It's hard to believe that CD sales continue to decline because 2007 has been a top notch year for music. Great discs are being released at a fast and furious pace. It's only July and I've listened to so much good music this year that I already have enough CDs to make up my year end Top Five list. So far the year's best CDs include an artist from the heyday of classic rock, a current and popular modern rock band, a young female singer-songwriter, a veteran Celtic-rock band from Los Angeles, and a heavily ska influenced band from Australia that is just getting noticed in America.
Commercial radio is far less adventurous than it was during the days of FM's rise to prominence in the late 60s and early 70s. If all you listen to is traditional FM radio you are missing out on a lot because almost all of the stations are tightly programmed and play only a smattering of all the music that is released. If you want variety you have to go searching for music that doesn't fit commercial radio's target demographics. Fortunately, with Internet radio, HD radio, XM, and Sirius there are more opportunities than ever to hear a wide range of music. You just have to put in a little effort, and maybe spend some money, to hear it.
Here are my picks for the top five CDs of the first half of 2007. As you can read the full reviews elsewhere on this website my comments on each will be brief and, in keeping with the theme of where to find new music, each capsule review will include a few words on how I discovered the disc.
1. America - Here & Now
After more than thirty years Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell (two-thirds of the original trio) prove that an established act can stay fresh and relevant and still be true to their own artistic selves. With help from producers Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and James Iha of the Smashing Pumpkins America released their best album since the 70s.
How I discovered this disc: I was always only a casual fan of America. I really liked their first two albums a lot. After that their soft-rock often became too soft but positive press about Here & Now, and the intrigue surrounding the producers, piqued my interest so I bought this CD unheard and I'm very glad that I did. Read the full review.
2. The Shins - Wincing The Night Away
I still don't understand one line of James Mercer's cryptic lyrics but it doesn't matter. The Shins unique sound welds pop with tight, well-arranged rock that combines touches of new wave and prog (without any of prog's excesses) into something very satisfying. Guitars, synths, and Mercer's pleasing vocals make this CD a deserved hit. Here is the original review.
How I discovered this disc: The songs "Australia" and "Phantom Limb" were being played in regular rotation on WXPN, 88.5 FM, Philadelphia. WXPN is a non-commercial adult alternative radio station that plays everything from folk, to blues, to modern rock. For those of you who don't live in Philadelphia you can stream the station easily.
3. Young Dubliners - With All Due Respect: The Irish Sessions
My Top 5 lists seem to never be without a Celtic rock band. The Dubs, from Los Angeles, use their tin whistles and fiddles to good effect on this disc of covers of traditional Irish folk songs and songs by contemporary Irish rockers. This is a loud, hard-rocking, disc that can be played at any party.
How I discovered this disc: The All Music Guide New Release Newsletter is emailed to me every Tuesday with reviews of many significant new releases. This CD was among them. Being a fan of both Celtic rock and The Dubs prior albums I added this CD to my collection without hearing a note. The complete review is available here.
4. The Cat Empire - Two Shoes
This hot Aussie band recorded this mixture of ska, reggae, and Latin jazz in late 2004. Their CD was just released in America early this year. It's a fun record full of clever lyrics and arrangements. Here are more details.
How I discovered this disc: I subscribe to Paste, a monthly music magazine that specializes in a lot of unknown artists. Every monthly issue includes a sampler CD of new music, most of it by unknown artists. "Sly," the opening track of Two Shoes was one of these and I was immediately taken in by the horn section and the overall feel of the record. This led me to seek out the CD which I found in a used CD store in Manhattan.
5. Brandi Carlile - The Story
Carlile, from rural Washington, is one of the best young singer-songwriters making music today. She has a great voice and writes articulate songs. The catchy title cut deserves massive commercial radio airplay and is the song of the year. To learn more read the whole story.
How I discovered this disc: The title cut was in regular rotation on WXPN.