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Writer's Top Picks for 2002

Jeffrey Overstreet

1 Wilco.....Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Its like the sound of experienced explorers setting foot on a new musical continent. Wilco's restlessness has found them territory all their own. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the bravest and most creative record of the year. (You can learn all about how it came about by seeking out the new documentary titled I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.) Working back through their catalog, you'll hear new ideas rattling around in their reckless mix of country, grunge, folk, and blues. This is the sound that was taking root, and now it has burst into bloom. Here, Wilco peppers their carefully developed homemade folk-rock sound with electronics, creating a dissonant and emotional language of depression, confusion, and longing. It's a story told over a cycle of songs: the singer looks back, nostalgic for innocence; it looks around at the heartbreaking present and the singer admits responsibility; and then it looks forward, with renewed conviction and hope. Jeff Tweedy creates an engaging lead character who breaks a heart, regrets it, wishes he could take it back, and learns to admit his mistakes. The more familiar you become with Tweedy's whiskey-sour-and-cigarettes voice, the more beautiful it seems. 

2.  Elvis Costello....When I Was Cruel - Costello's many styles and explorations seem to fuse here into a fascinating hybrid. He's calling it his return to rock, but straightforward rock only occurs in occasional bursts on this release. "45,"  "Dissolve," and "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)" certainly recall the rowdy noise of early Elvis C., but others like "15 Petals" and "Spooky Girlfriend" demonstrate he can dip into other genres and sound like a seasoned professional. (Would you believe "Spooky Girlfriend" doesn't just sound like a Destiny's Child single? Yet, it lyrically lampoons the superficiality of the songs those girl-pop groups usually.sing.) Lyrically, these songs emphasize the sad burden of wisdom that comes with age. It's interesting to hear a middle-aged rock star singing with more passion and energy than the youngsters.

3. David Bowie.....Heathen - Another old-timer. Hey, these guys were at their peak of popularity before I was teenager. While their popularity may have declined, their material has not necessarily peaked. Here, Bowie revisits old sounds, mixes them with new ones, and fuses it all into an expression of spiritual discontent. It's fun, funny, sad, soul-searching, whimsical, angry, and even hopeful. He may not have made his peace with God, but he still believes enough to argue, and that makes for a compelling listen. 

4. Sixpence None the Richer.....Divine Discontent - While it fails to show the band moving into new areas, this is another solidly built, shiny pop album,  heavy with spiritual questions, disillusionment, struggle, and determined hope. Matt Slocum writes heavy lyrics. Few songwriters use pop and rock as a vehicle for prayer the way he does; he stands under the banner of contemporary psalmists alongside Bono, Bruce Cockburn, Julie Miller, and Linford Detweiler, to name a few. His somber psalms sting because they are delivered by the light, airy voice of Leigh Nash. Nash sounds like the kind of singer whose agents would advise her to spend her short career on frivolous pop ditties; instead, she brings qualities of vulnerability and humility to her expressions of grandiose spiritual themes. To borrow a phrase: It’s a voice “like a bloom that pushes up through stony ground.”

5. Tom Waits.....Alice - Alice is a surreal journey through a wonderlandfull of freaks and frights. The songs come from a play for which Waits and his wife Kathleen Brennan composed music in 1994. The play follows the strange relationship between Lewis Carroll and the "Alice" of Through the Looking Glass, and thus there are references to obsession, madness, dreams, and the reflective surfaces of glass and ice throughout. The singer's surreal and suicidal groans are painful because they are so beautiful: "But I must be insane/To go on skating on your name/And by tracing it twice I feel through the ice/Of Alice..."

6. Beck.....Sea Change - Sea Change is a gorgeous, sprawling album of heavy-hearted introspection. I think it's Beck's finest album and, as is so often the case, it comes out of a time of heartbreak and trouble. This recording may as well be dubbed the first album of a daring duo: Beck and Radiohead's producer Nigel Godrich. Godrich seems liberated by the slow, sparse arrangements of these heartbreak narratives, so that Beck's lyrics creak and groan like a battered ship at sea. And the sea... the sea is an ocean of strings more overpowering than on any rock record I can remember. Beck doesn't suggest anything beyond the merest hope of healing for his broken heart. But art is not required to give us the whole picture. If it gives us part of the picture as fully and honestly as possible, we should be able to fill in the rest. The music, while sad, is beautiful, and proof enough that all things work together for good.

