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The Best Albums of 2011

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A Very Good Year For Songwriters: I can't remember a year when this list consisted of such strong albums, all of them. Beyond the excellent performances and production, what really made this year special was the songwriting. Each album has remarkable consistency of songwriting quality; the great songs roll one after another. So here are my choices for the best albums of the year. 1. Matraca Berg - The Dreaming Fields Listen to "You and Tequila" A Masterpiece: Nashville may be the last bastion of professional songwriters who sell their songs to music publishers to be recorded by the many country stars who don't write their own material. A few of these professional songwriters also occasionally record their own songs. Matraca Berg is such a songwriter and no matter who does the many hit songs she writes, no one sounds better singing them than she does. Take her latest hit song, "You and Tequila"; you can hear the big hit version by Kenny Chesney and Gra

Saturday Video Fun: Baz Luhrman-Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) (1999) & Les Crane-Desiderata (1971) & National Lampoon-Deteriorata (1972)

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Since it's New Year's, that's a good time for some life advice (hang in with this, it'll all be worth it when you see the last video). Happy New Year everyone. "Sunscreen" was written in 1997 by a columnist in the Chicago Tribune, Mary Schmich. It was not a commencement address given by Kurt Vonnegut as it is commonly miscredited. "Sunscreen" resembles the 1927 poem "Desiderata" which became popular in the late sixties, emblazoned on posters and such. In 1971 Les Crane, a radio (and later television) talk show host, made a spoken word recording of "Desiderata" which was released as a single and became a top ten hit in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. They didn't normally make videos back then, but this is a homemade video, looking good with photos of England's Lake District. There may never have been a record more ripe for parody than "Desiderata". And there may never have been a group of comics more talented at

My Christmas Mixtape (2011)

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This is a digital update of a Christmas mixtape that has been in the works for roughly thirty years. It is a collection of MP3s, the equivalent of a double CD, 36 songs, 2 hours, 18 minutes running time. All through this article you will see references to the Capitol Christmas album that my sister and I listened to as kids. At the time that the bulk of this was written, I had yet to find that elusive LP from 1955, but only few days later, I made that momentous find. You can read all about it and hear some tracks by clicking here . Through the annotated track list that follows, I have included some of the songs from the mix to listen to while you read. If you would like to hear the mix in it's entirety, drop me an email, wkates@hotmailcom. The Music: Like that Capitol Christmas album from childhood, the new MP3 mix consists of traditional, popular, and novelty songs. The mix includes all genres of music covering seven decades; from the earliest songs of the 1950's right up

Saturday Video Fun: Greg Lake - I Believe In Father Christmas (1975)

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"They said there'd be snow at Christmas..." Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, released this ode to innocence at Christmas back in 1975. Lake, who was never one for understatement, pulled out all the stops for this one including a signature riff by Prokofiev, full orchestra and choir. Over the next several years there were at least three different versions of this song recorded by ELP all with stripped down arrangements. Lake even did a revised version at one point. The version here is the original Greg Lake single with all the orchestral and choral bombast intact. When it first came out, the video was the subject of some controversy; principally shot in the Sinai Desert and West Bank of Israel, it included some footage of the Vietnam war. We have two bonus videos for you this week. In the first, Greg Lake and lyricist Pete Sinfield talk about writing the song. Since it's Christmas, we dug up a live version of Emerson Lake & Palmer playing "Nutrock