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Amazon's Top 100 CDs of 1998

    
Amazon.com's 100 Best CDs of
In a year when a 32-year-old bootleg gets legitimized by a major-label release--and is then voted the best CD of by Amazon.com's music editors--it's no surprise that the remaining 99 best albums cover a wide musical terrain. From folky alternative rock to virtuoso classical piano, these 100 CDs capture the sounds of sometimes noisy, sometimes sublime, always entertaining nutshell.

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The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The "Royal Albert Hall Concert" [BOX SET]
Bob Dylan
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
1998: the same year he dances with Soy Bomb at the Grammys, his record label finally issues Bob Dylan's ultimate live document. A classic case of not giving the audience what they want but what they need, Mr. Dylan's oft-bootlegged 1966 gig begins with lovely and supple folk that foreshadows folk music's turn from protest song to introspection. The album's true highlight is the legendarily ill received and rocked-out electric set, with Dylan backed by members of the Band. There are too many...Read more

Moon Pix
Cat Power
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Chan Marshall, a.k.a. Cat Power, has created an album, Moon Pix, that somehow manages to be both complex and difficult as well as stark and spacious. It's an interesting contradiction mirrored in Marshall's vocal and lyrical talents; her voice soars and croons, sometimes trading melodies with a wandering flute line, while her lyrics are powerful, inscrutable, and fiercely intimate. Two of the Dirty Three evoke a subtle instrumental landscape upon which she wanders, a place less haunting than...Read more

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Neutral Milk Hotel
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
Just from the opening seconds of Neutral Milk Hotel's second album, you know it's going to be special: the acoustic guitar strum is catchy beyond belief, and Jeff Magnum's intonation lends credibility even to a line like "When you were young, you were the King of Carrot Flowers." Listening to In the Aeroplane is like stepping through Alice's looking glass; you enter a fantastic new universe that, while it doesn't always make sense logically, feels like the home you never had. --Randy Silver Read more

The Salesman And Bernadette
Vic Chesnutt
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This album comes on with a quiet grace, gradually unwinds, then sidles into your heart with a kind of mournful soulfulness. Vic Chesnutt's sweet and croony vocals hover delicately above the ethereal and sparse instrumentation provided by the Lambchop collective to tell the story of a sad and tender misbegotten romance. It has to be heard to be believed, and, along with Richard Buckner's Since and Jeff Buckley's Sketches (For My Sweetheart the Drunk), The Salesman and Bernadette stands among the...Read more

The Boy With The Arab Strap
Belle & Sebastian
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
Belle & Sebastian follow up the considerable promise of 1997's fantastic If You're Feeling Sinister with an album that is, unbelievably, even better. The Boy with the Arab Strap is an immediately infectious and delicious pastiche of fey, Nick Drake-ian vocals; lilting pop melodies; shimmery arrangements; croony wonder; and tortured, lit-smart lyrics. Belle & Sebastian are smarter than the Smiths, wittier than the Beach Boys, more fun than the Velvet Underground, and even more inscrutable than...Read more

XO
Elliott Smith
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
Elliott Smith's fourth solo album and major-label debut, XO, brings narrative detail and a wide range of emotion to an indie meld of '60s-style rock and folk-pop. Whether in the broken stateliness of "Waltz #2 (XO)," the Sgt. Pepper tribute of "Baby Britain," or the explosions of "Amity" and "Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands," Smith's melodic and arrangement senses give his vulnerable vocals and brilliant wordcraft the maximum effectiveness. XO is a watershed in singer/songwriter rock. ...Read more

Mermaid Avenue
Billy Bragg, Wilco
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A ghost, a band, a troubadour. Easily the strangest co-op project ever, and easily one of the finest and most evocative albums of the year. British socialist and folkie Billy Bragg was given unprecedented access to Woody Guthrie's unrecorded lyrics. Teaming up with alt-country band Wilco and quoting from more than 50 years of country, folk, and rock music, Billy and company bring Guthrie's politics, poetry, and morality to the end of the century and prove he's as necessary now as ever. --Tod...Read more

Piazzolla: Mara de Buenos Aires / Kremer, Zenko, et al
Astor Piazzolla(Composer), et al
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Composed more than 30 years ago, this "little tango opera" remains a work of stunning originality. Indeed, the alchemy achieved here by tango master Astor Piazzolla--whose avant-garde, quasi-symphonic meditations on this vital dance form have achieved renewed popularity--and librettist Horacio Ferrer involves a particular amalgam of music and surrealist poetry that is part cabaret, part smoky Sprechstimme, and ultimately sui generis. Violinist Gidon Kremer and a tight ensemble of colleagues show...Read more

