‘Evenin, everybody! I’m writing this from my chilly Liverpudlian flat. I thought, since the end of the year is rapidly approaching, and since I happen to be a musician – I should let you know what my 5 favourite albums of 2010 are. So, here goes (in no particular order):
1. JOSH GROBAN – “Illuminations”
From the stylish artwork to the quality of the music, this album exudes value. Produced by Rick Rubin to within an inch of perfection, a true “classical crossover” album. Orchestras abound on this album, as well as more traditional pop instruments. Groban is, vocally, in superb form and he is listed as co-writer on the majority of the tracks. A stand-out showcase of quality over commodification in a music industry that’s sadly, exponentially veering towards the latter in this day and age.
2. ELTON JOHN & LEON RUSSELL – “The Union”
Recipient of a rare 5/5 review on RollingStone.com, “The Union” is, arguably, Elton John’s finest album since his mid-70’s heyday. Collaborating with his idol and main inspiration, the legendary Leon Russell, it makes for sparks flying as the two veteran singer/songwriter/pianists bring out nothing but the very best in each other. The songs are superb, with not one filler in a 16 track list. Stellar production by T-Bone Burnett, with both musicians in fine form. Complete with gospel choir backing vocals and a few guest stars such as Neil Young. A front-row nominee for Album of the Year in my book.
3. TAKE THAT – “Progress”
This is the sentimental bet for Album of the Year. The biggest boyband of the 90’s is now complete again, after Robbie Williams’ return to the line-up. Arguably the most eagerly awaited band reunion since The Beatles (which never happened), this album is guaranteed to set some sales records this year. Musically, the band takes a new, fresh direction – sounding different to both 90’s Take That, and 00’s Take That sans Robbie. Brisker, noisier sounds and production values are employed, with Robbie taking centre-seat next to Gary Barlow and contributing some nice songs and vocals to what was already a revigorated band. Also, this is the album cover of the year to me!
4. MARIAH CAREY – “Merry Christmas 2 You”
Mariah Carey’s other Christmas album, “Merry Christmas” (1993) is the highest-selling holiday album of all time. More than a decade and a half later, the diva serves us another helping of what she does best. Sugary, gospel-tinged music that makes no attempt to apologise for its cheesiness, but rather, elevates cheesiness to an art. On this album, Mariah ditches the quasi-hip-hop influences she has (unfortunately) picked up over the years and goes back to the sound which characterizes her early albums, which to me, are the best work she’s done. Also, she’s back in full voice again, after years of stylized whispers and coos. It’s good to hear Mariah the Belter again! Some future Christmas classics will undoubtedly come out of this album over the next years, in particular her work with Broadway composer Marc Shaiman.
5. HERBIE HANCOCK – “The Imagine Project”
After his previous album “River – The Joni Letters” famously became the second jazz album in history to win Album of the Year at the 2008 Grammys (beating Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black” in an unusual twist) the world was watching in expectation to hear what the legendary jazz pianist will produce as his follow-up. In 2010 he delivered it – an unusual mix of jazz, soul and world music recorded in various locations around the world, with a cornucopia of international musicians ranging from Pink, Seal, John Legend, James Morrison – to Congolese group Konono N°1, Anoushka Shankar and K’naan. The album begins with a beautiful re-interpretation of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and continues on in magnificient form.