Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" tops for 2002

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., December 1, 2002) – In spite of my best efforts to listen to as much new music as possible this past year, not only am I sure I missed plenty of albums that might have vied for the year-end Top 10 list – I probably overlooked several that I did hear and subsequently forgot about. I did a little digging to find what I might have otherwise missed, but mostly these are the albums that stuck in my mind – or in my CD player – at the end of the year, which probably says more than anything I can come up with to explain why they are worthy of your attention.

1. Bruce Springsteen, The Rising (Columbia): Rarely if ever has a rock album so successfully captured an historical and cultural moment with the impact that “The Rising” captures post-9/11 America. And rarely have Springsteen’s affinity for the common man and his streak of operatic grandiosity fused as successfully as they do here. Springsteen delivered when he was most needed. (Springsteen’s fall tour ends at Albany’s Pepsi Arena next Friday.)
2. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch): A mix of haunted, late-night melancholy and nostalgic, carnivalesque found sounds make this one of the odder successful pop efforts of recent times. That songs like “War on War” and “Ashes of American Flags” were written before 9/11 suggest that singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy has his finger on the pulse of the times. The saddest party album ever.
3. Pharaoh’s Daughter, Exile (Knitting Factory): Frontwoman Basya Schechter sheds the neo-traditional liturgical focus of previous efforts for a more personal presentation in dark, Middle Eastern-drenched, world-beat pop songs that could be the mirror image of Shakira. (Her group performs tomorrow night at Club Helsinki at 8.)
4. Amy Fairchild, Mr. Heart (So Fair): A great album of catchy, straightforward songs in a variety of styles played well and sung with girl-next-door intimacy. What more could anyone want?
5. Jen Chapin and Stephan Crump, Open Wide (Purple Chair Music): The stark combination of Jen Chapin’s dynamic vocals, jazzy phrasing and Stephan Crump’s supportive acoustic bass grabs a listener and doesn’t let go.
6. Melodrome, The Sidewalk Ends (Soul Tube)/ The Wallflowers, Red Letter Days (Interscope): State-of-the-art soulful rock music from the Berkshires’ own Robby Baier and his band, Melodrome, stands shoulder-to-shoulder with a great comeback effort by Jakob Dylan’s prematurely written off band.
7. Tom Petty, The Last DJ (Warner Bros.)/ David Bowie, Heathen (ISO/Columbia): These late-career efforts find two of the top ‘70s and ‘80s artists reinvigorated by a combination of anger, cynicism and self-acceptance, the last of which made for music recalling their heyday in both cases.
8. Frank London’s Klezmer Brass Allstars, Brotherhood of Brass (Piranha): This cross-cultural effort found musical and perhaps spiritual affinity among the brass-band traditions of Jewish Eastern Europe, the Gypsies and the Egyptians – truly a “brotherhood of brass.”
9. Sheryl Crow, C’mon, C’mon (A&M)/ Shannon McNally, Jukebox Sparrows (Capitol): Newcomer Shannon McNally tapped into Sheryl Crow territory with a heaping scoop of Bonnie Raitt to make the year’s best debut, while Crow demonstrated she’s far from ready to call it quits. (Shannon McNally is at Mass MoCA tomorrow night at 8.)
10. James Taylor, October Road (Columbia): The proven virtues of James Taylor’s songcraft have never had a finer showcase than his most recent album, with meditations on family and the cycle of the seasons, and his singing has possibly never sounded better. Fans can also now enjoy a full Taylor concert at home with the new “Pull Over” concert video on DVD and VHS, featuring several songs from “October Road” and interviews with Taylor.

Honorable mentions: French Kicks, “One Time Bells,” (Star Time); Yuri Yunakov Ensemble, “Roma Variations” (Traditional Crossroads); Chava Alberstein. “Foreign Letters” (Rounder); Paul McCartney, “Driving Rain” (Capitol); Dave Douglas, “The Infinite” (Bluebird); Elvis Costello, “When I Was Cruel” (Island).

Also, The Coma Savants,“Coma Savant” (Uvulittle); Tin Hat Trio, “The Rodeo Eroded” (Ropeadope); Golem, “Love Hurts (Libeshmertzn)” (Golem); David Krakauer, “The Twelve Tribes” (Label Bleu); Badly Drawn Boy, “About a Boy” (XL/BMG); Chuck Prophet, “No Other Love” (New West); Wolf Krakowski, “Goyrl: Destiny” (Tzadik).

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on December 6, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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