THE BEST (AND WORST) OF 1999
3 Brad Mehldau Elegiac Cycle (Warner Bros.). A 29-year-old pianist who displays not only promise but accomplishment. With classical grace and jazz improvisation, he has created a masterly album about loss: virtually every track has the liquid warmth of a freshly shed tear. Moments of genius in music are rare as diamonds. This CD sparkles like a display case at Tiffany.
4 Nine Inch Nails The Fragile (Nothing/Interscope). Into the orgy of urgently escapist pop that ruled music this year, Trent Reznor dropped this monument to loneliness and psychic angst. A powerful and creepily beautiful rock-'n'-roll album, The Fragile brought hope to alienated youth everywhere.
5 Santana Supernatural (Arista). Let's face it: most '60s rockers have been put out to pasture. But with a little help from his friends (Lauryn Hill, Everlast), 52-year-old Carlos Santana stayed alive by renewing the formula that once took him to the top: blues, Hendrix-style guitar work and chugging Afro-Latin rhythms. Rock history, written by lightning fingers.
6 Fiona Apple When the Pawn ... (Clean Slate/Epic). Like shards from a shattered mirror, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter's latest album glitters with reflective surfaces and sharp edges. Apple's songs, richly produced and intimately performed, explore the opposite of romance: betrayal, breakup, failure to commit. Apple has matured into more than a pop prodigy, more than a girl, interrupted. She is now, as an artist, a woman in full.
7 Kim Richey Glimmer (Mercury). "From the ashes some glimmer of the truth appears," sings this veteran Nashville thrush. But her wise, smoky voice doesn't languish in the ashes of self-pity or revenge. There's buoyancy and gravity, musical variety and sneaky lyric craft in this endlessly listenable set. Glimmer glows.
8 Les Nubians Princesses Nubiennes (Omtown). Helene and Celia Faussart, singing sisters from Bordeaux, France, boast a global sound: African rhythms, American soul and, topping it off, a cool, seductive delivery that's distinctively French. A magical musical package tour.
9 Constant Lambert Tiresias/Pomona (Hyperion). Constant Lambert's final ballet score was roundly damned by critics at its 1951 premiere, then went unplayed for 40 years. This recording (performed by the English Northern Philharmonia, conducted by David Lloyd Jones and happily coupled with the ballet Pomona) gives a second chance to a masterpiece.
10 Regina Carter Rhythms Of The Heart (Verve). A breakout album by a violinist who's a veteran of the jazz scene. Drawing smartly on the work of jazz violinists of the past--notably Stuff Smith and Stephane Grappelli--Carter makes music that's wonderfully listenable and, at times, breathtakingly daring. The devil never played fiddle this well.
AND THE WORST
MTV's Total Request: Live We like screaming, devoted fans; we like teen stars who are truly talented, like Christina Aguilera. But TRL and its fawning host Carson Daly overplay bad teeny-pop videos and create an atmosphere that drives away viewers who might request more substantial fare. TRL is killing good pop music.
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