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A Critical Ear

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Funny that in a year when the idiotic shenanigans of bare-down-there celebrities continued to dominate mainstream news (it's not like we're at war or anything), the most ubiquitous song of the year was called "Rehab."

Feeling a bit hung over itself, the music industry continues to try to find ways to deal with shrinking profits (Rick Rubin thinks the future belongs to monthly music subscription services, like your cable TV). More big-name artists began charging hundreds of dollars for concert tickets, prompting -- surprise — more reunions as flabby, aging rock stars headed for the goldmine. Oh, and did we mention Radiohead released its highly anticipated new album for free download?

Locally, Toad's Place Richmond had some celebrated shows during its inaugural season, and we have what appears to be another great club, The National, opening soon.

Yes, it was an interesting year. We asked some of our regular music critics to list their favorite recordings and performances from 2007. — Brent Baldwin



Hilary Langford, Pop

Recordings

1. Radiohead, "In Rainbows" (Ato Records/Red): Every critic should have been instructed this year to give their top five discs in addition to Radiohead's latest release. Yes, it's that good, and we all should have paid full price for it instead of downloading it for free.

2. Feist, "The Reminder" (Cherry Tree): Every song on this CD is near perfect. From the swinging feel-good vibe of "1, 2, 3, 4" and groove of "My Moon My Man" to the aching "The Limit to Your Love," Feist proves she's been overlooked for too long.

3. Amy Winehouse, "Back to Black" (Republic): Everyone gives the party girl a hard time, but let's all remember that Billie Holiday had issues too and remains known for her incomparable music. Amy's disc is a timeless collection of new soul.

4. Bat for Lashes, "Fur and Gold" (Caroline): Truly a sonic wonderland, this disc blew me away with one spin — while extremely innovative and creative, it remains surprisingly accessible with basic pop-structured songs.

5. Brandi Carlile, "The Story" (Sony): If Jeff Buckley and k.d. lang had a love child, it would have the voice and songwriting skills of Brandi Carlile. "The Story" is pure magic and full of heart.



Performances

1. Feist at the 9:30 Club (June 13): The only thing better than Feist's incredible disc "The Reminder" was seeing her play it all in front of a sold-out crowd and — believe it or not — totally rock out on the guitar and lead the crowd in a three-part sing-along.

2. Shiny Toy Guns at Toad's Place Richmond (Aug. 2): My ears rang for a solid day after this one. With pristine vocals and an incredible light show to accompany the set, the Shinys showed off emo-tronic at its best.

3. Fiona Apple/Nickel Creek at Innsbrook (Aug. 3): Bluegrass twang met angst and psychosis, and somehow … it all worked out beautifully. Apple's rich vocals, the virtuosity of the fingerpickin' threesome, and the unique arrangements of both artists' songs made for a remarkable performance.

4. Mary J. Blige at The Richmond Coliseum (July 17): Mary J. is fierce. Truly a privilege to see a legend play my hometown.

5. Elvis Costello at John Paul Jones Arena (Sept. 27): It's difficult to show up a guy like Bob Dylan, but opener Costello did a fine job with his solo acoustic set of career hits with incredible sound and stage presence.



Peter McElhinney, Jazz

Recordings

1. Lucinda Williams, "West" (Lost Highway): Williams sets her emotionally raw (demo) tracks on top of a polished all-star band for what may be her best album to date.

2. Michael Brecker, "Pilgrimage" (Heads Up): The late saxophonist leading a great group in a life-affirming final session.

3. McCoy Tyner, "Quartet" (McCoy Tyner): John Coltrane's great pianist flourishing in the midst of another great group, with saxophonist Joe Lovano, drummer Jeff Tain Watts and bassist Christian McBride.

4. Robert Glasper, "In My Element" (Blue Note): The third release from a young player with a distinctive, harmonically rich and rhythmically surprising approach.

5. John Abercrombie, "Third Quartet" (ECM): Abercrombie moves from strength to strength, with strong intuitive playing from the guitarist's longtime quartet — drummer Mark Johnson, violinist Mark Feldman and drummer/Richmond native Joey Baron.



Performances

1. Doug Richards at The Camel (Oct. 24): The big-band finale of The Mingus Awareness Project concert (an ALS benefit organized by Brian Jones) teetered on the edge of chaos before coalescing into a near perfect tribute to the primal jazz bassist/composer.

2. Fight the Big Bull at Cous Cous (March 7): For its CD release party, Fight the Big Bull emphasized the heart in art with its complete cover of Weezer's "Blue Album," passionately backed by a full house of singing fans.

3. Luciana Souza and Romero Lubambo at the Modlin Center (Feb. 5): In a series of duets with guitarist Lubambo, Brazilian singer Souza performed with liquid clarity and seemingly effortless grace.