7. Lauryn Hill.....MTV 2.0 Unplugged - This isn't so much a great album of music as it is a great recording of one person's spiritual epiphany. When the Grammy-winning Lauryn Hill disappeared for two years, there were rumors of some kind of breakdown. The opposite was true. From her testimonies between songs on the MTV Unplugged stage, Hill recounts her awakening to Scripture and to God's love. When you see the truth as fully as she has encountered it, lies are shown up as repulsive, and she shakes off the trappings of celebrity here with a passion. Then the songs, rough, raw outpourings of emotion, anger, prophecy, and ecstasy, reveal a woman in intimate dialogue with her Lord. While they may not be carefully crafted art just yet, they are the sounds of a new voice and a new beginning. Like the sounds from rusted pipes after a long winter, they are the vibrations and quakes signifying clear water is soon on the way. An astonishing record.

8. Linda Thompson.....Fashionably Late

Linda Thompson returns to the spotlight after a near 20-year absence. Having worked through her vocal difficulties, she now sings with a cold, clear beauty, like a traveler who has suffered many  storms and learned the difference between lies and the truth. Many of these songs speak of disillusionment with various love affairs, but she writes these characters as humble enough to see the error of their own ways as well as the ways of those who did them wrong. This brings a quality of honesty and experience to the writing. The harmonies with her son Teddy and with folk singer Kate Rusby are thrilling, and the instrumentation as precise, spare, and lush as last year's masterful Fan Dance from Sam Phillips. 

9. Tanya Donelly.....Beautysleep

Another triumphant comeback. Tanya rediscovers some of the creative genius she displayed in her early days with Belly. She brings wit, world-weary wisdom, and passion to her vocals and her lyrics in an album more focused on the joys and mysteries of motherhood than even Sinead O'Connor's Universal Mother. (You won't find many rock records that will even raise the issue.) These songs are testaments of survival, perhaps a little too enamored of the singer's own self-reliance. But it's great to hear her sounding hopeful and excited again. Best of all, the creative potentail Donnelly teased us with in Belly's brilliant debut Star is bursting out all over this stormy album.

10. (tie)  U2: The Best of 1990-2000 / Coldplay.....A Rush of Blood to the Head

The reigning kings of rock-and-roll released something more than a "best-of" this year. This stands as a chronicle of the band's reinvention, their self-effacing parody of rock stardom, and their triumphant return to hopeful anthemic rock just when the world needed them the most. But it also works as a standalone album, featuring new and improved versions of some of their best works. The biggest highlights are a glorious new version of "Gone", an edgier and more amusing take on "Numb", and two new songs that hold their own among these tried-and-true hits: "Electrical Storm" and "The Hands that Built America." Complaints? How could a "best-of" fail to include "Elevation," "Please," "The Fly," and "Love is Blindness"? Oh well, that's just quibbling. This is a great addition, and it comes with a collection of rarities and B-sides. This supplemental disc is a hit-and-miss affair, but it boasts some real gems, especially "Your Blue Room" from the Passengers album and the underrated "North and South of the River."

As if applying to be a U2 for the Next Decade, Coldplay released an unapologetically hook-heavy album of carefully crafted arena rock. While their songs are sometimes annoyingly simplistic and redundant, the vocals soar and the lyrics, while a bit sophomoric, are full of hope and gospel inspiration. They're still looking for their own unique sound; there are too many echoes of U2 and Oasis here, but it's exciting to watch them grow.

11. Bruce Springsteen.....The Rising /Peter Gabriel.....Up

Two albums that deal with loss and grieving. One is musically richer and more rewarding than almost any other album this year, but the lyrics are mired in near-despair, and what few gestures of hope are offered are rather empty and vague. The other is musically formulaic and familiar, but lyrically it stands as a collection of soul-searching poems in which the writer gives voices to those who suffered personal loss in the recent terrorist attacks. Peter Gabriel's Up is at once a thrilling musical journey and a severe disappointment -- lyrically -- for this longtime Peter Gabriel fan. Bruce Springsteen, on the other hand, has never done much that excited or interested me, but this year his lyrics were like psalms during a dark time, and the familiar Springsteen rock-and-roll felt rather reassuring. 

