best of 2006

Last updated: 2 January 2007

Music:

Albums:

  1. Orphans – Tom Waits
    Okay, there is a lot of hype surrounding this album – lots of five-star reviews from the music mags, and plaudits from other music “influentials” – and it’s completely warranted. This is Waits’ strongest collection in over a decade, and possibly his best since 1985’s Rain Dogs. This album is a sprawling, three-disc affair that hits on all possible styles of waits music: smoky blues, to noise poems, to scat-rap, to country honks and rock-out jams. Most of the tracks on this album have never been officially released – and it’s great to seem them included in a set that allows Waits to run amok with his talents, to the benefit of the listener. A sprawling album, and one of the year’s best. Key tracks: “Bottom Of The World,” “Buzz Fedderjohn,” “World Keeps Turning,” “Bone Chain,” “On The Road”
  2. The Animal Years – Josh Ritter
    Ritter’s latest channels the best of Springsteen, Waits, Tom Rush, Richard Thompson, Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan, all the while bringing the sound up to a more modern standard. Ritter is young, talented, and fearless. This album flew under the radar of most mainstream music listeners, but it would fit in well with a lot of the better alt-mainstream groups that get all the plaudits and music blog buzz. I hope this is a precursor to more excellent songwriting from Ritter.
  3. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions – Bruce Springsteen
    One of the most entertaining Springsteen albums since Born To Run, yet very few of Bruce’s so-called “hardcore” fans actually took the plunge on this. Perhaps their reasoning was that there isn’t a Springsteen-penned song on the album, but it’s their loss, as Bruce hasn’t sounded as spirited in performance in many, many years. And the Seeger Sessions band is a talented army that fills the sonic void with thumps, chugs, blasts and booms that simply call the user to attention. And Seeger’s songs haven’t sounded this vital in a long, long time.
  4. Love – The Beatles
    Sure, this isn’t a surprise inclusion for those who know me – Beatles fan that I am. But this isn’t a “normal” Beatles album, by any stretch, and it continues to grow on me. My review of the album still stands, but the songs have yet to exhaust their interest to me: I’m still discovering new sonic bits and pieces here and there, and many of the songs are on my everyday playlist.
  5. We Are The Pipettes – The Pipettes
    The 60s girl group sound lives – and it’s being pulled off by a British trio! How crazy is that? Seriously, this is one of the most fun albums of 2006, and it’s tough to resist dancing along as the three Pipettes sing of silly things like dancing, lust, sex, and the politics of partying. This album is tough to find Stateside, though the iTunes Store and eMusic carry it.
  6. Endless Wire – The Who
    It’s the return of The Who, with their strongest outing since The Who By Numbers. Sure, the band is now down to two core members – Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey – but they have more energy on this album than many younger bands will ever achieve. Their first studio effort in 24 years, Endless Wire is a triumphant return to the pinnacle of rock for the pride of the mods.
  7. Pretty Little Head – Nellie McKay
    This album finally came out this fall, almost a year after is was initially supposed to be released. The intervening months saw the enigmatic McKay get into a battle royale with Sony Music over the format of the album (McKay wanted a 23-track, two disc affair; Sony wanted a 16-track, single disc album), which resulted in a mostly acrimonious split from Sony and a quest to be able to self-release the new album. Many months of legal wrangling ensued, but the results are fantastic.
  8. Twelve Stops And Home – The Feeling
    Perhaps my favorite “find” of 2006, The Feeling are one of the most melodic of the new UK bands. They blend a lot of 70s harmonic sensibility (last seen from Magic Numbers in 2005), combined with punchy production and a wee bit of Flaming Lips-style anarchy in the arrangement. It’s potent and fun, and while the songs on Twelve Stops aren’t really deep, they’re fun and full of good hooks.
  9. Subtitulo – Josh Rouse
    Breakups can be tough on a person. In this case, a breakup – and the ensuing relocation from NYC to southern Spain – brought forth a superbly sublime modern folk album that’s one of the best of its kind in the past decade. Rouse has a bit of a cult following of listeners to WFUV, and I completely understand why: he knows how to make simple things seem important, how to make inanimate things bustle with life, and how to keep the sound interesting the whole way.
  10. Modern Times – Bob Dylan
    Another strong album from the latter-day Bob. This isn’t as strong as Time Out Of Mind or Love & Death, but it’s more accessible and lively. It can dip a bit into monotony, but the format works on Modern Times, where there’s a constant pulse to the whole scene portrayed in the album. It’s amazing that Bob can still be vital and important to the young listeners – and I’m quote happy that he’s chosen to stick with his style for a while.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Hope & Other Casualties – Mark Erelli
  • At War With The Mystics – The Flaming Lips
  • On An Island – David Gilmour
  • Friendly Fire – Sean Lennon
  • Surprise – Paul Simon
  • Sad Animals – Ten Minute Turns
  • Winterpills – Winterpills
  • Living With War – Neil Young
  • Tired Of Hanging Around – The Zutons

