Making great music after all these years

In Part 3 of 3 segments examining the music I enjoyed during the 2010-2019 decade, I take a look at a handful of albums written and recorded by vintage artists from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.  You’ve got to give these folks credit that they can still produce quality work some 30, 40 or 50 years after first breaking into the music business.


I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

Some of the biggest names in rock music history — those who came of age and put out their most iconic records in the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s — were still writing and releasing great new music in the 2010s.

Some of my readers are big fans of the great old stuff but very likely haven’t been paying attention to new album releases for many years.   If you liked Steely Dan or The Kinks, for instance, you should be thrilled to discover recent solo albums by Donald Fagen (“Sunken Condos”) and Ray Davies (“Americana”).  They’ve been out for six and three years, respectively, but few people know it.

Here at Hack’s Back Pages, we aim to correct that.  I, for one, think we should celebrate the stamina and the willingness these artists have shown to continue sharing their marvelous talents with us long after they’ve got anything left to prove.  I have the utmost respect for artists like Paul Simon or Paul McCartney who are still creating quality songs as they approach 80 years old!

There’s a Spotify list at the bottom.  Enjoy!

“Before This World,” James Taylor, 2015

815yadd7NjL._SY355_Taylor has had such a long, mostly successful career, from the over-the-top hits of his “Sweet Baby James” and “Mud Slide Slim” LPs in 1970-1971 through a mid-’80s slump to the Grammy-winning “New Moon Shine” and “Hourglass” in 1991 and 1997.  He seemed to run out of steam with his ho-hum 2002 release, “October Road,” which hinted that his songwriting muse had abandoned him.  Although he has maintained a presence on the road with his yearly tours, he released no new studio recordings for a dozen years.

Then, suddenly, “Before This World,” a welcome surprise in 2015.  Turns out he did have a case of writer’s block, so he sequestered himself in a waterfront apartment in Rhode Island for months and, bless him, gave birth to SO many entertaining songs here!  He can still come up with something whimsical like “Angels of Fenway,” a loving tribute to the favorite baseball team he and his grandmother once shared, and then turn on a dime and conjure up a harrowing piece such as “Far Afghanistan,” which examines the grim historical truths of that Godforsaken country:  “They fought against the Russians, they fought against the Brits, they fought old Alexander, talking ‘bout him ever since, and after 9/11, here comes your Uncle Sam, another painful lesson in the far Afghanistan…”

Mostly, the LP is full of the warm melodies and friendly tempos for which he has always been known — “Wild Mountain Thyme,” “Before This World,” “Watching Over Me” and the refreshingly gorgeous “You and I Again,” which examines the rekindling of a relationship that suffered a rocky period:  “You were tending your own fire, we were biding our time, both of us waiting for the moment when our backs would come together, you and I… And so although I know we are only small, in the time we have here, this time we have it all, you and I again, this time, this time…” 

“Thick as a Brick 2,” Ian Anderson, 2012

thick-as-a-brick-2-1Ian Anderson, now 72,  has been one of the most fascinating characters in rock.  Articulate storyteller.  Flute virtuoso.  Supreme showman.  And about as prolific a songwriter as you can name.  Between the Jethro Tull catalog and his solo work, he has personally written more than 250 songs on two dozen albums over a 50-year career.

In 2011-12, Anderson got the creative idea of revisiting his classic LP “Thick as a Brick” to explore what might have become of the fictional child poet Gerald Bostock who had been jokingly credited as having written the words to “Brick.”  In the lyrics to “Thick as a Brick 2,” Anderson suggests five possible roads the character might’ve traveled:  a greedy banker, a troubled homeless man, a soldier in the Afghan War, an evangelist preacher, or an ordinary small-town shopkeeper.  Anderson muses philosophically, “We all must wonder, now and then, if things had turned out – well – just plain different.  Chance path taken, page unturned…”

Musically, he uses the same song structure you’ll recall from the 1972 original — seven or eight major sections that, when laced together, constitute one hour-long song.  Some themes recur in different tempos and arrangements — the main rock theme heard in “Banker Bets, Banker Wins,” for instance, shows up again later in “Wooton Bassett Town.”  Anderson and his musically proficient sidemen have successfully collaborated 40 years later to provide a worthy sequel to the iconic “Brick.”

