyond the confines of the dance floor. Devotion is one of the most beautiful and challenging CDs to see the light of day in 2008.

Full Review of Cheb i Sabbah's Devotion

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Yusa - Haiku16) Yusa - Haiku

Haiku, the third outing from Yusa, is a deceptively simple collection of songs. Her music contains elements of jazz, funk, and traditional Cuban fare, though itís her voice that is the real star of the record. She often sounds like a more passionate version of Joan Armatrading. Yet, Yusa clearly has the talent to chart a course that is all her own. The public can expect a lot from her in the years to come.

Full Review of Yusa's Haiku

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Grateful Dead - Road Trips, Vol. 1, No. 4: From Egypt with Love17) Grateful Dead - Road Trips, Vol. 1, No. 4: From Egypt with Love

Jerry Garcia summarized the Grateful Deadís trip to Egypt by stating, "We played like shit, but we had the time of our lives." Even if the former part of this statement is true, the bandís expedition to the land of Pharaohs left an indelible mark on its sound. Road Trips, Vol.1, No. 4: From Egypt with Love captures the outfitís rapturous homecoming. Among the delights featured on the set is a wonderful recap of Ollin Arageed, a holdover from the Grateful Deadís trip to Egypt, where, during a lunar eclipse, it had been paired with Fire on the Mountain. This time, it morphs into Deal. A particularly exploratory reading of its Scarlet Begonias/Fire on the Mountain medley appears later in the set. Road Trips, Vol.1, No. 4: From Egypt with Love is a thrilling recording of the Grateful Dead at the tail-end of its peak years.

Full Review of the Grateful Dead's Road Trips, Vol. 1, No. 4: From Egypt with Love

Purchase: Grateful Dead Store

 

Neil Young - Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 196818) Neil Young - Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968

Neil Young has delayed his Archives set too many times to count. Thankfully, he keeps releasing little teasers to keep his fans at bay. Capturing him in concert, just after the breakup of Buffalo Springfield, as his solo career was taking flight, this acoustic set from 1968 is a real gem. Youngís guitar playing isnít spectacular ó yet ó but he surely had found his footing as a vocalist. Standout versions of Birds and Expecting to Fly make this an indispensable endeavor.

Full Review of Neil Young's Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U219) Various Artists - In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2

As unlikely as the pairing of U2 with African artists may sound on paper, this benefit CD features some outstanding performances that allow fans of the Irish band to consider the groupís songs in a new way. Ironically, the most successful tracks on the album ó such as Vieux Farka Toureís Bullet the Blue Sky and Ba Cissokoís barely recognizable rendition of Sunday Bloody Sunday ó are the ones that stray the furthest from the originals. This is a terrific album for fans of African music and U2 alike.

Full Review of In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

 

Grateful Dead - Road Trips, Vol. 1, No. 2: October '7720) Grateful Dead - Road Trips, Vol. 1, No. 2: October '77

Although some of the Grateful Deadís diehard fans took exception to the producerís decision to feature highlights rather than complete shows for the Road Trips series, itís hard to complain about the finished products. The second installment in this slowly expanding collection of releases contains an embarrassment of riches because the Grateful Dead arguably was at the peak of its power in 1977. Itís hard to pick favorite tracks from this truly wonderful outing, but the trio of Scarlet Begonias, Fire on the Mountain, and Estimated Prophet gets my vote. This is a thrilling collection that managed to reinvigorate my flagging interest in the band.

Full Review of the Grateful Dead's Road Trips, Vol. 1 No. 2: October '77

Purchase: Grateful Dead Store

 

Van Morrison - Keep It Simple21) Van Morrison - Keep It Simple

As its title suggests, thereís nothing new or groundbreaking about Van Morrisonís latest project Keep It Simple. Instead, Morrison appears content to keep plugging away at making music that matters to him. Songs ó such as Poor Boy and the title track ó remind listeners of how good Morrison can be when heís relaxed enough to let the music carry him away. If he was a young man and this was his debut, critics would rave. Over the years, though, Morrison has released so much timeless music that he essentially is working within his own shadow. Nevertheless, Keep it Simple is one of the yearís most endearing albums.

Full Review of Van Morrison's Keep It Simple

Purchase: Barnes & Noble

gif

For additional information, please also see our other Best of 2008 Lists.

gif

Of Further Interest...

John Metzger's Top Studio Albums of 2008

John Metzger's Top Studio Albums of 2007

Douglas Heselgrave's Top Studio Albums of 2007

gif

Copyright © 2009 The Music Box