City Paper's Top Albums of 2008

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In this week’s year-end double-issue (Dec. 24), the City Paper critics pick the best albums of the year.

This year, we asked our small gang of in-house and freelance music writers to come up with 10 albums — and they could be new studio or live collections, box sets, re-issues, or EPs — that stuck in their heads and ears, 10 collections that received repeated play in the car, on the home stereo, on the iPod, etc. The following lists contain some surprises — and a few albums that earned multiple listings.

Check out additional best-of lists from Chris Haire, Stratton Lawrence, Jon Santiago, John Edward Royall, Alan Sculley, Kinsey Labberton, Bryan Reed, and Michael Andrews in the forthcoming issue. Here’s mine:

T. Ballard Lesemann’s 2008 Pozi-Vibe List o’ Albums and One-Word Summations

1. Al GreenLay It Down (Blue Note)

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The funky reverend’s smooth new collection maintains the classic and tight arrangements of his best work — from the 1970s and in recent years — but dives deep into the soul with a slightly more modern style, thanks in large part to production work by ?uestlove Thompson (the drummer from The Roots). Lay It Down really gets down with an impressive guest list of R&B artists, including John Legend, Anthony Hamilton, Corinne Bailey Rae, and the Dap-Kings Horns. Green’s breathy falsetto and crackly howls are as strong as ever. This one’s a go-to album that dissolves the distractions of the day.

Dig some of “Just for Me” here:

Just-for-me

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2. Stanton MooreEmphasis (On Parenthesis) (Telarc)

Galactic’s drummer demonstrates great skill, feel, and complex arrangement ideas … plus he oversees a really smooth and cool overall band sound. The summation: “Syncopated”

3. The FleshtonesTake A Good Look (Yep Roc)

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Singer Peter Zaremba, guitarist Keith Streng, and the guys from Queens, N.Y., rock and rave on a no-nonsense collection of fun new tunes. The LP’s great, but I loved this YouTube clip: an intentionally badly-acted “promo” for their latest. The summation: “Ravin’”

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4. The Hold SteadyStay Positive (Vagrant)

It sounds like Hüsker Dü with piano and Southern accents. Massive and pure and genuine. The summation: “Dense”

5. Matt KeatingQuixotic (Megaforce)

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A melodic and ultra-catchy 22-song effort peppered with gingerly plucked acoustic guitar chords, slinky slide guitar, Keating’s nasally sweet singing and occasional Tom Waits-style snarl. The summation: “Poised”

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6. Mad Tea PartyFound a Reason (Nine Mile)

Singer/uke player Ami Worthen and guitarist/foot drummer/fiddler Jason Krekel serve up cool, twangy, retro vibes and have a rock ’n’ roll party. "Let the Blues Slip In" was a favorite since springtime. The summation: “Jaunty”

7. Bob MouldDistrict Line (Anti-)

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A step back to “huge guitar”-based power-pop; his strongest rockstuff since the early Sugar days. The summation: “Exhortation”

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8. The FallImperial Wax Solvent (Import)

Singer Mark E. Smith’s beery holler and preacher-like inflictions are is still effective — even with an almost entirely new lineup behind him. Wife, keyboardist, and singer Eleni Polou’s stylish contributions balance the rough nuttiness. The summation: “Growling”

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9. Elf PowerIn a Cave (Ryko)

The ever-evolving Athens, Ga. band’s 13-song album swings between two distinctive styles and/or personalities: the familiar classic “Elf” rock sound with four-chord verses, etc., and a foggier, melancholic, more trance-like atmosphere. The summation: “Sauntering”

10. Various ArtistsBoots, Buckles & Spurs: 50 Songs Celebrate 50 Years of Cowboy Tradition

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(Sony/Legacy)

If Tommy Duncan’s lulling rendition of “Dusty Skies with Bob Wills & Texas Playboys or Gene Autry’s cheerful “Back in the Saddle Again” don’t spur ya, you just ain’t right. The summation: “Pastoral”

Additional cool stuff from this year: AC/DC’s Black Ice (Columbia), The Avett Brothers’ The Second Gleam (Ramseur), Kings of Leon’s Only by the Night (RCA), The Smiths’ The Sound of the Smiths (Rhino), R.E.M.’s Accelerate (Warner Bros.), Samantha Crain’s The Confiscation (Ramseur), Willie Nelson’s One Hell of a Ride (Sony), The Rosebuds’ Life Like (Merge), David Byrne & Brian Eno’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (Todo Mundo), and Wire’s Object 47 (Pink Flag).

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