Top Ten '97

If You Haven't Got 'Em All, You're Just Not Cool.

By Various Authorities

EVERYONE'S GOT 'EM, and so do we. The following Top 10s are the personal picks of 1997 from a few of the Tucson Weekly's regularly contributing music writers:


Fred Mills

  1. Patti Smith, Peace & Noise (Arista). Punk's grande doyenne follows up the introspective Gone Again with a tightly wound set of pure rawk, incorporating the free-jazz aesthetics and hipster-beat lingo that marked her early masterpieces.

  2. Steve Earle, El Corazon (Warner Brothers). The album Neil Young chose not to make this year, vibrant and melodic, lyrically poignant: Earle scratches the working class underbelly like a mangy dog flailing away at his ringworm scars.

  3. To Rococo Rot, Veiculo (Emperor Jones). German electronic outfit picking up the battered Krautrock baton and ramming it up the sphincter of all those deejay poseurs: Viva la analog revolution, y'all, no block rockin' beats allowed!

  4. John Fahey, City Of Refuge (Tim Kerr). This joins two other new Fahey recordings (The Epiphany Of Glenn Jones, Womb Life) to herald the comeback-of-the-year from one of America's most overlooked fretboard innovators and iconoclasts.

  5. Various, Blaxploitation Vol. 3: The Payback (GTV, UK). Nudging out Rhino's Beg, Scream & Shout! soul box by virtue of its hard-assed focus: Isaac, Marvin, Curtis, James, Bobby Womack, P-Funk, O'Jays, War, etc.

  6. Labradford, Mi media naranja (Kranky). An electronic outfit now incorporating guitars, percussion and acoustic piano to craft sample-rich, romantic soundscapes reminiscent of Morricone or Barry.

  7. John Coltrane, The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (Impulse). Four-CD box housing unbelievable contrasts, from lush melodic meditations to skronkin' outer-orbit oscillations.

  8. Bob Dylan, Time Out Of Mind (Sony). I'll turn the mic over to Patti Smith: "He sent me a test pressing of it, and I just knew people would like this record. He's worked so long and hard for us."

  9. Neil Young, Modern World (Luminous). While Year Of The Horse is sonically pristine, this two-CD bootleg (5-19-97, Santa Cruz) is raw, raging, Crazy Horsian inspiration and includes some unreleased songs as well.

  10. Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One (Matador). Romance and cynicism melted together like a well-done cheeseburger, sautéed in Ira Kaplan's secret feedback/drone sauce.

Brendan Doherty

  1. Pavement, Brighten the Corners (Matador). The most important band in America gracefully continues to re-write their history in a quiet way for anyone who cares to watch. Again, they release their most complex and satisfying record: and again, it replaces their last as essential listening.

  2. Björk, Homogenic (Elektra). Everywhere are memorable textures and melodies to loft Björk's athletic and graceful vocal swoops, and emotion-filled passages. She finally crafts the music capable of matching her vocal gymnastics.

  3. Smog, Red Apple Falls (Drag City). After throwing his diary pages into the flames of minimal folk, singer Bill Callahan transports his immediate and naked singing into poetic songs with the weight of the ages. Nine songs of pure genius.

  4. Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating (Matador). The Jewish Jimi Hendrix & Co. release as fine an eighth album as you'll ever hear.

  5. Wilco, Being There (Warner Bros.). A pretentious double-album that never fails to deliver both the listener and the band from the confines of, straight to the arena. Both are left laughing at the trip. Essential listening.

  6. Henry's Dress, Bust 'Em Green, (Slumberland). The best band you will never see, plays the last studio tracks to the world. Half Ramones-fueled, girl-singing crush confessionals, half cooler-than-Radiohead murky, self-deprecating pop gems on a thudding beat.

  7. Holiday, Café Reggio (Spin Art). Pop to take any listener's breath away, on lilting melodies. Not since the Beatles' Rubber Soul have guitar and personal disclosure been so happily married.

