I’ve spent the past week working like a dog. Classes have started, I have various service commitments, and I’m finishing up an essay for my colleagues to read for our departmental colloquium on Friday.

As I’ve worked, I’ve been listening to albums from last year. I’ve been struck by just how many I bought or received last year, at least fifteen. Listening to them all together — or at least one after the other — has also reminded me just how much I listened to this past year and how much I loved some of the musicians I heard for the first time, including such artists as Amy Lavere, Bright Eyes, Diana Damrau, Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, Paulo Nutini, and Feist, just to name the ones whose albums I have. If I listed artists whose singles or videos I liked, I’d be here for the rest of the afternoon!

One outcome of this past week has been identifying my five favorite albums of last year, which I’ll briefly write about here. Later, I hope to blog about my favorite tracks and videos too.

My favorite album of 2007 was Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. The album came out in England before it was officially released here in the U.S., so it feels like Winehouse has been around longer than she actually has been. I think this is a brilliant album that combines old school wind instruments and 50’s beats with twenty-first century lyrics. Winehouse has been in the news more for her lifestyle than for her music lately, but this album is too good to be forgotten — it deserves to be remembered regardless of where Winehouse goes from here. I reviewed the album when I first bought it; you can read my review here.

Number two on my list is Mika’s Life in Cartoon Motion. While Mika is still being cagey about his sexual orientation, this is nevertheless one of the gayest albums I’ve ever heard, which is what I love about it. This is pop music at its fluffy best. Surprisingly, perhaps, it’s his “gay” track, “Billy Brown,” that I like least on this album. His other songs are fun, entertaining, and interesting. I’ve seen him perform on Graham Norton’s BBC talk show a couple of times. He also looks like he would be fun to see live. I’ve also reviewed his album previously.

Rufus Wainwright’s recreation of Judy Garland’s famous and highly praised Carnegie Hall concert, Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall, is number three on my list. Let’s start with the obvious: despite what I say about Mika above, this has to be the gayest album ever recorded. To quote Molly Shannon’s SNL character, “I love it, I love it, I love it!” I’ve always been a bit of a Judy Garland queen, even though I’m a little young to be one. I attribute it to my parents’ refusal to watch any movie made after 1959 when I was a kid. Wainwright sings the same set list as Garland used in her concert, but also gives this music his own personality and artistry. He does kind of channel Garland, but he also “makes it his own,” to quote American Idol. It’s a great concert album, and Wainwright’s voice is perfect for most of these standards. My one objection is to his butchering of one of my favorite Garland songs, “Do It Again,” which he sings in the original key that Garland used. It’s a little too high for him, and I think the song loses something as a result. But just about every other track is a gem, so I’m willing to forgive this one misstep.

The soundtrack album for the small, independent movie Once is number four on my list. PJ and I watched this movie a couple of weeks ago. I liked it better than he did (though we both thought it was good), but we definitely agreed on the music — it’s great. The movie stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova as a couple of musicians who meet, fall in love, and make beautiful music together. Most of the soundtrack is composed of these two musicians singing great songs. It reminds me a bit of Damien Rice’s music. One of the songs, “Falling Slowly,” should get an Oscar nomination this year. Here’s the clip of the song from the movie:

This is a beautiful love song. I really hope it gets the Oscar recognition it deserves.

The last album in my top five of the year is a real surprise to me. Before spending the past week listening to music, I would have thought Paulo Nutini’s The Streets, Jill Scott’s The Real Thing: Words and Music Vol. 3, or Annie Lennox’s Songs of Mass Destruction would have been in this slot. But as I listened again to Lucinda Williams’s West, an album that doesn’t quite live up to the artistry of some of her previous albums, I nevertheless fell in love with it. I guess a less than perfect Lucinda Williams CD is still better than most artists’ best efforts. I’m particularly impressed by the track “Everything Has Changed.” In many ways this is a typical Williams song — now that our relationship is over, everything has changed and become meaningless — but I love its quiet, desperate emptiness, for lack of a better description.

So, that’s my top five albums of 2007. Clearly I was into queer, British, and folk music. I’m hoping that I’ll have a chance to write about my favorite tracks — some of these artists might appear on that list too — and my favorite videos of the year. 2007 was also a year in which I discovered some older (or at least pre-2007) music that I now really love. Maybe I’ll sum those up too. In the meantime, it’s time to get back to class prep and paper writing!

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