Friday, December 22, 2006
The best of the year

'Tis the time of year when every Tom, Dick and Harry -- and every Time, Slate and VH1 -- announces lists of the year's best. CNN's entertainment staff has spun a few CDs and cracked a few bindings as well, and offers its own nominees in music and books. (For movies, stay tuned for movie critic Tom Charity's picks next week.)


  • "Showbiz Tonight" Executive Producer Dave Levine picks Keane's "Under the Iron Sea" as one of the year's top albums, singling out the song "Hamburg" as particularly noteworthy. "If there is one cut on this CD that will give you goosebumps it is 'Hamburg,' with lyrics of longing of what could be, with the person you could give unrequited love to," he says.
  • CNN Entertainment News reporter Brooke Anderson loves Mary J. Blige's "The Breakthrough." "It's an open, honest comeback statement for a singer who has overcome tremendous obstacles," she observes.
  • For staffer Brittany Kaplan, "Corinne Bailey Rae," Christina Aguilera's "Back to Basics" and John Mayer's song "Waiting for the World to Change" are standouts. "With [its] lyrics, who can argue," she says of the latter.
  • And producer Matt West offers a handful, including Silversun Pickups' "Carnavas," the Roots' "Game Theory" and Gnarls Barkley's "St. Elsewhere."


  • West's favorites are Brian K. Vaughn's "Pride of Baghdad," Darwyn Cooke's "New Frontier: Absolute Edition" and Brad Meltzer's "The Book of Fate." "Baghdad" is "an amazing graphic novel based on true events about the 2003 Iraq invasion from the perspective of a family of lions," he says.
  • CNN producers Matt Carey and David Daniel are both fans of Ken Jennings' "Brainiac." "Jennings could have just cranked out a quick autobio. ... Instead, he chose to let his amazing ['Jeopardy!'] run serve as a backdrop for a history of trivia," Daniel says.
  • Another of Daniel's toppers is Jon Meacham's "American Gospel": "A meticulous and very readable explanation that no, [the U.S.] wasn't founded as a Christian nation, nor as an atheistic one. ... Must reading in these fractious times."

And me? As always, I didn't read nearly as much as I would have liked, but the three books I liked best from this year were Philip Roth's "Everyman," Cormac McCarthy's grim but gripping "The Road" and Neal Gabler's "Walt Disney." (The two best books I read all year were from years past -- Susanna Clarke's incredible 2004 novel "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" and a collection of George Orwell's essays, which are also must reading in these fractious -- and spin-filled -- times.)

Musically, I was partial to Bob Dylan's "Modern Times," James Hunter's "People Gonna Talk," The Hold Steady's "Boys and Girls in America" and "St. Elsewhere." The latter is uneven, to be sure, but when it works ("Crazy," "Who Cares") it's top-notch.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my favorite album title of the year: Yo La Tengo's "I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass," which Rolling Stone picked as the worst title of the year. At least RS acknowledged it was a very good record.

How about you? What were some of your favorites?

And of course, when it comes to bests, there's one that matters most: As we head into Christmas weekend, from all of us to all of you, all our best. Have a wonderful holiday.

Hmm... These sorts of lists are always tough and always incomplete. I'll take a shot nonetheless.

Favorite books written in 2006: Everyman by Philip Roth, The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue, and How to Get Rich by Felix Dennis

Biggest Book Disappointment of 2006: Seeing by Jose Saramago (and I'm a huge fan of his)

Favorite albums of 2006:
Ray Lamontagne - Till The Sun Turns Black, The Wood Brothers - Ways Not To Lose, Elbow - Leaders of the Free World (brilliant!), John Mayer - Continuum (and I'm not really a fan of his but this one's superb), Tom Petty - Highway Companion (aptly titled), Lupe Fiasco - Food & Liquor (best rap album in eons), Johnny Cash - American V, Thom Yorke - The Eraser, UB40 - Who You Fightin' For? (excellent return to form), The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers, Twilight Singers - A Stitch In Time, I'll just stop there...

