2003: Top Ten CDs Of 2003

by Duke Egbert

This was the toughest one of these I have ever done. There was a lot of good stuff sent to yours truly this year; so much so that I've arbitrarily handed out five honorable mention CDs as well that I want to make sure you hear about once more. Without further ado, here's Duke's Completely Opinionated Top Ten Of 2003:

10. That's How I Walk -- Stephen Fearing

Canadian folk-blues artist Fearing brought us a punchy, complex, and well-written CD in his Rounder Records debut. The singer-songwriter is not dead, folks.

9. Terra Firma -- Acoustic Syndicate

Steve "Big Daddy" McMurry and company delivered their North Carolina bluegrass-jam-rock in impeccable form this year. I still find myself humming "Vanity" whenever I see someone talking on a cell phone while driving an SUV.


8. Seal IV -- Seal

Seal cuts loose a little more with the best pop release this year, a funky, fun, and moving piece of R&B that has substance without being too heavy to listen to.


7. The Wind -- Warren Zevon

It was either going to fall flat or break your heart, and the CD Warren Zevon recorded while he was dying from cancer breaks your heart with its unflinching truth. Proving, once again, that only the good -- and the weird -- die young.


6. Stand -- The Kennedys

Their name is Kennedy, but they don't play Irish music. They have bright orange guitars, but they don't play folk. Pete and Maura Kennedy are the epitome of coffeehouse, open-mike eclecticism, with great lyrics and wonderful music. Infectious songs with killer vocals from Maura's Susannah-Hoffs-meets-Alison-Krauss voice.


5. Fate's Right Hand -- Rodney Crowell

There are too few artists who can quote Johnny Cash and Maria Rainer Rilke with equal grace and competence, and too few who would turn this unblinking a musical lens on themselves and reveal their inner self in music. Crowell has matured into one of the greatest singer-songwriters out there.


4. Root, Heart, And Crown -- Kristin Sweetland

"Blame Canada," indeed -- for having good music, apparently. Ontario's Sweetland weaves literary and life inspiration into a seamless, beautiful tapestry of powerful songwriting and performance. Not to be missed.


3. Different Stripe -- Cheryl Wheeler

Cheryl Wheeler is one of those artists that half of modern country music is either ripping off or paying homage to. Her own work is breathtakingly elegant, and this -- a compilation of her best songs -- is essential.

Now, I suspect you people are tired of ties in this list; especially towards the top. Nevertheless… you get another one this year. Sorry. Too close to call, yet too far apart…


1 (TIE). The May Queen --Heather Dale and Fiendish -- Phideaux

Good music is alive and well and being recorded in people's basements. Both of these are small indie releases, but there's where they diverge; on the one hand, we have Dale's powerful, elegant, and rich tale of Camelot's rise and fall, and on the other hand we have Phideaux's utterly unquantifiable but definitely brilliant tales of modern alienation. You should own both these CDs. If you do not own these two CDs, it is your loss. Distinctly.



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