  8. Hayden, Moving Careful (Outpost/Geffen). Bill Callahan's doppleganger finally lives up to his hype with a personal, affecting record almost without affect. Hayden is two parts Smog, one part Palace, and, judging from these songs, all heart.

  9. Centro-Matic, Re-do the Stacks (Steve). A gem from a Denton, Tex., band that reaffirms the primacy and value of both lo-fidelity, and anthemic music. Each song is deceptively simple, and masterfully executed in near-flawless vision. A record for the ages.

  10. Whiskeytown, Stranger's Almanac (Outpost/Geffen). This band rewrites itself into an incarnation of mid-'70s Stones and Fleetwood Mac with songs filled with soul. Damn if lead singer Ryan Adams didn't go and fire his whole band (except the violin player). It might seem childish if he himself weren't 22. Watch this band, or regretfully, read about them after the fact.

Dave McElfresh

  1. Jimmy Webb, Ten Easy Pieces (Guardian). Arguably one of the best songwriters of the century finally tackles the material others made famous, including "Wichita Lineman," "The Moon's A Harsh Mistress," and "By The Time I Get To Phoenix."

  2. Miles Davis, Live-Evil (Columbia/Legacy). One of the nastiest jazz albums ever recorded. Two hours of pure jungle funk.

  3. Marshall Crenshaw, Miracle Of Science (Razor & Tie). Another solid outing from this underrated rocker. As usual, lots of rockabilly influence and killer hooks.

  4. The Everly Brothers, Stories We Could Tell and Pass The Chicken And Listen (One Way). From this listener's perspective, these two reissues contain the best stuff the duo ever recorded--and prove that they could have taken their career far beyond "Wake Up Little Susie" had they stuck together.

  5. Various Artists, Paint It, Blue (House of Blues). A handful of contemporary blues players tackle Stones' classics, and consistently turn in versions grittier than the originals.

  6. Houston Person, Personified (HighNote). The R&B tenor-sax king growls his way through a load of familiar ballads.

  7. Pete Seeger, Pete (Living Music). Oddly, jazzman Paul Winter produced this collection of re-recorded Seeger classics. The emphasis is on the folksinger's paeans to nature rather than his protest music.

  8. Todd Rundgren, With A Twist (Guardian). Bossa nova versions of Rundgren's most popular songs. Not authentic Brazilian music, but great stuff nonetheless.

  9. Gary Stewart, The Essential Gary Stewart (RCA). A reissue of a much-missed honky-tonk legend's work from the '70s.

  10. Kip Hanrahan, A Thousand Nights And A Night (American Clave). No one turns out more sultry jazz than this New York composer, this release being the first in a series based on the Arabian Nights legend.

Sean Murphy

  1. Lee Scratch Perry, Arkology (Island). Although heavy on vocals and light on dub, Arkology contains enough gems and rarities from the eccentric Jamaican genius to make it essential for the curious and the converted.

  2. Various Artists, The Inner Flame (Atlantic). Rainer the songwriter. Beautiful contributions and collaborations with Emmylou Harris, Chris McKay, et al.

  3. Dr. Octagon, The Instrumentalyst (Dreamworks). This instrumental companion to the vocal album explodes with unpredictable sounds and samples. Menace and beauty rolled into one by a talented lunatic.

  4. Miles Davis & Gil Evans, Porgy And Bess reissue (Columbia). Miles' trumpet never sounded more like a human voice than it did over Evans' astonishingly textured arrangements. If you can't afford the box set, this is the one to get. Remastered and with extra tracks.

  5. Calexico, Spoke (Quarter Stick). Stripped-down, unpretentious western pop, perfect for a day of surfing on the Rillito.

  6. Billie Holiday, The Complete Commodore Recordings (GRP). When Sony balked at the militancy of "Strange Fruit," Commodore answered the call. Stellar vocal performances by an American treasure.

