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The Best CDs You Didn't Hear This Year

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The Best CDs You Didn't Hear This Year

The Best CDs You Didn't Hear This Year

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Every year tens of thousands of CDs are released, and with all those artists clamoring for an audience, it's not surprising that some musical gems get overlooked. As the year comes to a close, we asked a few people who monitor the pop music business to comb through their files, to share a few of this year's releases that, in their view, didn't get the attention they deserved. We'll hear from Chris Douridas and Alexandra Patsavas; both are music supervisors in Hollywood, and they're always on the hunt for new artists to feature in film or television soundtracks. But first we check in with a tastemaker who works in the Windy City.

Mr. GREG KOT (Chicago Tribune): My name is Greg Kot. I'm the pop music critic at the Chicago Tribune. I'm looking at these records as overlooked in that they weren't really widely written about this year. These records I'm going to talk about, I just felt, got lost in the shuffle a little bit this year.

NORRIS: So you brought in a list of releases that you feel deserve more attention. What's at the top of that list?

Mr. KOT: The top record that I felt didn't get the attention it deserved and was way up on my favorite albums of the year was this release by a band called Out Hud, "Let Us Never Speak of It Again." It's their second album. And they have a sort of a hipster cachet with some underground dance-slash-rock songs. In other words, they bring the dance element into rock music. It's an interesting take on dance music in that not only does it work really well on the dance floor, it gets people out there dancing, but it's something that you can listen to on headphones and appreciate as well.

(Soundbite of music)

OUT HUD: (Singing) Oh, I'm somewhat breathing ...(unintelligible) I'll even let you know that you're moving ever so slow. I'll even let you know that I'm (unintelligible)

NORRIS: Since you hail from Chicago, it's not surprising that your list includes a blues artist, but not the kind of gutbucket blues artists that you might traditionally think about. Tell us about this one.

Mr. KOT: Yeah, when you talk about Otis Taylor and you think, oh, Chicago-born guy who sings the blues in his late 50s, you're automatically thinking, well, he must be some Muddy Waters acolyte; he probably hung out with Buddy Guy. Not at all. Otis Taylor is his own brand of blues. The latest is called "Below the Fold," terrific record. He calls his sound trance blues. It's a sort of a droning string-based sound, a lot of cellos, violins, banjo, some horns for atmosphere, almost a psychedelic approach to the blues. What really sets him apart is the subject matter of his songs. The one that we're going to play, "Mama's Got a Friend," in which he talks about the day that he found out that his mom was a lesbian, which was kind of startling for a teen-age kid. That's the blues, you know. You find out your mom's a lesbian, that's one of those moments where it's--you know, your life changes that day.

(Soundbite of "Mama's Got a Friend")

Mr. OTIS TAYLOR: (Singing) Mama's got a best friend. Tell people she's her sister. Mama's got a best friend. Tell people she's her sister. Daddy went to California. That's where she moved, and Mama's gone.

CHRIS DOURIDAS (KCRW): I'm Chris Douridas. I am a radio host at KCRW in Santa Monica and a film music supervisor.

NORRIS: Chris, one of the releases at the top of your list this year is Imogen Heap, and the name of her CD is "Speak for Yourself."

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. IMOGEN HEAP: (Singing) Where are we? What the hell is going on?

NORRIS: As we listen, we're not actually hearing instruments there. That's just her voice being distorted and modulated.

DOURIDAS: From the very beginning, this song was always an a cappella, when it was a demo all the way to its completion. It's never had instruments attached to it. Her vocal style is so distinctive, so different, so unique.

NORRIS: Chris, when I listen to her, she sounds so fragile. Her voice almost sounds like glass or maybe even crystal, like if you press too hard, it might break. But I understand that on stage she's actually quite a large presence.

DOURIDAS: Yeah. She's probably 5'11", 6 foot, something like that. And she's got this striking red hair. And she's a beanpole; she's very thin. But then when you add the passion that she has for this music and the way that she sings, it's completely captivating.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. HEAP: (Singing) They were here first. Why'd you say, oh, that you only meant well, well, ooh, 'cause you did what you say? Oh, that is all for the best 'cause it is, ooh, what you say, hmm, well, it isn't what we need, and you thought it is, what you say. What did you say...

Ms. ALEXANDRA PATSAVAS: I am Alexandra Patsavas. I'm a music supervisor in Los Angeles, and I currently work on "The O.C.," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Without a Trace." While I listen to music for my work, I come across a lot of bands that have been overlooked by the music press that should be paid more attention to.

NORRIS: Alexandra, let's move down your list to a group called Goldspot. And this is a group where the lead singer in this group grew up in a household where he didn't listen to rock 'n' roll, really didn't listen to any kind of American music at all. His family were big fans of Bollywood, and they listened to show tunes.

Ms. PATSAVAS: Well, Siddhartha is the name of the lead singer. Lore has it than when he was 14, he heard an R.E.M. song and that was his first exposure to American music, which is really sort of evidence in his songwriting. I found it so likable because it just had a great pop vocal coupled with this very warm acoustic instrumentation, so it felt very California to me, actually.

NORRIS: The group is called Goldspot. The CD is "Tally for the Yes Men." And let's hit the play button to listen to "Rewind."

(Soundbite of "Rewind")

GOLDSPOT: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) the words you finally hear, let's rewind, 'cause you rewind it all the time. See, you're the only star...

NORRIS: You had mentioned that this had a real California sound for you. You provide music for "The O.C.," a series that's set there in California. Do you use a lot of it?

Ms. PATSAVAS: Yeah, we're actually going to be using this track next year.

NORRIS: Oh.

Ms. PATSAVAS: Yeah.

NORRIS: Stay tuned.

That's Alexandra Patsavas, music supervisor in Los Angeles. She places music in television shows, including "The O.C.," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Without a Trace." We also heard from Chris Douridas, a music supervisor who does work on feature films, and from Greg Kot, the pop music critic for the Chicago Tribune.

Again, here's their list of overlooked artists: from the group Out Hud, the CD "Let Us Never Speak of It Again"; Otis Taylor's release "Below the Fold" and specifically the song "Mama's Got a Friend"; Imogen Heap's CD "Speak for Yourself"; and from Goldspot, the CD "Tally for the Yes Men."

SIEGEL: NPR listeners have picked the 10 best CDs of the year. You can see how they voted at our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of "Rewind")

GOLDSPOT: (Singing) Would you rewind it all the time, rewind it all the time?

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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