Best Albums of 2009

The following list is made up of the best 15 CDs that I had the pleasure of hearing from November 30, 2008, until December 1, 2009.

1.) “Working On A Dream” (Deluxe Edition) – Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band. Another classic Springsteen album, the Deluxe Edition contains an extra disc featuring 'The Boss' in the studio along with a video of “A Night With The Jersey Devil” – a cool song not included on the album.

2.) “21st Century Breakdown” – Green Day. The band’s second great album in a row is a masterful combination of classic rock and punk. Billie Joe Armstrong’s songwriting has developed to the point where he is becoming the 21st century’s answer to Pete Townshend.

3.) “Backspacer” – Pearl Jam. “Backspacer” kicks off in high style with four rockers before unveiling the ballads. The album is kind of a throwback to the days of vinyl with shorter songs and a running time of just under 37 minutes. It’s also an impressive collection of new tunes that finds the last survivors of grunge in top form.

4.) “Think Rational!” – The Rationals. Okay the songs are all over forty years old, but this excellent compilation pulls all of the Rationals’ A-Square recordings together for the first time and they sound as fresh as ever. The Rationals were one of Michigan’s greatest garage bands and a collection like this was long overdue.

5.) “Wilco (The Album)” – Wilco. I think this is Wilco’s best album yet. It features a wide variety of sounds and textures, but it rocks harder than their previous CDs. “Wilco (The Album)” is also a good representation of how the band sounds live in concert.

6.) “Together Through Life” – Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan just keeps cranking out first-rate albums and this is no exception. Dylan has become a master troubadour who writes and records new songs that reflect America’s varied musical traditions.

7.) “Townes” – Steve Earle. Townes Van Zandt was one of Steve Earle’s mentors in both music and living a self-destructive lifestyle. Earle has survived to record 13 of Van Zandt’s best songs in a heartfelt tribute to his former friend and partner in excess.

8.) “A Strange Arrangement” (iTunes Bonus) – Mayer Hawthorne. Michigan artist Hawthorne has fashioned a terrific album that pays tribute to smooth sounds of soul music that were popular in the 60’s and 70’s without ever sounding dated. The Motown-styled iTunes bonus song is a great addition to the original CD.

9.) My Old, Familiar Friend” (iTunes Bonus) – Brendan Benson. This collection of killer power pop songs harkens back to the 60’s and 70’s and is very different from Benson’s last two albums with fellow Michigander Jack White in the Raconteurs. The new album is more like Benson’s previous solo albums but with higher production values.

10.) Only By The Night” – Kings Of Leon. I rate the Kings Of Leon one of the very best of the post-2000 bands because of their unique sound and solid songwriting. “Only By The Night” is their most consistent album yet, filled with powerful, guitar-driven songs and featuring the distinctive vocals of Caleb Followill.

11.) “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” – Phoenix. I didn’t think I’d ever see an album by a band from France on my list, but this is one of the best pop rock albums I’ve heard in some time. Phoenix has put together a very accessible album full of catchy tunes.

12.) “Middle Cyclone” – Neko Case. Her face, her hair, her dipped-in-honey voice…I could go on, but let’s concentrate on her music. Neko writes genre-crossing songs that touch on folk, pop, country, and rock without sounding like they fit in any category other than her own.

13.) “The Way I See It” – Raphael Saadiq. There has been very few R&B releases in recent years that have interested me. Saadiq, a former member of Tony! Toni! Tone!, has crafted an album that brings back the sound of the classic soul of the 60’s. Great stuff!

14.) “Mr. Lucky” (iTunes Bonus) – Chris Isaak. Isaak’s emotional vocals channel both Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley without ever sounding like he’s a tribute artist. “Mr. Lucky” is full of primo Chris Isaak songs. The iTunes CD contains four bonus cuts, three of which I would consider essential.

15.) “Don’t Do Anything” – Sam Phillips. This is Phillips’ first album since the break-up of her marriage to her long-time producer T Bone Burnett. Although she produced the album herself, it is heavily influenced by Burnett’s style. Some of the collection’s tunes might deal with their relationship, but Sam is much too clever of a songwriter to make any interpretation a simple affair.