5. My December, by Kelly Clarkson
I ache for Kelly Clarkson, and her My December album really grew one me after an initial listen that wrongly made me think it was a little too one-note. Favorites here are “One Minute,” “Don’t Waste Your Time” and “Be Still.” A bunch of us are going to the Kelly Clarkson/Reba McEntire show in January for my friend Melissa’s birthday; I’m not that big on Reba, but that’s okay because I’m pretty sure Melissa’s plan to give me to Kelly as a New Year’s gift is going to work out just fine, and that I’ll spend the rest of my life cooking her meals on her tour bus.
4. Cigarettes & Gasoline, by Emerson Hart
You know Emerson Hart as the voice of Tonic, and on his solo debut he continues the amazing singing and songwriting he displayed on the band’s steady stream of modern rock hits like “If You Could Only See” and “You Wanted More.” Favorites here are “Devastation Hands” and the rockin’ “I Know.” Be sure to give this one a listen.
3. Free Life, by Dan Wilson
Several years ago, I had the great honor of interviewing Semisonic’s Dan Wilson on the deck at Jillian’s in Louisville. He’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, and I was particularly proud of him when he joined the Dixie Chicks on stage at this year’s Grammy’s to accept an award for the songwriting contributions he made to their most recent album. Dan’s solo record is nothing short of breathtaking, filled with lots of elegant, thoughtful lyrics and arrangements. It’s hard to find a truer example of Great American Songwriting than this.
2. The Girl That Killed September, by Garrison Starr
As if the preceding songs weren’t already awesome, the final track from which the album gets its title still kicks my ass every time with its sweet, simple beauty. And Garrison’s show in Nashville a few Fridays ago was one of the absolute best nights I had all year. Garrison also released Fans’ Greatest Hits Vol. 1, in which she recorded new, acoustic versions of songs voted on by her fans. Awesome stuff.
1. Careful What You Wish For, by Jonatha Brooke
For my money, Jonatha has the best “my heart has done what her voice just did” voice I’ve ever heard. From the majestic bassoon/clarinet solo on the bridge of the shimmering pop masterpiece “Baby Wait” to the heart-tugging harmonies on the achingly beautiful “After the Tears,” this album represents every aspect of what makes Jonatha awesome. There are echoes here from every stage of her career and examples galore of her constant evolution as an artist. I got to see Jonatha perform live several times this year, the most memorable of which was a late-October trip with Concert Buddy Numero Uno Melissa to see her play in Cincinnati. I’ve seen her more than a dozen times, and I think that concert might have been the best.
Collective Soul’s Afterwords was a lot of fun. Especially its first song, “New Vibrations.” I saw Collective Soul open for Live and Counting Crows at Slugger Field this year, and they rocked harder than the other two bands combined. Well done, guys.
The dance beats of Seal’s System didn’t live up to this effortlessly bad-ass acoustic demo he posted on his blog earlier this year, but I’m still a big fan of the album’s lyrics and melodies.
I wasn’t as big on Chantal Kreviazuk’s Ghost Stories as I’ve been on her previous albums, but the single “All I Can Do” is superb.
Paul McCartney’s Memory Almost Full shows that the former Beatle still has the midas touch of songwriting; my favorite track is “Ever Present Past.”
And the cover of James Taylor’s “Shower the People” that Babyface cut for his Playlist album is really, really, really good.
What did you hear that you really, really liked?