By all means, don’t sit this one out.

“Americana,” Ray Davies, 2017

Unknown-87The proud, prolific founder and chief songwriter of The Kinks is often regarded as a quintessentially British tunesmith, but he has also professed a keen interest in American music and culture, and has lived in the U.S. (New York and New Orleans) at various times.  In 2015, he published his memoirs, entitled “Americana:  The Kinks, The Road and The Perfect Riff,” which focused on his on-again, off-again relationship with the United States.  Two years later, he released “Americana,” an extraordinary album that continues the story set to music.

It had been nearly 20 years since the final Kinks album and the band’s breakup (which everyone saw coming, thanks to the Davies brothers’ notoriously tempestuous relationship).  Ray’s uncannily creative songwriting kept things afloat, and its quality didn’t waver much through a long career that enjoyed only occasional commercial success.

“Americana” bowled me over.  Davies can still write a great melody, and it’s a treat that, at 72, he can write enough of them to fill a whole album.  The instantly likable “Poetry” sounds like an outtake from the best Tom Petty album, while “The Great Highway” is more reminiscent of early ’80s Talking Heads.  The songs take us on a journey through distinctly American scenes:  “Rock ‘n Roll Cowboys,” “A Long Drive Home to Tarzana,” “Silent Movie,” “Wings of Fantasy.”  The title track does a beautiful job of showing his awe at the breadth and beauty of this country, despite its troubles:  “I wanna make my home where the buffalo roam, in that great panorama…  In the steps of the great pioneers, over air, sea and land, still I can’t understand how I’m gonna get there from here, wherever it goes, it’s gonna take me somewhere…” 

“So Beautiful or So What,” Paul Simon, 2011

sobeautiful_coverAlthough Paul Simon has been writing some of the most iconic songs of our time for more than 50 years, he is far from prolific.  There were only five Simon & Garfunkel albums, and since going solo 45 years ago, he has released only 12 studio LPs of new material.  Clearly, though, he has made up for in quality what he lacks in quantity.  “Still Crazy After All These Years,” “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon” and especially “Graceland” are among the finest albums of the past several decades.

But even in his 60s, Simon continued to create fantastic songs.  The inventive music and compelling lyrics found on his tantalizing 2011 release “So Beautiful or So What,” is a wonder to behold.  Once you get caught up in the rolling, hypnotic rhythm that drives the excellent title song, you just don’t want it to end.  I remember being knocked out by an amazing live performance of the song by Simon and his band on “Saturday Night Live” that year.  He has said his songwriting process always begins with a rhythm, usually something new or unusual that catches his attention.  Here’s solid proof of that.

Consider, also, the intriguing track “The Afterlife,” which ruminates on what actually happens when we reach the pearly gates.  Leave it to Simon to suggest that we’ll have to cope with paperwork and crowds, as if we’re at the motor vehicle bureau:  “After I died, and the make up had dried, I went back to my place, no moon that night, but a heavenly light shone on my face, still I thought it was odd there was no sign of God just to usher me in, then a voice from above, sugar coated with love, said, ‘Let us begin:  You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line…'”

“Standing in the Breach,” Jackson Browne, 2014

81q+HAmjLWL._SL1500_Browne at 71 is still very much a passionate man, a gifted songwriter and a pleasing singer and guitarist-pianist.  From 1972 to 1986, he cranked out seven excellent LPs full of memorable tunes like “Fountain of Sorrow,” “Running on Empty,” “The Pretender,” “These Days,” “Of Missing Persons,” “For Everyman,” “Lives in the Balance” and “Rock Me On the Water.”  He made his mark with deeply personal tunes about relationships but later evolved to comment on the perplexing human condition in the world arena.

