On the Records

Backbeat contributors reflect on the releases that helped them survive the year 2000.

Looking back on it now, 2000 was kind of a letdown. Despite numerous predictions to the contrary, there weren't any widespread Y2K-related computer failures, a rare planetary alignment on May 5 didn't have any perceptible impact on Earth, and a rash of Internet-based music sites didn't dismantle the record industry as we know it. The latter, of course, is both good and bad news. While the big money music machine continued churning out teen pop and derivative radio pap (hey, something's gotta fill the space between car-stereo commercials), interesting artists of every style also managed to fight the tide of mediocrity and produce some fine recordings.

This year, like last, we invited Westword music writers to share thoughts on some of the year's most notable offerings. Considering the subjective nature of such an assignment, we asked them to think not in strict "Top Ten" terms, but to help us compile a thorough and thought-provoking guide to the year in music. Separated by categories of genre and medium -- Blues, Collections, Compilations, Country/ Roots, Electronic/Dance, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Miscellaneous, Pop, Punk/Hardcore, R&B, Rock/ Indie, World -- we've included listings from artists both familiar and obscure, national and local. Of course, by the time you're done reading this, it'll be time to start all over again. We predict more good music is on the way, along with, of course, a few minor catastrophes.

BLUES R.L. Burnside

Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down

(Fat Possum)

Two years back, Burnside dropped Come On In, a disc that juxtaposed his blues primitivism with the modern studio anarchy of Alec Empire and Tom Rothrock in a manner that made purists howl. Heaven, too, has its contemporary intrusions, including scratching by somebody dubbed DJ Pete B. But this time around, the production touch is lighter, allowing Burnside's gutbucket laments to come through loud and clear. -- Michael Roberts

T-Model Ford

She Ain't None of Your'n

(Epitaph)

As torch-bearers of modern-day, real-deal blues go, this 76-year-old ex-con is an unlikely hero. But Ford's latest is the year's spookiest plateful of Mississippi mud, caveman blues as bloody as the delicacies he honors in "Chicken Head Man." Primal, untrained and overdriven, it's gristly stuff that satisfies. For a guy with only one testicle (the other one was crushed in his youth by an abusive father), Ford has more balls than Wilson and Spalding, Clapton and Cray. -- Marty JonesCorey Harris and Henry Butler

Vü-Dü Menz

(Alligator)

The pairing of onetime Denverite Harris, the most talented of today's young acoustic bluesmen, and Butler, a New Orleans veteran who once rubbed shoulders with James Booker, could have been overly polite -- an example of dues-paying that seemed better on paper than on disc, as was the case with the Eric Clapton-B.B. King collaboration Riding With the King. But that's not the way it worked out, and thank goodness. Harris and Butler have at it without apparent regard to age or reputation, bringing out the best in each other. -- Roberts

Alvin Youngblood Hart

Start With the Soul

(Hannibal)

Instead of merely regurgitating blues cliches, as do far too many of his peers, Hart insists upon goading the style in search of inspiration. On Soul, he offers up a typically fine batch of compositions that he rips through without regard to classifications, using all the tools at his disposal, not the least of which are his vocals, his guitar and a broken Casio. Of such things is modern blues made. -- Roberts

Dr. John

Duke Elegant

(Blue Note)

This disc validates both Dr. John's ability and the durability of Duke Ellington's music. Giving classic Duke tunes a laid-back, funky New Orleans treatment sounds like both a simple concept and a recipe for disaster. Dr. John and his band avoid the pitfalls inherent in tackling such a project. They don't trivialize or condescend to the material, dumb down the rhythms or manhandle the melodies. Best, they heed the grace with which Ellington built improvisational segments into many of the tunes. Elegant indeed, and also lots of fun. -- Patrick Brown

Wilie King

Freedom Creek

(Rooster Blues)

There was a time when the blues addressed social concerns, but it seems like an eon ago; now, for the most part, artists working in the idiom tend to address personal politics, not the global kind. Praise be, then, for King, who uses blues of the most serrated sort to attack injustices of every ilk on trenchant tunes such as "Uncle Tom," "Clean Up the Ghetto," "The Sell-Out" and a song with an especially appropriate title: "Stand Up and Speak the Truth." -- Roberts

King Ernest

Blues Got Soul

(Fat Possum)

Everyone knows that misfortune and misery are prime ingredients of the blues, but too often, lasciviousness is left out of the recipe. King Ernest Baker, who died in March at the age of 61, remedied that by concentrating on the sexy, sleazy side of the music. He transformed the majority of these ten tunes into hip-grinding come-ons, whether their lyrics specifically touched upon such topics or not. -- RobertsPaul Thorn

Ain't Love Strange

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