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Clip: Derk's Dozen Favorite antipop CDs of 2003

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  • Carl Zimring
    Another fun year-end list. -cz *** http://www.sfgate.com/columnists/derk/ Derk s Dozen Favorite antipop CDs of 2003 by Derk Richardson, special to SF Gate
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 21, 2003
      Another fun year-end list. -cz



      Derk's Dozen
      Favorite antipop CDs of 2003

      by Derk Richardson, special to SF Gate Thursday, December 18, 2003

      Maybe taking a new job at a magazine devoted to acoustic guitars changed my
      listening habits; maybe it was picking up additional work reviewing jazz
      CDs for an audiophile bimonthly; maybe it was general weariness with the
      celebrity and monthly-flavor obsessions of the music press; or, maybe, as
      one disgruntled SF Gate reader claimed after reading last year's pop and
      jazz best-of lists, I am just "a big girl's blouse." But some coalition of
      causes and conditions conspired to put my listening habits another step
      removed from the pop mainstream. But I'll be damned (and there's your
      set-up) if I could muster enthusiasm for much that was making headlines in
      Spin, Rolling Stone or even Mojo during the past year.

      So, I come to you without any pretensions of knowing what I should be
      anointing as the "best" pop CDs of 2003 (as if that means anything
      anymore), but, rather, with the humble assertion that these 12 or so
      recordings were significant to me in some unshakable way, their common
      denominators being their inimitability and their makers' determination to
      sustain the forward momentum of their musical visions. (They are listed to
      roughly correspond with their arrangement in the accompanying audio files.)

      Richard Thompson, Ducknapped! (Beeswing) / The Old Kit Bag (Cooking
      Vinyl/Spinart). Thompson took advantage of his late-career indie status by
      turning out his best Celtic-and-Arabic-flavored folk-rock studio album in
      years (The Old Kit Bag) and turning his Web site into a marketplace where
      such live, guitar-solo-laden treasures as More Guitar and the 2003 tour CD,
      Ducknapped! could be secured.

      Chris Smither, Train Home (HighTone). In some ways Thompson's peer -- as a
      triple-threat guitar ace/pointed songwriter/uniquely emotive singer -- the
      more acoustically committed Smither slyly wove startling cover versions
      (including Dylan's "Desolation Row" and Richie Furay's "Kind Woman") into a
      series of deeply focused inward-looking and outward-looking original songs;
      as compelling, but not half as depressing as Lucinda Williams' World
      Without Tears. (See also Jesse De Natale's Shangri-La West.)

      Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, Tim Sparks, Masada Guitars (Tzadik). Celebrating
      10 years of composing radical Jewish music for his Masada quartet,
      saxophonist John Zorn recruited three entirely different guitarists to
      freely interpret his works, bringing out hidden nuances in the music and
      showcasing six-string approaches ranging from spidery fingerstyle picking
      to dreamy looping and dissonant fracturing.

      Lou Harrison, Serenado (New Albion) The late grandfather figure of
      California composers, who died in 2003, Harrison incorporated gamelan
      intonations and simply beautiful melodies into his works, and Berkeley
      classical guitarist David Tanenbaum, assisted on some pieces by percussion
      wizard William Winant (plus percussionists Joel Davel and Scott Evans and
      guitarist Gyan Riley), brings out the deep humanity and sense of wonder of
      such pieces as "Music for Bill and Me," "The Leaning Lady" and

      Roswell Rudd/Toumani Diabaté, Roswell Rudd Presents Malicool
      (Soundscape/Sunnyside). Avant-garde trombonist Rudd smears pastel and
      crusty melodies across the delicate acoustic kora (west African harp) webs
      of virtuoso Diabaté in a daring fusion that compromises nothing and gently
      but insistently elevates the aesthetic of improvisation. Neither man
      forsakes his roots while risking naked one-to-one communication as Sékou
      Diabaté (djembe), Basekou Kouyate (ngoni), Mamdou Kouyaté (vocals), Lasana
      Diabaté (balafon) and others keep the cultural center of gravity in Mali
      even when the music is Rudd's or Thelonious Monk's.

