Friday, March 24, 2023


 As of March, 2023, these are the guidelines for how to vote at the annual IRA Awards. 


Currently, the IRAs include fourteen different categories, eleven traditional categories a la the Academy Awards and three barbed awards for the movies that put us to sleep, made us sick in one way or another and actors relying on the same old tricks we've seen from them before. These are the fourteen categories. 


Best Picture

Best Director

Best Actor 

Best Supporting Actor 

Best Nonfiction Film

Best Screenplay 

Best Cinematography 

Best Production Design     

Best Score/Use Of Music   

Best Editing 

Best Costumes 

Sominex Award (The Movie That Put Us To Sleep)  

Dramamine Award (The Movie That Made Us Sick) 

Mechanical Actor (The Kevin Spacey Memorial Award) 


We gather at the appointed hour in NYC or by video conference call. It takes at least half an hour for everyone to actually show up. After some chitchat, we begin voting in reverse order of importance. First we vote on Best Costumes and then Best Editing. After Best Cinematography, we pause to order food. After Best Nonfiction Film, we break for dinner. After Best Picture, we break for dessert and then wind it up with the viperish mean awards as an end-of-the-night treat. This seems straightforward, but takes a remarkably long time. 


For every category, you are free to give points for up to five nominations. In the three acting categories, you may nominate up to ten actors in each. Most members sketch out their likely votes in each category before the night begins, looking at the movies they've seen and thinking "Oh yeah, that wasn't a great movie but boy it was shot well" and so on. Naturally, the movies you love the most will provide the most nominations in the most categories. But anything goes and offbeat nominations are appreciated. (I once got a chuckle by nominating Leni Riefenstahl for Best Actress the year a documentary about her came out, for which she was extensively interviewed. I've been trying to get a second chuckle ever since.) 

So you've come up with five artists you want to honor for Best Costumes. What happens next? We go around the room beginning with the titular Ira and announce our "five pointer," the work/artist we admire the most. This is where you get an idea of what movies people are passionate about. If a majority of people single out one artist/movie, that's the winner by acclamation. 

Most of the time, that isn't the case. (But we go through the rest of the process in any case.) Starting again with the first voter, they list their entire ballot. "I give five points to Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, four points to Stagecoach, three points to The Wizard of Oz, two points to The Roaring Twenties and one point to Midnight." Then the next person lists their entire ballot. Again, you may list up to five nominations, but it's not required. You can say, five points to Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, four points to Stagecoach and -- one point to The Wizard of Oz." You can't give extra points to any one film or list three movies with only one point each and so on. Let's not get clever. Generally, people vote for five nominations in most categories. If you've seen fewer films or just don't have enough nominations you're passionate about, don't worry. You won't be the only one to have a partial ballot.  

You are free to adjust your ballot on the fly. In fact, if your initial five pointer is a movie no one else has mentioned yet and you believe no one else saw it (or just didn't like it), when it's your turn you may say, "I'm changing my five pointer to The Wizard of Oz, four points for...." and so on. Strategic voting by switching your ballot around is fine, though some IRA members nobly refuse to do so. Film Such-and-Such had the best cinematography of the year and that's what they're giving five points to and they don't care if no one else saw it. 

You may only make nominations or change your ballot on the fly when it's your turn. Once you've voted, you can't speak up five minute later and say "Oh wait, I've changed my mind...." 

Please DO keep track of your ballot, especially any changes on the fly so you can clarify what you voted for if asked later. 


Typically we are honoring an artist's work accomplished since we voted at the last IRAs. So if you're voting for a composer, you are usually honoring two or three movies or if a costumer maybe just one movie or maybe four. In acting, naturally, we distinguish between lead and supporting performances, so arguments ensue as to whether a certain performance belongs in one or the other category. Sometimes people say, well I'm voting for Bette Davis for movie A but NOT for movie B. Don't sweat it and don't get caught up on how to classify a performance. If most people consider it lead, it's best not to "waste" your vote by insisting it was a supporting performance. 


We love ties! Ties are never broken. It lets us honor multiple films and artists, often emphasizes the range of films we love and sometimes creates an amusing contrast. Bring 'em on! If three composers tie for first in the Best Use Of Music category, the one with the second most points takes the 4th slot and one more film is in fifth. 


Most categories will have one official winner and one runner-up. However, in acting the top two actors to receive points will both be named "winners" and the one with the third most points will be the runner-up.


After a winner is selected in a category, there is an automatic vote to rescind. If a majority of the voters present vote to rescind, the artist/film with the most points is named the runner-up and the film with the second-most points is named the winner. This might happen because a majority of people think the initial winner is a more bland consensus vote and they prefer the runner-up. Or the winner won an Oscar and that's boring to them. Or the voting was particularly spread out in a category and three passionate voters crowned a work that the majority of voters actively hate or maybe a majority simply prefer the runner-up. A vote to rescind is rarely successful and actually comes into play maybe once a year. On the plus side, it drives Andy bonkers. 


Can a nonfiction film win Best Picture? Yes. 

What is meant by the category Best Score/Best Use Of Music? This is to avoid worrying about what music and how much was original and to recognize that Kubrick using classical music in 2001: A Space Odyssey or Lucas using old pop songs in American Graffiti is just as creative and challenging as hiring Bernard Herrmann to write a score from scratch. 

Why ten nominations for the acting categories? Don't ask. (The reasoning is that a movie you love typically has one cinematographer and one set designer and so on but may have three or five great performances. Acting is one of the areas it's most fun to vote in and we want to make room for them all.) 

Why do the acting categories have two winners instead of one? See previous answer.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK: Two Plays, An Opera, A Museum and Two Musicals (But Not THAT Musical)


THE HARDER THEY COME ** 1/2 out of **** 

The Public 

MUSEUM OF BROADWAY ** 1/2 out of **** 

145 West 45th Street 

ARDEN OF FAVERSHAM ** out of **** 

Red Bull Theater at Lucille Lortel 

LOHENGRIN * 1/2 out of **** 

The Metropolitan Opera

DEAR WORLD *** out of **** (this presentation; the show is **) 

Encores at City Center 

LOVE **** out of **** 

Park Armoury 

One week in New York, New York. One week to catch as many shows as possible, check out the new Museum of Broadway and meet as many friends as I can. And sadly, one week BEFORE previews begin for the new musical New York, New York (based on the Scorsese film). Hey, that's one more reason to come back soon. Let's get started! 

First up, the new musical The Harder They Come at the Public. It's the latest attempt to turn the landmark movie into a theatrical show and no wonder: the film's soundtrack is filled with reggae classics. In many ways, it introduced reggae to the world, just as Black Orpheus made the bossa nova a hot property. Unlike Black Orpheus, the soundtrack dominated by Jimmy Cliff is really the only memorable thing about Jamaica's first feature film. The great Suzan-Lori Parks worked on the book and contributes new songs that fit capably alongside the now-classics peppered throughout. She fleshes out the female characters and deepens the complexity...all of which just reveals the contradictory and confusing narrative even more starkly than before. If the show has a future life -- and the temptation to keep working on it should be great -- she needs to be more ruthless. The mother really serves no purpose. All the supporting players need to be more consistent in their actions and the hero Ivan needs a clearer arc from country rube to righteous warrior. His best friend shakes his head over our hero buying a gun but praises Ivan publicly after a run-in with the police. His love interest chides the hero's friends for turning on him, but then makes a u-turn herself. Major emotional moments flit by without leading into song or leaving an impact. The mother is told in passing that her own mother has died -- two minutes later she's over it and making clear to her son that he can't expect any help from her. (Why not?) They barely see each other again, so why do we meet her in the first place? Our hero yearns to be a recording star, but loses his guitar in the first few minutes of the show...and never gets it back or mentions it again. Doesn't he want to write more songs? A hot-headed fellow, most of his problems seem of his own making; a threat to have him killed is too euphemistic; when he demands more money from a boss, his demand that others be paid more as well feels like an afterthought, not a driving reason. One could go on. 

But in a musical, great songs cover a host of sins and The Harder They Come is brimming over with marvelous tunes.  In the first minutes the show seems desperate to work in snatches of every song on the soundtrack as quickly as possible. Once they settle down and give each song its due, the show is a treat. The cast is marvelous from top to bottom and sings the songs beautifully. Natey Jones is bursting with charm as the hero Ivan, but one could mention almost everyone on stage with enthusiasm. And my guests were eager to hear the original soundtrack (not to mention the greatest hits of Jimmy Cliff)  when we left. What jukebox musical could ask for more than that?  