  7. Erykah Badu, Baduizm (Universal). Echoes of Lady Day and Nina Simone without sounding retro. A sensual, hypnotic antidote to what's passing for R&B these days.

  8. Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Fela's London Scene reissue (Sterns Africa). Fela took soul music full circle when he brought James Browns' groove back to Africa. A strong Afro-pop set showcases his power as a band leader, vocalist and political activist.

  9. Duarte 6, Command Performances (Bloat). A recent fave. This loopy Tucson group combines Velvets with 13th Floor Elevators for a kick-ass instrumental stew.

  10. Wyclef Jean, The Carnival (Sony). A lame Bee Gees retread doesn't diminish the rest of this album's brilliance, which offer a complex mesh of hip-hop, world beat and reggae more original and enjoyable than the Fugees.

Roni Sarig

  1. Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One (Matador). The only consistently excellent record I heard this year came from this endlessly likable trio who've quietly plied their indie-rock trade with intelligence, humor, and a low angst-quotient for over a decade now.

  2. Lateef and Lyrics Born, Latyrx (Solesides). If there's a hip-hop heaven, I imagine it as a place where the halo-topped figures of Lateef and Lyrics Born take turns kicking Puff Daddy's skinny ass unto eternity.

  3. Belle and Sebastian, If You're Feeling Sinister (The Enclave). While the pastoral pop made by this fey Scottish seven-piece is immediately appealing, it reveals new folds of melody and cleverness with each listen. With stylishly literate and miserably funny lyrics, this record single-handedly revives that Northern British pop tradition (Smiths, Aztec Camera) for which we '80s children have a pathetic soft spot.

  4. Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out (Kill Rock Stars). With their duo-guitar interplay and scrappy rock-goddess assault, Sleater-Kinney created something that seemed nearly impossible in 1997: a truly dynamic and vital punk album. Plus, they're one of the only bands going that could get away with it when they dip into completely non-ironic, celebratory rock.

  5. Rakim, The 18th Letter (Universal). In a rap scene where it's hard enough to stick around and nearly impossible to come back, hip-hop's most legendary MC has returned, 11 years since his brilliant debut (and five years after he split from partner Eric B.). Amazingly, he's lost none of his skill and even gained some wisdom with maturity.

  6. Nick Cave, The Boatman's Call (Reprise). With only traces of the madness and brutality that once consumed his work, the Bad Seed has sprouted a shade tree with a plain-but-stunning record that finds Cave finding God in the arms of earthly love. Always more pretentious in perception than reality, Cave's writing here is beautiful in both its obviousness and understatement.

  7. Papas Fritas, Helioself (Minty Fresh). This instantly gratifying slab of sonic caramel fudge is intricately crafted to sound lightweight and effortless. Ear candy has rarely sounded so substantial.

  8. Aphex Twin, Richard D. James (Sire/Warp). While 1997 was to be--and was, in a self-fulfilling sort of way--the year of electronica, mostly the glut of techno-based compilations and crossover dreamers served to underline how lame so much of that music is. Richard D. James was one of the few techno records that didn't try to pass off lazy repetition as "trance-inducing" minimalism.

  9. Cornershop, When I Was Born for the 7th Time (Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.). For all the talk of this record's blend of South Asian and northern English pop sounds, the music here sounds neither daringly cross-pollinated nor strangely juxtaposed. Rather it's a conventional pop record that harks back to the days when pop didn't have to be sonically conservative and genre-specific. Cornershop's willingness to make a pop record--rather than its desire to reconcile its leader's British and Indian heritage--is what makes this a great breakthrough album.

  10. X-ecutioners, X-pressions (Asphodel). Like their West Coast equivalents the Invisible Scratch Pickles, the four maestro deejays who comprise New York's X-ecutioners take the art of turntable manipulation to such an advanced level they become four instrumentalists who create entirely new music. And unlike the avant gardists who've tried similar things, this stuff actually sounds good.

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