Michael Tedesco: My Top Albums of 2013

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This is the 11th in a series of year-end blog posts by WOUB staff, volunteers and contributors. Check out all of this year's lists at this link.

Favorite New Release: David Bowie, The Next Day

Those paying attention recognize The Next Day not as a comeback, but rather the completion of his second trilogy, which includes his two previous discs Heathen and Reality. The altered "Heroes" cover art was your clue.

Like Picasso’s Blue or Van Gogh’s Paris periods, all great artists have recognizable phases.

The Next Day contains not just echoes of the Berlin-era (Low, "Heroes," Lodger) in songs like "Where Are We Now?" and "Heat," it is also absolutely contemporary. In his indictment of never-ending war, "I’d Rather Be High," Bowie’s character would prefer to be stoned, dead or institutionalized rather "than training these guns on those men in the sand." If still in doubt as to whether or not this stands alongside his best work, stay for the title track, "The Stars" or "Valentine’s Day."

Best Live Performance: David Byrne and St. Vincent, Taft Theatre, Cincinnati, Ohio, July 10, 2013

Two brilliant artists at the top of their game. Byrne is as good or better than he has ever been. The 18-song set consisted primarily of their co-written work from Love This Giant, along with selections of their solo material and Talking Heads songs, arranged for an all-brass band and drummer.

That might sound conceptually absurd, but the songs’ reinterpretations, the staging and choreography transcended musical and performance art categorization, inhabiting a world somewhere between jazz, pop, rock, Philip Glass, spoken word and the avant-garde, along with plenty of humor.

David Byrne’s and Annie Clark’s singing and playing were flawless, to the delight of the fewer than 2000 lucky fans that demanded two encores. Greater than the sum of its parts, this was not a David Byrne, St. Vincent or Talking Heads concert. If there was a single disappointed audience member, I can assure you that person is incapable of enjoying music and art.

Favorite Unsigned Band: Halogen Sky

Halogen Sky is a new group from Cleveland, Ohio, whose melodic hooks and synth-pop sound are far too sophisticated to be coming from two college students and a lead singer yet to complete high school.

Caught somewhere between Ultravox, Human League and Madonna’s Ray of Light phase, they evoke a sound that predates their birth, and do so without being derivative or retro. Fans of the early works of Eurhythmics, Duran Duran or other New Romantics will feel like they just bumped into an old friend.

Mia, Colin and Alex challenge the assertion that technology is to blame for what’s become of pop music by self-producing intelligent, danceable and lyrically sophisticated tunes as good as anything currently on the charts. "Forget and Pretend" is a hit waiting to happen: These youngsters have a bright future.

Welcome Back: Prince

I have to avoid awards shows because of my allergies to hype and self-congratulatory insularity. But I inoculated myself long enough to catch the 2013 Billboard Music Awards’ Icon Honoree, The Artist Originally, then Formerly, and Again Currently Known as Prince. For 10 minutes in May, Prince and his new, musically gifted all-female band delivered stunning performances of "Let’s Get Crazy" and his excellent new compositions "Screwdriver" and "Fix Ur Life Up." 

Known for mostly for his dance, funk and pop output, his latest work reminds us that he has no peer in the rock world, either.Hollywood will never do justice to the life of Jimi Hendrix, until it understands that Prince is the only one with enough musical talent to portray him. Your proof is here. Speaking of whom…

Reissue/Documentary: Jimi Hendrix, People, Hell and Angels (LP), and Hear My Train A Comin’ (DVD/blu-ray)

During his lifetime, Jimi himself could purchase only six LPs bearing his name. Of the over-100 subsequent official releases, these two 2013 recordings stand apart. Though half of the tracks on People, Hell and Angels have appeared in other forms, there are four new buried treasures here: the soulful "Let Me Move You" and "Mojo Man," along with the jams "Inside Out" and "Villanova Junction Blues," both under construction during his Woodstock phase.

The Hear My Train A Comin’ film is even more exciting. Along with the best of familiar film clips from Monterey Pop, The Dick Cavett Show and Woodstock, the real jewel here is the recently unearthed and enhanced live footage of the original Experience recorded during their peak at the Miami Pop Festival in 1968. For those who wish to understand why Jimi’s legacy endures nearly 45 years since he caught his train, this DVD/blu-ray will clear that up in two hours.

Favorite Local Aggregation: The Word of Mouth Jazz Band

They’ve been at it since 2010 and are still the best kept secret in Athens, Ohio, blowing away the unsuspecting every Tuesday night at Tony’s Tavern. Performing standards and obscurities from jazz’s golden age, be-bop, and every era between and since, this six-piece marvel featuring Ted Harris on vocals and woodwinds, Kay Carter on vocals and trumpet, Kyle Slemmer on saxophones, Bernie Nau on keys, Terry Douds on bass and Mark Hellenberg on drums will floor you.

Close your eyes and you’re at the Apollo in the '30s or the Village Vanguard in 1968. World-class players in their 20s to their 60s, getting together for the sheer joy of simply playing, and doing so with cheerful abandon. "Exuding raw emotion and spirit in the form of music" indeed. Don’t take me at my word…just go!

Not to be overlooked: 

Angela Perley and The Howlin' Moons, Hey Kid

Samantha Crain, Kid Face

Shilpa Ray, It’s All Self Fellatio

The California Guitar Trio, Sessions @ WOUB

In addition to stints as a guitar technician, tour manager, concert promoter and independent record label director in the 1990s, Michael Tedesco has performed in the U.S. and Europe as a guitarist with Trap Door and Robert Fripp & the League/Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists. When he's not hosting "Radio Free Athens" on WOUB 1340 AM, he works at Ohio University as an IT and web services specialist.