Before a matinee of Arden of Faversham, a guest and I headed to the Museum of Broadway on a late Wednesday morning to check out this long-overdue tribute to New York's greatest draw. It's an easy way for tourists to get in the mood before seeing a show and is what you might expect. You'll sit briefly for a five minute video intro to the history of Broadway and entertainment around Times Square. Then you'll proceed to a series of rooms on a number of floors. Major tributes to iconic shows like Oklahoma and West Side Story fill their own space and offer a photo opp of some sort, like a cornfield or a soda shop where the Jets street gang would hang out. In between, you'll find walls adorned with trivia and timelines stretching from vaudeville and minstrel shows right up to today. And of course, you'll see costumes and scripts and all sorts of treasure, from wigs worn by Patti LuPone to that iconic red footwear from Kinky Boots.  The audio playing in every room is very good -- it's not too loud (or quiet) and when you step from one area to another, you quickly hear only the music for that section, even if a few feet away you were hearing something entirely different. The staff is also a plus. Broadway Babies one and all, informed staffers are on hand to answer questions; they also offer up comments unasked but did so unobtrusively and easily. They avoided feeling pushy or over-sharing, which might have been tempting since they're bursting with info on whatever exhibit you're looking at. The grand finale is a large space that pays tribute to all the people who put on a show. A section for stage managers will show a video of several key talents explaining what they do along with some display of their tools of the trade. You can focus on what they're saying, but you're also aware that multiple other monitors are showing other people explaining the role of the costume designer or the publicist or the lighting designer or the writer and so on. That constant hum of voices makes clear how putting on a show is a massive effort involving a host of incredibly talented people. It's very effective. In the last space before exiting into the gift shop, rotating exhibits can be perused, currently a fine tribute to illustrator and caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. (The gift shop, by the way, wasn't wildly over-priced as gift shops often are.) 

So, it's fine. Wanting to place it amidst the theater district always meant space would be at a premium, of course. Even with a small weekday crowd brought in on timed entry, it felt...full. But if the Museum lasts and wants to improve, it has many areas to work on. The tight space can't be helped, so this museum involves a lot of walking up and down stairs. I assume elevators are available on every floor, but it's definitely a challenge for those in wheelchairs or with mobility issues. The video at the very beginning is pro forma and not very well done. At least it's brief! But it's displayed on a white wall with jutting out sections clearly there before the museum was set up. At first I thought it was meant to be a skyline or something; it's very distracting. These protrusions break up the images of the video, in some cases distorting people's heads in strange ways. It's thoroughly unnecessary since one could easily drop a screen and display the video on that. The labels identifying the photos and objects on display are disastrously small. My vision is fine and even I had to really squint to read some of the text; eventually I stopped bothering and that's not good. It makes you less willing to peruse the images. Further, many displays feature a "key" mapping out the photos or whatever is featured. One of the keys was literally at floor level and you had to crouch down to even have a hope of reading it. Others were similarly placed in unnecessarily awkward positions. The same was true of items on display. One wall contained those red kinky boots. They're huge but were placed with the heels almost at knee or waist height. Meanwhile, some other display boxes on that wall contained small items down at floor level. Without squatting down (not easy unless you're a Broadway hoofer), you couldn't even see what was in them. Waist high boots? They should be placed dow towards the floor. Small stuff? Higher up! Throughout the museum features original works of art to capture some sense of a show or type of theater -- I guess they'll have to do until actual pieces from actual shows become available. We want actual Broadway stuff, not someone's interpretation of Broadway, however fine the artist. (One example is an exploding script that fills up an entire corner; it's neat to see, actually, but surely it would be better to see something from an actual show? Let's hope these are place-holders, waiting for donations as time goes on and the Museum establishes itself. The final room was really the highlight of the museum. But by the time you reach it, you're probably tired (we'd been there for 90 minutes already) and just not in the mood. Thematically and realistically, it should be at the beginning of the tour when you have more energy. Put it first and the Museum of Broadway will show you who puts on a show and then you can celebrate individual shows. Plus, the hardcore theater lovers will want to savor every section of this display while more casual fans will quickly move on to the flashy displays for major shows, making it a great way to filter each group when it arrives. And where are the critics? They surely are a part of Broadway's history and charting their rise and fall, from the era when Frank Rich of the New York Times was the Butcher of Broadway to today, when fans offer their thoughts on video and TikTok and have more sway than any ink-stained wretch. Heck, if they wanted to be catty, they could have just labeled some bricks on the wall with the names of famous critics or put a pile of tomatoes in the corner and enjoyed some revenge. Famous flops? Scandals? This history isn't nearly as spicy and fun as it might have been. Finally, is there any way to see just the rotating exhibits -- like the fine one for Hirschfeld -- at a lower price without going through the rest of the museum? That seems like a lost opportunity as well, especially if you hope to lure the locals more than once. Plus, it's $40, which is even more than sex! The Museum of Sex, that is. This is a self-funded operation, as far as I know. Still, it's a heavy lift to ask for more money almost any other museums in the city. Here's hoping the show will go on and they'll make improvements as they can to turn the Museum Of Broadway into something as great as the shows it celebrates. 

Maybe the noir-ish comedy Arden Of Faversham has an identity crisis. Sometimes, you feel a show just doesn't know what tone it wants to strike. This Elizabethan play may or may not contain some of the earliest writing by Shakespeare (who possibly/probably/maybe but who knows? contributed a chunk in the middle) so even its authorship is a little confused. In any case, it's based on a then-infamous case of a woman and her lover poisoning her husband, an act that shocked everyone and led to this 1592 play, an early case of media cashing in on true crime. Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher & Kathryn Walat, this version reportedly beefs up the female characters and presumably the humor, thanks to numerous failed attempts at offing poor Arden. The technical elements from the handsome and effective set to the lighting and costumes are the strong suit here. 

But problems begin right away. Alice (Cara Ricketts) walks onstage wearing a slinky nightgown as noir-ish music plays. She's in Murder, My Sweet. Her husband (the dependable Thomas Jay Ryan), however, is in a Shakespearean drama. Her lover (the square-jawed Tony Roach) is in a Carol Burnett spoof and standing in for Lyle Waggoner. The guns for hire trying and failing to kill Arden are in Monty Python. Best of all is Zachary Fine as an aide to the husband; he simply finds the humor and heart in any scene by being as true to the moment as he can. One must blame director Jesse Berger for failing to get everyone on the same page. Worse, as can happen, at the matinee I caught Ricketts fumbled over her lines multiple times. That sort of thing is catching and therefore so did several others in the show, though her case was by far the worse. Nonetheless, I found Ricketts an appealing talent, wondered what Roach might be like under better circumstances, felt for Thom Sesma given a forced subtext to play with his secondary role, felt even more for Ryan and marveled at how Fine could look good amidst all this. To be clear, it was a painless afternoon at the theater, messy and bloody though it was. 

Fans of Red Bull Theater can enjoy a post-show discussion of Arden of Faversham streaming on YouTube March 26 at 7:30 pm EST, with the director, members of the cast and scholar Tonya Pollard.

I went into Arden of Faversham with no expectations, so they couldn't be crushed. Lohengrin is another story. It was overseen by Francois Girard, who helmed the Metropolitan Opera's 2013 Parsifal in a production so moving and beautiful I was overwhelmed. Lohengrin is a sequel of sorts, focusing on the son of Parsifal doing his own holy deeds. 

Like so many sequels, this production compares poorly to the original in every way. The choreography is misbegotten. A disastrous costume decision -- the chorus has capes which can digitally change the color they display -- led to a laughable series of tableaux. Essentially, they must stretch out their hands for the effect, making the stage look like it's populated again and again by flying squirrels. And once you think such a thing, you can't un-think it during the near five hour length of the show. While Parsifal had a shimmering, otherworldly atmosphere, Lohengrin is decidedly earthbound. It's my first exposure to this opera, so I'll save judgment until another production. But surely the only fun role is the witchy Ortrud, played here to the hilt by Christine Goerke. At least she was having a good time. 

Encores! by all accounts lost its way for a while. It was conceived as a way to showcase musicals that slipped through the cracks. Shows too unwieldy to mount again or shows that were deeply flawed or shows unfairly maligned or ahead of their time that might never get done again if someone didn't make a case for them -- these were the bread and butter of Encores! Then came Chicago, a semi-staged performance so stupendously successful it practically leaped to Broadway, becoming the longest running revival in history and indeed the longest-running U.S. musical in history, full stop. Naturally, that went to Encores!'s head and it seemed many of the later musicals it showcased were auditions for Broadway rather than misfit toys given a showcase they otherwise would lack. 

Happily, that isn't the case with Dear World, which most definitely will not be returning to Broadway. Its plot is daft and the chances of this show enjoying a commercial run on the Great White Way are practically nil, even if composer Jerry Herman was the first person to have three musicals running simultaneously on Broadway. Did I say the plot was daft? Yes daft, implausible, silly, barely-there and then it's over. 