He hasn’t stopped making albums in the years since his heyday — there were new ones in 1989, 1993, 1996, 2002 and 2008, some of them very good.  So it’s a shame they didn’t reach the level of awareness and sales success just because his core audience had moved on or retired.  Browne’s music has pretty much always been worth the time it takes to investigate it.

Six years ago, he came out with “Standing in the Breach,” a decidedly political record that forces us to look at some of the unpleasant truths in our world today (“they say nothing lasts forever, but all the plastic ever made is still here”), but it does so with a positivity that offers some degree of hope (“We’re a long way gone down this wild road we’re on, it’s going to take us where we’re bound, it’s just the long way around…”). Musically, it’s a really nice collection of melodies and some top-flight musicianship from the likes of Greg Leisz on guitar, Benmont Tench on keyboards and Bob Glaub on bass.  Browne’s vocals, I’m pleased to report, remain an important strength in these proceedings as well.

“Egypt Station,” Paul McCartney, 2017

220px-Cover_of_Paul_McCartney's_'Egypt_Station'_albumIf you’re like me, you’ve had a love-hate relationship with Paul McCartney’s solo career.  Thanks to consistently strong albums like “Ram,” “Band on the Run” and “Tug of War,” you’ve kept coming back to check out his latest release, only to be disappointed when there’s only two or three decent tracks to be found.  That’s happened way more often than not, partly, I think, because he got lazy as he went along, turning dozens of half-finished ideas into unsatisfying recordings.

Finally, though, in 2017, he took the time to assemble “Egypt Station,” a remarkably consistent collection of compelling songs.  The album is bursting with McCartneyesque melodies, alternately playful and deadly serious — “I Don’t Know,” “Hand in Hand” “Dominoes.”

There’s also a fun oddity provocatively titled “Fuh You” which tries to slide the f-bomb by, and “Back In Brazil” is a surprisingly successful electro-samba excursion.  “Do It Now” recalls 1982’s “Here Today,” his paean to former partner Lennon, only this time it’s an older-and-wiser Paul pontificating on the kind of emotional resolutions you seek when you realize how short life is.  “Despite Repeated Warnings” shows McCartney at his most politically charged, worrying about the apocalypse.

He’s now 77, and you have to wonder if he’s got any more in him after this.  In my opinion, someone needs to advise him that, regardless of the high quality of the songs here, his voice is a far cry from its earlier brilliance (see “Confidante” for clear evidence).

“Sunken Condos,” Donald Fagen, 2014

71jhWg27W8L._SL1425_Donald Fagen’s superb legacy as a co-founder of Steely Dan is well documented, but his solo LPs haven’t always received the same kind of attention.  He and his late partner Walter Becker had been quite prolific, churning out amazing new albums every year for most of the ’70s, but then Becker had some personal problems, and Fagen went out on his own, opting to put out new music at a much more leisurely pace. ” The Night Fly” in 1982 (mistaken by many as a new Dan LP) and the disappointing “Kamikiriad” in 1993 were his only output in the Eighties and Nineties.

The twosome reconvened under the Steely Dan banner in 2000 on “Two Against Nature,” which won an Album of the Year Grammy on the strength of songs like “Cousin Dupree” and “Jack of Speed.”  It was followed in 2003 by a lesser collection of tracks called “Everything Must Go,” which turned out to be the final entry in the Steely Dan repertoire.  Fagen had another solo flop in 2006 with the comparatively weak “Morph the Cat,” but he and Becker continued to maintain the sterling nature of the Steely Dan brand with their regular touring commitments almost every year in the 2010–2015 period.