4. John Doe at Capital Ale House (Aug. 2): After two high-flying sets and a soaring encore, ex-X frontman John Doe made an entertaining evening genuinely engaging by coming down from the stage to hang out with the crowd, not just to talk but to listen.

5. Guitarist Ayman Fanous at VCU (March 2): Fanous' performance with longtime collaborator Tomas Ulrich set a high standard for cutting-edge improvisation, equaled by the force and imagination of his Sept. 20 duets with premier violinist Mark Feldman.



Clarke Bustard, Classical

Recordings

1. Peter Lieberson, "Neruda Songs" (Nonesuch): A parting love letter of extraordinary emotional power. The singer for whom it was written, the composer's wife, mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, died of cancer shortly after this recording.

2. Stravinsky, "The Soldier's Tale" (Sony Classical): Jeremy Irons' narration of a droll parable of temptation, nicely grafted onto Stravinsky's 40-year-old recording of his music.

3. Mozart, "Don Giovanni" (Harmonia Mundi): René Jacobs leads a dramatically charged, singularly spontaneous performance of Mozart's darkest opera.

4. "Pierre Monteux: Decca & Philips Recordings, 1956-1964" (Decca): The French conductor who kept his cool during the riotous premiere of "The Rite of Spring" could be trusted to make the most of any music; and so he does, from Bach to — naturellement — Stravinsky.

5. Brahms: String quartets Nos. 1-3, Piano Quintet (Deutsche Grammophon): The Emerson Quartet, joined in the quintet by pianist Leon Fleisher, didn't get the memo about chamber music being genteel or the one about Brahms only coming in shades of brown.



Performances

1. Pianist Yuja Wang with Shanghai Quartet at the University of Richmond (Nov. 12): The most spectacularly and comprehensively gifted pianist to play Richmond since ... Rachmaninoff, maybe?

2. Netherlands Bach Society at UR (April 24): Minimal forces yielded maximum style and transcendent spirituality in Bach's Mass in B minor.

3. Virginia Opera in Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffmann" at Landmark Theater (Oct. 19): Soprano Manon Strauss Evrard debuted in living coloratura. She returns in April for Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," in which she's expected to sing even higher and lose her mind.

4. eighth blackbird (recent Grammy nominee) with soprano Lucy Shelton at UR (April 22): Wide-ranging vocalizing and dazzling instrumental effects in new music that hot-wired the imagination.

5. Violinist Jessica Lee with Richmond Symphony at Bon Air Baptist Church (April 20): Four days after the Virginia Tech tragedy, Lee sounded an appropriately elegiac note in Vaughan Williams' "The Lark Ascending." So did the orchestra in Copland's "Appalachian Spring."



Brent Baldwin, Rock/Country/Folk

Recordings

1. LCD Soundsystem, "Sound of Silver" (Capitol): One of the best electronic/dance albums of the year updates a late-'80s sound with verve and James Murphy's introspective, sassy lyrics.

2. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, "Raising Sand" (Rounder): The year's big surprise features an understated turn from Robert Plant and the angelic Alison Krauss, seamlessly blending for gorgeously moody country folk and blues.

3. Grinderman (featuring Nick Cave), self-titled (ANTI-): A return to the savage form of The Birthday Party for angry Aussie Nick Cave, whose group cranks out some of the most electrifying rock of the year — the guitar solo on "No Pussy Blues" is like shock treatment.

4. "Art of Field Recording, Vol. 1" (Dust to Digital): Mesmerizing, obscure field recordings of everyday folk in a four-CD box set compiled by Art Rosenbaum; makes a great companion to Harry Smith's legendary "Anthology of American Folk Music," which is saying quite a lot.

5. Panda Bear, "Person Pitch" (Paw Tracks): Yeah, he sounds like Brian Wilson at times, but Animal Collective's Panda Bear makes compelling, mosaic sunshine pop that recalls his hometown of Lisbon, Portugal, in an intriguing, immersive way.



Performances

1. Neil Young at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. (Nov. 17): Like most shows by big-name acts this year, this concert was too expensive, but Young delivered the goods with an acoustic and electric set that dug deep into his venerable catalog.

2. Iggy and the Stooges at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. (April 5): My car died on the highway home, but it still didn't dampen the memory of this blistering late show from one of the original godfathers of punk.

3. Wilco at Charlottesville Pavilion (Oct. 20): The last full show of its American tour was an old-fashioned blowout in a great venue, with a wonderful crowd that sang along all night, prompting the band to play something like four encores.

4. Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes at Richmond Folk Festival (Oct. 14): Thanks to great weather and the culmination of a three-year-media blitz, this year's festival drew the biggest crowds yet; but this funky gospel band was the most moving thing I saw.

5. Art Brut and Hold Steady at Toad's Place Richmond (Nov. 19): Toad's Place had a number of good shows during its inaugural season, but this one featured two solid new bands that knew how to please the crowd. S



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