Ocean Songs
Dirty Three
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On Ocean Songs, guitarist Mick Turner strums in grand and mournful sweeps while violinist Warren Ellis draws a rough, heart-pulling bow. On top, David Grubbs bumps lonely on his tom while keeping time with scratchy snare whispers and flickering tips and taps on the cymbals. It's a gorgeous blend that is fully informed by folk forms yet still manages to bristle with electricity. Dirty Three may seem like some mutant folk trio from the old country, but underneath there is a rock band--a dangerous,...Read more

Prt: Kanon Pokajanen / Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Arvo Prt(Composer), et al
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
It seems as though every year, mystic Estonian composer Arvo Prt delivers a new, thoroughly riveting composition. This year, it was Kanon Pakajanen. From the canon of repentance of the Russian Orthodox Church, Part created an a cappella masterpiece, a minimalist work that builds itself gradually, yet completely, upon haunting voices, harmonies, and volume. On this disc, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir delivers a gripping performance, with gorgeous sound quality. It's more than 80...Read more

Since
Richard Buckner
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With Since, California troubadour Richard Buckner has found a way to give his high-concentrate vocals and heavyhearted lyrical pensiveness a flattering dash of ebullience. But fear not, fans of such modern country-dread touchstones as Devotion + Doubt and Bloomed: this is still the man who can summon the essence of such disparate spirits as Nick Drake and the Louvin Brothers while remaining ever faithful to his own wounded soul. --Steven Stolder Read more

La Llorona
Lhasa De Sela
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
Lhasa De Sela has distinguished herself as a singer and storyteller with her debut album, La Llorona. The 25-year-old Montreal resident, who grew up traveling through Mexico while living on a school bus, sings of her tortured heart with the accompaniment of guitarist-producer-arranger Yves Desrosiers and a cabaret-style band. Already compared to that of Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday, De Sela's haunting voice is memorable on each of the 11 songs (only three are not original) that range in...Read more

Hildegard von Bingen - 900 Years / Sequentia
Hildegard of Bingen
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
For all the effort put behind the Hildegard von Bingen revival in the past decade, no one has been as persistent as Sequentia. They capped their Hildegard cycles in 1998 with the two-CD set Saints and then this eight-CD collection. Nowhere else can you get such a focused study, showing exemplary growth in vision and polyphonic presentation. The music isn't flashy, but it's inventive in methodical steps and an abiding sense of vocal textures that sounds multidimensionally complex and still...Read more

Miss Perfumado
Cesaria Evora
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Cesaria Evora asked heartache to come in and set a spell. The morna, the slow, rhythmically balladic blend of African blues and the Portuguese fado, was the perfect medium. Released in 1998 in the United States, this 1992 album about nostalgia, longing, hit-and-run lovers, and the sea features titles like "Barbincour ("The Conman") and "Torura" ("Torture"). Not the least of Evora's magical appeal is that her smooth, honey-rich vocals suggest a universe of passion and pain with nary a spasm of...Read more

Deserter's Songs
Mercury Rev
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
For 1998, Mercury Rev did something completely different: they shunned the psychedelic rock of their previous ways and went for baroque. Literally. On Deserter's Songs, bowed saw plays as prominent a role as guitar, and most of the songs are ballads, not anthems. There's a tender, folksy quality here that was missing in the group's previous (albeit also great) recordings. Mercury Rev have always been difficult to classify; yet on this album they make the pigeonholing even more difficult. --Jason...Read more

Victory
Billy Joe Shaver
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
Unfortunately, the roots of this record stem from a terminal illness in the Shaver family. Yet, as has been proved often, some of the most rewarding music grows out of misery and misfortune. The pared-down gospel originals offered by Billy Joe and son Eddy perhaps hit a little too close to home. Stark and desolate yet illuminating, Victory vividly illustrates the difference between spirituality and religiousness and the conflict between the worldly and the ethereal. --Marc Greilsamer Read more