Yet the score has some gems, including "I Don't Want To Know" and the act one closer "One Person," a song so rat-a-tat emphatic in its cockeyed optimism you hear it once and think, "Now THAT'S a Jerry Herman song!" Others are just fine and fun to hear, like the kooky scene-setter "Through The Bottom Of The Glass," the sweet "And I Was Beautiful" and the tricky, complex interweaving of three songs by the madwomen of Paris in act two. Everyone is having a hoot and it's all presided over by Donna Murphy, script in hand (COVID kept her from many rehearsals), which somehow added to the charm of the evening. This nutty, rarely if ever to be seen show is precisely what Encores! is meant to do. Mind you, I also want to see its two week production of Oliver! which surely deserves to be back on Broadway. So sue me for inconsistency, which is precisely what makes Dear World such a nutty treat. 

Finally, I loved Love. We've heard a lot about writer/director Alexander Zeldin for years. He's a major player in the UK, where Zeldin is now an Associate Director at the National. His work is rooted in documentary but deeply theatrical, by which I mean he's not delivering docudrama or turning found text into a drama. In Love, he focuses on a homeless shelter. After a long time immersing himself in that world, Zeldin worked with people caught up in that circumstance, inviting them to workshops and hearing their stories. Then he transmuted all that lived experience into a work of art. How could this 2016 play just be making its New York City debut? And when will we see 2019's Faith, Hope and Charity? And what will he do next? First, Love is set around the holidays in a temporary shelter for people who are homeless and hoping for more permanent lodgings from the government. We see a middle-aged man caring for his elderly mother; a young couple caring for his two children from an earlier relationship, with one more baby on the way; a Syrian refugee just given asylum in the UK and a Sudanese woman who can only speak to her children on the phone. They're all quietly desperate. 

Then what happens? Very little, for the play doesn't traffic in melodrama. We get to know all the characters in ways large and small. But no major conflicts arise. No one is screwing up or revealed to be worse or better than we imagine. Everyone is just doing their best, getting by, trying to stay afloat. And that everyday reality is bone deep, thanks to the set, the lighting, the pinpoint direction and the marvelous performances that rarely seem like performances. The play just...happens. But it's so involving, the predicaments so worrisome, the stakes so very high that the 90 minutes feel more like nine minutes or perhaps nine hours. You're wrung out at the end, after an evening in which the audience is focused and as quiet in the face of this humanity as any audience could be. Its attention is riveted and thoroughly rewarded. I described it to someone as "brutal" and yet not to be missed. They knew what I meant, they went to see it and they loved it too. This is what theater strives to be but rarely achieves. 

Thursday, February 02, 2023


Here's a look at the music I loved and listened to the most from 2022. If you enjoy the genre one of my picks is from, chances are it's worth a listen. Let me know what albums I'm missing! 

While you're here, check out my list of the Best Albums of All Time! You'll find my #1 pick for every year from 1924 to the Present. Then under each year you'll find a list of all the albums I love that first came out that year. 


Now, onto this year! First, I list my favorite albums. Then I list them again, with a few comments about why I love them. Below that you'll find links to my in-depth library of music, presented by artist and then to cap it off, my #1 picks of all time, with the latest lucky artist at the top. This year, that artist is...


ELVIS COSTELLO -- The Boy Named If /The Resurrection of Rust 
HARRY STYLES -- Harry's House 
ESLABÓN ARMADO -- Nostalgia 
BARBRA STREISAND -- Live At The Bon Soir 
ROLLING STONES -- Live At The El Mocambo 
iLe -- Nacarile 
ALTAMEDA -- Born Losers 
TOMMY MCLAIN -- I Ran Down Every Dream 
WET LEG -- Wet Leg 
TCHOTCHKE -- Tchotchke 

WEYES BLOOD -- And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow 
BAD BUNNY  -- Un Verano Sin Ti 
LADY BLACKBIRD -- Black Acid Soul 
NOORI & HIS DORPA BAND -- Beja Power! Electric Soul & Brass From Sudan's Red Sea Coast  
DR. JOHN -- Things Happen That Way 
JOEL ROSS -- The Parable Of The Poet 

VARIOUS ARTISTS -- Gotta Get A Good Thing Goin': Black Music In Britain In The Sixties 
ASHLEY MCBRYDE -- Presents Lindeville 
IAN NOE -- River Fools and Mountain Saints 
JULIA BULLOCK -- Walking In The Dark 
STEVE LACY -- Gemini Rights 
JUDY COLLINS -- Spellbound 
VARIOUS ARTISTS -- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Music From And Inspired By
COLIN HAY -- Now and The Evermore 
OUMOU SANGARÉ -- Timbuktu 
DUNCAN SHEIK -- Claptrap 

GOGOL BORDELLO -- Solidaritine 
MADONNA -- Finally Enough Love: 50 Number Ones 
VIGÜELA -- A La Manera Artesana 
PANIC! AT THE DISCO -- Viva Las Vengeance 
BINKER & MOSES -- Feeding The Machine 
MEGHAN TRAINOR -- Takin' It Back 
ALEC BENJAMIN -- (Un)Commentary 
THE MOVERS -- Vol. 1: 1970-1976
MIDLAKE -- For The Sake Of Bethel Woods 
RENÉE FLEMING -- Voice Of Nature: The Anthropocene 

 THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2022 (a breakdown)  

1-10 (plus 3) 

ELVIS COSTELLO -- The Boy Named If /The Resurrection of Rust 

Check out my list of the best albums of all time and you'll see him year after year after year. From 1977 with his debut My Aim Is True to the 1980s with the infectious Get Happy! and the baroque Imperial Bedroom to the 1990s and the 2000s and the 2010s right up to today, Elvis Costello has consistently delivered great music for almost 50 years. Indeed, 18 albums and 1 EP of his have popped onto my "best of" lists over the years, often right near the top. Whether he's collaborating with Burt Bacharach or the Roots, exploring New Orleans jazz or singing with a classical quartet,  Costello is always fascinating, always great. His voice has a timbre all its own, cutting through with its nervy anger or gorgeous croon. Maybe those marvelous experimentations of recent years weren't quite your cup of tea. If not, The Boy Named If is your chance to dive right back in. Costello pounds it out with one great rock song after another. This is a mature, adult Costello, but any song on here would sound right at home in concert side by side with songs from This Year's Model. Remember when everyone assumed watching grown men try to rock out would be embarrassing? Surely the Rolling Stones would have to hang it up when they hit, say, 40 years old! Well, here's Costello at 68 sounding as brash and hungry as ever. Just to prove his consistency, Costello "reunites" his original band Rusty by bringing pal Allan Mayes into the studio to rerecord six songs their group covered back in the day. Like Tom Petty's late career reunion with Mudcrutch, it's not nostalgia or generosity here-- they sound damn good. But then, Elvis Costello always does.  

HARRY STYLES -- Harry's House 

Apparently, One Direction was a super group. All the lads enjoy solo success, with my money still on Niall Horan to break even bigger than he has so far. But clearly Harry Styles is the one. If 1D has a reunion, it will be because Harry decides they should. (And why not Harry; it would be fun.) His solo success wasn't fore-ordained. Sure, Harry co-wrote some of their songs (including the not-so-swift Taylor retort "Perfect"), but he wasn't the driving creative force any more than Robbie Williams was in Take That. Yet the band took a "break" and Harry turned out his debut solo album which was ok and then another one which was solid and now this. Yes, each album was better than the one before, with Styles working through his influences. But I still wasn't ready for the sonic delight on display here or the pop song-craft. Now he just sounds like...Harry Styles. It's quiet, sad, open-hearted and sometimes creepy. (Those lines "Cocaine, side boob/ Choke her with a sea view" contrast darkly with the sensitive soul listening to a friend's woes in "Matilda," for example.) And it's so compulsively listenable, with every track on side one sounding like a monster hit, not just the unstoppable "As It Was." All the songs were written by Styles with at least one collaborator, but they sure sound personal.  Maybe a good comparison is Carole King for its vibe of feeling confessional and universal at the same time. Here's hoping he can follow up this tapestry with a lot more like it. 

ESLABÓN ARMADO -- Nostalgia 

Combining the ethnic pride of ranchero with the socially conscious lyrics of norteño, the young band Eslabón Armado has -- wait. Actually I don't know a damn thing about Sierreña or how these guys combine the sounds they heard diving into their parents' album collections with one ear cocked to the radio. All I know is they hit the Billboard Album Top 10 chart, the first Regional Mexican artist to ever do so. That caught my attention. Thanks to streaming, I didn't have to agonize about spending $15 on a compact disc just to check them out. Two minutes after hearing about them, I'm nodding my head along with vocals that burst with charisma and acoustic guitar interplay that makes me yearn to see them in concert. And if you don't speak the language, don't worry. Just listen and you'll know they're having their hearts broken. (Or you can use Google Translate.)  I first listened to them back in May of 2022. Eight months later I'm still digging them, exploring their four earlier albums and wondering when they'll make it to Alabama and...hold on. A quick search shows they're playing Montgomery, Alabama on February 26! You know, the internet isn't all bad. 

