Best albums of 2008

I love year-end "Best of" lists! In the past I've included lists of my top movies and albums of each year in our family Christmas letter, but recent years I've tried to do it via the blogosphere instead. Last week's issue of The Onion featured their best music of the year list, and as I read it I just felt old. The only album in their list that I have enjoyed was by Flight Of the Conchords, and absolutely nothing else interested me at all. I just can't grasp this indie rock stuff. I'm a fussy old suburban Dad who'd rather be listening to Glen Burtnik, Danny Wilde, and David Baerwald (there's a sentence that's never been typed before).

When I released the Insomniaccomplishments album this month, I wondered if it might be too late to squeeze on to any lists (or, more likely, if it was just too strange to be deemed worthy of any). I was happy to find one such place online....earlier this year I was contacted by a Canadian writer named Anthony Easton who had discovered my new album, and I just read his "Best of" list for 2008, which includes me along with Jenny Lewis and Kellie Pickler! Anthony writes:

10. Jonathan Rundman - Insomniaccomplishments
This Lutheran singer-songwriter, has been playing music, figuring out Jesus, and begging grace for two decades. This small and very intimate suite of songs done in the middle of the night while his children sleep, has a writing that is sophisticated, a music that is deceptively simple, and a discussion of issues that are vital but often forgotten.

I also made it onto Anthony's list of Singles, along with Beyonce, AC Newman, and Death Cab For Cutie! He writes:

Jonathan Rundman "Dialysis Carpool"
Mostly about the small graces that occur in the spaces between living and dying, manages to be heady w/o overwhelming grief, and catchy without being shallow--a nice balance.

Anthony conducted a really extensive interview with me earlier this year...hopefully it can find a home in a magazine or something somewhere. I'll keep you blog readers updated.

Anyway, here are my picks for BEST ALBUMS OF 2008 with some commentary.

1. JOAN OSBORNE - Little Wild One
I really loved the first couple Joan albums and her collaborations with my huge musical influences Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman (of the Hooters). For this album Eric and Rob have returned as co-writers and producers and it results in my favorite record of the year. These songs are all ridiculously melodic, with hooks galore, lovely and varied instrumentation, interesting and memorable lyrics, and of course Joan's awesome vocal performances. Each song is different, each song is interesting, each song is beautiful, and they all hold together in a beautiful whole. A true album, like you would have heard in the 1970s. The title track is slinkily delicious, built on a lo-fi drum machine. "Light of This World" is anthemic and brave and sounds like some lost standard. And my son loves loves loves the mid-tempo rocker "Sweeter Than The Rest," and Paavo has golden ears. He can pick a hit.

2. RODNEY CROWELL - Sex & Gasoline
I mentioned this one a couple posts ago. A killer band, plus Rodney's wise and crafty lyrics combine to form an Americana masterpiece.

I just picked up this album a few days ago (I'm on a big Rundgren kick lately), and with each listen it grows on me more and more. What is this, 60 years old or something? He's playing all the instruments, singing amazing harmonies, and rocking like never before. This is what I want to be like in twenty years. "Gun," "Panic," and "Today" are killer, and the lyrics on "Mountaintop" are unlike any I've heard from any other band, except maybe Todd himself on earlier albums. Weird, passionate, and incredible.

4. JULIANA HATFIELD - How To Walk Away
Juliana's work in the past decade has been consistently awesome, and with this one she eases into a chilled out mature phase with the help of perfect-choice producer Andy Chase of Ivy (another of my favorite bands). We get great grown-up pop like "This Lovely Love" as well as brilliant riff-rock like "Now I'm Gone."

5. SHERYL CROW - Detours
After a kinda-lame "Soak Up the Sun" album, and the too-moody Wildflower, Sheryl re-teams with her breakthrough producer Bill Botrell and turns in her best album in a decade. But what the heck are the A&R folks at the label thinking? They picked the lamest song as the single, and ignored sure-fire smash (and topical) hits like "Gasoline is Free, "Peace Be Upon Us," and "Out Of Our Heads." Hey me, and hire me on your A&R staff. I shall deliver the hits (with Paavo's help).

6. SAM PHILLIPS - Don't Do Anything
Sam's first record without T Bone Burnett at the board. I miss him, but Sam is such a good writer that she still delivers a great album. Still, it's one of her most challenging records, and requires a few listens to catch. The title track is a theological mindblower, and she sings her own "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us" which was popularized by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant.

7. RICK SPRINGFIELD - Venus in Overdrive
The media buzz was that this was Rick's best album since 1981, which is not even close. Rick has had a lot better albums than this, including his last two. BUT, it's still a pretty cool album, with some great singles, including "What's Victoria's Secret?" (Of course, that song concept was first explored a decade ago by Lisa Germano in her song "Victoria's Secret"...a great song itself). The lyrics get a bit immature and silly sometimes, and who knows why they clumsily add auto-tune to such a good vocalist...but heck, it's Rick, and he's gotta feel pretty good about this album. It's fun.

8. KING'S X - XV
This metal/prog/funk/pop trio is experiencing a bit of a musical renaissance after a series of weaker albums a few years ago. This one is still not as good as the previous Ogre Tones, mostly because Ty Tabor didn't bring in enough of his own melodic goodness. But Dug Pinnick turns in some great stuff here, especially the moving "Pray For Me," "Alright," and the thrilling "Go Tell Somebody."

9. LUCINDA WILLIAMS - Little Honey
I've been wanting to like this one more than I actually do, but there are a few tracks here that rank with her best stuff, including "Real Love," and "If Wishes Were Horses." Very cool that she has Butch Norton (formerly of the Eels) on drums!

10. NICK LOWE - Jesus of Cool (reissue)
This probably shouldn't be on the Best of 2008 list because it was released 30 years ago. However, the packaging, remastering, extra tracks, and the sheer brilliance of the original album require that I mention it. I've learned a lot about songwriting and pop music from listening to Nick Lowe and his bandmates in Rockpile, and these songs and recordings are Grad School level. Oozing with coolness (the title does not lie) and without any boundaries, this great music zips all over the map, all with a wink and a sly grin.


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