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MUSIC The Best of 2003 ... So Far
by Gregg Shapiro

This article shared 2457 times since Wed Oct 8, 2003
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** The Long Winters @ Metro, ( 773 ) 549-0203, Oct. 10 & Fountains of Wayne @ the Vic, ( 312 ) 559-1212 ( TM ) , Nov. 19.

It's only October and there are more than a few weeks left until the end of the year. I know that Rufus Wainwright and The Hidden Cameras have released two of the best albums of 2003. But, there have been so many other good CDs released this year that I wanted to tell you about some of them before it got to be too late.

L'Avventura ( Jetset ) by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips is one of those albums that I have been unable to stop listening to since I first got it. Like the equally superb ( and recommended ) collaboration disc Together by Gretchen Phillips and David Driver, L'Avventura consists of a blend of cover tunes and originals, all performed in ways in which you've never heard these songs interpreted. Take 'I Deserve It,' from Madonna's Music CD. Phillips and Wareham twist it around like a lasso and give it a much-needed male-infused perspective. Their cover of Buffy St. Marie's 'Moonshot' is the best BSM cover since Erasure did 'Goodnight' on their Other People's Songs album earlier this year. Album closer, The Doors' 'Indian Summer,' will make you feel warm all over, no matter the season. The original tunes are also exceptional, especially the delightful duets 'Nightnurse' and 'Ginger Snaps.'

Like the above-mentioned Dean Wareham's previous band Galaxie 500, the trio Guster also hails from Boston. Keep It Together ( Palm/Reprise ) , Guster's amazing new album, is another one of those albums that keeps getting better with each spin. Beginning with the undeniably catchy 'Diane,' and moving through equally luminous numbers such as 'Careful,' 'Amsterdam,' 'Homecoming King,' 'Red Oyster Cult,' and 'Long Way Down,' Guster crafts and then delivers some of the most perfect and completely enjoyable modern American pop music you will ever hear.

The Massachusetts connection continues with Fountains of Wayne. FOW front men Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood met while attending Williams College in Western Mass. On their third album Welcome Interstate Managers ( S-Curve/Virgin ) , Fountains Of Wayne sharpens the edges on the power pop that they've been honing since their wonderful 1996 eponymous debut album. Like Guster, Fountains Of Wayne's songs highlight the band-members' sense of humor. Songs such as 'Mexican Wine' and 'Bright Future In Sales' pave the way for the sly smile of 'Stacy's Mom' ( with the chorus 'Stacy's mom has got it going on' ) . Other standout tracks include the gorgeous numbers 'Hackensack,' 'Valley Winter Song,' 'Halley's Waitress,' and 'Fire Island,' as well as sophisticated rockers such as 'No Better Place' and 'Bought For A Song.'

Clear across the country in Seattle, John Roderick and his band The Long Winters have also released an exceptional and praiseworthy album titled When I Pretend To Fall ( Barsuk ) . With a trace of Daniel Johnston in his vocals, multi-instrumentalist Roderick grabs the listener with the opening keyboard notes of 'Blue Diamonds,' and finds a way to make a reference to gang signs sound like they belong in a love song. The funky beat of 'Scared Straight,' with its 'Little Miss Mean Mini-Bar guard' doing her part for sobriety, is an unlikely dance number. On the strengths of those two songs alone, I could stop right here and insist that you listen to this album, but then I would be remiss in not mentioning the new wave revival of 'Shapes,' the folk-pop of 'Cinammon,' the quivering lip acoustic tune 'It'll Be A Breeze,' the triple power play of 'Prom Night At Hater High,' 'New Girl,' and 'The Sound of Coming Down,' and the beautiful, but abrupt, 'Nora.'

The White Stripes had their work cut out for them with their new album Elephant ( V2/Third Man ) . They had to follow-up their acclaimed groundbreaking major-label debut album White Blood Cells. They had to maintain their grip on the garage rock revival banner that they had stuck firmly in the ground. They had to prove that better things than Madonna, Eminem and Kid Rock could come from the Detroit area. They succeeded. From the baby elephant stomp of 'Seven Nation Army' to the garage punk of 'Black Math,' 'The Hardest Button To Button' and 'Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine' to the dark domestic sentiments of 'There's No Home For You Here' to the unexpectedly delightful cover of 'I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself' to the spooky but soulful 'I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother's Heart' and the retro revival number 'Well It's True That We Love One Another' ( with guest vocalist Holly Golightly ) , The White Stripes have more than earned their stripes.