BARBRA STREISAND -- Live At The Bon Soir 
ROLLING STONES -- Live At The El Mocambo 

Like a god, Barbra Streisand arrived fully formed during club dates in 1962. She had no learning curve; we had a learning curve to keep up with her. The vocal acrobatics, the humor, the insight into the lyrics, the performance of those lyrics akin to a great actor tackling a role, the pacing, the perfectionism, the taste in was all there. These performances were unavailable for decades and naturally they grew in the telling. No actual recording could live up to the hype, except they do. Astonishing. 

In contrast, I've never hungered for any live albums from the Rolling Stones. I'm a Beatles fan in the great Stones vs. Beatles debate (as if one had to choose) and I've always loved the Beatles and merely appreciated the Stones. Never wanted to see one of their massive stadium shows, even if Mick and Keith can hold the attention of 80,000 fans whenever they want. But yeah, if I was going to see the Stones, I'd want it to be the impossible fantasy of a club date. Something like their Live At The El Mocambo performances from 1977. Ronnie Wood is new to the band and they've got something to prove and clearly a club is the place to prove it. Fans knew via bootleg these shows were special, but damn. It can make even a hold-out like me learn to love 'em. 

iLe -- Nacarile 
ALTAMEDA -- Born Losers 

Whew! I named iLe's album Almadura as the best album of 2019. Pretty bold to back such a young act. Her follow-up proves my faith in this Puerto Rican talent is well-founded. Not that anyone else is paying enough attention this time around. Similarly, Canadian act Altameda seems to be flying dangerously under the radar. With their third album, they are ready for the spotlight, having built on their first two albums and honed their chops in concert. Both acts are lyrically precise, musically captivating, alive. Either one could easily be the Act Of The Moment and I've loved them so much it's a shock to look online and discover precious little attention. Maybe college radio or some alternative Latin formats are embracing them? All I know is, you should. 

iLe's new album features a panoply of guest artists, but it feels as fully her own as ever. She's definitely in charge, twisting sexist comments back on the men who say them, embracing an image as "difficult" because what's wrong with knowing who you are and wrapping it all up in music as sonically adventurous as ever. It's a treat and a wake-up call at the same time. It took me a while to track it down, but the word "nacarile" means sort of being in a place that's the middle of nowhere and a slang way of saying "no, uh-uh, not happening." So iLe can't be tied down to this or that location or region or style of music. And no,  you're not going to forget her. Not happening. Nacarile. 

Altameda is a rock band. The opener on their latest album is "Dead Man's Suit," a song about a thrift store purchase that includes lyrics worthy of John Prine. The centerpiece "Everybody's Got To Bleed" has a Stones-like crunch. They portray females with empathy on "Ramona Retreat" (about a woman slipping away from her lover to return home for good) and "Sweet Susie." Really their third album feels more confident musically and lyrically than ever, from "Wheel of Love" to the title track (with guitar echoing George Harrison) and the gorgeous closer "In Time They Say." They nod to Dylan and the Band here and there. Like Springsteen, on "Nightmare Town" they detail with care the places that formed them, but at the same time convey the desperate desire to get the hell out of there. Wilco? The Jayhawks? Those are useful touchstones here. Like them and you'll probably like Altameda. Only 50 years of Elvis Costello's genius kept me from naming this rocker the best album of the year. If you're in the market for "favorite new band," Altameda is ready for you.

TOMMY MCLAIN -- I Ran Down Every Dream 

Oh I love a great backstory as much as anyone. Beloved but obscure act gets their moment of glory? Aging veteran given a showcase with the help of their more famous friends? Sign me up! So let me be clear. Both these albums came on my radar not because of their backstories but because my friend Sal said they were worth my time. I put them on the to-be-listened-to list and when I got around to them, I wasn't even sure why they were on the pile. But the moment the music starts, you know they're special. Tommy McLain has a long, funky career and here's the aging vet making the artistic statement of a lifetime. Charlie Gabriel is a key member of the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band. He plays multiple instruments, is revered in New Orleans and is releasing his debut the age of 89. EIGHTY NINE! If that doesn't scream feature story for NPR and CBS Sunday Morning and the like, I don't know what does. But I knew NONE OF THIS when I played them. The wisdom, the strongly etched lyrics of McLain blew me away. The sheer beauty of Charlie Gabriel's playing on classic standards held me still. And then I checked out their stories. Just play them. McLain's is a treat. Gabriel mixes a few genial originals with some lovely versions of classic tunes. What exactly happens on his version of "Stardust" that makes me sigh with pleasure? He doesn't radically rework the song or deconstruct it with flair, the way John Coltrane blew apart "My Favorite Things." It's a simple duet with guitar and Gabriel on clarinet. He doesn't worry about a purity of tone. In fact, a few times, he allows a little distortion to show us he's only human, though by and large his sound is lovely here.  I think what makes it special is that the musicians clearly love this song. Maybe they've played it a thousand times but they're paying attention to it. And so we pay attention to them. Gabriel begins in an ever so sprightly manner and then at about the 1:08 mark, he clears his throat and launches into the main melody and it's just...heart-stopping.

And do check out Burning Wood, the music blog of my friend Sal Nunziato. He's turned me on to great new music over the years, almost as often as he's championed classic albums I need to listen to again or for the first time. His Top 10 albums of 2022 contain seven albums I also loved. So clearly he's got good taste...or I'm just cribbing from him. 

Also if you've got vinyl to sell, he's your man. (If you want to buy vinyl, he's got you covered there as well.)

WET LEG -- Wet Leg 
TCHOTCHKE -- Tchotchke 

Okay, there's world music and hip hop and acts devising music that can catch your ear in ten seconds on TikTok. But don't worry. Kids will always grab some guitars, a drum, a bass and start pounding out \ rock and roll. Hence the pleasure of these three acts. Wet Legs got all the buzz and like any music consumer burned many times in the past by music industry hype, I wasn't jumping to check out a band suddenly buried in press clippings. I've seen that hustle before. But people with good taste kept mentioning them too and well, what the heck, why not give them a listen? Damn if Wet Leg isn't a blast with its meat and potatoes rock and roll, which is a compliment in my book. The star-making machinery might just as easily have singled out Buzzard Buzzard, Buzzard, a pretty obscure UK act. Wet Legs is deservedly touring the world and playing music festivals like Coachella. Meanwhile fellow UK act Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard (one of my least favorite band names; I mean, really guys?) is just as awesome and promising. They sing "Come on, rock on!" without irony, and who could ask for more than that.Their upcoming tour dates include...maybe some shows in Bristol in March?  And yet another act (this one with the cool name of Tchotchke) is also delivering the goods. They might actually slipstream behind Wet Legs since both are all-female acts, a still too rare occurrence in rock. Their album is more eclectic and pop-friendly than the others. But all three could set up their gear in your garage, plug in and thrash away to the delight of friends and neighbors. If you like Wet Leg, jump on the other two right away. 


Cécile McLorin Salvant was already one of the boldest and most exciting jazz singers around, building on the brilliant, path-breaking recordings of Cassandra Wilson with her own singular vision. I named her album Dreams and Daggers the best of 2017. Now she's expanded even my idea of what a jazz vocalist might encompass with her latest, most theatrical album yet. It contains a clutch of originals sitting comfortably alongside  a number of songs you can only describe as "eclectic." It opens with an astonishing cover of Kate Bush's delirious debut single "Wuthering Heights," a song I love and yet never imagined someone else covering. You'll also find -- among others -- a very obscure song by Sting ("Until," a tune rescued from the soundtrack of the modest Hugh Jackman film Kate & Leopold), Kurt Weill's "The World Is Mean," a traditional number and "Optimistic Voices" from The Wizard of Oz. What's that? You thought you knew The Wizard of Oz and haven't heard of that song? Tell me about it. I was listening to the album when she sang it and without looking at the liner notes I just knew I was familiar with this song but I was damned if I could remember from where. It drove me nuts but I refused to look it up until finally my aging brain clicked into action. Dorothy is entering the Emerald City and a chorus of voices perkily delivers "Optimistic Voices," telling her how much she's really really going to like her time visiting there. You've heard it countless times and it's part of your subconsciousness, just sitting there until Salvant brings it up to the surface. Her great achievement is not reviving obscure gems or casting familiar songs in a new light. It's all of that and more -- an expansive embrace of popular music as broad as her vocal range. Salvant can do it all. And does. 

NOTE: It's been pointed out to me that Pat Benatar covered "Wuthering Heights" on her second album Crimes Of Passion, the best-selling album of her career. Bette Midler covered "Optimistic Voices" on her second album, 1973's Bette Midler. So take away my rock card and my gay card. 


WEYES BLOOD -- And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow 

A Seventies vibe, sure, but she's not retro. Weyes Blood is delivering a very distinctive body of work in the singer-songwriter but-I-know-what-I'm-doing-in-a-studio genre. You might just start with the album Titanic Rising (I really can't get the should-have-been-a-hit song "Everyday" out of my head). If you do, before you know it you'll be listening to this excellent follow-up as well. 