The John Lennon Anthology [BOX SET]
John Lennon
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
John the primal screamer, John the street politician, John the L.A. party boy, and John the house husband. The John Lennon Anthology provides a window into all those phases of the artist's post-Beatles career. Compiled under the watchful eye of Yoko Ono, this rich stash of demos, studio outtakes and chatter, and live and alternate versions serves as both historical artifact and source of entertainment. --Steven Stolder Read more

Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Black Star
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
They're not on every soundtrack, and they aren't featured guests on every crossover hit. That's OK. Mos Def & Talib Kweli are leaders of a different school; though they've got beats by the pound and the lyrical chops to pull off an (updated) cover of Slick Rick's classic "Children's Story," Black Star proffers a more philosophical take on hip-hop. Years from now this album, much like the Freestyle Fellowship's Innercity Griots, will still be revered. --Randy Silver Read more

Turn The Heat Up
Shemekia Copeland
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
This debut album from bluesman Johnny Copeland's daughter is a powerful surprise. Powerful, because Shemekia Copeland's voice has the impact of a mature vocalist's despite her youth; a surprise, because it's so rare to hear such a great performance from one so young. Whether it's sassy attitude on the title track, or the subtle power of "Ghetto Child," Copeland is always in control. We'll be hearing a lot more from her in the years to come. --Genevieve Williams Read more

Noon Chill
Arto Lindsay
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
For three albums now, Arto Lindsay has done his best to be a modern-day Antonio Carlos Jobim. Backed with subtle electronica sounds (yes, it's possible) and guitar, the ballads and bossa novas found on Noon Chill are some of his finest. Lindsay is at his best on tracks like "Simply Are," a jazzy number with great vocals that serenades your stereo speakers. Great stuff. --Jason Verlinde Read more

Telegraph [ECD]
Richard Davies
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
Australian Richard Davis is best known as an exponent of a baroque, sophisto pop informed by equal parts Pink Floyd, Robyn Hitchcock, and Nick Drake. Singing in a soft, rather plain tenor, Davis pens quirky, literary lines and places them against softly brushed strings and intricately orchestrated arrangements. What makes Telegraph so special is not just its impeccable pace and feel, but its uncanny ability to transmit bolts of vivid emotion. --S. Duda Read more

Tartini: The Devil's Sonata / Andrew Manze
Giuseppe Tartini(Composer), Andrew Manze (Performer)
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
Violinist Andrew Manze did something truly breathtaking in 1998--he transformed the way we hear Giuseppe Tartini's The Devil's Sonata by playing it solo, without accompaniment. And we'll never hear it the same way again. It's a riveting performance, filled with as much improvisation as many jazz compositions, and yet it remains thoroughly faithful to Tartini's vision (Manze was inspired to play the work solo by the composer's own correspondence). Hands down, one of the best Baroque performances...Read more

Car Wheels On A Gravel Road
Lucinda Williams
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
Six years in the making, Car Wheels somehow lives up to its lofty expectations because of Williams's direct songwriting and her wonderfully unaffected vocals. With assistance from cohorts such as Steve Earle, Williams uses the acoustic accents of Dobros, mandolins, slide guitars, and accordions to add color to her grooves, whispers, and rumbles. Her lyrics are undisguised as she presents to us the travelogue of her memory. We can't wait for 2004! --Marc Greilsamer Read more

The Complete 1959 Columbia Recordings [BOX SET] [ORIGINAL RECORDING REMASTERED]
Charles Mingus
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
This three-CD box, with its 28 Mingus ensemble tracks, rounds out a portrait of jazz in 1959, a year when Miles Davis recorded Kind of Blue, John Coltrane cut Giant Steps, and Ornette Coleman unloosed The Shape of Jazz to Come. Mingus was on Columbia for a blink, only long enough to cut a couple of LPs (both of which appear here sans the unclean edits that've marred prior reissues). There is so much additional material here that the set warrants easy Best of 1998 kudos and nearly mandates that...Read more

Signal Series
Chessie
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Amazon.com's Best of 1998
Stephen Gardner, onetime member of indie-pop group Lorelei, took electronica to new heights with his Chessie imprint by refining drum & bass. Inspired by the rhythms of trains, Signal Series is thoroughly unique: breakbeats mingle with guitars; tracks waver between ambient, dance, and postrock; and the train theme seems to somehow unify everything. It's a thoroughly listenable disc, and one of 1998's best. Sure, we've heard these sounds before, but never so intelligently assembled. --Jason...Read more


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