From the U.K., Super Furry Animals is a band that keeps maturing and improving with every album. Phantom Power ( XL/Beggars Group ) may lack the buzz and ping of predecessor Rings Around The World, but what it does have is the sound of SFA exploring and experimenting the regions of pop, psychedelia and rock and roll. That's why you get a pedal steel guitar on 'Sex, War & Robots,' steel drums on 'The Undefeated,' a string section on 'Slow Life' and horn sections on 'Venus & Serena' and 'Father Father #1,' all of which combine to give this disc its power.

Radiohead's Year

** Christopher O'Riley @ Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, ( 847 ) 467-4000, Oct. 11

by Gregg Shapiro

I guess you never realize how much the songs of an avant-garde, yet accessible, British rock band lend themselves to classical interpretation until you actually hear someone sit down at a piano and bang them out for you. Highly regarded classical pianist Christopher O'Riley does just that on True Love Waits: Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead ( Odyssey ) . Drawing on material from Radiohead's first five studio albums ( Pablo Honey through Amnesiac ) , O'Riley recognized the craft in the compositions and treats them with the veneration you might expect he reserves for Bach, Beethoven or Mozart. His interpretations are respectful and reverent, and even a bit daring. Once you hear his renditions of 'Everything In Its Right Place,' 'Knives Out' ( on which his playing reminded me of the 1985 disc Piano One, one of my favorite all-piano CDs ) , 'Blackstar,' 'Airbag,' 'Fake Plastic Trees,' and the titular song, you will realize that this unexpected recording is essential for anyone who has even one Radiohead CD in their collection.

It's too bad that O'Riley hadn't heard Hail To The Thief ( Capitol ) , Radiohead's brilliant sixth studio disc before completing work on True Love Waits. He would have discovered a few other numbers that would have been suitable for his distinguished treatment. As it is, Radiohead themselves realized what they had.

Calling Hail To The Thief a return to form wouldn't be fair to the albums that preceded it. What makes Hail To The Thief such a successful effort is the way that Radiohead seamlessly melds the guitar and piano driven sound of Pablo Honey and The Bends, on songs such as '2 + 2 = 5,' 'Sail To The Moon,' 'Go To Sleep,' 'There There,' with the savvy technologically friendly tracks that are the result of the thoughtful experimentation of OK Computer, Kid A and Amnesiac, including 'Sit Down. Stand Up.,' 'Backdrifts,' and 'The Gloaming,' to mention a few. All hail Radiohead.

One of the pleasures of having a new Radiohead album are the CD singles with bonus tracks that follow in its wake. I don't usually ( almost never ) write about CD singles, but the two previously unreleased tracks on the 'Go To Sleep' single are worth a listen. 'Gagging Order' is a gorgeous, stripped down guitar and vocal ballad and 'I AM A Wicked Child' is the blues, complete with harmonica, synthesized through Thom Yorke and Radiohead.

Considered by some to be the 'rock en espanol Kid A,' Cuatro Caminos ( MCA ) by the Latin Grammy-award-winning Café Tacuba sounds like the kind of album that has abundant crossover potential. Ironically, Café Tacuba was formed in 1989, around the same time that Radiohead took shape, so perhaps there was something in the air. The comparisons to Radiohead may also be the result of the fluid swirling of guitars and electronics, as well as lead vocalist Elfego Buendia's ( a.k.a. Ruben Albarran among others ) chameleon-like vocals, which manipulate notes in the same way that Thom Yorke's does. Most importantly, Café Tacuba's easily enjoyable music itself eliminates any language barriers, allowing songs such as 'Cero y Uno,' 'Que Pasara,' 'Camino y Vereda,' 'Recuerdo Prestado,' ( with its audible Clash influence ) , 'Puntos Cardinales,' 'Hoy Es,' and the Dave ( Flaming Lips ) Fridmann produced tracks 'Mediodia' and 'Encantamiento Intutil,' to be appreciated on their own merits.

This article shared 2457 times since Wed Oct 8, 2003
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