I tried, over the Christmas period, to block out the Middle Eastern situation, and indeed the whole world outside the cocoon of my extended family. I also managed to avoid TV almost completely (apart from a bit of Wallace and Gromit). My media highlight of the seasonal period was the extracts of Alistair Cooke's Letters from America that Radio 4 was featuring. I feel overwhelming nostalgia when I hear his warm, mid-Atlantic voice: my parents listened to him when I was a kid, and he reminds me of my late grandfather, both for the way you can hear the h in words like "where" and "overwhelming" and for the lucidity of expression.
I had some nice presents, with a bit of a Yiddish theme: the final (Ghanian!) album by the king of Yiddish song, Leo Fuld; a book of beautiful poems by Emmanuel Litvinov; a wonderful French collection of postcards of Yiddishland; Jonathan Lethem's awesome superhero comic Omega The Unknown; the Seasick Steve album (uneven, but growing on me); a collaboration between Cuba's heavenly Omara Portuondo and Brazil's divine Maria Bethânia.
2008 was a quite good year for music - although a bad year in terms of great musicians dying. Looking at my Windows Media Player library, I only have 3 tracks rated five stars with release dates in 2008. They are:
- Bruce Springsteen "I'm On Fire (Cousin Cole's Bad Desire Mix)" (Download at Planet SHHH or elsewhere on the interweb)
- Cat Power "She's Got You" from the deluxe edition of Jukebox - a song by Hank Cochran whose Patsy Cline version is one of my favourites
- Glyn “Bigga” Bush as Lightning Head "AfroSpot" from the Afrobeat 12" EP (listen in the Giant Step jukebox)
- Adele's 19 was overrated, but she's sort of from South London and it had a couple of stand-out tracks, including "Hometown Glory" and "Make You Feel My Love".
- Sticking with white girl soul, the Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip mix of Amy Winehouse's "No Good": you don't realise it's a remix, until Scroobius' rap kicks in at about 2 minutes. I think I stole this from Music Like Dirt.
- Andrew Bird's freaky indie-chamber-blues cover of "Jesus Gonna Make My Dyin' Bed" (see Fong/SMM/CBC for details).
- Loads of great remixes of classic soul and funk, including the Bobby LaBeat Re-work of Archie Bell's "Tighten Up", the Shoes re-edit of Bill Withers' "No Hands, Gramma", Santogold's remix of Aretha Franklin's "Save Me", Kenny Dope's remix of James Brown's "There Was a Time".
- Lots of great remixes of classic rock tracks, such as the Springsteen one above, and Canned Heat "Wanda Road Again" (Wade Nichols Edit).
- Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See that my grave is kept clean" as performed in a funky gospel fashion by the god-like BB King on his new One Kind Favor. B.B. King was one of the first great artists I saw live. I saw him twice when he was merely in his 60s and touring 300 days a year. He's now well over 80 and his new album is a knock-out.
- Bar Kokhba Sextet "Sother" from Bar Kokhba plays Lucifer: Book of Angels Volume 10 on Tzadik. Cyro Baptista, Greg Cohen, Marc Ribot and others play John Zorn.
- Obama election year covers of Sam Cooke's beautiful "A Change Is Gonna Come" by Ben Sollee and Chango Malo.
- Billy Bragg "The Beach is Free (Solo Version)" from Mr. Love And Justice. A socialist anthem for the 21st century.
- Calexico "Victor Jara's Hands" from Carried To Dust. A solidly good album, with a couple of highlights. Mariachi, spaghetti western, ska, atmosphere, emotion, dust.
- Calle 13 "La Perla" (ft. La Chilinga & Ruben Blades) from Los De Atrás Vienen Conmigo. 2008 was a good year for this sort of mutant electronic music from the southern hemisphere, a category I call "global crunk" in my Media Player library.
- Erik Byrd's tribute to Ray Charles "I've Got News for You" on Brother Ray. Bluesy, sexy, cool.
- Esau Mwamwaya, Santogold, M.I.A & Radioclit "Get it up". Also falls into the "global crunk" category, but is pretty deep and intense.
- The Felice Brothers "Whiskey in my Whiskey" off their rather uneven eponymous Americana album, overly loved by the mp3 blogosphere.
I'm going to stop there, even though I'm only up to F, as I've got better things to do!