Because Bob covers music with some regularity, both in my appearances and in the interviews he conducts with musicians, this list reflects some of the best music released in 2007 that was not featured on the show. This is intended to broaden even further the possibilities for fun listening among our audience. The songs are listed in no particular order, other than the order in which we discussed them. Enjoy!
- Anthony DeCurtis (contributing editor for Rolling Stone)
"Creedence Song" by John Fogerty - track 3 from Revival
It wasn't a bad year for veteran rockers, and I might have chosen Bruce Springsteen's Magic instead of this strong effort by the former lead singer and songwriter for Creedence Clearwater Revival. I figured, however, that more people would already know about Bruce's album, and Revival's message of redemption seemed suited to the season. For years, John Fogerty wouldn't play any of his classic CCR songs, because of Dickensian legal problems he had with his record label, Fantasy. It became an obsession with him, crippled him artistically, and helped destroy his relationship with his late older brother Tom (an original member of CCR). At one point, Fogerty was sued by the head of the label for plagiarizing himself! But when Fantasy was bought by new owners in 2005, Fogerty reunited with the label, and this is his first album of new songs on it. "Creedence Song" is a celebration of his reinvigorated relationship with his own past.
"Walk of Life" by Shooter Jennings - track 3 from The Wolf
This is the third album by the gifted son of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter. Jennings typically falls into that category of too country for rock & roll, and too rock & roll for country, though if you like both, he's just perfect for you. At first glimpse, he's an unlikely character to cover "Walk of Life," a hit for Dire Straits in 1985, when Shooter was six. But Mark Knopfler was a friend of his dad, and Shooter looked up to him when he was a kid. In an interview, he told me that he particularly enjoys the line, "He do the song about a sweet-lovin' woman/He do the song about the knife." The line catches an edge that people wouldn't associate with Dire Straits, but that is very much part of Shooter's persona. (On a more personal note, for anyone interested, Shooter recently had a daughter, Alabama Gypsy Rose, with actress Drea de Matteo.)
"Summertime" by Jesca Hoop - track 1 from Kismet
Jesca Hoop, who had the distinction of being the nanny for Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan's three children, released her first album this year, Kismet. She's a songwriter whose songs trade wonderfully in surprise and imagination. Take the opening track, "Summertime," which begins by summoning all the innocence and childlike feelings of the season, but suddenly shifts into a passage that evokes the sensuality of summer nights. It's like the fall from innocence into experience, a tension that underlies the shimmering surfaces of Kismet.
"How My Heart Behaves" by Feist - track 13 from The Reminder
It was a good year for quirky women - women with artistic ambition who don't play by the rules but also don't make a contrived show of their individuality. They simply enact it, as Feist does so seductively here. Listeners may have heard Feist's "1234" in an iPod ad. But catchy as that song is, it doesn't reveal much about the range of The Reminder, an album that continually verges in new directions, but still holds together. Granted, no single track does this album justice in that regard, but "How My Heart Behaves" provides a rich contrast to "1234."
"Would You Love Me?" by Chuck Prophet - track 2 from Soap and Water
Chuck Prophet may be familiar to listeners from his many years in the seminal American underground band, Green on Red, whom I always loved. Prophet is a chronicler of America's nights and highways, one of those songwriters who finds the country's essence in it cracks and margins - and in its cracked and marginal characters. He's also a fabulous guitar player - at once raw and lyrical. My only hesitation in choosing "Would You Love Me?" as the featured track is that it doesn't really showcase his guitar playing. It's a ballad with the lovely textural touch of a children's choir, which lends an air of innocence to a song that evokes Jesus, Anna Nicole Smith and Elvis Presley, a triad that combines the genius, luridness, desperation and spiritual ambition essential to the American soul.
(NOTE: This song did not appear in the Bob Edwards Weekend segment.)
"John Allyn Smith Sails" by Okkervil River - track 9 from The Stage Names
The band, which is based in Austin, Texas is a favorite of Lou Reed's; he personally chose the group to open for him at a New York show earlier this year. The Stage Names is ambitious without being grandiose; it is imbued with a sense of wonder and seriousness. Will Sheff, the band's singer and songwriter, crafted an album that is about high and popular culture, and the ways that all these types of "art" - from poetry to movies to rock & roll to pornography - find their ways into people's lives and provide meaning, whether ludicrous, profound or, often, both. It's smart and deeply moving. The song I've selected, "John Allyn Smith Sails," is based on the life of John Berryman, the confessional poet and author of "The Dream Songs," who killed himself in 1972. He's a personal favorite of mine. The song ends with a version of "Sloop John B," the traditional folk song most famously recorded by the Beach Boys. Though it's entirely underplayed in the song, careful listeners and readers will note the touching echo of "John B" in this context.
"The Thunderer" by Dion - track 8 from Son of Skip James
Among the greatest singers in the history of rock & roll, a vocalist whose phrasing rivals Sinatra's and surpasses just about everyone else's, the "King of the New York Streets" as he once described himself is not the first person you would expect to perform an album of stripped-down blues song. Dion, after all, is the man who had hits with "Teenager in Love," "Runaround Sue" and "The Wanderer." His singing here is characteristically rich and unpredictable on tunes by the likes of Robert Johnson, Junior Wells and Sleepy John Estes. Skip James, though, is Dion's spiritual father - mysterious, a little frightening, but spiritually questing. "The Thunderer" is a poem by Phyllis McGinley about St. Jerome that Dion - a Catholic boy from the Bronx who is deeply interested in the Church fathers -- turns into a bluesy, Dylan-style religious meditation. Key line: "Love without truth is just sentimental/Truth without love is sterile."
"City of Immigrants" by Steve Earle - track 4 from Washington Square Serenade
This album is a valentine both to Steve Earle's adopted hometown of New York and to the era of folk singer-songwriters, most notably Bob Dylan, who similarly made their home in the city in the early Sixties. "City of Immigrants" takes on a significant contemporary issue while paying tribute to New York City's history.
(NOTE: This song did not appear in the Bob Edwards Weekend segment.)
"You Don't Know Me at All" by Bettye Lavette - track 4 from The Scene of the Crime
Bettye Lavette is a soul singer who had her first hit ("My Man - He's a Lovin' Man") in the early Sixties. She struggled for decades until a revival in 2005, triggered by the release of the album I've Got My Own Hell to Raise. This year she returned with The Scene of the Crime, on which she collaborated with the splendid Alabama rock band, the Drive By Truckers. The result is an album that combines the best of Southern rock and Southern soul.
"Lookin' For A Love" by Ryan Shaw - track 8 from This Is Ryan Shaw
Are you convinced that they just don't make soul singers the way they used to? Check out Ryan Shaw. He'll rip your heart out and put a smile on your face in the same instant - this was my go-to album whenever I felt down this year. If you know your R&B history, you can tick off the references - giants like Junior Walker, Wilson Pickett and Jackie Wilson among them. His irresistible version of the Valentinos' "Lookin' for a Love" (written by Bobby Womack) will make you swear it's 1965 - even (or maybe especially) if you weren't there the first time around.