Reissue of the Year: Living In The Material World – George Harrison

Comeback of the Year: “Weird Al” Yankovic – “White And Nerdy,” “You’re Pitiful” and “Pancreas” are instant classics.

Most Overrated Albums

For some reason, these albums had a lot of bloggers and writers atwitter, but left me cold:

  • Broken Boy Soldiers – The Raconteurs
  • The Loon – Tapes ‘n Tapes
  • Sam’s Town – The Killers
  • Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not – Arctic Monkeys

I heard all three four albums in their entirety, multiple times, and still said “meh.” The Raconteurs’ album isn’t bad, per se, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. Tapes ‘n Tapes are the most overrated band of 2006: they break no new ground and sound very amateur hour, to boot. The Killers’ sophomore effort is missing any positive tonal qualities from their lead singer – learn to hit and hold that note, dude. And Arctic Monkeys don’t deserve even 1/10 of the attention and fawning they’ve received from the media.

Concerts:

  1. Bruce Springsteen & The Seeger Sessions Band (Nissan Pavillion – May 28)
    Concert of the year: a perfect melding of performer, songs, and audience participation. The whole show was like a folk revival, and it had the audience hooked from the first verse of the first song. Read my review here.
  2. Billy Joel (Verizon Center – March 16)
    The “Piano Man” is back, and he’s sounding better than he has in years. Joel was one of my “must-see-before-he-dies” artists – though I hope he lives to perform more shows like this one. Read my review here.
  3. KT Tunstall (Paradise Theatre – March 5)
    KT at a small Boston club – I’ll be able to look back when she’s really big and say “I saw here back when she was still an up-and-comer, playing The Paradise….” Read my review here.
  4. Paul Simon (Merriweather Post Pavilion – July 12)
    Simon’s best solo tour in many years: loose, fun, and he actually sang melodically on most of the songs. Read my review here.
  5. Pink Martini (Lisner Auditorium – September 21)
    What’s not to like about Pink Martini? One of this country’s true musical treasures – and the best thing to come out of Portland, OR, since Powell’s City of Books. Read my review here.
  6. Peter, Paul & Mary (Wolf Trap – August 13)
    Now I’m not the biggest PP&M fan, but this was a wonderful, joyous show. Read my review here.
  7. Nellie McKay (The Birchmere – January 22)
    Nellie is too cool for words – and I hope she performs more, now that she’s got a great sophomore album under her belt. Read my review here.
  8. James Taylor (Warner Theatre – November 6)
    JT, a guitar, and a pianist: simple, effective, and the way JT should be for most of his concerts. Read my review here.
  9. Thomas Dolby (The Birchmere – May 8 )
    I got to see Dolby (who was great) and my pal, Lunesse, who was his road manager – two for the price of one! Dolby was awesome, and is a really nice guy, to boot. And it was great to see Luny again. Read my review here.
  10. Roger Waters (Nissan Pavillion – September 23)
    Waters nailed Dark Side Of The Moon, and was in fine form on a fine night. Read my review here.
  11. Eric Clapton and Robert Cray (Verizon Center – October 10)
    Cray was a great opener, but Clapton had me floored: strong playing, a great band, and he dug out some old, rarely-played chestnuts (“I Am Yours” was a particular highlight), as well as some rocking hits (“Cocaine” and “Layla”). EC was here, and he was great.
  12. Brian Wilson (Warner Theatre – November 18)
    A fine Wilson show, with Al Jardine adding to the authentic Beach Boy sound. Read my review here
  13. Bob Dylan (Patriot Center – November 17)
    I was in the 2nd row for this show – too cool, and Bob played well, too. Read my review here.
  14. Franz Ferdinand and Death Cab For Cutie (DAR Constitution Hall – April 11)
    Franz Ferdinand was the highlight of this show for me, playing an energetic set. Death Cab was hit-or-miss, though “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” is a great song.
  15. Ellis Paul and The Brindley Brothers (Jammin’ Java – January 27)
    Ellis Paul is one of the best singer-songwriters on the planet, and The Brindley Brothers have a lot of energy – and they own the venue, to boot.
  16. Counting Crows and Goo Goo Dolls (Nissan Pavillion – August 26)
  17. Hard-Fi (The Black Cat – March 30)
  18. The Go! Team (The Black Cat – March 19)
    Half of the problem with The Black Cat will be fixed with the indoor clean air act that goes into effect on January 2. If they can fix their sound system, life would be bliss, as they get a lot of acts that I like performing on their stages.