BAD BUNNY  -- Un Verano Sin Ti 

The artist of the year. We're in an era that devalues the album and hey, that's how music was heard for most of the past 100 years, with singles and a stream of music mattering more than the album, that unhip artistic statement of a 40 minute song cycle. For two or three years now, the singles and collaborations and albums of Bad Bunny kept coming and kept delighting. And I've had albums of his higher on my lists. I just wish I would hold up one of them and say, HERE! Start here. But you know, start here. 


Miranda Lambert really is astonishing, never putting a foot wrong. She pivots from an expansive double album to a Pistol Annies Christmas album to the stripped down Marfa Tapes and tosses off a couple of terrific studio albums before and after. Palomino is terrific. It doesn't explicitly echo any of her musical explorations alongside others. But you get the sense her palette is more varied than ever. I'll follow her anywhere. 


A marvelous composer, Jóhannsson died too soon, so this is a posthumous release. He's best known for film scores, including the towering achievement of The Miners' Hymns, a brilliant documentary that combines archival footage with Jóhannsson's music to triumphant effect. (It was my favorite film of 2012.) Here he's composed a mass, a mass one might imagine is a requiem though it doesn't have the weighty sadness of such an enterprise. He's especially good at using voices in choral arrangements that are haunting and classical in nature. Clearly Jóhannsson enjoyed Arvo Pärt as much as anyone. But he's his own artist and this is perhaps a final reminder of how much we lost when he died in 2018. 

LADY BLACKBIRD -- Black Acid Soul 

I listened to Black Acid Soul. Vaguely retro soul music with a strong voice, but I've heard it all before. Months later, I put it on again and wow! How does it happen that an album can strike you so differently on a second listen? Suddenly, Lady Blackbird is an artist I'm dying to see in concert and tell friends about and anxiously hope she'll deliver the goods next time around. Because I want more music. A real talent and yet more proof that sometimes it not them, it's you. Keep an open ear. 

NOORI & HIS DORPA BAND -- Beja Power! Electric Soul & Brass From Sudan's Red Sea Coast  

What do I know about the music of Sudan? About as much as I know about ranchero. (Check out Eslabón Armado, above.) What do I know about the travails of the Beja people? Even less. Apparently music has been stifled and suppressed in Sudan in countless ways over the years. Maybe that's why this album is so joyous. This new band kicks out the jams and delivers world music, which is to say music for the world. Infectious, fun, compulsively listenable and when you hear it you'll want to learn more about Noori & His Dorpa Band. as well as Sudan and the Beja people. Or you can just dance to it. 


Power pop heaven. I never listen to EPs but somehow I stumbled across an EP of this band. Damn it was good. Straightforward, catchy pop-leaning rock and roll with clever lyrics. In other words, power pop that's compulsively listenable. When would a proper album out? Months and months later a second EP appeared. I never listen to EPs but I listened to that one too and damned if it wasn't just as high in quality as the first. Finally, in 2023 the third and final EP in the trilogy came out. I'm retroactively declaring this an album (you can buy it on vinyl as such, I think or follow me on Amazon Music and click onto my playlist combining the three EPs) and putting it on this list now. The Raspberries, Fountains of Wayne and the like are good comparisons. Just terrific. But wait, there's more! After falling in love with them, I discovered they rose from the ashes of the legendary power pop band Jellyfish. That group released two beloved albums in the 1990s and then disappeared. And no, I'd never even heard of Jellyfish, much less heard them, if you follow me. Now I'm gaga for Bellybutton (1990) and Spilt Milk (1993) and you'll find them on my lists of the best albums of those years so I look like I was really cool and smart back in 1990, even though I wasn't. So check out The Lickerish Quartet and you'll discover two great bands for the price of one. 


It's not her debut  but singer-songwriter Silvana Estrada comes into her own with this Blue album of heartbreak. Estrada performs on the cuatro -- a sort of smallish guitar I'd never heard of before -- and it's the key instrument here, keeping the music intimate and folk-ish even as Estrada employs everything from an organ to a cello to complement the simple directness of her voice and her playing. Mesmerizing. 

DR. JOHN -- Things Happen That Way 

What a great country detour for Dr. -- kidding! It's not a country album. It's just a Dr. John album, the voodoo/bayou/New Orleans gumbo you expect from one of the city's most famous performers. Sure he covers some country classics like "Funny How Time Slips Away" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." But it's the swampy, soulful sound the Dr. has been prescribing to audiences for more than 50 years. He died in 2019 in the midst of recording this, but they must have been about to wrap things up because it sure sounds complete. It's a great, mellow capper to a marvelous career. How often can you tell people that if they want to check someone out, that the 33rd or so album he recorded is a great place to start? 

JOEL ROSS -- The Parable Of The Poet 

Entire sub-genres of jazz are devoted to spiritual matters. They can be searching, questioning works like A Love Supreme or they can offer solace and contemplation. That's what you get here with vibraphonist Joel Ross's new work. Ross composed seven movements, from Prayer to Benediction and assembled a terrific group of musicians to bring his piece to life, especially Immanuel Wilkins on alto sax. This isn't aural wallpaper, it's not soothing as such. But it does offer a calm and centeredness amidst the spiritual journey Ross embarks on. Apparently that journey is a self-effacing one: Ross is the guiding force here but his vibraphone is not front and center. You'll have to check out his other albums to savor it more, but after hearing this you'll be doing so. 


VARIOUS ARTISTS -- Gotta Get A Good Thing Goin': Black Music In Britain In The Sixties 

What a terrific compilation. (By the way, kids, a "compilation" or "boxed set" is a sort of physical playlist. Someone came up with a terrific playlist but instead of just posting it online, they were so proud of it they put it out on vinyl or CD or cassette for all I know so people could buy it and put it on their shelf. Go figure!) As the subtitle says, it gathers Black music in Britain in the Sixties. As far as I can tell, these weren't by and large big hits in the Sixties, but the Northern Soul movement in the UK has long rediscovered relatively obscure songs and given them a second life. For example, the Flirtations had one modest Top 40 hit in the U.S. with "Nothing But A Heartache." Carl Douglas enjoyed a fluke novelty hit with "Kung Fu Fighting" in 1974...but six years earlier in 1968 he put out the memorable "Serving A Sentence Of Life." Nobody paid it any attention. They're both on here with a host of other songs by acts only hardcore enthusiasts would know. The full boxed set features more than 100 tracks, though only 30+ are available to stream on Amazon Music. (If you're obsessive like me, you can check out the track list and hear the rest by heading to YouTube or searching for individual acts on your streamer of choice.) The music is so fun, I haven't felt this giddy since diving into the Rhino Records boxed set Beg, Scream & Shout, a similar Aladdin's cave of riches. The acts here are not so hefty artistically as the better-known ones on that set, not by a country mile, yet both collections opened up vistas for me and kind of blew my mind. Gotta Get A Good Thing Goin' is a testament to just how much damn good music is out there. 

ASHLEY MCBRYDE -- Presents Lindeville 
IAN NOE -- River Fools and Mountain Saints 

The working class. The working poor. Poor people. Country and folk music is where you can dependably find them presented with affection and clarity of the "don't pull that shit with me, I know the game" variety. They know life is hard in country and folk, but that's no excuse. 

Ashley McBryde gathers a host of musicians to offer a variety show of sorts depicting regular folk. It's a hoot from the opening track, "Brenda Put Your Bra On." She leans heavily into the humor at first. But as her concept album deepens, so do the shadows until they're enjoying gospel night at a strip club and it's no joke when they sing "Jesus loves the drunkards and the whores and the queers." It's a prayer. 

Ian Noe is deadly serious in capturing the underbelly of serious poverty and despair. His folk-rock album River Fools and Mountain Saints is a series of short stories set in the heartland where the heart is in love with opioids, not love. If there's a swing set in the yard, it's rusted. Drunkards, veterans, mountain saint mothers who do what they must to get by and wouldn't know how to complain if it ever occurred to them to try -- they're all here. All here in songs that pierce the Appalachian haze with a spotlight because what else can you do but write it down? 

JULIA BULLOCK -- Walking In The Dark 

A rising classical star, soprano Julia Bullock does it right with her solo debut. Her husband Christian Reif conducts the London Philharmonic and accompanies her on piano. Composer John Adams called Bullock his muse so she returns the favor by including an aria from his work El Niño. The other major outing is "Knoxville: Summer Of 1915," which I forever associate with Dawn Upshaw. Other songs include the Connie Converse piece "One By One," a spiritual and even Sandy Denny's "Who Knows Where The Time Goes?" You might chide it for following the blueprint of such albums to a fault, if she didn't deliver the goods. 

