10 records worth hearing in 2003 

One last year-end wrap-up

One last year-end wrap-up
Gosh knows how many thousands of CDs were released this year, so anyone claiming to choose the best is clearly a lying liar, worse than Bill O'Reilly or Ann Coulter. Instead, we offer you some interesting titles, in no particular order, from the few that we were privileged to sample. You Am I Deliverance Australian quartet plays highly appealing American roots-rock and power pop. Raucous guitars and bittersweet melodies recall Big Star, or maybe the Gin Blossoms, but much better. My Morning Jacket It Still Moves Imagine the West Coast psychedelia of Quicksilver Messenger Service meeting the Southern blues-rock-country of the Allman Brothers. Imagine a jam band that has some decent songs, for a change. Imagine a thick, hazy layer of reverb that gives the whole thing a gimmicky but magical retro vibe. These Kentucky boys were scheduled to play Indy in January, but they canceled, which is our loss. Spiritualized Amazing Grace Dirty, Stooges-style punk collides with glorious clouds of strings, horns and choral harmony. Jason "Spaceman" Pierce has realized a kind of agnostic gospel music that links the carnal and the divine. Drive-By Truckers Decoration Day Reversing the usual pattern, the Truckers began as a parody act and evolved into an all-American rock band of remarkable soul. The follow-up to their acclaimed Southern Rock Opera is a three-guitar, three-songwriter juggernaut that slices life down the middle and describes the result, guts and all: infidelity, incest and a prayer for salvation. MC Honky! I Am the Messiah MC Honky made up a bogus publicity bio about being a 50-something Capitol Records ex-janitor who had evolved from an obsessive record collector into a genre-smashing hip-hop composer. Turns out he's really some guy from the Eels, who also happens to be a genre-smashing hip-hop composer. This patchwork of funk loops, sound effects and self-help tapes is more fun than humans should legally be allowed. Johnny Cash Live Recordings from the Louisiana Hayride Despite the low fidelity, these are bone-chilling performances from the classic radio show, 16 songs spanning seven appearances from 1955 to 1963. Aside from the man's own charisma, his work with the Tennessee Two makes for an interesting profile of a guitar combo in the pre-Beatles era. Apollo Sunshine Katonah Three multi-instrumentalists from New England combine the acoustic whimsy of They Might Be Giants with outbursts of excessive, ELP-style keyboard and guitar noodling. Totally cool. Must be heard to be believed. Elvis Costello North Who'd have thought this man would age so gracefully? A collection of Johnny Mercer-style piano ballads, with help from longtime collaborator and keyboard whiz Steve Nieve. Play it on a snowy day. The Strokes Room On Fire We'd hoped to get through the list without mentioning this band, but damned if they didn't beat the sophomore jinx, delving deeper into their signature brand of garage-punk Motown, for lack of a better term. As appealing and defiant as the 2001 debut, the second album flirts with reggae and disco rhythms but doesn't stray from the central formula: guitars that interlock with surgical precision, melodies that catch like velcro, and the streetwise romanticism of writer/vocalist Julian Casablancas. The White Stripes Elephant We'd hoped to get through the list without mentioning this band, too. The act and the color scheme are wearing thin, but damned if Jack White isn't a formidable guitarist, vocalist and songwriter. He rocks like Zeppelin and picks acoustic ballads like McCartney. Highlights include the raucous "Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine," hands-down winner for Best Use of the Word "Acetaminophen" in a Pop Song.

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