Curiously, when assembling concert set lists during this period, Fagen largely ignored his excellent fourth solo album, “Sunken Condos,” a strong set of originals that deserves a place of prominence in the ranking of Fagen’s total musical output.  There are several of those trademark funky jazz tunes like “Miss Marlene,” “The New Breed” and “Slinky Thing,” with sexy guitar riffs and smart horn arrangements aplenty.  He sounds like he’s channeling Stevie Wonder in his galloping cover of the old Isaac Hayes chestnut “Out on the Ghetto,” and best of all, there’s “Weather in My Head,” a mid-tempo blues with marvelous words that use extreme weather events — typhoons, sea-quakes, floods — to describe the emotional damage when a relationship crumbles: “They may fix the weather in the world…but what’s to be done, Lord, ’bout the weather in my head?…”

“Hypnotic Eye,” Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, 2014

TPATHCover1Nearly 40 years after their powerful debut album, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers still had the chops, the savvy and the songs that resulted in “Hypnotic Eye,” an album every bit as good as his brilliant LPs from the ’80s and ’90s.  In fact, the bulk of the tracks are a welcome return to the styles he exhibited on those first few records.  “Red River” is reminiscent of the great anthem “Refugee,” and “Full Grown Boy” could be a sequel to “Breakdown.”

Other songs show a more mature Petty.  The six-minute closer, “Shadow People,” builds nicely from a haunting beginning to a fuller sound with lyrics that eerily foreshadow his death:  “Well I ain’t on the left, and I ain’t on the right, I ain’t even sure I got a dog in this fight, in my time of need, in my time of grief, I feel like a shadow’s falling over me…”

The album debuted at #1 upon its release, and while that achievement in the downloadable age doesn’t carry the same significance it once did, it nonetheless stands as proof that his music remained popular even as the business around him changed.  Listening to this album again this week was a wistful experience, for it drove home the reality that we won’t be hearing any more new music from this fine band.  Petty worked his ass off, giving his all, and the grueling pace and concurrent lifestyle took their toll.  We lost him earlier than we should have…but we’ll always have the albums, including his excellent final one.

“Songs of Innocence,” U2, 2014

9f26c213d063779ce64558305bb3c0e5Five years in gestation following 2009’s “No Line on the Horizon,” due to writer’s block and group dissension about the recordings, this compelling album was finally released in 2014 to rave reviews, despite an unfortunate backlash from their marketing move to automatically download it to every iPhone, whether consumers wanted it or not.

But this is U2, who have a formidable track record, so let’s listen to the music.  “Songs of Innocence” is actually Part One of a two-part outpouring of new songs that concluded two years later with the lesser “Songs of Experience.” Lead singer Bono had been uncertain about the band’s ability to stay relevant in changing times, but he needn’t have worried.  “Songs of Innocence” in particular is a fantastic LP, no doubt about that.  The songs focus on themes of childhood memories and loves and losses, growing up in Dublin in the 1970s, using lush rock arrangements to tell their stories on what The Edge calls “the most personal album we’ve ever written.”

Critics praised the album as “more compact and direct, eschewing the global scale of U2’s previous material for intimate and personal perspectives.”  The band pays tribute to early musical inspirations on some of the harder rocking tracks like “The Miracle of (Joey Ramone)” and “Volcano,” while other tunes like “California (There is No End to Love)” and “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” present U2 at their most melodic.  The best of the bunch is “Every Breaking Wave,” with its allusions to the need for intimacy and stability in a relentlessly challenging world:  “If you go your way and I go mine, are we so helpless against the tide, every dog on the street knows we’re in love with defeat, are we ready to be swept off our feet and stop chasing every breaking wave?…”

“Who,” The Who, 2019

The-Who-WHOIf you read Pete Townshend’s autobiography, “Who I Am,” you’ll learn that he struggled with self-esteem issues all his life, yet somehow managed to write hundreds of incredible songs, some of which dealt with the stuff that had troubled him — alcoholism, anger, fear, isolation.  From “My Generation” to “Behind Blue Eyes,” from “However Much I Booze” to “How Many Friends,” Townshend amassed a spectacular body of work with The Who and on his solo records from the mid-’60s into the 2000s.

