Top CDs of 2005

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Stereolab

"Margerine Eclipse"

Available at All That Jazz for $17.98

This album is textured enough to allow a lot of good finger and foot holds for any kind of music fan. Stereolab offers a mellow electronic lounge album that's more post-club comedown music than the kind of height-of-the-party music I'm used to hearing from them. Like the rest of the album, the track "Cosmic Country Noir" is the perfect song to play while driving, letting the beats roll past under the tires of your car.

Morcheeba

"Parts of the Process"

Available at All That Jazz for $17.98

What if Billie Holliday and Sarah Vaughn were born in the last half of the 20th century instead of the first half? What if they were raised around urban beats, Korg keyboards and electric guitars instead of baby grand pianos and horn sections? What would they have done with their voices?

If you peeled away the guitars and the samples, singer Skye Edwards of Morcheeba sounds like a modern incarnation of the jazz diva.

"Parts of the Process" is a compilation of songs from four Morcheeba albums and a perfect entry point if you've never heard this band.

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes

"Blow in the Wind"

Available at All That Jazz for $15.98

This album opens with a hard-rocking cover of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," complete with guitar solos, four-part harmonies and a tinge of sarcasm.

Every band that has a cover on their set list claims to "make the song their own," but as the Gimme Gimmes gag on the lyrics of the Beach Boys' classic "Sloop John B" or as they scream Cat Stevens' "Wild World," it sounds little like the original.

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes is a side project and something of a stand-up comic routine for members of punk bands Lagwagon, NOFX and the Swingin' Utters.

For any band that ever tried to play covers, take a lesson.

Nash Kato

"Debutante"

$16.98

Close the curtains. Spill some cheap beer on your clothes and sit down for a listen.

Before Urge Overkill reunited to make another run at it, frontman Nash Kato released this solo album. The songs are catchy without being radio blender pap.

The Kinks

"Give the People What They Want"

Available at All That Jazz for $17.98

I was happy to pick up a copy of The Kinks, remastered and released. "Give the people what they want" originally was released in 1981.

I once went to a Tribute to The Kinks night, during which the deejay played nothing but The Kinks all night, and I was amazed to realize how many good songs the band recorded throughout the decades.

This band may have gotten drowned out by contemporaries such as The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, but for those willing to dig a little deeper in the bin, this band's music is still out there. Also re-released and worth a listen is The Kinks' "The Village Green Preservation Society."

Andrew Bird

"Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs"

Available at All That Jazz for $16.98

Andrew Bird is best known for his role as the violinist in Squirrel Nut Zippers, but his solo work is infinitely better and more beautiful.

Bird stands out among musicians for his talent as a whistler. As you listen to the instrumentals on "The Mysterious Production of Eggs," you may not know that the otherworldly flute-like sound is actually Bird whistling. We all do it, but none do it this well.

This album came out on Righteous Babe Records, Ani DiFranco's label. I always have thought that her greatest talents are not in her own music but in her ability to dig amazing artists out of the corners for us to hear.

Beck

"Guero"

On sale at All That Jazz call $15.99

For all those who were driven away from Beck, crying, after "Sea Change," it's time to come back to the fold. This album rocks. For all those who left Beck, confused, after "Midnite Vultures," you can come back, as well. This album is easy.

For this album, Beck partnered with the Dust Brothers (last seen on "Odelay") for beats that drive his artsy thoughts and otherwise inaccessible-to-the-mainstream lyrics out onto the dance floor.

Gorillaz

"Demon Days"

On Sale at All That Jazz for $15.98

Is it a gimmick, or is it a band?

I was introduced to Gorillaz in the pages of The New York Times. Its gimmick is so good that the article barely mentioned the music. In fact, I don't remember it mentioning the music at all.

Gorillaz is a cartoon.

On stage, Gorillaz performs behind a screen while a two-dimensional cartoon band performs for the audience. The music that comes from the band behind the curtain is somewhere between hip hop and the synthesizer music of the 1970s. It's good music for the post-clubbing generation -- the aging hipsters who still enjoy the beats but want more story and substance with their computer-generated ambiance.

White Stripes

"Get Behind Me Satan"

Available at All That Jazz for $14.98

The only reason the White Stripes can survive in the rock 'n' roll world is the many sides of Jack White that fill a stage only occupied by two people.

Jack is this generation's gothic Mick Jagger, our dark-eyed John Lennon.

For this album, the Whites wander around the world of Old Timey music, peeking their heads into turn of the century revival tents and carnival wagons, all while keeping their feet firmly plugged into 2005.

Old School Freight Train

"Run"

Available at All That Jazz for $8.99

Old School Freight Train's music is as simple as its album's cover art, a Japanese Sumi-e ink painting of train tracks heading into the distance. But for anything this clean and simple, a lot of care must be taken.

The liner notes of "Run" come with a glowing review of this band from bluegrass legend David Grisman, who produced the album and played mandolin on one track.

Devin Davis

"Lonely People of the World, Unite!"

Available at All That Jazz for $14.98

This is 100 percent nerdy art-school rock, complete with funny lyrics, inside jokes and garage-band backup.

A good example of Devin Davis is the song "Paratrooper with Amnesia," in which some Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano and fuzzed guitar gets you dancing to his well-written love song. He sings, "You see my legs look like/two lampposts in an earthquake/whenever I get within a few feet from you/and I'm like a paratrooper with amnesia/falling like an anchor through the sky ... it's so hard to get my hand around the ripcord."

The BellRays

"The Red, White & Black"

Available at All That Jazz for $17.98

The BellRays are led by the Aretha Franklin of punk rock, Lisa Kekaula. She pours her heart out through a powerful voice. She sneers and screams like a rock diva and cries, "What do you want for nothin'" with the sad soul of all those women who still haunt us from mid-century Harlem jazz clubs.

Released on Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label, "The Red, White & Black" brings a Billie Holiday vibe to the Black Flag crowd.

The Gram Parsons Anthology

"Sacred Hearts & Fallen Angels"

Available at All That Jazz for $31.98

Gram Parsons lived such a short life but changed music forever during the few years he performed.

The Gram Parsons Anthology follows his music on two discs from his time with The International Submarine Band to The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Bros., his solo work and three songs from Gram Parsons & The Fallen Angels (his short-lived last project, which features Emmy Lou Harris). Paired with a 50-page booklet/biography, this anthology is a reminder of just how much music Parsons made during his short career.

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