December 27, 1995
By my count, I reviewed more than 100 albums last year, and listened to hundreds more. Here's my top ten album list for 1995.
10. Ron Sexsmith, Ron Sexsmith (Interscope 1995) - With his moody and introspective feel (in a Jackson Browne vein), Canadian Ron Sexsmith has a bright future. His songwriting honesty won't last when he makes the big time, so catch him now.
9. Brian Wilson, I Just Wasn't Made for These Times (MCA 1995) - While I Just Wasn't Made for These Times features covers of material previously recorded by Brian, it still provides startling insights into his talents. Buy the album for the glorious "Do It Again," a re-make recorded with Wilson's daughters, Carnie and Wendy (late of Wilson/Phillips).
8. Nick Lowe, The Impossible Bird (Upstart Records/Rounder 1994) - British pub rocker, Nick Lowe returns in a big way with The Impossible Bird. Containing lovely pop and country cuts, Lowe shows that his impeccable songwriting talents and perfect pop tastes remain untarnished.
7. Elastica, Elastica (Geffen 1995) - Part of the new British invasion, Elastica is 42 minutes of power pop, with loud, jangly guitars. Based on a late 70s punk sound, ala the Ramones and Blondie, Elastica rocks better than Oasis or Blur.
6. Alison Krause, Now That I Have Found You: A Collection (Rounder Records 1995) - Only age 23, Alison Krause is poised for superstardom. In this collection, the honey-voiced Krause displays both her world-class bluegrass fiddle playing and her gentle sense of interpretation. Too bad she wasn't booked into the Tower Theater when she toured California last summer.
5. Tish Hinojosa, Frontajas (Rounder Records 1995) - Austin, Texas-based Tish Hinojosa crosses many genres, from pop to country to conjunto. On Frontajas, she offers 12 songs that run from waltzes to ballads to polkas, all in Spanish. Her performance this spring at the Fox Theater in Hanford was the best local show of the year; if you didn't catch it, get the album.
4. Butch Hancock, Eats Away the Night (Sugarhill Records 1995) - Fellow Texan Butch Hancock also performed with Tish Hinojosa at the Fox Theater. To be honest, I thought his live performance was the weakest part of the show.
However, Eats Away the Night, his first regular studio release, is a delightful album that swirls in pop, folk, blues, and country elements. The haunting single 'Eileen' will bring you back again and again, as Hancock compares his relationship with the affairs of other couples and admits, "I sure wouldn't mind doing something like that with you."
3. Cake, Motorcade of Generosity (Capricorn 1995) - Five-man Cake (from Sacramento) released an album that is truly alternative (in the best sense of the word). With its multitude of quirky styles and influences (from funk to punk to pop to mariachi), it is impossible to pin down Motorcade of Generosity. However, it's easily the most original album of the year. If you liked Love, you'll love this album.
2. Steve Forbert, Mission of the Crossroad Palms (Giant/Paladin 1995) - I guess I have a thing for singer/songwriters. Though Steve Forbert has never received the acclaim he deserves, Mission of the Crossroad Palms is a success from start to finish. With its wistful tunes and great understanding of life, Missions of the Crossroad Palms is a hugely rewarding album.
1. Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill (Maverick/Warner Bros. 1995) - I was starting to think I'd totally mellowed out, until I heard Jagged Little Pill. With her unrelenting angst and catchy melodies, Alanis Morissette is among the most accessible of the new wave of women rockers.
All three of the singles from this album were perfect rock tunes, as Alanis bounced from one mood to another in the space of a few lyrics. Play it album loud.
Honorable mention - Kathy McCarty, Dead Dog's Eyeball (Bar None 1994) - Though released in late 1994, I didn't review Dead Dog's Eyeball until this year. With Kathy's enormous attention to detail (she recorded some of the vocals more than 400 times) and musical influences ranging from the Beatles to Patsy Cline to Texas honkytonk, Dead Dog's Eyeball is a constantly charming album.
State of the Music Business -- And what can we say about the state of the record business? Many people felt that there was a shortage of good material in 1995. I can't entirely disagree. But if you looked closely, you'd find many rewarding albums.
The major labels (including Warner Bros., Atlantic, and Columbia) continue to churn out a huge amount of material, some good, some not so good.
However, the real action is with the smaller and/or independent labels. For example, Rounder Records, Geffen Records, Hightone, and Mesa consistently release reliable, high-quality material.
And in the end, it's quality, not quantity, that counts. Longer albums (i.e., over 60 minutes) aren't necessarily better. I prefer 40 to 45-minute releases. Furthermore, it's awfully hard to justify a double-disc live set with over 140 minutes of music. That much music simply overwhelms the average listener. The public would be better served by fewer releases, with the fat trimmed away.
All told, it was another fun year. Have a safe and happy holiday season. See you in 1996.
-- Randy Krbechek
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