Best Albums 2000 (11-15)

15. Merle Haggard — If I Could Only Fly

In a decade of C&W comebacks that read better than they sounded — Jack dolling up Loretta, Dolly trying to prove that wigs have roots, Kristofferson failing to camouflage tunelessness as aged wisdom — Merle eased back in the game with no big concept, unless giving up on radio airplay and signing to Anti- counts. Free at last to do as he liked, he rambled from folkie strum to western swing to straight-up honky-tonk, and outsang every surviving old-timer but Willie to boot. And if Hag’s not immune to nostalgia, he’s sharply aware of what made the old days seem good: You were a helluva lot younger.

14. Lucy Pearl — Lucy Pearl

A Raphael Saadiq fan from the days Tony Toni Tone still had its !!!s, I came to appreciate the contemporary sprawl of Instant Vintage with time, and instantly fell for the concise soul archaeology of As I See It. But when it’s time for ’00s Saadiq, I come back to this one-off “supergroup.” (Granted, Ali Muhammad and Dawn Robinson are comparatively Zan and Jayna.) Overly subtle or tasteful for some, and I’m not usually much for subtlety or taste myself. But the relative shapelessness of this mood music is genuine achievement for a formalist like Saadiq, and the mood itself is classy without being fussy–a synthesis that’s typically eluded quiet stormers since Smokey named it.

13. Yo La Tengo — And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out

Punk had a baby and they called it indie rock–old history, that. Through the 90s, Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan, and family friend James McNew domesticated their noisy spawn while indulging in his tantrums. Here they tuck the exhausted babe in early and tiptoe off to the living room to layer subdued tone colors into pillowed whispers of tune all night long, swapping memories both personal (“Our Way to Fall”) or musical (George McRae’s “You Can Have It All”). And then, with “Night Falls on Hoboken,” we all doze off together.

12. Fatboy Slim — On the Floor at the Boutique

Way to upstage yourself, Norman. Most Fatboy fans had already gobbled up this all-you-can-eat beat platter, available as an import since ’98, long before its official U.S. release. But its belated bow nonetheless cast a shadow over the clever but diffuse official release Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars. Extending a seamless groove from “Apache” through “The Rockerfeller Skank,” he convinces dilettantes like me that the propulsive unfamiliarities in between constitute integral chapters in the history of modern dance music. And though Cook adopts the Jungle Brothers’ “I never worked a day in my life” as his credo, that doesn’t mean he’s above expending effort; it’s just that when you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.

11. The Handsome Family — In the Air

Rennie Sparks is the rare folkie with a greater curiosity in how folk tunes work than in how they feel. She pops the hood to tinker with folk’s admixture of those two great strains of American narrative, the Gothic and the realist, and as a result, her songs feel like folk songs, rather than merely reminding us of folk songs. And husband Brett’s deadpan melodies are just indelible, seemingly stolen from the vast storehouse of songbook yet never quite corresponding to the tune you think you recall. A sentiment like “Darling, don’t you know it’s only human to want to kill a beautiful thing” may be funny, but it ain’t no joke.

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  • Richard Cobeen  On January 24, 2010 at 3:13 am

    Just wanted to say I love what you are doing. I miss the old site. And the Haggard album is wonderful, such a surprise.

  • usefulnoise  On January 24, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Thanks — nice to know someone’s reading! The old site got hacked, which is why all the content disappeared. (Also why I’m not on blogger anymore.)

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