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The music to remember

December 16, 2007|ANN POWERS

In October, I published a list of what I thought most other critics would put on their 2007 Top 10s. My predictions are panning out, though I should have ranked LCD Soundsystem higher and recognized that few would grasp that Rihanna's more than a singles artist. Understandably, some readers thought that list represented my own faves. Here's the real rundown of what made me happiest this year:

Prince at the Roosevelt: It cost your monthly mortgage to get into the Purple One's exclusive run at the Hollywood hotel, and it was worth it. He was relaxed, virtuosic, hilarious and unmatchably cool.

So Much Soul: Amy Winehouse hogged the spotlight, but soulful music was everywhere this year. Sharon Jones, Bettye LaVette and Mavis Staples showed that older really can be wiser; superwoman Alicia Keys and suave boys such as Ne-Yo and the Dream led the younger set toward new heights.

Stagecoach: Year 1 for the country Coachella offered a dazzling array of acts, including bluegrass greats, rocker chicks and (naturally) Willie Nelson. Every stage was stellar, and the manageable crowds made it easy to jump around. Will it ever be this good again?

Booty-Shaking Brainiacs: Indie-rock nerds and club kids completed their merger. Electro-pop geeks Hot Chip slayed at Coachella, M.I.A. and LCD Soundsystem outdid themselves, and Kanye West's "Stronger" reinserted Daft Punk's cartoon disco into everyone's hard drive.

"What Hurts the Most," sung by Jeffrey Steele at the Key Club back in February. I always thought the Rascal Flatts hit co-penned by this Sunset Strip rocker turned Nashvillean was pretty cheesy. But Steele's heartbreaking rendition at a songwriter's panel days after his teenage son's accidental death proved what millions of Flatts fans already knew: Sometimes a cheesy pop song is the sweetest salve.

Ladies of the (Silver) Lake: Somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Mia Doi Todd, L.A. became the most fruitful place on Earth to be a female singer-songwriter. Releases from pals Eleni Mandell, Becky Stark (of Lavender Diamond) and Inara George (with the Bird and the Bee) were all stunners. And that's just the tip of the eyeliner.

"I'm Not There": Trickster auteur Todd Haynes dived headfirst into the Dylanesque to make this not-a-biopic and produced a music nerd's dream. Part interactive trivia game, part tragic love story, part weird American myth, it's a beautiful, curly headed film.

Rihanna, "Umbrella": Her summer smash is delicious Caribbean hip-hop soul with the ('ella, 'ella, 'ella) hook of the year. Best is the song's compassion, something rarely expressed in the sex-and-power games of contemporary R&B.

The Radiohead Revolution: It didn't change everything, but the U-Price-It download of "In Rainbows," the latest album from these great art-rockers, was a brave display of faith and optimism.

Oh, and some favorite musical product, in no particular order: Santogold, "Creator"; Of Montreal, "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?"; PJ Harvey, "White Chalk"; Patty Griffin, "Children Running Through"; Lil' Wayne, "Da Drought 3" mix tape; Bloc Party, "A Weekend in the City"; Herbie Hancock, "River: The Joni Letters"; Robin Thicke, "Lost Without U"; Betty Davis, "Betty Davis" and "They Say I'm Different" reissues; Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, "Falling Slowly."

The worst

Britney's meltdown, obviously. Also, Kelly Clarkson's struggle to claim her voice left everyone involved looking either cold or foolish. And the otherwise admirable Avril Lavigne offered up "Girlfriend" -- a despicable slice of competitive female nastiness that rewrites "girl power" as a game of "get the boy."


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