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The Year in Music

By Curt Fields
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 31, 2004; Page WE32

The field of music contains such a broad array of styles that picking the best of any particular year is a challenging endeavor. How does one choose between the moody indie rock of a group such as Rilo Kiley, the rollicking raw country of Gretchen Wilson or the hip-hop beats of The Streets? The glib answer is we don't, as each of these makes it onto at least one of our music critics' top-10 lists. Instead, what we do is provide lists from multiple critics to help cover the wide spectrum that is out there.

There are artists old (Brian Wilson) and young (Nellie McKay). There are artists with evolving styles (Green Day) and those who are sticking with a familiar approach (Norah Jones). A couple of artists -- Kanye West, Talib Kweli -- make it onto more than one list.

Rapper Talib Kweli's CD "The Beautiful Struggle" is easy to love. (Jim Cooper)

_____Memorable Moments_____
Michael O'Sullivan's Top 10 Exhibits (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Richard Harrington's Top 10 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Geoffrey Himes's Top 10 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Mike Joyce's Top 10 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Mark Jenkins's Top 10 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Desson Thomson's Top 10 Films (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
. . . And the 10 Worst Films (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
The Best Bites of 2004 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Looking Back: Bugs, Bars, Poker and More (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)

If you see some of your favorites mixed in with others you've never heard of, perhaps you'll take a chance on the latter and become a fan. Of course, if you see some you hated in 2004 then at least you'll know whose opinion not to trust in 2005. But we think more often than not the artists on the following lists will rock you as they did us.

My favorites of the year:

1.Kanye West, "The College Dropout" (Roc-a-Fella). Songs such as the driving "Jesus Walks" and the silky "All Falls Down" kept this CD in the changer for a long time. Even the obligatory between-song skits, normally anathema, were amusing.

2. Talib Kweli, "The Beautiful Struggle" (Rawkus). Polished hardcore with tight beats from an all-star lineup of producers working with arguably the best lyricist in rap today.

3. The Streets, "A Grand Don't Come for Free" (Vice/Atlantic). The Brit rapper delivers an amiable concept album detailing a slacker's life. Casual charm and telling lyrical touches make the ambitious project a winner.

4. Mavis Staples, "Have a Little Faith" (Alligator). The legendary singer's first album of new material since 1993 sparkles with Southern gospel blues and contemporary soul. Warm and gritty, it's vibrant and inspirational.

5. The Yohimbe Brothers, "The Tao of Yo" (Thirsty Ear). Consisting of the masterful Vernon Reid on guitar and skillful DJ Logic on turntables, this duo doesn't blend styles so much as purees them into a tasty shake of blistering rock riffs, African rhythms, rap, jazz and Latin beats. Add a helping of socially conscious lyrics on the side and it's a musical meal that gets better with every serving.

6. Steve Earle, "The Revolution Starts . . . Now" (E-Squared/Artemis). This one doesn't rival Earle's best, but it's still better than most everyone else. Fueled by righteous indignation, his storytelling ability shines on such songs as "Rich Man's War" and "Home to Houston" as does his sense of humor on "Condi, Condi."

7. Shock-G, "Fear of a Mixed Planet" (33rd Street). Lush, easy-flowing bass lines mark this solo outing from Digital Underground's main man. There are the expected comic elements, but Shock-G also gets serious as on the lovely "Keep It Beautiful" with its lyrics " 'Nuff keepin' it real / We can still keep it beautiful . . . so many tryin' to be 'Pac / But only copped the thug side."

8. Marianne Faithfull, "Before the Poison" (Anti/Naive). Her well-worn vocals take on songs written for her by PJ Harvey and Nick Cave. It's a match made in an intimate, smoky roadside heaven.

9. Sharkey, "Sharkey's Machine" (Babygrande). No DJ fireworks, but it's rife with impossibly catchy songs such as "Skateboarder's Blues" and the bouncily apocalyptic "Summer in the City" (featuring Jean Grae).

10. Usher, "Confessions" (Arista). This CD would deserve inclusion if only on the merits of "Yeah!," the Lil Jon-produced number that was the catchiest song of the year. Add the breakup groove "Burn" and a solid set of polished R&B and there's no way to deny it.

Concert: Prince at MCI Center, Aug. 12. The consummate showman was in top form whether trading riffs with his incredibly tight band, doing a solo acoustic medley on guitar or cracking up a packed arena with an arch of an eyebrow.

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