      Väsen, Trio (NorthSide). The universal drone surfaces and contorts
      gloriously in the nyckelharpa or kontrabasharpa played by Olov Johansson,
      violin or viola played by Mikael Marin and 12-string guitar or Swedish
      bosoki played by Roger Tallroth, as this Swedish supergroup conflates
      traditional melodies with contemporary sensibilities in challenging but
      danceable Nordic dervishes.

      The Be Good Tanyas, Chinatown (Nettwerk). On their second album, Frazey
      Ford, Trish Klein and Samantha Parton deliver elegant, neo-grass-roots
      original tunes in an acoustic alt-alt-country sound that serves well their
      haunting versions of Townes Van Zandt's "Waiting Around to Die," Peter
      Rowan's "Midnight Moonlight" and the traditional "House of the Rising Sun"
      and "In My Time of Dying." They even manage to nudge Gillian Welch's
      wistful Soul Journey and Emmylou Harris' dreamy Stumble Into Grace off the

      Carla Bozulich, Red Headed Stranger (DiCristina Stair Builders). Recasting
      Willie Nelson's radical, outlaw concept album in her own brooding and
      punk-steeped image, former Geraldine Fibbers frontwoman Bozulich brings her
      enduring collaboration with guitarist Nels Cline (and his band) to a new
      peak of eccentric genius. (Don't overlook Cat Power's way with John Lee
      Hooker on You Are Free just because it seems like I have.)

      Danny Barnes, Dirt on the Angel (Terminus). Once a Bad Liver, always a
      madcap backwoods sophisticate. So proves banjo-, guitar- and whatnot-picker
      Barnes, singing 21st-century urban-hillbilly originals about peanut butter
      and popcorn and wine, and using the likes of Bill Frisell, Darol Anger,
      Chuck Leavell and Dirk Powell to help realize his skewed interpretations of
      the Faces' "Ooh La La" and Beck's "Loser."

      Tord Gustavsen, Changing Places (ECM). A musical theorist with a romantic
      heart, Norwegian pianist Gustavsen makes each note ring like a meditation
      bell. His spacious and contemplative playing makes Keith Jarrett sound like
      Bud Powell or Cecil Taylor, and double bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer
      Jarle Vespestad tune perfectly into the sensibility of lyrical quietude
      that makes this the late-night jazz album of the year.

      The David S. Ware String Ensemble, Threads (Thirsty Ear). Rarely does a
      tenor-sax titan with Ware's improvising chops and wind power concede that
      he's made enough records "with me blowing my brains out." But the heir of
      Rollins and Coltrane frequently lays out while violist Mat Maneri,
      violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain, bassist William Parker and synthesizer
      player Matthew Shipp weave the lush tapestries of his dark film score-like
      writing. But he does provide satisfying tenor madness and allow drummer
      Guillermo E. Brown to cut loose as well.

      Josh Abrams, Cipher (Delmark). The Art Ensemble of Chicago releasing two
      superb albums this year may be more newsworthy than bassist Abrams (The
      Roots, Town and Country) organizing a new quartet with guitarist Jeff
      Parker (Tortoise), trumpeter/slide trumpeter Axel Dorner and
      clarinetist/alto saxophonist Guillermo Gregorio. But Cipher signals a new
      and boundlessly promising crystallization of the Chicago avant-garde
      temperament, combining little-sound textural experiments, loose-limbed free
      jazz and long-tone meditative new music.

      Deserving mention and perhaps serious attention at a later date: Bettye
      Lavette, Woman Like Me, The Magic Band, Back to the Front, Noe Venable, The
      World Is Bound by Secret Knots, James Blood Ulmer, No Escape from the
      Blues: The Electric Lady Sessions, Fred Frith, Rivers and Tides.

      And, before you rush off just yet, take a moment to remember Warren Zevon
      and Johnny Cash.
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