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The 72 Best Albums I Heard in 2009

One of my favorite things to do at the end of the year is sit down and compile a list of my favorite discs from the previous 12 months. I'm sure I'll be slapping my forehead over the half-dozen discs I've forgotten to include, and I'll be mentally updating this collection with the dozen or two others from 2009 I haven't yet heard and loved — there is never a shortage of new and exciting music.

Anyway, here is the list as of today. I'm sure the order would change in the next day or two — maybe even dramatically, as I try to place records I am just hearing, like the Clarence Fountain, with the ones I've been playing for months, like the Vijay Iyer. But what does remain constant is that I heartily recommend everything on this list to any open-minded reader/listener. I only wish there were space and time enough for a description of each one.

But then again, the unvarnished discovery is part of the fun.

Happy holidays!

1)  Mos Def, The Ecstatic, Downtown Records

2)  Maxwell, BLACKsummers’night, Columbia

3)  Matt Wilson Quartet, That’s Gonna Leave a Mark, Palmetto

4)  Otis Taylor, Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs, Telarc

5)  Visqueen, Message to Garcia, Local 638 Records

6)  Darius Jones, Man’ish Boy, AUM Fidelity

7)  Amadou Diallo, Donsoya, Nemes’Ys

8)  Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Domino

9)  Henry Threadgill Zooid, This Brings Us to Volume I, Pi

10) Avett Brothers, I and Love and You, American

11) Lucero, 1372 Overton Park, Universal Distribution

12) Clarence Fountain/Sam Butler, Steppin’ Up Steppin’ Out, Tyscot

13) Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca, Domino

14) Lura, Eclipse, Col

15) John Scofield, Piety Street, Emarcy

16) Chris Potter’s Underground, Ultrahang, Artistshare

17) Marty Ehrlich Rites Quartet, Things Have Got To Change, Clean Feed

18) Nadia Sirota, First Things First, New Amsterdam

19) Gossip, Music For Men, Columbia

20) Oumou Sangare, Seya, Nonesuch

21) Wayne Escoffery, Uptown, Posi-Tone Records

22) Keri Hilson, In a Perfect World, Mosley/Interscope

23) Let’s Wrestle, In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s, Stolen

24) Mayer Hawthorne, A Strange Arrangement, Stone’s Throw

25) Ghostface Killah, Ghostdini The Wizard of Poetry, Def Jam

26) Dafnis Prieto Si o Si Quartet, Live at Jazz Standard, Dafnison

27) DJ Quik & Kurupt, BlaQKout, Mad Scientist

28) Dinosaur Jr., Farm, Jagjaguwar

29) Gibson Brothers, Ring the Bell, Compass

30) Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest, Warp

31) NYNDK, The Hunting of the Snark, Jazzheads

32) Miguel Zenon, Esta Plena, Marsalis Music

33) The Heath Brothers, Endurance, Jazz Legacy Productions

34) Burton/Metheny/Swallow/Sanchez, Quartet Live! Concord

35) Jon Irabagon, The Observer, Concord Jazz

36) Jason Lytle, Yours Truly, the Commuter, Anti

37) MeShell Ndegeocello, Devil’s Halo, Mercer Street Records

38) Blk Jks, After Robots, Strictly Canadian

39) Lightning Dust, Infinite Light, Jagjaguwar

40) Vijay Iyer, Historicity, Act Music + Vison

41) Cliff Eberhardt, 500 Miles, Red House

42) Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, Know Better, Learn Faster, Kill Rock Stars

43) Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Part 2, Ice H2O Records

44) U2, No Line on the Horizon, Interscope

45) Gidon Kremer/Oleg Maisenberg, Duo Recital, haenssler

46) Micachu and the Shapes, Jewellery, Rough Trade

47) Donny McCaslin, Declaration, Cam Jazz

48) Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career, 4AD

49) Joe Martin, Not By Chance, Anzic

50) Kendra Shank Quartet, Mosaic, Challenge

51) Girls, Album, True Panther Sounds

52) Marco Benevento, Me Not Me, Potato Family

53) Yo La Tengo, Popular Songs, Matador

54) Vic Chesnutt, At the Cut, Constellation

55) Alex Cline, Continuation, Cryptogramophone

56) Sean Jones, The Search Within, Mack Avenue

57) The Krayolas, Long Leaf Pine, Box Records

58) Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Infernal Machines, New Amsterdam

