I was less hip in 2007 than I was last year. What I mean is that I listened to a lot less new music this year than I did in 2006. Part of this is because I got out of the habit of visiting the Hype Machine on a regular basis. The Hype Machine is a useful site that aggregates mp3 posts from music blogs around the web (including the one you are reading right now), and it can serve as a useful pointer to new stuff. But the site is harder to use these days after a redesign, so I don’t go there as much. I’ve spent more time at Totally Fuzzy, which also collects music posts from around the web, including posts of whole albums and podcasts (some of dubious legality). That site does not post current material except for bootlegs. So I have been catching up on older stuff this year.
Nevertheless, I have managed to absorb a few noteworthy 2007 releases by osmosis. Bruce Springsteen’s Magic was terrific—I liked the Seeger Sessions stuff in 2006, but before that, the more conventional The Rising and Devils and Dust did absolutely nothing for me. So Magic was a pleasant surprise, an album that rocked as in days of yore (which D&D didn’t) without being weighted down by subtext that was too painful to take in (as The Rising was). Lucinda Williams is a terrific songwriter but an idiosyncratic performer, and as a result, she ain’t for everybody. Her 2007 release West is almost certainly not where the Williams neophyte ought to start—it can be harsh, bitter, angry, and therefore is most effective when it pops up a track here and a track there when you’re in shuffle mode. Our Grace Potter and the Nocturnals fandom continues unabated around here, even though This Is Somewhere didn’t turn into the massive breakthrough I hoped it would be. The buzz continues nevertheless, and you’d better see ’em if they come to your town.
But my album of the year is Back to Black by Amy Winehouse. Back to Black is a throwback to the classic soul of the late 60s and early 70s, which we love around here. You can get into a lovely debate about Amy’s authenticity, though. These debates often revolve around what percentage she’s faking it versus having actual soul chops. I haven’t got the patience for it, myself. I’m just happy somebody is inspired by music that means a lot to me, and wants to pay homage to it. And we know that Amy’s backing band on Back to Black, the Dap Kings, have got actual soul, so there’s no quibbling there.
At the end of a big year for Amy Winehouse, her offstage antics—the public intoxications and other embarrassments—are threatening to eclipse her music as a reason to pay attention to her. (As are her hideous fashion and grooming choices—maybe I’m betraying my age by saying so, but somebody needs to get her on a makeover show, stat.) If she’s consciously trying to live a life of excess that would make Jim Morrison blanch, she’s getting there. I’d like to think, however, she’s just a 24-year-old kid who’s been challenged by too much too fast. Here’s hoping she manages not to end up in jail or dead in 2008, because she’s got too much talent to waste like that. Rehab might be a good idea, though. Other key tracks: “You Know I’m No Good,” “Back to Black.”
Coming later in the week and over the weekend: Our annual look back at yearend radio countdowns.