STEVE LACY -- Gemini Rights 

While we wait for Maxwell's blacksummerNIGHT, this soulful and psychedelic offering will do just fine. Stevie Wonder is a heady but worthy comparison.

JUDY COLLINS -- Spellbound 

Late in her career, Judy Collins is on a hitting streak, knocking out one excellent album after another. Think Johnny Cash in his final days or Rosemary Clooney once she paired up with Concord Records. This 29th (!) studio album is the first on which Collins wrote all the songs. Well, no wonder, since she built her carer on showing great taste in the songs of others, ranging from Joni Mitchell and Stephen Sondheim to Leonard Cohen and beyond. When you've got a gift for uncovering gems by others, focusing on just your own songs might take a back seat. The happy surprise is how good her own songs are here. Forgive yourself if you didn't know better and kept wondering what talented songwriter Collins lit upon this time. And her voice is in fine form. Whatever agility or heights she has lost are more than made up for by knowing exactly how to use the instrument she has. 

VARIOUS ARTISTS -- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Music From And Inspired By

Both times, I've enjoyed the soundtrack more than the film. The first one was overseen by Kendrick Lamar, wonderfully so. This time the soundtrack has a more expansive, world music scope, even if the song getting much of the attention is Rihanna's return to the spotlight. In many ways, it captures the vibe of the Black Panther ethos even better this time around. Instead of heavyweights stopping by, listening to it is like heading to Wakanda and discovering all sorts of riches you had no idea were available. 

COLIN HAY -- Now and The Evermore 

Zach Braff was right. Okay, I won't stick with just that one-liner. But Braff really has kept me on top of the solo career of Colin Hay, the Men At Work frontman who has delivered so many solo albums by now he really wishes we'd quit with the Men At Work references. But now you know who he is and that the mellow angst of "Overkill" wasn't a downer misstep by the band but a hint at the rich territory Hay would explore on his own. I enjoyed his recent covers album but this new collection of tunes might be his peak. Think solo Sting. 

OUMOU SANGARÉ -- Timbuktu 

The Mali singer Oumou Sangaré has nothing to prove after decades of vibrant recordings, social activism, a worldwide profile as a feminist leader and success as a businessperson. But here she is, heading to the US during the COVID lockdowns and recording a new album embracing elements of the blues and folk without ever abandoning the Malian sound that is at her core. It's fresh and exciting without ever stooping to an attempt at cross-over. Sangaré doesn't stoop, unless it's to help others up. 

DUNCAN SHEIK -- Claptrap 

Maybe it's the voice. Duncan Sheik sings and you lean in. His singing is intimate and confessional; his best album -- the Nick Drake-inspired Phantom Moon -- should be played as dusk settles into night. He sings and you want to hear what he's saying. Here, finally, he's discovering a sort of peace. Sheik's gone from struggling to catch his breath to struggling to understand the world around him. Maybe we're surrounded by love, he says. Maybe we can find an opportunity for grace. He's still searching but maybe he's more confident there's something worth finding. Claptrap? Not at all. 


GOGOL BORDELLO -- Solidaritine 

Surely we're ALL ready for a loud, raucous new album championing Ukraine. It's from the NYC-formed punk band Gogol Bordello.  The lead singer is from Ukraine; it's named in part for the Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol; and like Goran Bregovíc's Wedding and Funeral Orchestra, the musicians are exuberant, seemingly prone to drinking, fervently inspired by the sounds of the Romani and ready to rock. Solidaritine  is political, angry, ferocious and about as much fun as you can have right now. Think The Pogues but not nearly so low-key. 

MADONNA -- Finally Enough Love: 50 Number Ones 

I can't review this boxed set. It contains the 50 #1 hits Madonna has achieved on the Billboard dance music charts, so far. No other artist has ever created 50 #1 hits in a single genre before. To my knowledge, no artist has ever created 50 different songs that have hit #1 even in multiple genres. That's remarkable. Scan the titles or start playing them and you won't even think about asking yourself whether you really like a song until you reach #25 or #28 or so. Madonna spins out one classic single after another and you're dazzled and -- if you're me -- slightly surprised at how well you know these specific mixes. I"m no club goer, never was, and yet many of these tweaks of her album tracks are familiar to me. Once I hit the last 15 or 20 songs, well then I'm in new territory, songs that didn't quite land with me or songs I actively disliked or simply weren't up to Madonna's standards. (Please don't tell her; she'd kick my ass.) And yet...and yet the versions contained here, the versions reimagined and rethought by some of the best in the business (and all undeniably still the songs she created) have me thinking twice about my opinion on the later, lesser songs. Still, I can't review it. I can't listen to dance music at home on my iPhone or even in my car driving down the road in Birmingham, Alabama. I need to head to New York City, re-open the Limelight, have a drink or two and then head to the dance floor preferably with a date dancing by my side while the deejay spins this album. Then and only then can I hear these songs in the context they deserve and know what I think about them.  Meanwhile, it's not too late for Madonna to clean up her discography and put out The Immaculate Collection Vol. 2, the much-needed follow-up to The Immaculate Collection, one of the most astute greatest hits compilations ever released. Separate the wheat from the chaff, Madonna and deliver a statement about the singles that matter.

VIGÜELA -- A La Manera Artesana 

Literally, music from la Mancha, Spain. A regional style that might evoke the Gipsy Kings to my ears, but Vigüela isn't interested in combining the music handed down to them with modern pop sounds.  They'll pound out percussion grabbing a tool from the barn or a spoon from the kitchen and get on with it. Neither approach is better or purer. All that matters is that they're passionate about what they're doing. The Gipsy Kings have that and so does Vigüela and so will you when listening to them. 

PANIC! AT THE DISCO -- Viva Las Vengeance 

My Chemical Romance. Fall Out Boy. Panic! At The Disco. These emo bands that listened to Queen and thought, hmm, what if we went bigger are all a blast. I'm a little bummed to hear Panic is calling it a day after this final tour. But it's become a solo vehicle for singer Brendan Urie and presumably he'll carry on under his own name in the future. So not to worry. For now, if you want propulsive music that takes you higher, if you know a crafty hook is just as important as a guitar solo, if you understand that stadium moves aren't selling out dude but precisely what they've been aiming for since singing along to the radio in their bedroom as kids, well dive into Viva Las Vengeance. 

BINKER & MOSES -- Feeding The Machine 

Saxophonist Binker Golding and drummer Moses Boyd are mainstays of the London jazz scene. Here they collaborate with synth wizard Max Luthert on a set of restless, freewheeling instrumentals that would sound right at home in the films of Davids Cronenberg or Lynch. Not that the vibe here is creepy; it's just mind-blowing and eager to take you on a ride. Golding blows away in sheets of sound, Boyd anchors it all when he's not flying off into orbit himself and Luthert is always there with shadings and loops and echos to make clear this is no ordinary set. It's free jazz and everything that doesn't interest me in jazz...except when it's this good. Anyone rightly enamored by the great recent work of Kamasi Washington, Immanuel Wilkins and the like should dive right in. 

MEGHAN TRAINOR -- Takin' It Back 
ALEC BENJAMIN -- (Un)Commentary 

Pure pop pleasure. Meghan Trainor lost her way a bit. But here she is hitting the sweet spot of catchy, memorable songs with a delightful retro vibe. Alec Benjamin was poised to break out when the pandemic upended everything. I'm not quite ready to declare any of his albums as great, but since I keep listening to them over and over there's clearly something going on. With both these acts, I have to admit that -- often enough -- passionate teenage fans know what they're talking about. 

THE MOVERS -- Vol. 1: 1970-1976

I headed to South Africa for a wedding over the New Year. As is my wont, I prepared by reading about a dozen novels and works of history about the country, watched some South African movies and dived back into the wealth of music I was introduced to in the wake of Paul Simon's Graceland. Happily, I also discovered some bands new to me, especially the groovy, organ-driven group The Movers, who flourished in the 1970s. Think Booker T & the M.G.'s and you'll get a good sense of what a blast these tracks can be. Don't hesitate. Seriously, start playing this right now. 

