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Best Nonclassical Music CDs of 2010

Here's a heaping handful of 2010 discs that deserve multiple spins.

Allison, Mose
The Way of the World
COMPACT DISC Jz All 37718
My cool mom turned me onto this album. Singer and pianist Allison has also been cool for decades, both performing his own jazz and blues songs and having rock and blues bands cover his work. As noted in the lead-off track "My Brain," his over 80 year old mind is still ticking even as it's losing "over a thousand neurons per hour."
 
Horne, Lena
Lena Horne Sings: The M-G-M Singles
COMPACT DISC Jz Hor 37336
While it was sad to lose the lovely and talented Lena Horne this year, it's good to know her musical legacy will live on in reissues such as this. As a black performer, though exceptionally light-skinned, Horne was expected to be a bluesy belter, but these classy recordings from the late 1940s showcase her early refined and polished style.
 
Melvins
The Bride Screamed Murder
COMPACT DISC Ro Mel 37361
The Melvins are still going mighty strong after almost 30 years. And for the last five years or so, they've been doing it with an added pummeling drummer, making one of the heaviest rock bands even heavier. Often on this album, all four band members holler so it sometimes sounds like the Marine Corps of metal.
 
Metheny, Pat
Orchestrion
COMPACT DISC Jz Met 37486
Metheny's latest project utilizes a roomful of mechanized instruments (marimbas, bottles, bells, congas, and so on) to accompany his skillful guitar playing. The concept and music redefine the ideas of a solo record or a one-man band while the accompanying photographs of the music machines and the liner notes make an argument for the continued physical packaging of music.
 
The National
High Violet
COMPACT DISC Ro Nat 37062
The National's rock is thick and layered with low-pitched vocals spinning somber tales. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" is the buzz-worthy high point of the album with the Brooklyn-based band looking to its original home of Ohio singing "I never thought about love when I thought about home."
 
Shakira
Sale El Sol
COMPACT DISC La Sha 37894
I prefer to listen to Shakira when she's singing in her native Spanish. And as this album jumps from style to style, I prefer the dance club bangers such as "Loca" and "Rabiosa" to the soft rock songs like "Mariposas" and the title track. But it's all worth a listen to find your own favorites.
 
Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music from South Africa
COMPACT DISC If Sha 37480
South African Shangaan electronic music takes the sounds of marimba and guitar but plays them on a keyboard and keeps the beats per minute above 180. One can only imagine how energetic (and exhausting!) the dancing must be to this hyperactive, joyous music.
 
Shepp, Archie
The New York Contemporary Five
COMPACT DISC Jz She 37838
Although this has been repackaged on the Delmark label as if Archie Shepp led the session, really it's better known (if known at all) as an album by the group The New York Contemporary Five album. The NYC5 were a short-lived group of early 1960s free-jazzers: Shepp on tenor sax, John Tchicai on alto sax, Don Cherry on cornet, Don Moore on bass, and Pittsburgh's own J.C. Moses on drums. Free jazz can seem aimless at times, but when done right and with drumming like Moses' propelling it, it can be adventurous and exciting.
 
Titus Andronicus
The Monitor
COMPACT DISC Ro Tit 37080
How can a librarian not support a rock band that includes a "Suggested Further Reading" section in the liner notes of its CD?! Titus Andronicus somehow combine ambitious research and references to the Civil War with heartfelt anthemic music as if they'd feel at home both at the library or a noisy bar.
 

Timothy R. Williams
December 2010