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The best (unheard) music of 2008

A very short list of the best (unheard) music of the year.

This time of year there's no shortage of lists, everywhere you turn you're hammered with Top Ten and Best of 2008 harangues.

Me, I'm not going to waste your time raving about Portishead, TV on the Radio or Vampire Weekend's CDs. Why bother? I'd rather turn you onto great music that slipped between the cracks.

My favorite album of the year was JD Souther's "If The World Was You." JD was most famous for co-writing a bunch of 1970s era Eagles tunes, but this new CD demonstrates the Detroit-born, Amarillo, Texas-raised musician hasn't dried up in the intervening decades.

The new CD, recorded live in a Nashville studio, has a dark, brooding sound. JD's accompanying musicians are serious players. But it's the writing that kept this disc in heavy rotation in my house. There's a bit of the late, great Warren Zevon influence in there, so if you're a fan of 1970s Southern California rock If the World Was You would definitely be worth a listen. It's at least as good as Randy Newman's excellent "Harps and Angels" CD that was also released this year.

A friend turned me onto Lizz Wright's "The Orchard" CD and I couldn't get over her straight from the heart vocals. This woman can sing, this kind of depth of feeling is rare nowadays, but Wright comes from a different tradition.

It's not exactly soul, blues, R&B, or gospel, Lizz Wright's music has all of that, plus some hard to pin down quality that makes it very special. Wright's tasty cover of 'Zeppelin's "Thank You" is reason enough to buy this CD. For The Orchard Wright's joined by singer/songwriter Toshi Reagon, who co-wrote several songs with Wright; Calexico's Joey Burns and John Convertino; and Bob Dylan's guitarist Larry Campbell.

The Felice Brothers self-titled CD, not their first effort, is a breath of fresh air. The Upstate New York brothers Ian, Simone and James Felice's harmonies have a rootsy, all-American sound. Their songs feel lived in, as if they were played in crappy bars for years before recording them. Instrumentation is mostly limited to acoustic guitars, fiddle, drums, and occasional horns, but an accordion keeps everything grounded in reality. This one sounds like a classic the first time you hear it.

I'm a huge Loudon Wainwright III fan, but the guy most famous for "Dead Skunk" has a spotty discography. He's always terrific folk performer, but his studio albums are hit or miss. For "Recovery" he went back and rerecorded thirteen tunes he wrote in his early twenties.

The originals were good tunes, but four decades later he's learned a lot. The reworked songs are, without exception, better than the originals. In fact, Recovery might be the best way to get into Wainwright's music, that is, if you can't see him live. Wainwright's insights on love, life and sorrow are better than ever.

Worst of 2008

Neil Young's "Sugar Mountain-Live At Canterbury House 1968" should have stayed in the vaults. Yeah sure, hardcore fans will eat this up, but come on, the very young Young isn't all there as a performer. The tunes are good, but he talks too much, and he's just not all that interesting. If you crave ancient Young pick up his "Live at Massey Hall 1971." What a difference a couple of years made; maybe Young should check out Wainwright's CD and rerecord a bunch of his earliest stuff.

Tell us about your favorite music of 2008 that have been overlooked.