The Who lost drummer Keith Moon early (1978), and then bassist John Entwistle in 2003, and Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey, despite their differences, have soldiered on through endless “farewell” tours in the years since, performing mostly their greatest hits.  Then, lo and behold, just a few months ago, we were treated to a new album simply titled “Who,” and holy smokes, what a huge treat to hear great new songs by Townshend at age 74!  The raised-fist glory of “Street Song,” “Hero Ground Zero” and “Rockin’ in Rage” harken back to the days of “Who’s Next” and “Quadrophenia,” while the melodic strains of “I’ll Be Back” and “She Rocked My World” remind me of the gems heard on Townshend’s dives into his home vault on the “Scoop” solo collections.

Through the years, Townshend has been a rather articulate philosopher who tries not to take himself too seriously.  He described the new album this way: “There’s dark ballads, heavy rock stuff, experimental electronica, sampled stuff and Who-ish tunes that begin with a guitar that goes yanga-dang.”  You can hear his matter-of-fact belief system on “All This Music Will Fade,” the album’s marvelous leadoff track and single, with lyrics that underscore the throwaway nature of pop music:  “I don’t care, I know you’re gonna hate this song, and that’s fair, we never really got along, it’s not new, not diverse, it won’t light up your parade, it’s just simple verse, all this music will fade…”


LPs you might’ve missed from the 2010s

In Part II of my look back at the music I dug during the past decade (2010-2019), I’m featuring great albums by bands and artists who got their start in the 1990s or 2000s.  Some were bands I never knew about until the 2010s while others simply knocked me out with new albums they released during the 2010s.


Portugal. The Man, “Woodstock,” 2017

My wife and daughter braved the crowds and dusty environment at the Coachella Festival a couple of years ago, and upon their return, the band they raved about most was this one.  They’ve been around since 2006 when they emerged from Portland, Oregon with their forcefully melodic brand of rock/pop.  They wanted the band to have a bigger-than-life feel but did not want to name it after one of their members. “A country is a group of people,” guitar player and vocalist John Gourley explained. “Portugal just ended up being the first country that came to mind, so the band’s name is ‘Portugal’ — the period makes that a statement.  ‘The Man’ means that it’s just one person (any one of the band members).”

Portugal._The_Man_Woodstock_album_coverWhew.  Okay then.  The six-person band struggled along, recording albums on small labels to little fanfare, and it wasn’t until they were signed by Atlantic in 2011 and released their sixth LP, “In the Mountain in the Cloud,” that the listening public began to take notice.  Their 2013 album “Evil Friends” made it to #28 on the Billboard 200 and #9 on the alt-rock charts.

My introduction to Portugal. The Man came with the remarkable LP “Woodstock,” whose opening track, “Number One,” includes samples of Richie Havens performing “Freedom/Motherless Child” at the 1969 festival.  Much more compelling are the successful singles, “Feel It Still” and “Live in the Moment,” and album tracks like “Rich Friends” and “So Young.”  Their percussion-heavy sound is bathed in synthesizers and guitars and a virtual sea of vocal harmonies.

Florence + The Machine, “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful,” 2015

Florence Welch and her long-time friend and collaborator Isabella “Machine” Summers got their start in England performing as Florence Robot/Isa Machine, a clunky name they eventually reduced to Florence + The Machine and won praise through exposure on “BBC Introducing” in 2008.  Their debut LP “Lungs” rocketed up the UK charts in 2009, became the best-selling album in England the following year, and reached #14 in the US.

Florence_and_the_Machine_-_How_Big_How_Blue_How_Beautiful_(Official_Album_Cover)I became aware of the group when I heard their excellent third album, “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful,” a #1 hit here in 2015, garnering five Grammy nominations.  It’s a wonderful mixture of classic soul and English art rock, carried by Summers’ keyboards, Robert Ackroyd’s guitar and Welch’s powerful voice.  She describes her career this way:  “I’m lucky that there seems to be a massive revival in female performers.  My icons were always women like Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks and Siouxsie Sioux. Who wouldn’t be proud to carry on that tradition?”

