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December 28, 1994

Top Ten Albums for 1994

Top Ten Albums - As the year draws to a close, its time for a top ten list. Obviously, there's a level of subjectivity to this matter; out of the hundreds of albums that I listened to this year, some especially caught my ear. Here they are.

10. Angelfish, Angelfish (Radioactive) -- The debut album from this Scottish group was produced by Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth (formerly of the Talking Heads), and it shows - the songs are catchy and accessible, and the production crisp and clean.

9. Crash Test Dummies, God Shuffled His Feet (Arista) -- One of the biggest success stories of the year was Crash Test Dummies. Featuring the deep baritone voice of lead singer Brad Roberts, and simple but wryly insightful songs such as "Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm," God Shuffled His Feet is a rumbling, sonorous disc.

8. Sarah McLachlan, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (Arista) -- Like the Crash Test Dummies, fellow Canadian Sarah McLachlan bares her soul in her songs. Though the meaning may be obscure times, there's a real sense of heartfelt honesty in this deeply textured production.

7. Boz Scaggs, Some Change (Virgin) -- Veteran Bay Area popster Boz Scaggs showed a real burst of creativity in Some Change. With songs ranging from country to blues to pop, Some Change finds Scaggs in top form and with some of the best vocals he's ever recorded.

6. Subdudes, Annunciation (High Street Records) -- The Subdudes, who originally hail from the Crescent City, moved to Denver a couple years back and hooked up with High Street Records (a division of Windham Hill). The resulting product, Annunciation, is a gospel-based slice of New Orleans that's long on harmony vocals and short on negativity and emotional trauma. A delicious album.

5. Paul Weller, Wild Wood (Go! Discs/London) -- Former British pop maven and mood man Paul Weller got his tempestuous nature in check for Wild Wood. The result is this richly layered album, full of lovely, memorable songs and reminiscent of some of Jethro Tull's best work.

4. Ted Hawkins, The Next Hundred Years (Geffen) -- Another real surprise was Ted Hawkins, a 60-year-old street musician who was "discovered" while playing for change along Venice Beach. With a great sense of the blues and searing vocal performances (especially on "There Stands the Glass"), The Next Hundred Years is proof that the blues are alive and well.

3. Eleanor McEvoy, Eleanor McEvoy (Geffen) -- This was the first album I reviewed this year, and it still stands out. Eleanor McEvoy is an Irish lass with a gutsy folk/pop style and a beautiful voice. A true gem of an album, and one that should not be missed.

2. Marvin Etzioni, Weapons of the Spirit (Restless) -- Marvin Etzioni, former guitarist for L.A's rock darlings Lone Justice, released one of the year's most profound and perfectly made albums with Weapons of the Spirit. Recorded in a home studio, and featuring guest performances from such vocalists as Victoria Williams and Maria McKee, this album shows painstaking attention to detail and a refreshing sense of optimism. One of my biggest surprises of the year was when I interviewed Marvin; I was sure that the album was filled with references to Catholic theology, but Marvin turned the tables on me when he revealed that he is actually a Jewish ex-patriate from New York (now living in Los Angeles). Obviously, this is an album with multiple meanings and intensities.

1. Sam Phillips, Martinis & Bikinis (Virgin) -- With production help from her husband (the big guy, T-Bone Burnett), Martinis & Bikinis is perfect pop for the thinking woman (and man). Sam's a challenging and captivating performer - she's bright, outspoken, and a gifted songwriter. With echoes of John Lennon circa 1972, Martinis & Bikinis is the kind of album that only improves with repeated listenings.

So what conclusions can we draw about the state of the music business in 1994, both locally and nationally? On the local scale, 1994 was a down year for Fresno. We lost two excellent live venues (Wild Blue and Cadillac Club), together with the only progressive rock station in town (105.9, the Edge). Our music scene is hurting -- we need more local fan support, and a decent contemporary rock station (not the pre-digested ear gruel that passes for "adult contemporary").

On a national scale, there's tons of good music out there (unfortunately, most of which you didn't hear on radio in Fresno). Some smaller/independent labels (such as Rounder Records in Boston, Watermelon Records in Austin, and Restless Records in L.A.) are turning out some extremely high quality product. Likewise, some bigger labels (such as Virgin and Geffen) have excellent talent scouts; while their main strengths are in more mainstream pop and rock releases, they're also finding some great independent and modern adult music. Even the really big boys (such as Atlantic, Epic, and Warner) have released a number of stellar discs (sandwiched in among their blizzard of releases).

I want to conclude this year with a sincere thank you to everyone whose helped to support and encourage me this year. Enjoy some new music, and have a wonderful new year.

-- Randy Krbechek

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