Presenting the top 10 CDs of 2001. 

Ten to Grow On

For most of us, the year 2001 will be forever linked with the date Sept. 11. So perhaps it's only fitting that my choice for album of the year — Bob Dylan's "Love & Theft" — was released on that fateful Tuesday. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, writing about music seemed trivial. Yet as days passed, the value of music -* and for that matter, movies, sports and other forms of entertainment -* became clear as we sought to return to our normal daily routines.

Music became an important escape from the grim news of the day -* and for many, a source of healing, comfort and understanding. So in a year that changed life in America, we truly have reason to celebrate the artists who gave us exceptional music in 2001.

Here are my choices for the 10 CDs that stood above the crowd in 2001.

1) Bob Dylan: "Love & Theft" (Columbia Records) -* During the 1980s, the great Bob Dylan released so many halfhearted albums that he did more than disappoint his fans -* he gave them reason to be angry. How could the man who made a masterpiece like "Blonde on Blonde" be responsible for dreck like "Empire Burlesque"? Well, all is now forgiven. "Love & Theft," the follow-up to his strong 1997 CD, "Time Out of Mind," is nothing short of stunning.

For "Love & Theft," Dylan reaches back to such classic styles as hot jazz and jump blues on tunes like "Summer Days" and "Floater (Too Much to Ask)," and breathes life into these seemingly bygone forms. He also gives the CD an up-to-date edge with bluesy rock songs like "Lonesome Day Blues" and "Honest With Me" that recall such rambunctious classics as "Highway 61" and "Maggie's Farm." With "Love & Theft," Dylan not only reclaims his place as one of rock's most important artists, he does something that seemed impossible not long ago *- he has reinvented his music once again.

2) System of a Down: "Toxicity" (American Recordings) -* Today's heavy metal is burdened by too many bands trying to sound like the latest hit by Papa Roach, Limp Bizkit or Staind. So it was a major breath of fresh air to hear the genre-shattering "Toxicity." There's enough intensity here to call System of a Down metal, but their signature of choppy beats, stop-and-start song structures and whacked-out singing make System sound unlike anything else in metal. And with material like "Chop Suey!" "Atwa" and "Jet Pilot," System has the strong songs to match the distinctive sound.

3) Mick Jagger: "Goddess in the Doorway" (Virgin Records) -* While the 1990s have seen the Rolling Stones deliver a string of competent and enjoyable albums, the venerable band hasn't taken many musical chances along the way. The same can't be said for Stones' frontman Jagger on "Goddess in the Doorway." The CD finds Jagger successfully venturing into pop ("Vision Of Paradise"), punkish rock (the searing "God Gave Me Everything") and rich balladry ("Brand New Set of Rules"), and writing some of his most open-hearted lyrics ever. "Goddess In The Doorway" doesn't sound like the Stones, but it lives up to the band's best work.

4) Radiohead: "Amnesiac" (Capitol Records) -* This band's 2000 CD, "Kid A," may have been touted as an album that reinvented rock as we know it. But "Amnesiac," whose songs were recorded during the same sessions, is actually the better CD. "Kid A" went so far in subverting Radiohead's sound and conventional pop structures that its songs sometimes seemed disjointed and muddled. On "Amnesiac," the music is nearly as daring, but this time, there's no missing the powerful melodies in tracks like "Pyramid Song," "Knives Out" and "I Might Be Wrong."

5) Alicia Keys: "Songs in A Minor" (J Records) -* No other genre has had a stronger infusion of new talent over the past couple of years than R&B, with the arrival of singer-songwriters like Jill Scott and Macy Gray. But the most talented of the group may be Keys, who sounds seasoned far beyond her years on her debut, "Songs in A Minor." While there's a modern rhythmic sensibility to these tracks, what makes Keys special is her ability to write timeless soulful melodies ("A Woman's Worth" and "Lovin' U") all wrapped in a honey-sweet voice that has to leave most other singers blue with envy.

