You'll Love These Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
By Mike Marrone
As we close in on the end of another year, I want to look back at a few notable albums released in 2006 that I feel will stand the test of time.
The Beatles/Love (Apple)
No middle ground here, Beatles fans either love or hate this set. Put me squarely in the former camp. Sir George Martin and his son Giles have lovingly created a sonic wonderland that could serve as the most compelling soundtrack to a game of Name that Tune ever created. Lifting passages and combining songs that are a part of our DNA, they have managed to make some of the most familiar music in the world sound new.
Although the Martins began working on the project in 2003, it was George Harrison's friendship with Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté that really started the ball rolling in 2000. Cirque du Soleil's "Love" show was fully endorsed by the families and surviving Beatles after three years of negotiations, and made a June 30, 2006 debut at the MGM Mirage Theatre in Las Vegas.
Love is the first Beatles music to be released in 5.1 surround sound, which is sure to be a selling point for some. The beautiful new string arrangement that Sir George wrote for While My Guitar Gently Weeps is magical. He used Harrison's early demo of the song (with different lyrics) and made it sound like a finished master recording. You will notice the drums are much more up front in the mix throughout, proving once and for all that Ringo is indeed one of the most underrated and inventive timekeepers in the history of rock.
Calexico/Garden Ruin (Quarterstick Records)
Calexico, a 10-year-old Tucson collective founded by guitarist/vocalist Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino, unleashes a mind-bending blend of musical styles that touch on Ennio Morricone's spaghetti Western soundtracks, mariachi, Afro-Peruvian music, late fifties/early sixties jazz, rock, country, and everything in between.
This is easily the band's most song-centered release and the first of their five studio albums that fails to include an instrumental. Longtime fans may find that upsetting, but those just discovering the band's intoxicating blend will invariably investigate their brilliant back catalog. The environment-centered Cruel appeals to both camps. I also recommend Bisbee Blue, a love song about the place where the album was recorded, and the dramatic and inventive All Systems Red.
Ollabelle/Riverside Battle Songs (Verve Forecast)
The second album from this New York band has the distinction of being perhaps the greatest creative leap forward I have heard between a debut effort and sophomore release in at least the last decade.
The band took its name from country singer Ola Belle Reed and one of the highlights of the album is a rendition of Reed's High on a Mountain. Another is its version of the Nina Simone-George Bass tune See-Line Woman. In the end, it's the original material that sets this apart from the debut, and the entire band comes through. Tony Leone with Reach for Love, Dream the Fall from Fiona McBain, Amy Helm's (Levon's daughter) brilliant Everything is Broken, and Amy again with Byron Isaacs on Northern Star. Imagine Emmylou Harris, classic Little Feat, more than a touch of The Band, and T Bone Burnett as a musical starting point and mix with Appalachian gospel and New York's East Village.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band/Live at the Hammersmith Odeon, London 1975 (Columbia)
Originally released as a DVD in the 30th anniversary Born to Run box set, this is the album to play for anyone who doesn't quite get the power and beauty of Bruce and his band. It's a simply amazing set, especially when you consider that some of the finest moments were brand new songs. Thankfully, no annoying "Brooooooce" calls get in the way of the best (nonbootlegged) version of Thunder Road I've heard. This recording deserves a place next to the greatest live rock 'n' roll albums of all time.
Mike Marrone is program director of XM Satellite Radio's The Loft, a channel that focuses on an eclectic mix of singer-songwriters from the 1970s through the present.