Adele, “21” – The year’s top-grossing pop album features groundbreaking and heart-wrenching singles such as “Rolling in the Deep,” “Rumor Has It” and “Someone Like You.” Adele incorporates elements of soul, Motown, and jazz into her funky grooves and tear-jerking piano ballads. More importantly, in a world where auto tune, Protools, drum machines, and vulgar choreography dominate the music industry, it is refreshing to know that one woman with one voice, accompanied only by a piano, can still leave a room full of 40,000 people speechless.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, “I’m With You” – This album from the Los Angeles-based veteran band was not only their first in five years, but the highly anticipated album also marked the debut of newcomer Josh Klinghoffer. He was asked to fill the enormous shoes of world-renowned guitarist John Frusciante, who left the band to pursue a career as a solo artist. Klinghoffer gives skeptical RHCP fans a pleasant surprise as he fills his role with flying colors, using his unique styles of singing and guitar to add a spacey, experimental blend to the band’s signature bass-heavy funk-slap sound. Key tracks include “Did I Let You Know,” “Police Station,” and “Meet Me at the Corner.”
Gary Clark Jr., “The Bright Lights EP” – From the dirty, laid back, blues funk-driven shreds in “Bright Lights” to the brilliant acoustic finger picking and agonizingly soulful vocals on “When My Train Pulls In,” Gary Clark Jr. consistently nails it on his promising debut EP. “You’re gonna’ know my name by the end of the night” sounds more like a prediction of the future than a catchy lyric as the 27-year-old Texas bluesman successfully establishes himself as a talented singer, songwriter, and lead guitarist.
Tom Waits, “Bad As Me” – The deep, bellowing, raspy, often frightening trademark grunts and growls of Tom Waits return in the year’s most dynamic and versatile collection of songs. The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards riffs alongside Waits on four tracks, including the foot stomping blues anthem, “Satisfied.” The deepest, most impressive musical contrast can be heard between “Hell Brooke Luce” – a hauntingly angry, resentful, and percussive protest song in which Waits tells a war tale from the perspective of a wounded soldier in Iraq – and “New Year’s Eve” – a poignant, emotional, acoustic ballad in which Waits offers his own throaty interpretation of the melody from “Auld Lang Syne.”
Paul Simon, “So Beautiful or So What” – In what Rolling Stone magazine refers to as “his best album in more than 20 years,” Paul Simon produces sounds reminiscent of his 1986 classic “Graceland,” including experimentation with Indian and Middle Eastern percussion that provides support for traditional folk singing and guitar. Lyrically, Simon explores a cynical side to his visions of the afterlife, including a scene in which the narrator is required to fill out a form and wait in line at the Pearly Gates. He combines chaotic sound effects, wit, humor, and biting sarcasm with intense metaphysical philosophy, a concoction that results in an irresistible masterpiece.
The Roots, “Undun”
Coldplay, “Mylo Xyloto”
Noel Gallagher, “High Flying Birds”
Frank Raso can be reached at email@example.com.