20 Albums from my 20s

September 17, 2010

I’ve been wanting to write some kind of post commemorating the death of my youth when I turned 30 this past summer, but I’m not, at the moment, in the mood for a truly introspective, wishy-wash reminiscence. Still, I entered my twenties as a junior in college and ended them a month after buying my first house with my wife and our daughter. That’s a pretty stark transition from youth to full-fledged adulthood.

Additionally, I’d really like to write more about music on this blog. So here, presented chronologically are twenty albums that had some kind of significant impact on me (even if I just thought they were totally awesome) during my twenties along with a brief explanation of why, exactly, I care. The only rule is that they have to have been released during that decade. This prevents it from looking like a top ten list minus a few albums I discovered when I was seventeen and should, I think, cause it to speak of a time period in the world as much as one in my life…

Radiohead – Kid A (2000): I still think this is the best album they’ve done. It always fights for a spot in my all-time top ten. It came out at a time when I was playing guitar all the time. I was starting to feel knowledgeable about music for the first time, and I was pleased to recognize this as a turning point in the world of music from the moment it came out.

Branford Marsalis – Contemporary Jazz (2000): This is one in a run of really fantastic Branford albums that stretch from the late nineties until about 2005. As noted, I was playing the guitar a ton. I was starting to be able to play along with jazz, and I spent some serious time with this album.

Buddy Guy – Sweet Tea (2001): The early part of the decade was, somewhat obviously, a period of discovery for me. I already knew about Buddy Guy, though. This album is, I think, the best music of his career. It’s raw and urgent and I couldn’t stop listening to it for a year. It changed how I thought about the blues.

Doyle Bramhall II – Welcome (2001): Late 2001 and into 2002 was the happiest period in my life for a while. I was finding all kinds of wonderful music and having a wonderful time in college. This is when I started writing seriously. I also had big musical aspirations. I had a vision for the kind of music I wanted to make, then I found Doyle Bramhall who was already making it. This was, for me, a modern day Layla. I don’t know that anything has ever affected me more on the first listen. One of my favorite albums ever.

The Derek Trucks Band – Joyful Noise (2002): This is one of two artists in my life that I have seen in a small club when no one really knew who they were and thought, “Damn, this is awesome. I’m glad I’m here for this.” After hearing Trucks, I pretty much had to at least try slide guitar. The songs on this album are excellent, too. An album that really reflects a happy time in my life.

Mark Knopfler – Ragpicker’s Dream (2002): This is where a change happens for me. The first few years after college were a dark time for me. This is a very wintry album and still one of my favorite things to listen to in cold weather. It is a very down album, but there is an air of hopefulness to it. Again, this is more or less reflective of my state of mind at the time. Things were bad, but I was sure they would get better.

Richard Thompson – Old Kit Bag (2003): My first Richard Thompson album. I still don’t understand why he isn’t ridiculously wealthy. I don’t think there’s a better song writer alive. This was an album that I almost hid for a while. I didn’t want to share it or have it associated with anyone else.

Scrapomatic – Scrapomatic (2003): A duo album featuring the future vocalist for The Derek Trucks Band. Mike Mattison is such a soulful singer and the songs are excellent. This is one I shared with almost everyone I knew, and everyone liked it. A great rootsy album that almost no one knows about.

The Garden State Soundtrack (2004): 2004 was a bad year for me as I had let a woman more or less ruin my life. It was, to borrow a phrase, my dark night of the soul, so it’s fitting that there’s only one album from the year that I remember feeling strongly about at all… and it was a soundtrack. I’m thankful for everyone who remained friends with me at the time. I think I was pretty unpleasant to be around.

Shannon McNally – Geronimo (2005): I was climbing out of the mess I had put myself in (I started graduate school) and branching out again. This is pretty country album, which is odd for me, but I love it. I specifically remember feeling like this was the album that kind of woke me up and brought me back to life. I don’t know why, but it did.

Buddy Guy – Bring ‘Em In (2005): Buddy Guy does R&B. This is the coolest album on this list. Everything about it is just so-fucking-cool. It’s hard to look at the cover and listen to the album and not want to be Buddy Guy, at least a little bit.

The Decemberists – The Crane Wife (2006): I was dating a girl from Michigan at the time. This is an album that fit perfectly with the long, bleak drives of a wintry Ohio. I’m always a sucker for concept albums and songwriters with good vocabularies.

Teddy Thompson – Separate Ways (2006): Teddy is the second artist I saw in a small club before he was known at all. He was the opening act and totally blew the headliner off the stage (better band, better voice, better songs). This is the second album by Richard Thompson’s son, and a real keeper. This might be the saddest album on the list, but it is so, unbelievably good. This is the most ridiculously talented family. I was totally blown away by this album and I still am whenever I put it on.

Richard Thompson – Sweet Warrior (2007): Now, we’re entering into the happiest period of my life. I ditched a job I hated and met the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. It was a good year. As a bonus, Richard Thompson released the best album of his career. This was the first album in a long time to rearrange my top ten. “Guns are the Tongues” is one of the best songs ever.

The Swell Season (mostly) – Once Soundtrack (2007): Once was the first movie Cate and I went to see together. It might be the best date movie I’ve ever seen, and the music is so romantic and really really good. This was a really happy time in my life.

Ben Harper – Lifeline (2007): Fall and leaves changing and sunsets as I drove back and forth between my house and Cate’s. If you’re going to write and record an album while visiting Paris, this is what it should sound like.

Teddy Thompson – A Piece of What You Need (2008): Established happiness was an odd experience for me, so an album that contains the lyrics, “What’s this, what’s this?/Am I happy or something?/Oh shit, oh shit/ am I happy or something?” resonated. Every bit as good as Separate Ways, but more mature. It fit me perfectly.

The Watson Twins – Fire Songs (2008): I don’t know what to write about this album except that I love it. Cate introduced me to them, and I continue to be very impressed. Another album that I associate heavily with fall. This was a good time for Cate and I (when she wasn’t vomiting with morning sickness).

B.B. King – One Kind Favor (2008): The most mature album I’ve heard from him, but at the same time, very bold. He is a very old man and he went out on a limb and did something different and it worked really, really well. This might be the best thing he’d done in thirty years.

Eric Clapton and Stever Winwood – Live at Madison Square Garden (2009): People who know me well, will be surprised that this is Clapton’s only appearance on this list. What can I say? Most of the music he put out in the decade ranged from blah to pretty good, but nothing really stuck with me. This has everything I want from him though. It’s fiery and passionate in way that he hadn’t managed in at least ten years, and I can’t believe Winwood still has that ridiculous voice. I listened to this for weeks and never got tired of it.

There we go, that’s a decent musical summary of my last ten years, I think. I’m curious to see what the next decade is like. I’ve often heard the your first ten years of having children ends up being kind of a lost decade where books and movies and music are concerned. The last year has certainly been like that for us, but lately we’ve started to come out of it. I’ve been listening to Spoon and Phoenix and Alison Krauss and yet another awesome Richard Thompson album. Clapton has an album coming out in a little more than a week and I’m cautiously optimistic. Let’s see what happens in my thirties…