Best Albums of 2008

This is a listing of the best albums I’ve heard from December 1, 2007 to November 30, 2008. I like to get mine online a little early so that I’m not influenced by any of the countless “Best Of” lists that will be out in the coming weeks. Nothing is more soothing during troubled times than great music, and I’d recommend any of the following CD’s for anyone you might be buying a gift for this holiday season.

01. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – “Raising Sand”. This was probably the biggest surprise of the year for me. I’m amazed at how well the voices of Plant and Krauss blend together. They produced an album so inspiring that Plant apparently no longer wants to sing with Led Zeppelin. The CD features great production from T Bone Burnett.

02. John Mellencamp – “Life, Death, Love and Freedom”. A magnificent and haunting follow-up to last year’s Freedom Road”. Mellencamp has found his voice for the 21st century. It’s also produced by T Bone Burnett, and "Life, Death, Love and Freedom" is the first recording to feature Burnett’s CODE high-definition audio system.

03. Hold Steady – “Stay Positive”. Hold Steady’s latest album is almost as wonderful as 2006’s “Boys And Girls In America”. On “Stay Positive”, lead singer and songwriter Craig Finn continues to spin the best musical stories this side of Bruce Springsteen.

04. Kathleen Edwards – “Asking For Flowers”. This is Kathleen’s third and finest album. Hailing from Canada, her voice will remind you a little of Lucinda Williams, but she claims her music was most influenced by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.

05. Alejandro Escovedo – “Real Animal”. Alejandro has been around for a long time, harking back to the 70’s punk group, The Nuns, as well as the Texas cow-punk band, Rank And File. His stunning new album was produced by Tony Visconti of David Bowie fame, but Escovedo sounds more like a Southwest Bruce Springsteen.

06. Lucinda Williams – “Little Honey”. I think this is Lucinda’s best album since “Car Wheel’s On A Gravel Road”. Her recent albums have suffered from a lack of uptempo material, but “Little Honey” rectifies this with a nice blend of rockers and ballads.

07. Death Cab For Cutie – “Narrow Stairs”. My favorite album by the group is their major label debut, “Plans”, but their follow-up, “Narrow Stairs”, almost equals its predecessor. The iTunes version contains the radio edit of “I Will Possess Your Heart” and audio CD credits as bonuses.

08. Elvis Costello & The Imposters – “Momofuku”. I loved Elvis Costello & The Attractions but I haven’t cared for most of his solo work. His new album harkens back to those great initial releases with the Attractions in the 70’s and early 80’s.

09. Madonna – “Hard Candy”. This is Madonna’s best album since “Ray Of Light”. She worked with Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, and Pharrell Williams on the material, but we all know who was in charge, and who continues to be the ‘queen of the dance floor’.

10. Beck – “Modern Guilt”. Beck’s newest release delves into rock and roll a little more than anything else that I’ve heard from him. “Modern Guilt” kind of reminds me of a late-60’s Kinks album, which is high praise indeed.

11. Dido – “Safe Trip Home”. It seems hard to believe that it’s been five years since Dido released “Life For Rent”. I love her voice, and her music has a very soulful yet soothing quality. Produced by Jon Brion, “Safe Trip Home” has a slightly more ambient sound that meshes nicely with Dido’s songs. The iTunes version contains some bonus songs and mixes.

12. Pretenders – “Breaking Up The Concrete”. The new Pretenders album features Chrissie Hynde and five musicians who had never before recorded with her, including a pedal steel guitarist. “Breaking Up The Concrete” was recorded in less than two weeks. It’s raw and rocking, and Chrissie sounds right at home on the country-tinged songs. The iTunes version contains two bonus tracks.

13. Sheryl Crow – “Detours”. Reunited with producer Bill Bottrell, Sheryl’s new album reminds me a little of their first smash, “Tuesday Night Music Club”. Although her songs touch on some serious topics, there’s a playfulness that I thought was missing on her last album, “Wildflowers”. The iTunes version of “Detours” features nice covers of Jackson Browne and George Harrison songs.

14. Coldplay - "Viva la Vida". A big-sounding, impressive album with lots of good songs. Produced by Brian Eno, it reminds me of some of the classic albums he did with U2. "Viva la Vida" was one of the best-selling albums of the past year, and rightly so.

15. Radiohead“In Rainbows”. This is the coolest Radiohead album since “The Bends”. “In Rainbows” features song structures that are a little more traditional without losing any of the edginess that sets the band apart. Radiohead is like the Pink Floyd of the 21st century, but with better songs and a more interesting singer.

Honorable Mention:

  • R.E.M. - “Accelerate”
  • Raconteurs – “Consolers Of The Lonely”
  • Moby – “Last Night”