Critical Mass

RFT music critics offer a cut-and-paste compendium of the year in music. Everyone's wrong. Everyone's right.

My favorite album this year only qualifies because of a belated U.S. release date. The Manic Street Preachers' This Is My Truth You Tell Me Yours is a spare, severe colossus, the smartest Big Rock record in a while. It was a huge hit everywhere but the United States, probably the only characteristic it shares with David Hasselhoff's musical output. (JT)

It's About Time Award: Goes to the hip-hop community, which finally realized full-force that the major-label system is a farce and that there's a way to thrive without lapping at the butt of The Man. The result was an avalanche of hip-hop CDs and LPs put out on tiny labels. Of course, the allure of getting paid may ultimately tempt many of these labels and artists to sign into the system. But for now, the indie hip-hop is the shit, the best of which was the incredible compilation The Funky Precedent, which featured the cream of the Left Coast crop: Jurassic 5 (who have already been scooped up by Interscope), Dilated Peoples, Styles of Beyond and the Beat Junkies. (RR)

Rest in Peace (and with music): Here are the ones with St. Louis-area roots whom I'll remember the most. Leon Thomas, who added his amazing vocals to the mu-sic of Pharoah Sanders, Santana and others. Lester Bowie, a great musi-cian with an even better sense of humor. Joan Bouise, who was born in New Orleans but left many musical memories for St. Louis friends and fans. Ernie Wilkins, an underappreciated trumpet great who added immensely to the big-band sounds of Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry. Then there were the people behind the scenes who added immense support to the music, such as Barbara Rose, who kept jazz alive at the Backstage Bistro, and Josephine Lockhart and Jim Randle, who were key to getting the worthy Crusaders for Jazz organization up and running. But Richard Henderson is still around to head up the Crusaders for Jazz and their efforts to provide a higher profile for local musicians and boost jazz-education efforts. And Gene Dobbs Bradford has stepped in for Rose as director for the Jazz at the Bistro without missing a beat. In fact, he's brought a new energy and broader range of jazz styles to the JAB performance series. (TP)

Jurassic 5: Although they ended up on the mega-major label Interscope, they're part of a wonderful hip-hop movement stressing the importance of independence.
Jurassic 5: Although they ended up on the mega-major label Interscope, they're part of a wonderful hip-hop movement stressing the importance of independence.

Some of my favorite songs were by people who knew the classic-pop rules and navigated them with precision and ease. "I Want It That Way" by the Backstreet Boys was a creamy-smooth confection of harmony, melody and rhythm. Sarah McLachlan scored with a couple of beautiful gems, "Angel" and "I Will Remember You." Fastball studied the songbooks of Crowded House and Elvis Costello and came up with "Out of My Head." Blondie added another masterpiece to its collection of catchy pop songs with "Maria." Cher made what sounded like the best Pet Shop Boys record in years, "Believe." Other songs covered new ground. Destiny's Child came up with "Bills Bills Bills," which took the clip-clop rhythms of Timbaland-inspired R&B and twisted them around a couple of deftly designed melodic hooks. Len sampled "More More More" by the Andrea True Connection and created something light and airy with "Steal My Sunshine." Santana combined the alt-rock vocals of Rob Thomas (from one of those bands I can't remember) with a sinuous Latin/R&B groove and his trademark guitar stylings to achieve "Smooth," probably the year's most irresistible single. (SP)

Q: If Kid Rock and the Backstreet Boys got into a fight to the death with pitchforks, who would win? A: Music lovers everywhere. (JT)

My inner curmudgeon is extremely disturbed that two songs I actually like, "Fly Away" by Lenny Kravitz and "All Star" by Smash Mouth, are also commercials. It never used to bother me when, say, Dr. John did a spot for a fast-food chain, but he was crooning, "Love that chicken from Popeye's," not devoting a brand-new song to hyping their Cajun spice. It just seems like, in 1999, another line was blurred between art and commerce, and no one seems to care (sniff).

That said, the year did produce some fine singles: Blink 182's "What's My Age Again," George Jones' "Choices," Everlast's "What It's Like," Macy Gray's "Do Something," Len's goofy "Steal My Sunshine" and Foo Fighters' "Learn to Fly." And, OK, two trend-driven songs, the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" and Kid Rock's "Bawitdaba" were also in heavy rotation in my brain. Hmm, and did I mention that Jennifer Lopez video? (DD)

I didn't expect much from Marshall Crenshaw's #447, which arrived nearly two decades after his best work. Bad prediction. One step out of a rut, Crenshaw has put his best foot forward. The album, produced with a homespun resonance, teems with some of the most hopeful, eloquent songs he's ever composed. That they're sometimes partitioned by twangy instrumentals takes nothing away from their impact. Most important, they should prove timeless and memorable through the years. In this overhyped, oversold millennium, I find myself drawn to music that behaves as though it's just another day. Or just another century. (JO)

Best evocation of Astral Weeks: "Pass in Time" from Central Reservation by Beth Orton (Arista). Vibes, double bass that sounds like a quadruple bass, acoustic guitar, dapples and swirls of a string section, the wild prayer of Orton's voice and the purest refrain: "Come now, come on now child, you're here just a while." (RK)

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