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Hit the replay button, folks

Published December 29, 2006


It was 20 minutes 'til deadline - front-page deadline, the big boy of deadlines - and I was 20 minutes past zonked. Spent. Kaput.

Never mind that Bruce Springsteen, headliner of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the first fest since Katrina blew through, was testifying to 40,000 lost souls on a cozy racetrack infield. Clutching notebook and pen, I was ankle-deep in Louisiana mud, sensory-overloaded from five days of eating and writing, singing and crying.

But as the orange sun set, and the Boss and his exaggerated jug band kicked into the Basin Street shuffle of gospel salve Jacob's Ladder, that's when it happened:

We are climbing higher and higher

We are brothers and sisters all

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

As the Boss demanded another - and then another! - chorus from his band, thousands of hands lifted into the twilight We are climbing higher and higher. Sweaty strangers hugged sweaty strangers (We are brothers and sisters all). And a middle-aged woman I'd never seen before, tears tumbling down her face, grabbed my arms.

"Do you know what this means to us?" she pleaded. "Do you know what this means to this city?"

I might have said, "I know" or "Yes" or "Let go of me, lady." I might not have said anything at all. But what I do remember are the things I forgot for a few seconds: my notebook, my pen. I forgot that great chunk of tomorrow's front page I had to fill. All I knew were the goose bumps on my arm, and the crying woman from a crying city, and the words coming out of my mouth:

We are climbing higher and higher

We are brothers and sisters all

Sound decisions

Guns N' Roses, Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard, Pink, Bon Jovi. Those are the other concerts I remember fondly from '06, a thin year for live shows compared with jam-packed 2005.

Putting together a Top 10 Albums list, however, was tough, if only because I started with 20-plus candidates, a testament to a sublime year in recorded music. The big names delivered more times than not, and several newcomers gave us great hope for the future.

So without further ado, here are my honorable mentions followed by the Top 10. These are the albums that: (1) I continued to listen to after reviewing them; and (2) made me love my job even more. Sometimes, it's as simple as that.

TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain; Morningwood, Morningwood; Tom Petty, Highway Companion; Donald Fagen, Morph the Cat; Akon, Konvicted; Elton John, The Captain & the Kid; Christina Aguilera, Back to Basics; Johnny Cash, American V: A Hundred Highways; Ray LaMontagne, Till the Sun Turns Black; Prince, 3121.

10. Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Domino): Blue-collar scruffs from Sheffield, England, try to woo rich girls via cocksure punk and unlimited cigarettes. Best song: I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.

9. Gwen Stefani, The Sweet Escape (Interscope): The ultimate in postpartum expression from pop's queen mom. Best song: Wind It Up.

8. Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (Columbia): The Boss is reborn in the USA with this well-timed tribute to God, country and Crescent City tuba solos. Best song: Jacob's Ladder.

7. Fantasia, Fantasia (J Records): Who saw this coming? The former American Idol delivers a genuine R&B inferno to make "The Burner" Tina Turner proud. Best song: Baby Makin' Hips.

6. Lupe Fiasco, Food & Liquor (Atlantic/WEA): The hip-hop album of the year. This young Chicago MC outshines mentors Jay-Z and Kanye West with quick, smart rhymes that dodge bullets and braggadocio. Best song: Kick, Push.

5. Kasabian, Empire (RCA): Randy electro-beats clash with Stonesian swagger on sophomore rave-up from UK eccentrics. Care for a dirty dance? Best song: Sun Rise Light Flies.

4. My Chemical Romance, The Black Parade (Reprise): The true genius behind the Jersey quintet's punk-pop bombast just might be producer Rob Cavallo, who also helmed Green Day's thematically similar American Idiot. Best song: Disenchanted.

3. Bob Dylan, Modern Times (Columbia): You never know what you'll find in the dusty roadhouse of Bob's brain: Bobby Vinton 45s, a tattered paperback of The Great Gatsby, maybe even Alicia Keys herself. Best song: Ain't Talkin'.

2. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere (Downtown): The Lenny and Squiggy of pop. GB's tall, moody Danger Mouse mixes soul, rock, jazz and techno as soulful pal Cee-Lo croons about the pleasure and pain of losing your marbles. Best song: Crazy.

1. Wolfmother, Wolfmother (Interscope/Modular): Three randy hairballs from Oz unload insta-classic riffs born from the dust covering your Zep and Sabbath vinyl. More fun than a barrel full of topless unicorns. Best song: Woman.

Times pop music critic Sean Daly can be reached at or (727) 893-8467. His blog is at




[Last modified December 29, 2006, 07:39:52]

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