Peter J - Top Ten of '98

Strictly for fun (and heated argument).

  1. Vic Chesnutt - The Salesman & Bernadette (Capricorn)
    To me, the most inspired and original human in "rock" music today. The material is typically brilliant - lyrics that are alternately basic and complex, melodies that wrench your gut. What sets this record apart from Vic's previous stuff is the story in songs it tells and the expanded accompaniment of the twelve-or-so-piece Lambchop. It doesn't sound like anything else he's ever done.

  2. Rufus Wainwright (DreamWorks)
    This album was startling to me in a way I can barely describe. It's just so damn MUSICAL. The composition, the arrangements, the singing, the lyrics, the piano playing - it's all there. Maybe what I find most remarkable is that I like every moment on this record. I reiterate, every moment. Certainly one of the best new artists of '98 and one of the most gifted artists to come along this decade. April Fools is contender for song of the year.

  3. Marah - Let's Cut The Crap And Hook Up Later On Tonight (Black Dog)
    The other "best new artist" of '98. From the first time I played this record back in February I have been smitten with Marah. But it's more than just the music - in a weird way it's what these guys stand for that makes it so special. There's a ramshackle swagger to 'em that seems the very essence of rock n' roll to me. The singer's similarity to Rick Danko doesn't hurt matters either. I loved, loved, loved 'em live at SXSW this year (where they opened with the awe inspiring - and also candidate for song of the year - "Phantom Eyes"). The "whoop" Dave Bielanko lets out after first singing the chorus of "Firecracker" constitutes a "great moment in rock" for me.

  4. Paul Kelly - Words & Music (Vanguard)
    This is a completely 100% concert driven selection - their Troubadour show in June figuring easily among the best live rock shows I ever saw in my life. Seriously, this is one of the great rock records of all time and anyone who has a rock record collection ought to have it. Music with a message, delivered poetically with boundless passion and such force it boggles my mind. It's a revelation for anyone who thinks rock 'n roll music is all about youth (witness the diatribe called "Nothing On My Mind"). There ain't a guy in this line-up under forty and onstage they demonstrated real ensemble playing the likes of which few bands of twenty-somethings could even approximate. Gave me faith in the ability of rockers to mature, maintain dignity and actually improve with time. Both live and on record this band really cooks.

  5. Son Volt - Wide Swing Tremelo (Warner Brothers)
    A shining example of my favorite word in rock 'n roll - "BAND." The electrical charge I got on hearing the opening of this record practically made me jump outta my skin. The lyrics are like puzzles that keep me coming back. "Medicine Hat" is another candidate for best song of '98.

  6. Golden Smog - Weird Tales (Rykodisc)
    If I had to I'd prob'ly crawl over broken glass for a new Gary Louris song these days and Kraig Johnson emerges as one of Mpls most gifted musicians (when I got the gist of his "Making Waves" I got shivers from my skull to my toenails). When you add Danny Murphy, Jeff Tweedy and Jody Stephens to the equation this is one formidable coalition. The one I still can't get out of my head is "Jane," another candidate for song of the year for me.

  7. Perla Batalla - Mestiza (Mechuda Music)
    Another concert driven choice. This record reeks of soul, warmth and a curiosity about what the hell life's all about that moves me deeply. The lyrics to the song "Iberia" hit awfully close to home. Regarding the concert (at UCLA's intimate Schoenbeg Hall), it was a full fledged epiphany. One of the great voices of my lifetime. A self released album without the distribution the quality warrants it can be found at

  8. Tommy Keene - Isolation Party (Matador)
    Here's proof (along with Paul Kelly) that rockers can improve well into their career. This and 1996's Ten Years After are as good as any record Tommy Keene has made. Tremendously, excitingly produced. Killer songs for days. In a just world Tommy Keene would've been all over the radio for the last twenty years. Sounds like tin-pan-alley-pop-rock to me.

  9. Nick Lowe - Dig My Mood (Up)
    It took his keynote speech at SXSW to inspire me to listen to this record more carefully and I'm glad I did. His elder statesman status is quite becoming.

  10. Logan/Kimbell - Little Private Angel (Parasol)
    Having worked with Jack so closely it's interesting to hear what he (and Bob Kimbell) does as his own editor. Inevitably there's a song or two I might've crowed about including here but if only for "Frozen Rope" and "Rained Like Hell" this is another must have. And the live shows were so sublime they gave the record further legs.

Honorary Mention: Bob Dylan Live - 1966 (Columbia)
also sort of "live driven" 'cause we had the concert film Eat The Document playing in L.A. at the Museum Of Television and Radio for a couple of months and I went 4 or 5 times and how much more of a WOW can there be than seeing Bob and The Band doing Ballad Of A Thin Man, One Too Many Mornings, Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat, Tell Me Mama or Like A Rolling Stone (even if none were in their entirety) in 1966???? The electric guitar interplay between Bob and Robbie Robertson is, well, electrifying. For me NOBODY, and I mean NOBODY, was ever more punk rock than Dylan at this point in time. Sneering, aloof, raunchy and at the absolute top of his game he was stepping off the edge of a cliff with no concern for anything but the art.

Live shows that were so good they nearly hospitalized me:
Paul Kelly & Band at The Troubadour - Iris DeMent at The Troubadour, Pasadena Unitarian Church and Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara - Marah at SXSW - Joe Henry at The Mint - You Am I at Spaceland - Son Volt anywhere - Perla Batalla at Schoenberg Hall Vic Chesnutt at The Knitting Factory, SXSW and The Troubadour - Tommy Keene at The Troubadour - Rufus Wainwright at The Conga Room - Perfect anywhere - Logan, Kimbell, Lane at The Mint.

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