Friday, December 29, 2006


BEST ALBUMS, 2006 (in no particular order)

Outkast - Idlewild (LaFace)
The most densely ambitious black movie soundtrack project ever.

Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere (Downtown Records/Atlantic)
Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo's quaaludes-inspired melange of rock, soul, funk and electronica captured the Zeitgeist better than any other album this year.

Christina Aguilera - Back to Basics (RCA)
Of all the pop artists striving for urban cred these days, Xtina stands tops, largely because
of her startling voice, wisened songcraft and ability to corral the unexpected from producers like DJ Premier and Mark Ronson.

Joy Denalane - Born & Raised (Four Music)
Hardly anyone heard this German-South African singer's album despite A-list appearances by Lupe Fiasco and Raekwon; Denalane delivers a self-assured and vocally full-throttle r&b release that has even more to offer than MJB's The Breakthrough.

Solomon Burke - Nashville (Shout Factory)
A spectral, heartfelt country turn by one of soul music's legends; amazing how after fifty years in the music biz he continues to reinvent himself with each release.

Van Hunt - On the Jungle Floor (Capitol)
Van Hunt's come a long way since his first record, which painted him as somewhat of a poseur; each track here is a sinewy, consequential effort. His live show has become superb, as well.

Aloe Blacc - Shine Through (Stones Throw)
A rich eccentric solo debut by the So-Cal Emanon frontman that weaves through sci-fi hip-hop, dancehall, salsa and other styles; though it doesn't always hit the mark, it's the kind of self-possessed, daring record Future Sex / Love Sounds tried to be.

Tanya Stephens - Rebelution (VP Music Group)
More accomplished than 2004's Gangsta Blues, morally militaristic Rebelution sets entirely new standards for Jamaican women's auteurship in popular music, and maybe for black women's music as a whole; the anti-homophobic "Do You Still Care" is stunning step forward.

Robin Thicke - The Evolution of Robin Thicke (Star Trak)
Unstudied 'blue-eyed' soul from a master in his field; while he's musically in the pocket, his slick, preppie visuals (this year's improvement over the bike messenger look) demonstrate that his only remaining problem is that he's on the wrong label.

Miho Hatori - Ecdysis (Rykodisc)
Cibo Matto founder and occasional Gorillaz collaborator Miho Hatori delivers a tripped-out, psychdelic collage of complex sounds that will take some time to unravel.


Big Black Lincoln - Heaven's Caught on Fire (Capitol Hill)
Fellow Canadian music critic Del Cowie just recently turned me on to this collaborative effort by five acclaimed Toronto urban music producers, and I don't know how I missed it - it's a free-wheeling J. Dilla-esque mix of broken beat and pop soul that occasionally verges into house tempos.

Nelly Furtado - Loose (Geffen)
The Portuguese-Canadian's most relaxed and inspired release to date enlists Timbaland on most of the tracks; despite their ubiquity, the hit singles like "Promiscuous" and "Say It Right" are all actually grea, infectious songs.

Ali Farka Toure - Savane (Nonesuch)
A gorgeous, posthumous record by the brilliant guitarist that, like a sumptuously abstract history lesson, illuminates the links between West African and African American blues. He'll be missed.

Corrine Bailey Rae - Corinne Bailey Rae (Capitol)
British female auteurs ruled this year (Lady Sovereign, Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen) but this is the most heartfelt, and least ironic of the releases.

BEST SINGLES, 2006 (in no particular order)
Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy" (Downtown Records/Atlantic)
Outkast, "Morris Brown" (LaFace)
Corinne Bailey Rae, "Like a Star" (Capitol)
My Chemical Romance, "Welcome to the Black Parade" (Reprise)
Nelly Furtado, "Maneater" (Geffen)
Nelly Furtado, "Say It Right" (Geffen)
Ciara, "Get Up" (Jive)
Justin Timberlake, "My Love" (Jive)
Kleerup feat. Robyn, "With Every Heartbeat" (EMI)
Rihanna, "SOS" (Def Jam)
Janet Jackson, "So Excited" (Virgin)
Omarion, "Entourage" (RCA)


It's not surprising to me that so many folks have lined Harlem streets to mourn the death of James Brown. Though the media seems to be predictably glossing over the specifics of his historic contributions, JB was no less important than The Beatles or Bob Dylan in shaping the direction of popular music after World War II. Akin to musical deity, JB's dazzling showmanship and ultra-sophisticated musicianship elevated soul and created the template for funk, which in turn became the backbone for hip-hop. Without JB, there'd be no Michael Jackson, no Fela Kuti, no Public Enemy, no D'Angelo, no Justin Timberlake, no Usher, no Timbaland and no Dr. Dre....the list goes on, and even to state it as such is understating his influence. Though he hadn't released any significant new music in many years, his output alone in the 60s and the 70s - and its impact on music, dance, film, visual art and beyond - was legendary.
It's been a difficult couple of years for r&b, with the passing of Ruth Brown, who helped created the template for women in rock 'n roll, Gerald Levert, and others.