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Top Downloads of 2006

Other than the first song, the rest of these appear in no particular order.

1. Tom Waits, "You Can Never Hold Back Spring"
The relentless optimism of this astounding song is nothing short of inspirational. By far, my favorite song of the year.

2. Joel R.L. Phelps & the Downer Trio, "Who Can I Burn?"
Beware the version of this album (3) on iTunes, which crackles and pops like it was copied from a used vinyl LP. I might have regretted my purchase had Joel Phelps himself not made things right, sending me an autographed copy of the CD, along with his two most recent and similarly out-of-print albums, all gratis. Oh, and the tune is terrific, too.

3. Tommy Stinson, "Someday"
Former Replacements enfant terrible returns from creative oblivion, with the remarkably mature Village Gorilla Head, from 2004.

4. The Replacements, "Color Me Impressed"
I'm a Replacements fan from way back, not so far back as to have witnessed one of their sloppy-drunk bar shows, but far enough to have seen their final show (a feckless effort in Chicago's Grant Park in 1991). This rousing song is one of their finest efforts, nimbly bridging the gap between their hardcore roots and their midcareer iconic glory.

5. Billy Bragg, "Tank Park Salute"
With his big reissue on Yep Roc, there are so many choices this year with Bragg ("Between the Wars", "The Crashing of Ideologies", his completely unexpected cover of "A Change Is Gonna Come") but if I have to choose just one, I'll go with this gentle, poignant track about a young boy losing his father. Heartbreaking.

6. X, "Fourth of July"
I've always loved this one, though I was first familiar with the version by Dave Alvin from his solo debut, Romeo's Escape. (He wrote the song for X, and only later decided to record it himself.) As much as I like Alvin's version, X's is even better, for the harmonic interplay between John Doe and Exene's voices. Alvin's lyrics are particularly vivid -- I can practically see those Mexican kids downstairs, recklessly shooting off fireworks.

7. Chin Up Chin Up, "Virginia Don't Drown"
Excellent Chicago band tones down its math rock impulses with warm keyboards, nimble guitar work and propulsive rythyms, while never forsaking their highly distinctive vocals.

8. The Mekons, "Last Night on Earth"
A song I've been familar with for some time, one which gained enhanced resonance by its key role in one of my favorite novels of the year, Kevin Guilfoile's Cast of Shadows.

9. Greg Graffin, "Don't Be Afraid to Run"
Venerable Bad Religion frontman steps away from the roar to make a traditional folk record. While the reduced decibel level may surprise longtime fans of the band, the song's message of populist protest shouldn't.

10. Sebadoh, "The Freed Pig"
Lou Barlow's 1991 swipe at former Dinosaur Jr. bandmate J Mascis, a perky tune made not at all irrelevant by Dino's inevitable recent reunion. In indie rock, there apparently are no burned bridges.

11. R.E.M., "You Are the Everything"
Moody, aching, as atmospheric as if Daniel Lanois was involved (which he wasn't), this is the best song off of R.E.M.'s most forgettable album, Green.

12. Cat Power, "The Greatest"
Yes, Chan Marshall backed by a syrupy string section. Yes, it works. Somehow.

December 28, 2006 in Music | Permalink