MIDLAKE -- For The Sake Of Bethel Woods 

Here is the obligatory reference to Midlake's The Trials Of Van Occupanther, one of the best albums of 2006 and a landmark of indie rock. Here is the obligatory reference to former lead singer Tim Smith, who left the group after 2010's The Courage of Others. He announced a new band called Harp and then got all The Las on us, trapping himself in the studio to seek that sonic perfection that always stays on the horizon, tantalizingly out of reach. Perhaps that's what drove his bandmates bonkers, who put out an entirely new album -- Antiphon -- just six months after he walked away. But then they took nine years before putting out For The Sake Of Bethel Woods, so maybe it's just something in the waters of Denton, Texas. Mind you, the members released five different side projects in recent years, so, they haven't been silent. But still, nine years! And just to shock everyone, Smith announced recently that yes, indeed, Harp will be putting out a proper album in 2023. Why should you care? Well, you're just admitting you haven't listened to The Trials of Van Occupanther, a moody atmospheric masterpiece following in the wake of R.E.M.'s Murmur and sitting comfortably alongside Fleet Foxes and the like. Get on that. Then you'll enjoy the British folkie vibe of The Courage Of Others and that will set you up to appreciate For The Sake Of Bethel Woods. Bethel Woods is a reference to Woodstock, which the late father of one of the member's attended as a youth, the same dad who appeared to him in a dream recently and said, "Hey, you should get the band back together." So they did. The result is a nifty opener, setting up the religious undertones of an album that celebrates family, friends and the music that knits them together. It's heart-warming, really, just to hear them again. In typical Midlake fashion, track 10 is "The End," but it's not the end. They have more to say with the next song, "Of Desire," confessing, "We're working it out/ But time can really, really play some tricks on us now." It's sweet and quiet until it explodes into the sound of six friends making a beautiful noise, simply because they can. 

RENÉE FLEMING -- Voice Of Nature: The Anthropocene 

Soprano Renée Fleming is in excellent form here, celebrating the natural world she found consolation in during lockdown. The "anthropocene" refers to the current era, when humanity's impact on the environment is undeniable. This isn't a requiem, even though the centerpiece and longest track is Nico Muhly's "Endless Space," which underlines and exclamation points the dire threat of the climate crisis. That's the only misstep on an otherwise faultless recital ranging from newly commissioned pieces to Romantic classics. Fleming is especially marvelous on French songs by Liszt and Fauré, her light precise vocals making you wonder anew at her instrument. Just to prove she can do anything, Fleming segues from some Edvard Grieg to her best new commission: the marvelous "Aurora Borealis" by Caroline Shaw. But she's not done yet, capping it off with a cover of Jackson Browne's "Before The Deluge" where she's joined by Alison Krauss and Rhiannon Giddens and sounds right at home. In that tune, almost everyone is swept away by nature's wrath, even as they sing, "Now let the music keep our spirits high/ And let the buildings keep our children dry." It's a prayer Jackson Browne sang in 1974. Some fifty years later, it's more urgent than ever. 


Wondering what I think about Bruce Springsteen's body of work? Or where to start with Prefab Sprout (who?) or Frank Sinatra? Check out my list of albums, organized alphabetically by artist and then chronologically by album with a rating for each one. Under A-E you'll find ABBA to the Everly Brothers, from F to J Marianne Faithful to Damien Jurado, from K-O the Kaiser Chiefs to Buck Owens and so on. 


THE 2020s 

ELVIS COSTELLO -- The Boy Named If /The Resurrection of Rust (2022) 
A GIRL CALLED EDDY -- Been Around  (2020) 

THE 2010s

iLe -- Almadura (2019) 
BOBBIE GENTRY -- The Girl From Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters (2018) 
CÉCILE MCLORIN SALVANT -- Dreams And Daggers (2017) 
DAVID BOWIE -- Blackstar and Lazarus ep (2016 tie)
LEONARD COHEN -- You Want It Darker (2016 tie) 
SUFJAN STEVENS -- Carrie and Lowell (2015)
KAISER CHIEFS -- Education, Education, Education and War (2014)
JANELLE MONAE -- The Electric Lady (2013)
RUMER -- Seasons Of My Soul/Boys Don't Cry (2012)
FLEET FOXES -- Hopelessness Blues (2011)
THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH -- The Wild Hunt (2010)

THE 2000s

THE AVETT BROTHERS -- I And Love And You (2009)
SHARON JONES AND THE DAP KINGS -- 100 Days 100 Nights (2007)
CORINNE BAILEY RAE -- Corinne Bailey Rae (2006 tie)
JAMES HUNTER -- People Gonna Talk (2006 tie)
SUFJAN STEVENS -- Illinois (2005)
GREEN DAY -- American Idiot (2004)
THE WHITE STRIPES -- Elephant (2003)
NORAH JONES -- Come Away With Me (2002)
MANU CHAO -- Proxima Estacion: Esperanza (2001)
EMINEM -- The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)

THE 1990s

DAVID GRAY -- White Ladder (1999)
BILLY BRAGG AND WILCO -- Mermaid Avenue (1998)
RADIOHEAD -- O.K. Computer (1997)
BECK -- Odelay (1996)
THE MAVERICKS -- Music For All Occasions (1995 -- tie)
ALISON KRAUSS -- Now That I've Found You: A Collection (1995 -- tie)
JOHNNY CASH -- American Recordings (1994)
CASSANDRA WILSON -- Blue Light 'Til Dawn (1993)
kd lang -- Ingenue (1992)
NIRVANA -- Nevermind (1991)
MADONNA -- The Immaculate Collection (1990)

THE 1980s

BEASTIE BOYS -- Paul's Boutique (1989)
PUBLIC ENEMY -- It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)
PAUL SIMON -- Graceland (1986 -- tie)
VARIOUS ARTISTS -- The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto Volume One (1986 -- tie)
BARBRA STREISAND -- The Broadway Album (1985 -- tie)
PREFAB SPROUT -- Steve McQueen aka Two Wheels Good (1985 -- tie)
U2 -- The Unforgettable Fire (1984)
R.E.M. -- Murmur (1983)
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN -- Nebraska (1982)
QUEEN -- Greatest Hits (1981)
JOHN LENNON AND YOKO ONO -- Double Fantasy (1980)

THE 1970s

THE CLASH -- London Calling (1979)
WILLIE NELSON -- Stardust (1978)
STEELY DAN -- Aja (1977)
STEVIE WONDER -- Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)
BOB DYLAN -- Blood On The Tracks/The Basement Tapes (1975)
RICHARD AND LINDA THOMPSON -- I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight (1974)
BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS -- Catch A Fire/Burnin' (1973)
SIMON AND GARFUNKEL -- Greatest Hits (1972)
JONI MITCHELL -- Blue (1971)
RANDY NEWMAN -- 12 Songs (1970 -- tie)
HARRY NILSSON -- Nilsson Sings Newman (1970 -- tie)

THE 1960s

THE BEATLES -- Abbey Road (1969)
VAN MORRISON -- Astral Weeks (1968)
ARETHA FRANKLIN -- I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) (1967)
THE BEACH BOYS -- Pet Sounds (1966 -- tie)
THE BEATLES -- Revolver (1966 -- tie)
BOB DYLAN -- Bringing It All Back Home/Highway 61 (1965)
STAN GETZ AND JOAO GILBERTO -- Getz/Gilberto (1964)
PATSY CLINE -- The Patsy Cline Story (1963)
RAY CHARLES -- Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music Vol 1 and 2 (1962)
BILL EVANS -- Sunday At The Village Vanguard/Waltz For Debby (1961)
ELLA FITZGERALD -- The Intimate Ella (1960)

THE 1950s

MILES DAVIS -- Kind Of Blue/Workin'/Porgy and Bess (1959)
ELVIS PRESLEY -- Elvis' Golden Records Vol. 1 (1958)
LERNER AND LOEWE -- My Fair Lady Original Broadway Cast (1957)
ELLA FITZGERALD -- Sings The Cole Porter Songbook (1956)
FRANK SINATRA -- In The Wee Small Hours (1955)
DINAH WASHINGTON -- Dinah Jams (1954)
PEGGY LEE -- Black Coffee (1953)
VARIOUS ARTISTS/HARRY SMITH -- The Anthology Of American Folk Music (1952)
HANK WILLIAMS -- 40 Greatest Hits (1951)
BILLIE HOLIDAY -- The Complete Decca Recordings (1944-1950) (1950)

THE 1940s

DJANGO REINHARDT -- Djangology 49 (1949)
HANK WILLIAMS -- 40 Greatest Hits (1948)
WOODY GUTHRIE -- Songs To Grow On: Nursery Days aka For Mother And Child (1947)
BING CROSY AND THE ANDREWS SISTERS -- Their Complete Recordings Together (1939-1951) (1946)
BING CROSBY -- Merry Christmas (1945)
DUKE ELLINGTON -- The Carnegie Hall Concerts: January 1943 (1943)
FRANK SINATRA AND TOMMY DORSEY-- The Song Is You! 1940-1942 on RCA Victor (1942)
DUKE ELLINGTON -- The Blanton-Webster Band (1941)
DUKE ELLINGTON -- The Blanton-Webster Band/1937-1940 on Classics Label (1940)

THE 1930s

GLENN MILLER -- The Essential Glenn Miller (1939)
BENNY GOODMAN -- Benny Goodman At Carnegie Hall (1938)
BILLIE HOLIDAY -- The Quintessential Billie Holiday Vol 3-4 1936-1937 (1937)
ROBERT JOHNSON -- King Of The Delta Blues Singers Vol. 1 (1936)
BING CROSY -- Bing Crosby: His Legendary Years (1931-1957) [Decca 1934-1954] (1935)
BING CROSY -- Bing Crosby: His Legendary Years (1931-1957) [Brunswick 1931-1934; Decca 1934-1954] (1934)
BESSIE SMITH -- The Collection (1933)
THE MILLS BROTHERS -- The 1930's Recordings (1932)
BING CROSY -- Bing Crosby: His Legendary Years (1931-1957) [Brunswick 1931-1934] (1931)
DUKE ELLINGTON -- The OKeh Ellington 1927-1930/1924-1930 on Classics Label (1930)