59) Green Day, 21st Century Breakdown, Reprise

60) Roy Hargrove, Emergence, Emarcy

61) Funeral Mist, Maranatha, Southern Lord

62) Rosanne Cash, The List, Manhattan

63) The Very Best, Warm Heart of Africa, Green Owl

64) Joe Lovano, Folk Art, Blue Note

65) Ravi Coltrane, Blending Times, Savoy

66) Rez Abassi, Things to Come, Sunnyside

67) Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon, End of the Day, Universal

68) Circulatory System, Signal Morning, Cloud Recordings

69) The Dead Weather, Horehound, Third Man

70) Ceu, Vagarosa, Six Degrees

71) Peacock/Copland, Insight, Pirouet

72) The Dry Spells, Too Soon for Flowers, Antennae Farm

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Comments (6)

No Wilco (The Album) or Decemberists Hazards of Love?

Thanks for the list Britt. Always useful to read a trusted critic with varied tastes. That said; Maxwell #2? I'll give it another try. Nice to see votes of confidence on Kid Cudi and Mayer Hawthorne.

Thanks for sharing this very generous list, Britt. I can see checking out these albums, a tasty mix of familiar and unfamiliar, will keep me well occupied for many days and nights to come.

How about the Dave Matthews Band's "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King." I can't get the song "Why I Am" out of my head...

I could use a little help here. I don't recognized most of these, though based on what I do, can see some categories that I'm very interested in (jazz and improvised) and some that I'm not (hip-hop, country).

Anyone (Brit?) care to do a bit of labeling. Yes, I know that's anathema to the true fan, and risks blinding me to some things I need to hear, but candidly I could use some guidance on how to take advantage of this list.

PS. Why 72? And a new CD every 2 or 3 days, assuming that for every one that made this list, there were at least 2 or 3 that didn't. Whew.

Hey folks,

Thanks for the feedback. Let me get to them one at a time.

Dean--Can't stand the Decemberists new one--waay too ornate and gothic in the worst way for me. And, strange as it may seem, I haven't heard enough of Wilco for a legitimate take one way or the other. Unless I really like the band (and I'm so-so on all the Uncle Tupelo offshoots) I let the commercially prominent discs come to me culturally out in the world rather than sitting down to listen. (As Thomas Edman, points out, there's only so much time in the day for music.)

Jim Meyer is a friend and former music reviewer in his own right. What I'll say, Jim, is the new Maxwell is like D'Angelo's "Voodoo" in that it seems pedestrian in form but very very rich in execution--it's a wonderfully emotionally tactile disc.

Brian Corner is connected to the Cedar Cultural Center, where many of these artists have appeared in 2009 and earlier. It is a much cherished resource for any music lover in the metro.

Tony--Dave Matthews, like John Mayer, Amy Winehouse and most recently Lady Gaga, are perfectly fine artists who I am biased against because the attention they receive seems outsized to the rewards of their music--but obviously that's just my take. I don't change the channel on them, but I don't beat the drum for them either.

Thomas--Very legitimate point. It is not that I'm totally in the camp of all music should have no boundaries, it is just where to draw the line, and how to do it in the course of a catch-all list like this. Nevertheless, you have prompted me to provide a key below with all kinds of artificial borders and definitions that you should take with a grain (if not a boulder) of salt, but which should at least narrow the horizon a bit.

And why 72? Because I didn't want to arbitrarily deny any music I really liked a chance to be included and that amounted to 72 choices when I was finished. BTW, I already realize I left off the Jeb Loy Nichols disc released early this year, and would now include the brand new Mary J. Blige.

Before I get to the key, one more very important tip. The vast majority of musical acts, including most of those on the above list, allow you to hear at least three or four complete songs from their collection on their myspace pages, which have gone from passe social networking to invaluable music publicity. Just google the name of any musical artist you are interested in hearing along with the word myspace and the search engine will provide the link.

Okay, as to the rough categories of the 72 albums listed above, it goes like this:

Jazz: 3, 6, 9, 15, 16, 17, 21, 26, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 40, 47, 49, 50, 52, 55, 56, 58, 60, 64, 65, 66, 71

Indie Pop: 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 30, 36, 42, 46, 48, 51, 68, 69, 72

"World" music: 7, 14, 20, 38, 57, 63, 70

Soul/Blues/Gospel: 2, 4, 12, 22, 24, 37, 67

Rock: 11, 28, 39, 44, 53, 59, 61

Alt-Country/Folk: 10, 29, 41, 54, 62

Hip Hop: 1, 25, 27, 43

Classical: 18, 45