Just give a listen to the first three tracks, all co-written by Welch –“Ship to Wreck,” “What Kind of Man” and especially the bold title track, fortified with strings and a horn arrangement. Will Hermes of Rolling Stone wrote, “Welch isn’t the most rhythmic singer; she’s more about powerful held notes and dramatic articulation.  Her rock moves have sometimes felt fussy in the past, but here, she punches like a prizefighter.”  Amen.

Gotye, “Making Mirrors,” 2011

I was among the approximately one billion souls who loved Gotye’s quirky mega-hit “Somebody That I Used to Know” when it spent seven weeks at #1 in the spring of 2012.  “More!” I said, so I bought “Making Mirrors,” the album it came from.  I wholeheartedly agreed with Caitlin Welsh of The Music Network, who called it “just as rich, cheeky and Gotye_-_Making_Mirrorssteeped in pop history and musicality as its predecessor and as carefully constructed and addictive as its breakout single.”  There are at least another half-dozen tracks that are every bit as appealing:  “I Feel Better,” “Eyes Wide Open,” “State of the Art,” “Easy Way Out,” “Giving Me a Chance,” “Bronte.”

With that impressive track record,  I went back and discovered the album’s worthy predecessor, “Like Drawing Blood,” written and recorded in 2004-05 and released in Australia in 2006 when Gotye was still Wouter “Wally” DeBacker performing in The Basics, a partnership with singer-songwriter Kris Schroeder.  (FYI:  The Dutch name Wouter translates into French as Gaultier, which he eventually chose to respell as Gotye and use as his stage name.)  “Hearts a Mess,” the single from “Like Drawing Blood,” reached #8 in Australia that year.

So where has he been since then?  He disappointed his fans in a 2014 interview when he announced, “There will be no new Gotye music.”  Instead, he has been devoting his time and energy to producing struggling young Australian artists and working with various eco-minded foundations there.  He also befriended electronic music pioneer Jean-Jacques Perrey and worked to preserve his recorded legacy before Perry’s death in 2016.

Brandi Carlile, “By the Way, I Forgive You,” 2018

The emergence of Carlile, and the evolution of her career from 2005 onward without my noticing it, is an indictment of how out of touch I was regarding new artists in the 2000s.  She is right up my alley — a talented and sensitive songwriter with an outstanding voice.  How did I not pay attention?

In any event, I’ve certainly woken up now, thanks to my daughters’ recommendation last year and, more convincingly, her performance of her incredible song “The Joke” at the grammy2Grammy Awards ceremony in February 2019.  Boy, did she ever blow the roof off the place that night!

I started exploring her music via her most recent album, “By the Way, I Forgive You,” which includes not only “The Joke” but also gorgeous melodies like “Party of One” and “Most of All.”  She’s been writing and recording music for 15 years now, proving herself adept at folk, country, rock, you name it.

Most recently, she has collaborated with Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires in a project they call The Highwomen, and that’s another fine album I recommend.  Most remarkably a few months ago, she aced a Los Angeles performance of  Joni Mitchell’s 1974 masterpiece LP “Court and Spark” in its entirety, with Joni in attendance (talk about pressure!).  You can find this on YouTube.

Radiohead, “A Moon Shaped Pool,” 2015

Named after a track on an old Talking Heads album, Radiohead emerged from England in the mid-1990s with songs like “Creep” and the wonderfully eclectic 1995 LP “The Bends,” featuring great tracks such as “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees.”  Lead singer-songwriter Thom Yorke soon took the band down a denser, more electronic road in 1997 with “OK Computer,” with lyrics full of social alienation and emotional isolation.  The darker mood struck a nerve with fan bases in both the UK and US, and critics generally agreed that the album was an experimental landmark with far-reaching impact and importance.

