Thursday, December 21, 2006

2006's top CD's for grown-ups

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While kids are saturating your neighborhood with pop idol Justin Timberlake or some questionable rap CD, you should know a number of old friends have returned with some real music for you to enjoy.

You may recall Bob Dylan's critical comments a few months ago, when he was less than complimentary about the music of the last two decades, even his own. Then, in August he released "Modern Times," lauded by fans and critics alike, in an effort to reverse the trend.

Dylan's work heralded a year in which many older stars, like Bob Seger, Neil Young and David Gilmour, even The Beatles and The Who, proved they could make worthwhile music even if commercial radio and promotional campaigns ignored their work in favor of a younger demographic.

Some of the artists didn't exactly rush to put out their new material. Dylan took five years to issue his current disc, Seger waited ten, and The Who let 24 years slip by without a fresh studio album.

The Who, with one of the most enviable back catalogs in rock, spent nearly four years recording "Endless Wire," finally unleashed in October. While only songwriter/ guitarist Pete Townshend and vocalist Roger Daltrey remain from the original quartet, the group's trademark sound is fully intact. The disc even includes a mini-opera and a DVD of the band performing live at the Vienne Amphitheatre in Lyon, France on July 17, during a tour of Europe.

Michigan's rock 'n' roll treasure Bob Seger, also toured in connection with "Face the Promise," which fans had waited for a decade to hear. Manager "Punch" Andrews did a masterful job promoting the new disc, assigning it a give-away price initially. The album shows the 61-year-old Seger at the top of his game and is as strong as any long-player in his career. Rockin' tracks like "Wreck This Heart," will have you spinning this disc often. Fans scooped up the new product, making it an instant success.

Another new release calling for repeated listening is "Love" an official mash-up album by a group which disbanded 36 years ago, The Beatles. An incredibly inventive album, "Love" has been years in the making and evolved from an idea by George Harrison, who passed away in 2001. Assembled by Beatles producer George Martin and his son Giles, the album contains 26 tracks which include sounds embedded from 130 different songs.

Authorized by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, the disc causes you to listen to familiar songs in new ways. With the exception of an orchestral track, newly recorded for Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," every sound on the disc comes from original Beatles tapes. Since even McCartney couldn't recognize some of the individual multi-tracks included in this disc, it might take you years to hear, much less identify, them all.

A couple of other Britishers also returned with new projects this year. Pink Floyd's David Gilmour released "On an Island" in March while Eric Clapton issued "Road to Escondido" in November as a collaboration with the influential songwriter and performer J. J. Cale.

Gilmour's pleasant and airy album does not stray far from the Floyd template, or may simply illustrate how important his guitar and vocals were to Pink Floyd's legendary sound on such albums as "Dark Side of the Moon," "The Wall" and "Momentary Lapse of Reason."

Clapton, who has delved into the blues in recent years, made two of Cale's songs, "After Midnight" and "Cocaine" into giant hits in the 1970s, and kept his friend from Oklahoma City in royalty checks for years. Just like Clapton's partnership with B. B. King, his work with Cale pairs two guitar gods with exciting results.

Neil Young, meanwhile, has always used his musical talent to challenge listeners with genre-bending instrumentation and thought-provoking lyrics. The Canadian-born musician, now residing in the United States, wrote and recorded "Living With War" in just three weeks. With his unmistakable vocals, and purposely rough production, Young makes his anti-war stance very clear.

Also putting out notable albums this year were Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison. In addition, Kinks founder Ray Davies graced us with the first solo album of his long career.

So, next time you hear some tuneless racket foisted on you by giant corporations trying to dilute your musical taste, remember those old friends who have returned with ear candy just for grown-ups.

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