Others that never strayed far from my stereo this year:

                        Buddy Miller.....Midnight and Lonesome
                        The Flaming Lips.....Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
                       Tom Waits.....Blood Money
                        Spiritualized.....Let It Come Down
                        Pedro the Lion.....Control
                        Michelle Shocked.....Deep Natural
                        Steve Earle.....Sidetracks
                        Neil Young.....Are You Passionate?
                        Ed Harcourt.....Here Be Monsters
                        The Eels.....Souljacker
                        Beth Orton.....Daybreaker
                        Peter Gabriel.....The Long Walk Home (Soundtrack to Rabbit-Proof Fence)

Matthew Luter

Just a top 10 albums... don't think I've actually seen 10 movies this year, believe it or not.
1. The Instigator, Rhett Miller
2. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco
3. Ben Folds Live, Ben Folds
4. I Get Wet, Andrew W.K.
5. Busted Stuff, Dave Matthews Band
6. Let It Rain, Tracy Chapman
7. Inside Wants Out, John Mayer
8. Maladroit, Weezer
9. The Rising, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
10. Come Away With Me, Norah Jones

Have a good one,

Matthew Kilgore

1.Wilco Yankee Hotel Foxtrot * Simply the best album this year. The 11 songs take you on a complex journey through innocence lost and the triumph of love. The arrangements are truly innovative, and unfold more with each progressive listen.

2.Nickel Creek * This Side * An amazing Sophomore album for the San Diegan band. Their music travels best by word of mouth, and that's how I discovered them, and am very thankful for it. This cd just blends vocals, instruments, and stories together vividly and poetically.

3.Jack Johnson * Brushfire Fairytales * The laid back surfer from Hawaii offers up a breakthrough debut cd which contains a nice helping of just well crafted and clever songwriting. Nothing better to listen to on a sunny day at the beach or pool.

4.Rhett Miller * The Instigator -  The frontman for the Old 97's releases his solo album showcasing material outside the scope of material his band could do, and it's a good thing he did. You got a lot of very catchy and at the same time very mature songs on here. Especially the amazing opening track "Our Love".

5.Weezer * Maladroit * It definitely has its weak moments, and Weezer has been better, but that doesn't mean this cd still doesn't have just some great rock and roll songs which push Weezer further than their style has ever been. Notably "Burndt Jamb", "Dope Nose" and the triumphant "Keep Fishin'".

6.Ben Folds * Ben Folds Live * A live album that sounds like a live show! Finally. I'm usually not a big fan of live albums, but this one really showcases the strengths a Ben Folds show has. Great crowd banter, and some captivating piano playing. It's all here.

7.Bill Mallonee * Fetal Position * Well everyone was waiting to see what Bill would be like outside the Vigilantes of Love. This probably didn't live up to the last couple of Vigilantes of Love albums, but is a very strong start and is a deeply personal album.

8.Randall Goodgame * The Hymnal * Randall Goodgame an independent songwriter from Birmingham-Southern college put out a collection of old hymns, with a few he wrote himself, and the mixture is a delight. There's a different folk arrangement on each song. This album has just a great down home feel to it, the highlight being the joyful "This is My Father's World".

9.Andrew W.K * I Get Wet * True all the songs sound the same, and what is wrong with this guy's voice! But hay this album is just a great load of pure fun and excitement. I'm telling you if you give this cd a try you're just going to love it! This guy is just having a great time throughout the cd.

10.Phish * Round Room * The triumphant return of the legendary jam band. Although there's a lot of throwaway material on here, you got an album's worth of good material due to the length. The whole thing has a very laid back, live feel to it, and has some just amazing moments which showcase Phish at their best. And the jams are nice and hinted with some jazz, not the annoying overdone improv's we get sometimes from jam bands. 
 