THE 1920s

CHARLEY PATTON -- King Of The Delta Blues (1929-1934) (1929)
MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT -- Avalon Blues: The Complete 1928 Okeh Recordings (1928)
HENRY THOMAS -- Bull Doze Blues (1927-1929)
LOUIS ARMSTRONG -- The Complete Hot Five And Seven Recordings (1927)
LOUIS ARMSTRONG -- The Complete Hot Five And Seven Recordings (1926)
LOUIS ARMSTRONG -- The Complete Hot Five And Seven Recordings (1925)
DUKE ELLINGTON -- 1924-1930 on Classics Label (1924) 


Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A New Phrase!

 timor defectus librorum

latin for the fear of running out of books! I experienced this often while going about my day in NYC. I'd have a magazine with me...and another magazine in case I finished the first one. Or I'd have a book...and another book in case I got to the end and wasn't home yet.

Happily, Kindle ended this unease for me, but the fear of running out of something good to read is more appealing than describing the fear of my e-reader running out of battery power.

Monday, January 23, 2023

The Movies, Books, Theater, Concerts, CDs I've Seen/Read/Heard So Far In 2023

Updated as of  March 2, 2023  

KEY: star rating is on the four star scale
          meaning of "/" or "\"
          *** is three stars out of four
          ***/ is three stars leaning towards  3 1/2
          ***\ is three stars leaning towards 2 1/2

The Movies, Books, Theater, Concerts, CDs I've Seen/Read/Heard So Far In 2023

(Increasingly, I am sampling books, reading 10%, 20% even 40 or 50% before deciding to move on. The books below are only the ones I've read completely. That also explains what looks like generous grading -- more and more, if I sense a book is not going to be among my favorites, I stop reading. Too many books; too little time!)

1. My Ántonia by Willa Cather **** 
2. Just William by Richmal Compton ** 1/2 (pleasant enough but repetitive) 
3. A Child's Garden Of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson *** 1/2 
4. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov *** 1/2 (finished at The Mavericks concert Feb 17, 2023) 

CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS CDS (A strong emphasis on the ones I like, so don't think I love everything I listen to -- I just don't bother really listening to the ones I don't )

1. Marty Robbins -- Hawaii's Calling Me (1969) * 1/2 
2. Cheap Trick -- All Shook Up (1980) ** 1/2 
3. Daryl Hall & John Oates -- H2O *** 
4. The Beach Boys -- Carl And The Passions -- "So Tough" ** 1/2 
5. Sammi Smith -- Lonesome (1971) ** 1/2 
6. Willie Colon -- El Malo (w Hector Lavoe) (1967) *** 
7. Ismael Rivera -- Esto Si Es Lo Mio (1978) *** 1/2 
8. Ismael Rivera -- Feliz Navidad (1975) *** 
9. Sting -- If On A Winter's Night (2009) ** 
10. Marty Robbins -- Marty After Midnight (1969) ** 1/2 
11. Duke Ellington -- Money Jungle w Max Roach and Charles Mingus (1962) ** 1/2 
12. Michael Nesmith -- Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash (1973) *** 
13. Michael Nesmith -- And The Hits Just Keep On Comin' (1972) *** 1/2 
14. Daryl Hall & John Oates -- Voices (1980) ** 1/2 
15. Bette Midler -- The Divine Miss M (1972) ** 1/2 
16. Bette Midler -- Bette Midler (1973) ** 
17. Howdy Glenn -- I Can Almost See Houston ** 
18. Bob Dylan -- Time Out Of Mind (1997) *** 1/2 / 
19. Daryl Hall & John Oates -- Big Bam Boom (1984) ** 
20. Bob Dylan -- Fragments: Time Out Of Mind Sessions 1996-1997 *** 
21. Hank Williams -- Ramblin' Man (1954) **** 
22. Mavis Staples -- Mavis Staples (1969) ** 1/2 
23. Cheap Trick -- Heaven Tonight ((1978) *** / 
24. John Cale -- Paris 1919 *** 
25. Hank Williams -- Sings (1951) *** 1/2 
26. Dionne Warwick-- The Dionne Warwick Collection: Her All-Time Greatest Hits **** 
27. Hank Williams -- Honky Tonkin' (1954) *** 1/2 
28. The Movers -- Mr. Moonlight Meets Miss Starlight (1974) * 1/2 
29. Cymande -- Cymande (1972) *** 1/2 
30. Hank Williams -- I Saw The Light (1954) ** 1/2 
31. Marty Robbins -- Songs Of The Islands (1957) * 1/2 
32. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys -- The Essential Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys (2013) *** / 
33. Steve Forbert -- Early Morning Rain (2020) ** 1/2 
34. Patty Loveless -- When Fallen Angels Fly (1994) ** 1/2 
35. The Selecter -- Too Much Pressure (1980) *** 1/2 
36. Wanda Jackson -- There's A Party Goin' On (1961) *** 
37. Buck Owens And His Buckaroos -- Bakersfield Gold: Top 10 Hits 1959-1974 (2022) *** 1/2 
38. Johnny Western -- Presenting Johnny Western (1958) ** 
39. Joe Henderson -- Page One (1963) *** 1/2 
40. Joe Bataan -- Riot! (1970) ** 1/2 
41. Burt Bacharach and Steven Sater -- Some Lovers (2021) *** 
42. Donald Byrd -- Chant (1961) *** 1/2 
43. Billy Preston -- Music Is My Life (1972) ** 1/2 
44. Booker Little -- Out Front (1961) *** 
45. Jerry Jeff Walker -- Viva Terlingua (1973) *** 
46. Os Mutantes -- Os Mutantes (1968) *** 1/2 \ 
47. David Axelrod -- Song Of Innocence (1968) *** 1/2 
48. Marty Robbins -- The Drifter (1966) *** 1/2 
49. Ernest Tubb -- The Ernest Tubb Story (1959) ** 1/2 (just don't like his voice) 
50. Be Bop Deluxe -- Futurama (1975) *** 
51. Pee Wee Russell and Coleman Hawkins -- Jazz Reunion (1961) **** 
52. Lefty Frizzell -- Look What Thoughts Will Do (1997) ***\ 
53. Julie Driscoll -- 1969 (1971) ** 1/2 
54. Art Farmer & Benny Golson -- Meet The Jazztet (1960) *** 1/2 
55. Cheap Trick -- Next Position, Please (The Authorized Version) (1983) *** 1/2 
56. Mal Waldron -- On Steinway (1972) *** 
57. Ray Charles -- The Genius Of Ray Charles (1959) *** 1/2 
58. Ray Charles -- The Genius After Hours (1961) *** 1/2 
59. Ray Charles -- The Genius Sings The Blues (1961) *** 1/2 
60. Merle Haggard -- The Legend Of Bonnie & Clyde (1968) *** 1/2 
61. Merle Haggard -- A Portrait Of Merle Haggard (1969) *** 
62. Led Zeppelin -- Houses Of The Holy (1973) **** 
63. Merle Haggard -- Same Train,  A Different Time: Merle Haggard Sings The Great Songs Of Jimmie Rodgers (1969) **** 
64. Hank Williams -- Sing Me A Blue Song (1957) *** 1/2 
65. Merle Haggard -- A Tribute To The Best Damn Fiddle Player In The World or My Salute To Bob Wills (1969) *** 1/2 
66. Ray Charles -- Soul Brothers (w Milt Jackson) (1958) *** 
67. Merle Haggard -- Sing Me Back Home (1968) *** 1/2 
68. Ray Charles -- At Newport (1958) *** 
69. Ray Charles -- In Person (1960) ** 12 
70. Led Zeppelin -- Physical Graffiti ((1975) **** 


(Not TV movies, of course, but movies and TV shows -- and TV movies if it comes to that. Mostly I only list TV shows when I've tackled an entire season at once or reappraising an entire series after it's over This doesn't really capture my ongoing watching of current TV.)

1. All The King's Men (1949) ** 1/2 
2. The Big Lebowski (1998) *** 1/2 
3. Coming To America (1988) ** 1/2 
4. Raising Arizona (1987) *** 1/2 
5. Spaceballs (1987) ** 
6. My Best Friend's Wedding ***/ 
7.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (in theater) **** 

(The names after the shows are the people who joined me at the performance.)

1. The Mavericks at Variety Playhouse in Atlanta on Friday Feb 17 *** 1/2 

Updated as of  March 2, 2023