Rob Berretta


There's no rhyme or reason to this list - just a quick overview of the albums I fell for this year. I hope you find something new! MY FAVORITE ALBUM OF 2005: Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (Blue Note) It may be cheating a bit to name a 1957 recording as album of the year, but this really is the holy grail of lost jazz recordings. Not only does it live up to all fantasies of what this concert would have been like, but it showcases one of the greatest, if short-lived, jazz bands at the height of its powers in very good sound. More than a must-have, this is a dream come true! RUNNERS-UP: FOLK: THE BILLS: LET ‘EM RUN (Red House) Introduced this year from Canada, the Bills risk making you roll your eyes with their mix of, well, folk, folk and folk, but while all that accordion and mandolin might get a bit precious, their original songs sound authentic, and more than anything this is just good, entertaining music. JACKSON BROWNE: SOLO ACOUSTIC, VOLUME 1 (Inside Recordings) Browne culled his best solo performances of the last three years, sometimes splicing multiple versions of a single song together, and the result is a set of his finest songs, polished and impeccable, but sung proudly and passionately. ANNIE GALLUP: PEARL STREET (Fifty Fifty Music) There is no shortage of rock opera’s out there, but this a full-fledged folkie opera, complete with sex, drugs and the talking blues. A crazy experiment that works perfectly. LORI McKENNA: BITTERTOWN (Warner Brothers) And a bitter town it is Lori McKenna sings about – but she sings fearlessly and the power of this album only grabs you after a few spins. JOEL RAFAEL BAND: WOODYBOYE – SONGS OF WOODY GUTHRIE VOLUME TWO (Inside Recordings) A cool cast of characters, including Jackson Browne (who owns the record label) and Woody’s son (yes, that Arlo), but the star is Rafael, in his second album of Guthrie classics and rarities. Anyone who has the Wilco/Billy Bragg records needs to get this (and Volume One) fast! BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: DEVILS AND DUST (Columbia) In a year when several classic rock-era stars disappointed (Neil Young, Van Morrison, Paul McCartney, and yes, I would say the Stones), the Boss delivered a new record of whispering, but scathing, vignettes on the American tradition. Not every song is perfect, but most of them are great enough to last. While the title song doesn’t hold up lyrically all the way through, the first verse captures both sides of the war in Iraq debate with pathos and fear. His rambling, experimental solo tour was a treat too! RICHARD THOMPSON: FRONT PARLOUR BALLADS (Cooking Vinyl) Richard Thompson’s solo acoustic albums are never what you expect them to be, but whether this one has too many overdubs, not enough soloing, or came out just right doesn’t really matter in the end. What does matter is that his songwriting has never been better. His last three albums, including this one, are the best he’s ever made. CHRIS TRAPPER: GONE AGAIN (self release) Recorded with the Wolverine Jazz Band, this quirky, fun album cements Trapper as one of his generations best singer-songwriters. The title track is the catchiest tune most people never heard this year! ROCK/POP: CREAM: ROYAL ALBERT HALL, LONDON, MAY 2, 3, 5, 6, 2005 (Reprise) They could have sounded like crap and this would have made the list just for the thrill of them doing it, but it’s actually quite good. Of course they don’t take any of the wild tangents they did in the 60s, but they wouldn’t have gotten away with that these days anyway. They did it right. KATHLEEN EDWARDS: BACK TO ME (Zoe) Not as strong as her debut, but still a good showcase of this sharp-witted alt-country rocker. KANYE WEST: LATE REGISTRATION (Roc-A-Fella) The College Dropout was one of the greatest hip-hop productions ever made; this one isn’t, but it’s the best of the year. WILCO: KICKING TELEVISION: LIVE IN CHICAGO (Nonesuch) Their last two albums were so experimental, both musically and sonically, so I expected this to be a lackluster attempt to recreate the studio versions of these songs. Dead wrong -- this album blows the roof off – a great LIVE album! CLASSICAL: PIERRE-LAURENT AIMARD: Ravel – Gaspard de la nuit; Carter – Night Fantasies, Two Diversions (Warner Classics) Not only is this great playing of great music, but the bonus disc, almost a play-by-play explanation of the Carter (in three languages), helps to make this almost inaccessible but wondrous music almost friendly. A great tool that should be used more, especially with contemporary music. BARTOK: THE PIANO CONCERTOS – Zimerman/Andsnes/Grimaud – Chicago/Berlin/LSO/Boulez (Deutsche Grammophon) Another great concept for classical recordings – three pianists, three orchestras, but one conductor’s vision of Bartok’s piano concertos – and a fiery vision it is! JULIAN BREAM: GUITAR RECITAL – BBC/Testament A treasure-trove of music recorded by Bream from the 1950s to the 1980s. The highlight is Michael Tippett’s masterpiece The Blue Guitar, written by Bream but never commercially recorded by him, and a Schubert duo played wondrously with John Williams. ESA-PEKKA SALONEN: WING ON WING – Finish Radio Symphony/Salonen (DG) Crisp, exciting new music by one of the master orchestral composers of our day. JAZZ: JOHN COLTRANE: ONE DOWN, ONE UP – Live at the Half Note (Impulse) Unlike the Monk/Coltrane set, these recordings have been bootlegged in bits and pieces, and if they are not the pinnacle of this artist’s work, and maybe a bit dated, this is a magnificent time capsule of a giant pushing his (and his audience’s) limits. JOHN ELLIS: ONE FOOT IN THE SWAMP (Hyena) A low-down, funky set that’s all over the map stylistically, from straight-ahead, accessible jazz to way out-there grooves, recorded last year in New Orleans with a stellar line-up of players. KEITH JARRETT: RADIANCE (ECM) Jarrett’s return to solo improvisations bares little resemblance to his Koln concert era; these are short pieces, each one inspired by the last one, captured live in Japan in 2002. But each song springs forth fully formed – if “composed improvisation” is possible, this is it! SONNY ROLLINS: WITHOUT A SONG – THE 9/11 CONCERT (Milestone) Another older concert released this year, this 2001 Boston set is a good snapshot of Sonny Rollins in his autumn – he may be coasting, but there’s still no mistaking his tone, his taste or his always interesting monologue of sound.