58a7088e5b0786939b439e06a2d08cf9More extreme experimentation (2000’s “Kid A”) and Pink Floyd-like mood music (2003’s “Hail to the Thief,” 2007’s “In Rainbows”) followed as the band continued to sell well and garnered multiple Grammy nominations in alt-rock categories.  Full disclosure:  Throughout this period, I had a hard time relating to much of Radiohead’s vibe.  I guess I wasn’t interested in searching the musical horizons they were reaching for.

Funny thing, though — by 2016, when they returned from a five-year hiatus with “A Moon Shaped Pool,” I was in a more receptive mood, and found the songs far more accessible and intriguing.  “Identikit,” “Decks Dark,” “The Numbers,” “Present Tense” and others make for a great listening experience.  Critics called it “brooding, symphonic, poignant, and well worth the wait…” and labeled it “their most gorgeous album, a stunning triumph.”  Even if, like me, you’ve been indifferent or antagonistic to Radiohead’s catalog, I urge you to check out “A Moon Shaped Pool.”  Fine stuff indeed.

Sheryl Crow, “Threads,” 2019

Crow has been around seemingly forever, or at least since her hugely popular 1993 debut, “Tuesday Night Music Club,” with its big single “All I Wanna Do.”  Her music — a dizzying repertoire of rock, blues, alt rock, country and folk — has continued to sell millions, perform high on the charts and bring in scads of awards and nominations on all the awards shows.  But truth be told, I’ve remained strangely indifferent to her work. R-14067175-1567251475-2353-1.jpegHer voice, for the most part, doesn’t thrill me, although there have been individual album tracks I’ve liked — “I Know Why” and “Always on Your Side” from her “Wildflower” album and “My Favorite Mistake” from “The Globe Sessions” LP are three examples.

After finally seeing her perform in concert at a music festival in Ohio last summer, I became ready to soften my view and concede that she’s better than I’d been willing to acknowledge.  And just in time, too, because right after that, Crow released what may be her best album:  “Threads,” a 17-song extravaganza on which she collaborates with an amazing cross section of artists.  She does one of those time-travel hookups with the late Johnny Cash, where she superimposes her vocals onto his 2010 cover of her old tune “Redemption Day.”  She rocks out with Joe Walsh on their co-write, “Still the Good Old Days.”  She does a duet with Keith Richards on the 1994 Stones tune “The Worst.”  She harmonizes with everyone from Emmylou Harris to James Taylor, from Stevie Nicks to Maren Morris, from Chris Stapleton to Willie Nelson.  I think my favorite may be her sexy groove with Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples on “Live Wire.”

Arcade Fire, “The Suburbs,” 2010

They’ve been labeled indie rock, and art rock and dance rock, and baroque pop.  Whatever, Arcade Fire has been hitting my hot buttons ever since I turned on to them with their 2008 album “Neon Bible.”  Songs like “Keep the Car Running” and “Intervention” with their Springsteen-like vocals and energy made them a big favorite around that time.

Arcade_Fire_-_The_SuburbsBut it was their third LP, 2010’s “The Suburbs,” that pushed them into my Top Albums of the Decade list.  Everything about this album grabs me and doesn’t let go — the vocals of founder Win Butler and his wife Règine Chassagne; the incredible instrumental interplay of Butler, brother Will Butler and Richard Reed Parry on guitars and keyboards; and most of all, the captivating songs themselves.  “Deep Blue,” “Ready to Start,” “Suburban War,” “Modern Man” and especially “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” and the title song are just fabulous.  No wonder the album won dozens of accolades, including the 2010 Album of the Year Grammy.

Since then, Arcade Fire have released two more albums that rival “The Suburbs” in their appeal, and although “Reflektor” (2013) and “Everything Now” (2017) didn’t get near the commercial or critical success of their predecessor, I’m a huge fan of both records.  If you’re not hip to these guys, I suggest you turn your attention to their catalog right away.