Granted, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens are pretty cool, but when I start listing my favorite things from the year that's about to end, I'm thinking more about vinyl, CDs and MP3s. These are a few of my favorite things that were released this year (in alphabetical order by artist last name, so that it doesn't appear that some are more favorite than others.)
David Bowie - 'The Next Day'
Prior to its release in March of this year, David Bowie's 26th studio album, The Next Day was one of the recording industry's best kept secrets. Contrary to the usual formula, the album's existence wasn't announced until after it had been written, produced and recorded. Of course, nobody has ever accused Bowie of embracing the usual.
Admittedly, part of the attraction of the album was that it had been so long since Bowie had released one -- Reality in 2003. Like all of Bowie's music, The Next Day makes you stop and think, but unlike much of Bowie's work, it makes you think of mostly pleasant, upbeat things. He made a successful career out of constantly reinventing himself, in music style and public persona. This album shows he is a fair hand at staging comebacks.
Eric Burdon - 'Til Your River Runs Dry'
It was nearly 50 years ago that Eric Burdon and The Animals roade the crest of the British Invasion into the American consciousness with songs like "The House of the Rising Sun," "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" and "See See Rider." With this year's release of Til Your River Runs Dry, Burdon's solo studio album catalog grew to eight.
Burdon went back to basics with this album, treating us to some enthusiastic blues rock. If you didn't know who he was, heard "House of the Rising Sun" then listened to this album, you wouldn't think it was the same guy. That's not a knock, it's just the natural difference in the voices of the 23 year old Burdon and the 71 year old Burdon. He still uses that voice well, punching in the right places, and seemingly having no trouble hitting the high notes. Above all, you can just tell that the man is having fun.
Deep Purple - 'Now What ?!'
Deep Purple had a lot of fun teasing us about their new album, not letting on what the title would be for quite a while after announcing that it was on the way. Now What?! was the 19th DP studio release.
This album is a favorite not because it broke new ground, but because it didn't. It was nothing fancy or complicated, and it delivered some powerful music. In other words, it sounded like DP have always sounded: diverse in styles, variously progressive, hard rock, soothing orchestral. The best thing about the Deep Purple of 2013 is that over the years, other than personnel, they haven't changed a thing.
Elton John - 'The Diving Board'
"I needed to strip away the excesses and get back to the core of what I do as an artist," Elton John said in the album release announcement. There were 19 new John/Bernie Taupin compositions, each as well constructed as anything the two produced when they first started collaborating in 1967.
After 31 studio albums and more than 40 years of live performances, Sir Elton has nothing left to prove, and on this album he seems happy to be back to the stripped down (piano, bass, drums -- emphasis on piano) sounds he and lyricist Taupin were making back in the early years. Add T Bone Burnett's consummate producing skills, and the fact that the artist doesn't have to worry about radio airplay and album sales, and you have a good dose of pleasant nostalgia, and a renewed respect for the talents of all involved.
Paul McCartney - 'New'
"The record is very varied," said Paul McCartney of his 16th solo album, New. Also varied were the album's producers -- four of them in all. Most of the tracks were produced by Giles Martin, son of George Martin, best known as producer of most of The Beatles' albums.
With 16 solo (and Wings) albums on top of The Beatles catalog, there's really nothing standing in the way of Macca doing things his own way. Hence, New is part psych rock, part Southern rock, part garage band, part ballad. McCartney doesn't feel the urge to ruminate and reminisce (having done that on his last two albums) and one of the best things about this one is the fact that at 71 (albeit a boyish 71) he is still building on the past, not repeating it.