Dan Singleton

1. Dream Theater ­ “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence”
2. Spock’s Beard ­ “Snow”
3. Rush ­ “Vapor Trails”
4. The Jelly Jam ­ “The Jelly Jam”

2002 was the best year for music in my lifetime.  All of these first four albums make my top 15 of all-time.  Only one album from 2000 and none from 2001 made even my top 25.

5. Alan and John Kelly ­ “Fourmilehouse”
6. Traindodge ­ “On a Lake of Dead Trees”
7. Stavesacre ­ “Stavesacre”
8. Ty Tabor ­ “Safety”
9.  Audioslave
9. Balance of Power ­ “Perfect Balance”
 

Honorable Mention: Eric Gales ­ “That’s What I Am” (released in 2001)

Greg Adams

1. The Rock 'N Roll Worship Circus: Welcome to the Rock 'N Roll Worship
Circus
2. U2: Best of 1990-2000 & B-Sides
3. Cush: Spiritual e.p.
4. The Elms: Truth Soul & Rock 'N Roll
5. Bleach: Again for the First Time
6. Weezer: Maladroit
7. Michael Knott: Hearts of Care
8. MeWithoutYou: [A-->B] Life
9. Pedro the Lion: Control
10. Beki Hemingway: Words for Loss for Words

John Wilson

Top 10 Albums

1. Stavesacre - Stavesacre
2. Matthew - Everybody Down
3. Strange Occurrence - Another Day To Start Again
4. Blindside - Silence
5. Ghoti Hook - Ghoti Hook EP
6. Dead Poetic - Four Wall Blackmail
7. Jars of Clay - The Eleventh Hour
8. Dashboard Confessional - So Impossible EP
9. Daily Planet - Hero
10. Cush - Spirituals EP

Runners-up

Twothirtyeight - You Should Be Living
38th Parallel - Turn The Tides
U2 - Best of 1990-2000
Denison Marrs - Then Is The New Now
mewithoutYou - [A-->B] Life

Disappointments

The Blamed - Give Us Barabbas
Chevelle - Wonder What's Next
Embodyment - Songs for the Living
Echocast - Where the Future Ends

Trish Patterson

Paul McCartney - Back in the U.S.--Live 2002
Beki Hemingway - Words for Loss for Words

Shari Lloyd

Woven Hand - Woven Hand
Bruce Springsteen - The Rising
Steve Earle - Jerusalem
Buddy Miller - Midnight and Lonesome
U2 - The Best of 1990-2000
16 Horsepower - Folklore
Wayne Shorter - Footprints Live
Norah Jones - Come Away with Me
Diana Krall - Live in Paris [LIVE]
Sixpence None the Richer - Divine Discontent 
Peter Case - Beeline
Wilco  - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot [ENHANCED] 
David Gray - A New Day at Midnight

Chris MacIntosh aka Grandfather Rock

1 Sarah Lentz- Everything's All Right
2 Annie Quick- Orange Juice
3 Koo Chung- Comma's Come First
4 Various Artists- Making God Smile
5 Buddy Miller- Midnight And Lonesome
6 Iona- The River Flows, Anthology Volume 1
7 Wakeman & Cousins- Hummingbird
8 Bill Mallonee- Locket Full Of Moonlight
9 Bill Mallonee- Fetal Position
10 Over The Rhine- Cutting Room Floor

Ken Mueller

This was a pretty good year for music, especially on the indie-pop front. Here are my choices for favorite discs of the year, in no particular order:

Pedro the Lion - Control
Damien Jurado - I Break Chairs
Frank Lenz - The Hot Stuff
Woven Hand - Woven Hand
Poor Old Lu - The Waiting Room
Seldom - Romance
Serene - Serene
Always Sunday - Powerwalking EP
Cush - Spiritual EP
The Billions - Never Felt This Way Before
16 Horsepower - Folklore
Duraluxe - Suitcase
Promise Ring - Wood/Water
Lewis - Even So
Company - Company
The Great Fiction - Screaming Through the New Speak

