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Judgment Day

Backbeat contributors offer up their favorite recordings of 1999.

1999 may not have produced the one great record that will forever define the last year of the century, but it did manage to offer a substantial slew of good-to-great ones in every genre. And with all of the major-label conglomerations and roster-slimming seen in the past twelve months, we have to wonder how much great music never even saw the light of the CD press. So while sadly limited to the world of existent recordings, we asked a group of Westword music writers to share some thoughts on their favorite releases of the year, with a heavy emphasis on the word "favorite." In a year where so many artists from so many different genres made so many records, endeavoring to produce one list of the ten best seemed about as worthwhile an activity as polishing a turd. How do you pick one best between the futuristic eclecticism of, say, Cibo Matto and the rootsy brilliance of the Latin Playboys? And if the current American musical landscape could be defined in terms of human physiology, it has surely succumbed to a happy case of sonic schizophrenia -- with hip-hop and R&B continuing to make deep inroads into the stereos and heads of former rock loyalists, rock artists attempting to kick some flava into their own sound, and pop artists embellishing themes of the past with technology of the future. The cross-genre culture jamming certainly makes for some exciting and complex recordings -- but as far as our task here is concerned, it also complicates things. So consider the following a list of friendly suggestions, an incomplete but diverse glance at highlights from an eclectic year in music.

BLUES

Ruth Brown
A Good Day for the Blues
(Bullseye)

Back in the '50s, when Brown (nicknamed "Miss Rhythm") was at her popularity zenith, Atlantic Records was known as "the House that Ruth built." She's a septuagenarian now, and her tone is rougher and less precise than it was. But she makes up for that with passion and savvy, and this disc's live-in-the-studio production brings out the sass in her. -- Michael Roberts

Corey Harris
Greens From the Garden
(Alligator)

A onetime Denverite, Harris remains the most intriguing young bluesman out there -- capable of merging a love for the genre's traditions with a contemporaneity of thought and approach that's unparalleled. For proof, check out "Basehead," a raucous workout that rips into the crack lifestyle without once engaging in finger-wagging. -- Roberts

Houndog
Houndog
(Legacy/Columbia)

Ex-Canned Heat member Mike Halby dominates this rough-hewn project with all the baritone of a hung-over grizzly bear. A gritty partnership with core Los Lobos member David Hidalgo results in a trippy Delta mudslide down Howlin' Wolf's back forty. Pure, undistilled and gut-driven, Houndog choogles along masterfully. -- John La Briola

Paul Jones
Pucker Up Buttercup
(Fat Possum)

Jones isn't one to prettify the blues: The ingredients that make up his songs include the drum playing of a guy named Pickle, Jones's coarse, throaty vocals, his serrated guitar, and that's about it. His songwriting is undisciplined -- "Goin' Back Home" seems to start in the middle and end at the beginning -- but the music's wildness and unpredictability is precisely why it works. -- Roberts

Big Bill Morganfield
Rising Son
(Blind Pig)

Yeah, you guessed it: Big Bill is the offspring of McKinley Morganfield, aka Muddy Waters. But like Shemekia Copeland, another spawn of blues royalty, the younger Morganfield has something to offer -- namely, a vocal approach that owes as much to Screamin' Jay Hawkins as it does to his papa. The more unhinged he gets, the better he sounds. -- Roberts

Asie Payton
Worried
(Fat Possum)

The two recording sessions Payton conducted for Fat Possum earlier this decade produced what were originally seen as demos. But when Payton died in 1997, label heads decided the tracks needed to be heard. Good call. Payton's work, whether it's remixed or unadulterated, is lighter and more soulful than most of the stuff on this imprint, but every bit as genuine. -- Roberts

COLLECTIONS Barry Adamson
The Murky World of Barry Adamson
(Mute)

Adamson, who first came to the public's attention as a member of Magazine and Nick Cave's Bad Seeds, writes soundtrack music for movies that exist (like David Lynch's Lost Highway), as well as flicks of his own imagining. Murky rounds up twelve of his finest quasi-noir excursions, including his fabulous take on "The Man With the Golden Arm" and "007, A Fantasy Bond Theme," which relocates the infamous secret agent to a very different milieu. -- Roberts

The Clash
From Here to Eternity
(Columbia)

Pub-rock perfection captured brilliantly in explosive arena settings, this live throwback seems to support an ultra-hyped ad campaign that once described the Clash to America: "The Only Band That Matters." Where other punk rockers rarely conceived of a world beyond clubland London, the Clash took on the entire world, attacking everything from record-company politics to U.S. foreign policy. Absorbing every musical style from rockabilly and reggae to rap and disco, theirs wasn't so much an angry sound as a philosophy -- one that no other punk outfit has ever come within spitting distance of. -- La Briola

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