Biggest album disappointments of 2006:
Jet - Shine On (loved the first one but this one is good, good, then lame, lame, lame, lame, lame, lame, etc.)
Live - Songs from Black Mountain (stop trying so hard to make hits guys, it sucks when you do)
Tool - 10,000 Days (for whatever reason, this one just doesn't feel like quality Tool)
Eagles of Death Metal - Death by Sexy (the first album remade to sound worse - and I like the first one)
Personally I thought the latest self titled album from Pearl Jam was the best album this year. It had the most intensity of any rock album,in my opinion, with songs such as Life Wasted and World Wide Suicide. They also had a very successful tour where they cemented their rols as one of the best touring bands in the last 20years. It was nice to see Pearl Jam jump back into the spotlight this year with this latest album. Hopefully their next one is just as good

Josh Ritter's "The Animal Years"
TV on the Radio's "Return to Cookie Mountain"
The Roots' "Game Theory"
Silversun Pickups' "Carnavas"
The Album Leaf's "Into the Blue"


"Manhunt: The 12-day Chase for Lincoln's Killer," by James L. Swanson


"The Departed"
"Little Miss Sunshine"
"An Inconvenient Truth"
"Thank You for Smoking"
"Hard Candy"
"Running Scared"
The Streisand tour! Best thing to happen to 2006!
Oh yay! Someone else who liked "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell"! You have excellent taste in books.
I loved Bob Dylan's Modern Times too...
For books, I loved Donald Trump's, " why we want you to be rich"...
I thought The Who's first album since 1982, Endless Wire, was great. Their tour has also been very successful.
The best, most hilarious social commentary is found at author Linda Sharp's blog called Don't Get Me Started. Check it out and you will find yourself addicted!
For Albums - Ray Lamontagne, Snow Patrol, Pete Yorn, Damien Rice, The soundtrack to The Last Kiss, Keane (completely blew me away), The Decemberists, Amos Lee, Alexi Murdoch

Movies - Little Miss Sunshine is really a favorite...such a great movie
For best book: Without a doubt I would say Anderson Cooper's Dispatches from the Edge. There's a simple reason really. His book puts everything into perspective, shockingly so. After I read his book, my personal problems seem so small and insignificant compared to what he talked about in his book. The
people, the animals and the places in war torn countries. But especially the people & animals and their suffering in our own country during and after Katrina. Thank you Anderson for opening our eyes and keeping our eyes open.

Best CD of the year...actually I thought there were two....and I'm probably going out on a limb here,
but Barry Manilow's Songs of the Fifties and Barry Manilow's Songs of the Sixties both which debuted at
#1 and #2 respectively. Well done Barry!

Here's one for you also: Best Mini-CD The Eagles. The Mini-CD was attached as a special bonus attachment to their popular Live in Melbourne DVD, only available at WalMart. This was their first release in their exclusive deal with Walmart to sell their upcoming, long awaited, years in the making, album. Three
songs, one of which is found on the DVD- "No More Cloudy Days"-a Glenn Frey ballad. Two other tracks on this mini-album- "Fast Company"-a Don Henley driven rocker-which incidentally would be good as a backdrop for the movie "Oceans 13" and "Do Something," - a country rocker sung by Timothy B. Schmidt.

Best concert: Again, going out on a limb here...but Manilow. His little mini-tour of several cities this year, while he was still recovering from both hip surgeries was amazing. A true showman indeed. Bravo Barry!
my personal favorite album of the year was from Margot and the nuclear so and so's - it's called The Dust and Retreat. There isn't a single bad track or moment of filler on the album, it's pure indie-pop genius. And they are fantastic live as well!!
Dont know how Marion Rogers excellent bio on H.L.Mencken was looked over. "Mencken; An American Iconoclast" sets bar to a new high point in Menckeniana,well-researched,with a rare understanding of just what a complex man and mega-talent the Sage Of Baltimore truly was.
Occasional musings and gab about the world of entertainment.
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