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Things that Go Pop

2003: Al Green dumps God and Guided by Voices go ballistic

By Greg Cahill

The world came crashing down around our ears this year in so many ways, and music as always rushed in to fill the void. And what a year it was. You might not have noticed amid the mainstream media barrage--Michael Jackson doing the perp walk, Britney and Madonna swapping spit on the MTV Music Video Awards, and Rolling Stone declaring Justin Timberlake the new King of Pop--but America embraced black hip-hop artists with a fervor. For the first time ever, black artists for a short spell this summer claimed all the 10 top spots on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart. There's no question that 2003 was more about Missy Elliott than Madonna, and Outkast's double-dipping Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (La Face) and the soundtrack to Tupac: Resurrection (Interscope) were far more powerful than Timberlake's blue-eyed R&B.

And what can you say about a year in which the Rev. Al Green shed his 30-year commitment to religious music with I Can't Stop (Blue Note), a solid collection of smooth soul that found him reuniting with legendary Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell.

Say Amen!

In fact, great soul music raised its voice throughout the year. One sorely overlooked source: Soul Tribute to the Beatles (Vanguard), a compilation of Fab Four covers from Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Fats Domino, Esther Phillips, the Supremes, the Four Tops, Natalie Cole, Ike and Tina Turner and Earth, Wind, and Fire. And then there was The Essential Sly and the Family Stone (Epic Legacy), a gloriously remastered two-CD set that celebrated the genre-fusing band that helped bring funk to the mainstream in the late '60s and early '70s.

In rock, the prolific Dayton, Ohio, alt-pop band Guided by Voices released their masterwork, the imaginative Earthquake Glue (Matador), followed by the 32-track compilation The Best of Guided by Voices: Human Amusements at Hourly Rates and the six CD/DVD rarities set Hardcore UFOs: Revelations, Epiphanies, and Fast Food in the Western Hemisphere. Did I mention the band is prolific?

Roots music enjoyed its share of noteworthy releases. Lucinda Williams gave us World without Tears (Lost Highway), arguably her strongest album. Lyle Lovett made the year's second-biggest comeback with the rockin' My Baby Don't Tolerate (Curb), his first studio album of new songs in seven years.

Here are 10 more albums that lingered in my CD player--and I swear to the RIAA that I didn't download a single kilobyte of sound:

The Wind (Artemis) Warren Zevon's last album, released shortly before his death from cancer, is a sentimental affair, from Ry Cooder's gospel licks on the self-deprecating "Dirty Life and Times" to the epitaph "Keep Me in Your Heart."

Boogaloo to Beck (Scufflin') Dr. Lonnie Smith gives 11 Beck songs the '60s organ-trio, soul-jazz treatment.

Word of Mouth Revisited (Telarc/Heads Up) Former band mates of the late, great jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius reunite as a tribute band under the direction of Peter Graves along with guest soloists.

Red Headed Stranger (DiCristini Stair Builders) Ex-Geraldine Fibbers vocalist Carla Bozulich teams up with New York downtown jazz players for this reinvention of Willie Nelson's 1975 crossover hit album.

Freak In (Bluebird) Jazz trumpet master Dave Douglas throws in everything but the kitchen sink (tablas, tape loops, synth beats) to create a provocative, postmodern pastiche.

The Old Kit Bag (Cooking Vinyl/Spin Art) Celtic folk rocker Richard Thompson's best CD in years is a mostly acoustic powerhouse.

As Far As (Six Degrees) San Francisco-based and Algerian-born DJ Cheb I Sabbah has played tour guide on some of the world's most exciting musical excursions. This disc is saturated with the sounds of Asia, Africa, and Arabia, and features his own rare tracks and remixes.

The Soul of a Man (Columbia/Legacy) Martin Scorsese's ambitious seven-part PBS series on the blues was disappointing. But this volume features great new blues covers by Cassandra Wilson, Los Lobos, Bonnie Raitt, Beck, Nick Cave, and others.

The Unfortunate Rake, Vol. 2 (Copper Creek) Can't begin to tell you how many mornings started with an old-timey blast of "Johnson Gal" by the Bay Area-based string band Crooked Jades.

Greendale (Reprise) Neil Young sizes up American society in the Bush era and unabashedly embraces his hippy ideals to create a bluesy, message-laden musical novel. Still rockin' the free world!

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From the December 25-31, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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