Trae Cadenhead

Top 10 Albums of 2002
1. Pedro the Lion - Control
2. The Gravity Show - Fabulous, Like You
3. Matthew - Everybody Down
4. Rosie Thomas - When We Were Small
5. Me Without You - [A->B] Life
6. Serene - Serene
7. Chevelle - Wonder What's Next
8. Dora - Dead Horse Lounge
9. Denison Witmer - Philadelphia Songs
10. Two Thirty Eight - You Should Be Living

Worst Album of 2002
Kutless - Kutless

Brian Smith

1. Vigilantes of Love - Audibly Resplendent - Live
2. Bill Mallonee - Fetal Position
3. Bill Mallonee - Locket Full of Moonlight
4. Beki Hemingway - Words for Loss for Words
5. Mitch McVicker - Without Looking Down 
6. Ty Tabor - Safety
7. The Jelly Jam - s/t
8. Sara Groves - All Right Here
9. Midnight Oil - Capricornia
10. Miranda Stone - 7 Deadly Sins

10 more:

11. Jughead - s/t
12. Newsboys - Thrive
13. Big Fat Jam - Welcome to Wonderland
14. Indigo Girls - Become You
15. Kurt M. Landre - All the Noises in My Head
16. Justin McRoberts - Trust 
17. Nickel Creek - This Side
18. The Waiting - Wonderfully Made
19. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
20. Neil Young - Are You Passionate?

Linda LaFianza

What are my favorite types of music? The types of music my friends and the artists I’ve interviewed and/or I’ve heard in concert make. Style isn’t as important as a thought life I can respect and the ability to capture an audience. The following projects worked for me in 2002:
Buddy Miller  Midnight and Lonesome
Miranda Stone  Seven Deadly Sins
Ashley Cleveland  Second Skin
Steve Earle  Jerusalem
Jan Krist  Wounded Me, Wounded You
Woven Hand  Self titled
Bill Mallonee  Fetal Position
Beki Hemingway  Word for Loss of Words
Satellite  P.O.D.
16 Horsepower - Folklore

Steve Stockman

1. Redemption’s Son – Joseph Arthur
2. Alice/Blood Money – Tom Waits
3. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – Wilco
4. The Naked Ride Home – Jackson Browne
5. A Rush of Blood To The Head – Coldplay
6. A New Day At Midnight – David Gray
7. Son of Evil Reindeer – The Reindeer Section
8. Are You Passionate? – Neil Young
9. Jerusalem – Steve Earle
10. Deep Natural – Michelle Shocked

Commendations Go To:
Live 1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 5 – Bob Dylan
Demolition – Ryan Adams
Original Pirate Material - The Streets
Come Away With Me – Norah Jones
The Last Place On the Map - Lies Damned Lies
Sea Change - Beck
Brainwashed – George Harrison
The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles For Pink Robots
Fetal Position – Bill Mallonee
The Last Place On The Map - Lies Damned Lies 
The Rising – Bruce Springsteen
Travelogue – Joni Mitchell
Aqualung
1000 Kisses – Patti Griffin
Sigur Ros
Zero Church – Suzzy And Maggie Roche
Have You Fed the Fish? - Badly Drawn Boy
The Last Dj – Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers
The Beginnings of the Polyphonic Spree
Made From Scratch – Julie Lee

Steve Baldwin 

Steve's Favorite Albums of 2002 in Alphabetical Order: 
Big Head Todd & The Monsters: Riveria
Jars of Clay: The Eleventh Hour
Los Lobos: Good Morning Aztlan
Bill Mallonee & The Trophy Wives: Fetal Position
The Newsboys: Thrive
Pax 217: Engage
Sixpence None the Richer: Divine Discontent
Sixteen Horsepower: Folklore
Bruce Springsteen: The Rising
Mike Stand & Clash of Symbols: Full Circle
Miranda Stone: Seven Deadly Sins
Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

I don't really think greatest hits and live albums 
should count as best albums of the year, 
but if they did, I'd highly recommend:  
Bruce Cockburn: Anything Anytime Anywhere - Singles 1979 - 2002
Elvis: 30 #1 Hits
Bill Mallonee & VOL: Resplendent - Audibly Live
Nirvana: Nirvana -Greatest Hits
Plankeye: Wings to Fly - The Best of Plankeye
U2: The Best of 1990 - 2000 & B-Sides

 

   
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