2006: The Year in Music

Week of December 28, 2006

It was the year of self-promotion. Well, every year in hip-hop is the year of self-promotion, but it isn't enough anymore to just have a hard-repping street team and your name in ice. Case in point is local rhymer-made-good Chingy, whose third album, Hoodstar, was a winning collection that went Top 10 but got short shrift from the critics — as much as anything, it seemed, because he was no longer the new kid under the Arch.

No matter. Chingy smartly tapped into one of the hip-hop industry's biggest growth areas: the ringtone. He reportedly recorded 123 different ringtone versions of Hoodstar's third single, "Dem Jeans," subbing in a different girl's name in each version. (Among the names Chingy chose: Beyonce, Oprah, Mariah, Jalisa, LeToya and Lakeshia. Just so you know.)

"Dem Jeans" might have stalled outside the Top 40, but Chingy's personal touch has opened up a significant new market to his music. Sprint and Nextel customers can download the special ringtones, and Chingy videos are available to Sprint TV customers. You can also download Hoodstar via Sprint's music store. Now that's synchronicity — the kind you can bet other hip-hop artists will be imitating in 2007.

Celtic Frost would prefer a Black Christmas.
Rob levin
Celtic Frost would prefer a Black Christmas.
Joanna Newsom
Paul O'Valle
Joanna Newsom

Yes, St. Louis' hip-hop elite certainly has self-promotion down pat. Just ask Jibbs his favorite hip-hop trend of '06, and he barely blinks before answering.

"I would definitely say that the hottest trend," he offers, starting to chuckle, "was people that got their chains hangin' low."

Land of SongFusion
Don't call these here platters alt-country

Alternative country is dead, and its DNA can't be replicated, no matter how hard the outlaw clones and hokey clowns may try. But its genetic code is nothing if not recombinant. Fusions of country, blues, soul and rock & roll can still sound good, still speak to this very moment — especially if the artists find songs to render their stories and characters worth the singing. These ten do.

Bob Dylan, Modern Times (Columbia): The bad news is that the completion of the old man's supposed trilogy never rocks — and the meanest blues numbers, "Rollin and Tumblin'" and "The Levee's Gonna Break," nearly drag. But oh, how Times rolls. If Dylan has his way, the soundtrack to the apocalypse will be '40s-era pop courtesy of Bessie Smith and Bing Crosby. He's shuffling and swinging into the end times — his or ours, what's the difference? — with wordplay as funny, slick and discomforting as the diatribes of a reactionary, misogynist, genius pimp-daddy. Fitting, because that's pretty much what he is.

Cat Power, The Greatest (Matador): Chan Marshall's guileless persona and naked sound have made her the madonna of indie malaise. Her music, though, has rarely equaled the radiance of her lamp-lit voice and lyrics. Now it has, with more than a little help from Hi Records session masters, some expansive string arrangements and an astonishing rendering of "Moon River." None of her confessional contemporaries have made an album like this.

Tom Waits, Orphans (Anti-): What no one is saying about this three-CD set is how much protest it contains. From the not-really-ironic stomp of "Lie to Me," to Brecht's black joke about bestial acts, to the vicious mating practices of beetles, to the funereal waltzes, to the CNN-cowrite "Road to Peace," to being "lost at the bottom of the world," Orphans is a rockabilly, jazz and country-blues soundtrack to morning in America — where unseen torture, unshown show trials and bloody permanent wars are still regnant.

The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America (Vagrant): Take away Craig Finn's vocals and the Hold Steady sound about as country as Big & Rich — which is to say they take what they need from Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen and AC/DC, add a few rootsy gestures like pedal steel and finger-picked acoustic and harmonica, and throw in some showbiz duets and strut. Of course, take away Craig Finn's vocals and the Brooklyn band ceases to exist. He's not a singer; he's an anchorman wired on the same stream of pills, poetry and hormonal eruption — which, in case you'd forgotten, are still the headlines American teenagers make every day.

Memory Band, Apron Strings (DiCristina): Not weird enough for the freak-folkies, not jazzy enough for the math-grassers, not Americana enough for No Depression, the Memory Band is talented enough to merit comparisons to its primary influence: Fairport Convention. This obscure London quintet disputes the Christian right's myths of re-virgin rebirths and courtly love without sin. Violin player Jennymay Logan picks up where Richard Thompson's folk modernism leaves off; singer Nancy Wallace feels Sandy Denny's mystical loneliness; and a beautiful darkness is just on the other side of the hedgerow, in suburbia as in the verdant glen.

Destroyer, Destroyer's Rubies (Merge): The premature and short-lived hype for Dan Bejar's best record (not counting his work with the New Pornographers) illustrates the abject fickleness of indiedom. Released in early 2006, it has largely faded from critical memory, in part because its sound — like an improvisational homage to Van Morrison's country-rock period — insinuates rather than pounds. Bejar's self-referential romanticism, beatnik surrealism, and yelping and cooing voice flourish within the bright stream of guitar, trumpet, vibes, and steady-as-starlight rhythms. The entire album sounds like consolation for someone who thinks and feels too much.

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