50 Favorites: From Carolina Chocolate Drops To Gyptian
These are the 50 albums we enjoyed the most in 2010 — the ones that inspired us, surprised us and stayed with us more than any others. The list of our 50 favorite records of the year continues with Regina Carter, Four Tet, Flying Lotus and more artists from C to G.
NPR Music's Favorite 50 Albums Of 2010: C-G
Hit 'Em Up Style
Carolina Chocolate Drops, 'Genuine Negro Jig'
Song: Hit 'Em Up Style
In 2005, three young African-American musicians (Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson) began playing old-time music at farmers' markets and town squares in North Carolina. Inspired in part by an 80-year-old black fiddler named Joe Thompson, their 2010 album Genuine Negro Jig celebrates and promotes historical music. "Snowden's Jig" was renamed to draw attention to the Snowden Family, an early black string band. Other tunes are even more obscure, and all are played with effervescence and reverence for the history they evoke. Not everything about Carolina Chocolate Drops is ancient history, however: The band has recorded Tom Waits' "Trampled Rose," and these days you'll find it at big festivals like Merlefest. CCD's energy is so infectious, it's virtually impossible not to be drawn in. (Jim Blum, Folk Alley)
The eclectic jazz violinist Regina Carter has dreamed of making a "world" music record ever since she was growing up in multicultural Detroit. So when she was surprised with a MacArthur "genius grant" in 2006, she affixed her newly funded curiosity to Africa at large. Reverse Thread is her pan-African mix: Her source material includes both Francophone West African pop and archival field recordings of, say, Ugandan Jews -- informed by lots of consultation and anthropological research. Carter also hired top-flight players, including Malian kora player Yacouba Sissoko and two different jazz accordion specialists, to help refine her thoughts. The result emits a relaxed, living-room-gathering quality. Joyous and rustic, but also steeped in smart, studied musicianship, it's folk art from today's globalized world. (Patrick Jarenwattananon)
Chancha Via Circuito is Argentine DJ and producer Pedro Canale, who adopted his moniker while working at a nightclub in Buenos Aires: His commute was a long ride from the outskirts of the city on a train nicknamed "La Chancha" ("The Pig"). He must have spent a lot of time on "La Chancha," because Rio Arriba sounds like a ride on a ghost train through Latin America. Canale's heavy, dragging beats chug along, stopping occasionally at cosmopolitan clubs but mostly connecting the arid, ghastly musical landscapes of the Andes with the thick heartbeat of the Amazon. Along the way, you hear cumbias, charango accompanied by traditional Andean pan-flutes and eerie lyrics, as in my favorite song, "Pintar el Sol" (Paint the Sun), which conveys the minimalist, poetic melancholy that characterizes this whole record: Little carnation, come close and see the fire that I have in my heart. Underneath your shadow is where I would like to see myself. (Jasmine Garsd)
Deerhunter, 'Halcyon Digest'
Arcade Fire's The Suburbs may sit atop many Top 10 lists this year, but Deerhunter's Halcyon Digest is the dark horse that took the top spot on mine. The Atlanta band gets better with each release, and this one is an outright masterpiece. A mix of crunchy psych-rock, spaced-out ambience, indie rock and pop, Halcyon Digest revolves around the fragile and emotional voice of Bradford Cox. The album tells a story from beginning to end and never lets up at any point. (John Richards, KEXP)
According to the liner notes for Love, Issac Delgado's tribute to Nat King Cole, vocalist Freddie Cole has never participated in any tribute albums to his late brother. Until Love, that is. Backed by a stellar band organized by producer Nat Chediak, Delgado approaches the music with reverence, yet wisely refuses to mimic Cole's legendary delivery. He doesn't really have to. Part of a new breed of Cuban vocalists, Delgado pays tribute to a series of albums Cole recorded in Spanish; they've become legendary in Latin America. I have to admit I was skeptical that Delgado, the cutting-edge trendsetter, would be effective in the reserved vocal style required to sing these famous tracks. But the album is a win-win for the singer and his fans: Delgado gets to demonstrate his amazing versatility, and we get to lose ourselves in these timeless songs once again. (Felix Contreras)
Song: Fra il padre (from Rossini's Donna del lago)
Joyce DiDonato has proved herself as one of the foremost interpreters of Rossini today -- and with this, her second album, she met and exceeded many expectations. Her coloratura is dazzling, her ornaments tactful and perfectly executed, and her tone like melted chocolate in all registers. In "Fra Il Padre" (from La Donna del Lago), you can hear a perfect example of her impeccable trills about 90 seconds in. Almost all of the music on the album was composed for Rossini's wife, the Spanish opera singer Isabella Colbran. Donato's lustrous mezzo is the perfect voice for this music. (Ashalen Sims)
Hip-hop is alive and well, and Flying Lotus is a big reason why. Of all of the records I heard in 2010, none took as many chances, or broke as many conventions, as Cosmogramma. Listen to "Do the Astral Plane": Driven by a looping bass riff, the piece uses samples to not only add texture to the beat, but also provide focal points for the listener. Throughout Cosmogramma, Flying Lotus stretches the palette from which most beat makers work, fitting jazz and dub-step into unconventional nooks and crannies. By leading with synths, saxes, harps and strings, he's moving focus from the MC to the beat maker. Hip-hop is moving in many directions, but it's safe say that Cosmogramma offers a glimpse into the genre's future by championing a sound that celebrates its founder, the DJ. (Sami Yenigun)
When London-born Kieran Hebden released his debut as Four Tet in 1999, he solidified his place within electro-soul and dance-music circles worldwide. He continues to offer fresh takes on his signature production style, often dubbed "folktronica" and "intelligent dance music." There Is Love In You is a clear demonstration of Four Tet's evolution and maturity, not to mention the intrinsic, subtle beauty that lives in precision. Although new ideas are offered, each track makes use of Four Tet's familiar toolbox, which brims over with electrifying colors of jazz and folk melody, warmly pulsating drums and methodically placed electro poly-rhythms. What makes There Is Love In You stand out the most is the editing, organization and care taken in presentation. Each track exudes grown-up romance, too: cool, sultry, calculated and altogether lovely. (Garth Trinidad, KCRW)
Anticipating the next Pavarotti or Domingo has become something of a tiresome pastime for us opera fanatics. Recently, we had the incredible Rolando Villazon, but he burned himself out. Now, another ray of hope has appeared in the form of Vittorio Grigolo. Not only is his new CD, The Italian Tenor, a stunning debut, but I've seen him on stage twice and, believe me, he's the real deal. With a good amount of the Pavarotti "ping," Grigolo's voice is awash in Italian sunshine. If he guards his vocal resources carefully, he may just be our next super-tenor. (Tom Huizenga)
This summer, people I know in French Guiana, Tijuana and London all told me that "Hold You" was their city's summer jam. Gyptian's song started getting crazy rotation on commercial radio in the spring, when an unmastered version leaked and then rapper Nicki Minaj dropped a verse on it. Hold You is way past catchy, with the snare's martial beat offsetting the piano-picked hook and rooting the orchestral swells. "Rendezvous" shows off Gyptian's range and flexibility, and he brings clean technique and agile diction to "Nah Let Go." You can hear AutoTune all over the album, but we also had Gyptian in to play a Tiny Desk Concert in the fall, and he doesn't need pitch correction. He's just after a sound that can -- and did -- travel. (Frannie Kelley)