1. One Step Up – Bruce Springsteen (Tunnel of Love)
This is one of my favorite albums. It came out around the time he married and divorced his first wife, and I was obsessed with it during the time I was dating my first boyfriend. Not really a great combination, since the album is about the struggles and complexities of relationships. Love should be simple when you are 20, but I already knew it wasn’t. “When I look at myself I don’t see/the man I wanted to be/Somewhere along the line I slipped off track/I’m caught movin’ one step up and two steps back”.
2. Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes – Los Lobos (By the Light of the Moon)
This came out the same year as La Bamba, but I’m pretty sure I got it because of a review in Rolling Stone. They are a great fusion of rock, country and Tex-Mex, and their sound is so warm. This is a great party song.
3. Melt Your Heart – Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins (Rabbit Fur Coat)
This is a great album, though I’m not sure why it hasn’t yet inspired a Jenny Lewis/Rilo Kiley buying spree. This song has a sweet, lilting quality.
4. One April Day – Stephin Merritt (Pieces of April)
Pieces of April was a lovely little movie (starring Kate Holmes before she was kidnapped by the pod people) about the woes of Thanksgiving. I can relate. The soundtrack is a terrific collection of songs by a couple of Stephin Merritt projects, the 6ths and the Magnetic Fields. This is the only solo song on the collection and is so very beautiful, sometimes it makes me want to cry.
5. Places – Georgie James (Places)
I haven’t generally been interested in music NPR puts out there, Georgie James (and Mocean Worker) is a recent exception. I don’t know the album well enough to separate out the songs, and to be honest, these all sound kind of similar to me, but not in a bad way. I like that GJ have a retro ‘70s-‘80s sound, without sounding like anything I’ve ever heard before.
6. Shake Ya Boogie – Mocean Worker (Cinco De Mowo!)
Another NPR find, and completely different from anything I would expect to like. Mocean Worker is a producer/DJ (the album is classified as Electronica/Dance), for this record (CD, whatever) he takes classic jazz lines, cuts them up and puts them back together to a Latin beat. Completely random and weird, but very fun.
7. Just a Shadow – Big Country (Steeltown)
You might remember Big Country as a one hit wonder (“In a Big Country”) from the ‘80s, but they continued recording and had modest success in Britain. Steeltown was their second full length album, and in 1984 it hit my 16 year-old self like a ton of bricks. I was still listening to a lot of Air Supply and Duran Duran, songs about love and hungry wolves, Steeltown is about the failing Scottish economy, war, and love, stuff that mattered. I can’t say enough about this album, even 24 years later it sounds fresh to me. “I know there is no need for what’s been done/I know there is enough for everyone/Frustration brings a heavy hand to bear”.
8. Walking Spanish – Tom Waits (Rain Dogs)
That Tom Waits is never included in Best Songwriter/Album/Song/Whatever lists negates every one of them. Sure his voice is hard to get used to, it sounds like cheap whiskey and unfiltered cigarettes, but once you do I think you’ll find real beauty there. This song is a sing-songy chant, “Take off your watch, rings and all/Even Jesus wanted just a little more time/He’s walking spanish down the hall”.
9. Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key – Billy Bragg & Wilco (Mermaid Avenue)
Mermaid Avenue 1 & 2 are collections of previously unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics, which Bragg and Wilco set to music. This is a lovely song, Natalie Merchant (of 10,000 Maniacs) sings on it with Jeff Tweedy (I think), and while I sometimes find her a bit tiresome, her voice is very pretty.
10. Biko – Peter Gabriel (third self-titled album)
This is such a beautiful powerful anthem about Steven Biko.