6) Lucinda Williams: "Essence" (Lost Highway Records) -* Top to bottom, "Essence" isn't as strong as the three masterful CDs that preceded it ("Lucinda Williams," "Sweet Old World" and "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road"). Still, on "Essence," Williams frequently reminds listeners why she may be the best songwriter around today. Songs like the gorgeously fragile ballad "I Envy the Wind," the sexy title song and the rootsy throw-down "Get Right With God" are as good as anything that got committed to CD this year.

7) Garbage: "Beautiful Garbage" (Interscope Records) *- Seldom has a CD that at times seems so scattered sounded as good as "Beautiful Garbage." Building on the fusion of edgy guitar-pop, industrial and techno that defined the group's first two CDs, "Beautiful Garbage" runs the gamut from tart riff-based rock on "Shut Your Mouth") to new-wavish pop on "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)" to sleek balladry on "Drive You Home." Each song's a winner, and the glue that holds it together is singer Shirley Manson, who firmly establishes herself as rock's most compelling frontwoman this side of Chrissie Hynde.

8)Alejandro Escovedo: "A Man Under the Influence" (Bloodshot Records) -* In his hometown of Austin, Texas, Escovedo is a major star. "A Man Under the Influence" shows that Escovedo should enjoy a similar status everywhere. "A Man Under the Influence" is a moving, occasionally autobiographical work that skirts along the boundaries of folk, blues and roots rock. At times downright lovely (as on the ballads "Rhapsody" and "Don't Need You"), and occasionally raucous (as on "Castanets"), this is finest effort yet from a seasoned, talented and largely overlooked artist.

9) R.E.M. * "Reveal" (Warner Bros.Records) — R.E.M.'s commercial fortunes may have slipped recently, but its creativity remains undiminished. On "Reveal," R.E.M. uses strings, horns and layered guitars to bring a rich pageant of new colors and textures to the familiar folk-rock sound. In the turbulent world of rock 'n' roll, it's rare enough for a band to last 20 years. To last that long *- as R.E.M. has -* and still be able offer musical surprises shows just how special this group is.

10) Weezer: "Weezer" (Geffen Records) *- Rock's favorite power-pop geeks returned this year from an extended hiatus to find a whole new audience had discovered the band since its last CD, the 1996 release "Pinkerton." Weezer lived up to expectations on this self-titled CD with 10 concise and pithy rockers that were undeniably catchy and fun.

Honorable Mentions:

Elton John: "Songs from the West Coast" (Island/Rocket Records) — His best effort since his mid-1970s heyday.

Buddy Guy: "Sweet Tea" (Silvertone Records) *- The masterful blues guitarist gets back to his roots on this raw and funky outing.

Macy Gray: "The Id" (Epic Records) — A boisterous funk-n-soul outing from one of music's most talented new stars.

Ryan Adams: "Gold" (Lost Highway Records) — The former frontman of the alt-country band Whiskeytown begins to live up to expectations that have long followed him.

Scott Miller & the Commonwealth: "Thus Always To Tyrants" (Sugar Hill Records) -* The former V-Roys frontman comes into his own on his solo debut.

The Living End: "Roll On" (Reprise Records) * Pure punk with the right mix of sass and catchiness.

Jimmy Eat World: "Bleed American" (Interscope Records) — Potent guitar pop that should put this band on the map.

Jay Z: "The Blueprint" (Roc-A-Fela Records) — The best rap had to offer in a fairly bland year for the genre.

The Strokes: "Is This It?" (RCA Records) — They're over-hyped, but this is a solid start for a promising band.

P.O.D: "Satellite" (Atlantic Records) — P.O.D.'s Hispanic roots bring a fresh flavor to rock/rap.

Freedy Johnston: "Right Between the Promises" (Elektra Records) — No gimmicks, just tuneful and finely crafted folk-edged

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