2002: Best Of

by Jason Warburg

It's hard to call 2002 a great year for music when we had no new music all year from bands ranging from old warhorses U2 to exciting newcomer Michelle Branch, and major talents like The Jayhawks and Shawn Mullins found themselves cut loose by their labels. And the best thing I can say about the whole boy-band-Britney-American Idol circus is that it appears the record-buying public may finally (praise the god of your choice) be losing its taste for pre-packaged "singers" with better asses than voices. Nonetheless, it was a solid, perhaps even promising year, especially for female artists. Since I only ultimately selected six albums, though, I opted to avoid the "Top Ten" format and instead award "Best of Show" in six individual categories. And the winners are...

Best '90s Flashback

Gin Blossoms -- New Miserable Experience (Deluxe Edition)

Sure, "best of " lists don't usually include compilations or reissues, but there is so much that's new and exciting about this particular one, it's hard to pass it by. A fabulous remix of one of the milestone albums of the early '90s alt.rock explosion, accompanied by an outstanding 70-minute second disc brimming with rarities, outtakes and live tracks.

Best Evidence The Blues Are Alive And Well

Susan Tedeschi -- Wait For Me

You don't expect the blues album of the year to come from a woman who looks like a hipper-than-average soccer mom. But that's exactly what you got this year from increasingly poorly-kept secret Susan Tedeschi, who sings her considerable heart out on this disc, wrapping her Bonnie Raitt-ish voice around an eleven-song set that packs more sincerity than a convention center full of label executives.

Best Homebrew

Dixie Chicks -- Home

A sassy, soaring, back-porch rave-up of a disc that cross-breeds the Chicks' bluegrass roots with their gift for writing songs that blur the borders between country, pop and rock. Foot-tapping stuff that brims with gorgeous harmonies and fabulous picking, it's quite simply the best thing they've ever done.

Best Freeway Sing-along Soundtrack

Sheryl Crow -- C'mon C'mon

The most successful female singer-songwriter of her generation produced her most frankly commercial album here without compromising the quality of the songs in the least. It's a summertime soundtrack filled with fast cars, brawny guitars and brilliant melodies whose sing-along potential ranks up there with 1978's The Best of the Steve Miller Band.

Best Atticus Finch Reference In A Rock Song

Josh Joplin Group -- The Future That Was

Moody, sardonic and way too literate for radio, The Future That Was is another album of brilliant alt-rock from a band that sounds curiously like Michael Stipe fronting Barenaked Ladies while possessed by the ghost of Elvis Costello past. Unique, challenging and not to be missed.

Best Return To Form

Bruce Springsteen -- The Rising

By far the most effective and affecting album of music to emerge from the national trauma that was 9/11. Working with the full E Street Band in the studio for the first time in 18 years, Springsteen reaches back for another moment of greatness and grasps it in this searing, captivating examination of loss and rebirth, despair and everlasting hope.

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