Top sounds from '07

Year offered plenty of genre-breaking and career-making releases from artists of all different ilks

December 27, 2007|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun pop music critic

Compiling an end-of-the-year list always makes me a little nervous. I worry I'll leave off an artist whose work was tight, whose effort deserves a mention. But for some reason (chiefly space limitations), I can't get everyone in. This year wasn't so hard, though. When thinking about the "best" CDs of the year, sales and critical buzz don't matter much to me. "Best" means that the artist stepped his game up and, in the process, set a higher standard within his genre. It's music that either added something fresh to current trends or bucked them altogether with a vibrant and memorable approach. Here's my list of the best albums of 2007, many of which deserved more attention than they received:


I can't think of too many other contemporary male soul singers whose music feels so sincere. Patterson is always adventurous, yet his songs remain accessible and rich with fluid melodies and open-hearted lyrics. No pretension, no forced posturing -- this native New Yorker truly keeps it real. On Wines & Spirits, the singer-songwriter's fourth album, Patterson's remarkable musicality is in full bloom. Each song is a colorful universe unto itself, but the album flows seamlessly. From percolating, Sly Stone-inspired funk to spare, Janis Ian-penned balladry, Wines & Spirits deepens with each listen. A modern soul classic.

MAVIS STAPLES We'll Never Turn Back

And speaking of soul, this Chicago-raised artist is one of the greats. For 50 years, she sang with her father, brother and sisters as the Staple Singers, the legendary group that melded country gospel, Delta blues and urban funk into an irrepressible sound. (You remember the classics: "I'll Take You There," "Respect Yourself," "Let's Do It Again.") Although Staples has lost some of her shouting power over the years, her breathy, husky vocals still roil with conviction. And on this album, a collection of modernized "freedom" songs, she offers a potent musical balm. Backed by Ry Cooder's sensitive but oh-so-funky production, the artist soars on such evergreens as "Eyes on the Prize" and "Down in Mississippi." With We'll Never Turn Back, Staples gloriously brings blues and gospel back to R&B.


With each release, this minimalist duo invigorates its blues-rock base with instrumentation that matches its eccentric image. On this album, one of the more inspired releases to come out of rock this year, Jack and Meg White throw in everything but a hammer and nails. Mariachi horns, flamenco flourishes and bagpipes add odd but fitting textures to the music throughout Icky Thump. Of course, the duo overreaches a bit. "St. Andrew (This Battle Is in the Air)" is a noisy waste of time. But that's the only lull on this smart and fearless album. SUZANNE VEGA Beauty & Crime

Since rocketing up the pop charts with 1987's "Luka," Vega has maintained a respected reputation for poetically painting memorable characters in her songs. On this album, her debut for the venerable Blue Note label, the artist's approach is deft and sophisticated as the music smoothly blends organic and quirky electronic instrumentation. It's an assured, stylish record that uses the city of New York as a deep character study. The idea may sound a little passe, but Vega makes it work. "Ludlow Street," dedicated to the memory of Vega's brother, Tom, is especially moving. But the entire album is, hands down, Vega's masterstroke.


No disrespect to such marquee names as Common, Talib Kweli and Jay-Z, all of whom released solid rap albums in 2007, but Lifesavas, an independent, underground trio from Portland, Ore., trumped them all. This is one of few hip-hop CDs to drop this year that didn't feel painfully contrived. Sure, the album concept -- a soundtrack to a faux blaxploitation flick -- isn't exactly original. But it doesn't get in the way of the album's brilliant production and incisive, sterling tales of urban survival. Several cuts -- namely "Freedom Walk" and "Shine Language" -- are uplifting without feeling corny or didactic. Unlike many hip-hop releases to come down the pipeline lately, Gutterfly is a cohesive album that sounds better with repeated listens.

SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS 100 Days, 100 Nights

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