Let’s move on with the second half of my list…
20. Lady Antebellum, Need You Now (Capitol Nashville)
Sometimes the public actually gets it right. The biggest mistake anyone could make would be to say that pop music today sucks (I wouldn’t say it’s so much a mistake as it’s laziness), and while terming Lady Antebellum “pop” might piss off some country fans, the fact is that the songs on the trio’s sophomore album are as immediate and radio-friendly (although maybe not as aggressive) as anything by, I don’t know…Lady GaGa? The fact that they’ve got a (slight) twang and some pedal steel guitar doesn’t take away from their perfection. This was a late-stage inclusion for me. I’d given Need You Now several cursory listens over the past year, but at some point recently, something clicked and I realized that I could hear every song from this album on the radio and wouldn’t change the dial if I heard any of them. For straight-up radio perfection, Lady A had the album to beat.
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19. John Legend & the Roots, Wake Up! (Columbia)
To think…after I heard the first single from Legend and The Roots’ collaborative project, I was prepared to be disappointed. Aside from cramming too many people on the title track (seriously…how unnecessary were Common and Melanie Fiona?), Wake Up! hit just about every other musical sweet spot there was. Thought-provoking and underappreciated gems from the Seventies and early Eighties were given new life by some of Philadelphia’s favorite songs. Legend continued a pristine 4-4 track record on albums, and The Roots solidified their status as the best band of any genre currently working. My only real beef is that I wish they’d composed a similarly hard-hitting album of original material.
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18. El DeBarge, Second Chance (Geffen)
If only all vocalists could sound this good after a decade and a half in the wilderness. El DeBarge was 2010’s feel-good musical comeback. Coming to terms with demons that had plagued him ever since his days as Motown’s wunderkind in the mid-Eighties, Second Chance is a mature, classy work that was made with the discriminating adult R&B fan in mind. On a shopping expedition through New York City on Christmas weekend, I was chagrined to discover that two Best Buy locations in Manhattan had no copies of Second Chance in stock. It would be a damn shame if one of the most artistically sound R&B comebacks of recent years was derailed due to lackluster efforts from his label’s sales team.
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17. Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh (Motown)
The chick who perfected left-leaning R&B for millenniums returned in 2010 with one of the stronger efforts in a career that has yet to produce anything less than strong. A little less obtuse than the first volume of New Amerykah, but still “Badu” enough to provide more than a couple of head-scratchers, Badu chopped up familiar samples (Sylvia Striplin’s “You Can’t Turn Me Away” AKA the Junior M.A.F.I.A. “Get Money” beat), confessional lyrics, that alluring coo of a voice and added in a whole lot of soul-funk sass, solidifying her stature as one of modern soul’s all-time greats.
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16. Bilal, Airtight’s Revenge (Plug Research)
How did NO one put an album out on this guy for ten years? Bilal Oliver’s elastic voice (not too many modern-day R&B singers have the range that he does-the man can jump from a coo to a growl in 10 seconds) may not lend itself to particularly “mainstream”-sounding music, but Airtight’s Revenge still teemed with ear worm-y hooks mixed in with Bilal’s eclectic and edgy music. Artists like Bilal and Badu (and MIA in 2010 artists like Rahsaan Patterson and Van Hunt) make me want to put on my “old man” hat on and grumble about good music never being recognized. I’m well aware that this isn’t always the case (and all of the aforementioned artists have a cult following that will reap more long-term awards than the latest fly-by-night sensation), but Seriously-how come everyone doesn’t have a copy of these albums?
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