Honorable Mention: Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, which moved to a new home in 2006. You can read my quick recap here.

Movies:

  1. Little Miss Sunshine
  2. Casino Royale
  3. Les Poupées Russes
  4. Akeelah And The Bee
  5. Superman Returns
  6. Thank You For Smoking
  7. Wordplay
  8. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  9. For Your Consideration
  10. The Holiday

Honorable Mentions:

  • Flushed Away
  • Dreamgirls
  • The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Notes: Little Miss Sunshine was the most satisfying movie for me, overall, this year. The cast was a brilliant mix, and the plot zany enough to keep things moving along at a good pace throughout. Casino Royale is one of the best Bond films ever – right up there with Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – and Daniel Craig owns the role. Les Poupées Russes – or The Russian Dolls – is the sequel to L’Auberge Espagnole, which is one of my favorite films of the past decade.

The Holiday just bumped out Flushed Away from the top 10. And I’m sure that The Queen and An Inconvenient Truth would’ve stood a good chance of cracking the top 10, had I seen them in 2006.

Biggest Cinematic Surprises of 2006

  • Jack Black’s understated charm in The Holiday.
  • The breakout performance by Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls.

Biggest Cinematic Letdowns of 2006

  • Nacho Libré. Jack Black mugs the camera far too often for this movie’s own good, and it’s a carbon copy of the far better Napoleon Dynamite.
  • The continuing consolidation of cinema conglomerates, which results in the closure of grand theatres and increased ticket and concession prices. There’s a good reason people don’t go to the multiplex: there’s no spectacle to it anymore (what’s the romance of a shoebox-sized theatre with a narrow aspect screen?), and the price is far too high for the return ($7 for a bag of popcorn no bigger than your typical microwave bag, and far less fresh, to boot, as the popcorn is most often popped off-site). Sure, some of this can be blamed on the fact that Hollywood stars (and producers) are paid far too much, but c’mon – this ain’t rocket science!

TV:

Best New Shows of 2006

  1. Heroes
    The best new show on TV: smart writing, great cast, and it keeps you hooked from week to week.
  2. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
    It’s great having Aaron Sorkin writing TV shows again: it’s smart and the dialog is crisp. And the cast works so well with each other – it’s far, far better than 30 Rock, despite my love of Tiny Fey.
  3. Prime Suspect 7
    Helen Mirren rocks, and this is a fitting ending to DS Jane Tennison’s story
  4. Inspector Lynley – Series 4
  5. Inspector Lewis
    A fitting follow-up to Inspector Morse – I hope they make more of these!

Notes: Thank goodness that most of the good shows from last two years – How I Met Your Mother, My Name Is Earl, The Office, and Scrubs – are still around; otherwise, TV would be a very barren landscape.

Biggest Letdowns of 2006

  • 30 Rock. Yes, Tina Fey is still one of the most awesome women on the planet, and Alec Baldwin is funny in his role. But this show just misfires with me. There’s nothing consistently funny on this show, and Tracy Morgan has zero depth.
  • Saturday Night Live – specifically the current season. The writing is consistently horrible (Tina – you should’ve stayed and staged a coup, showing Lorne Michaels the door), and the cast looks tired. Amy Poehler is a superwoman, as she’s basically carrying the majority of the comic load. Samberg, Sudakis, Hader and Wiig are not being played well enough, and the recurring sketches – “Two A-Holes” and such – are tired. Why not let Darrell Hammond do more impersonations? After all, he’s still on the show (who the hell knows why), and he’s got talent. Seth Myers is pretty damn bad at “Weekend Update,” and if he’s been promoted to head writer – Lorne, say it with me: it’s time to move on and let somebody else take the reins.