Phil Ranelin, Inspiration (Wide Hive). The flow. The soul. The lubrifrictional harmonies. And hes local, folks.
Fly (Savoy Jazz). Mark Turner, Jeff Ballard and Larry Grenadier made a simple, penetrating record I cant stop thinking about.
Keneally & Metropole Orkest, The Universe Will Provide (Favored Nations/NPS Output). A huge and ambitious modern work, teeming with ideas guitarist Mike Keneally is one hell of a composer.
The Lost Chords (WATT). The dry-witted, contrapuntal spirit of Monk lives on in Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow and Billy Drummond.
Darek Oles, Like a Dream (Cryptogramophone). Local bassist Oles teams with Brad Mehldau, the L.A. Jazz Quartet and Adam Benjamin for sheer beauty, no apologies.
WASP, The Neon God, Parts 1 & 2 (Sanctuary). Bleeding from every pore, Blackie Lawless blasts forth an epic about a slaughtered rock star.
Yngwie Malmsteens Rising Force, Attack!! (Epic/Red Ink). As intense, focused and consistent as this guitar maniac gets.
The Darkness, Permission To Land (Atlantic). "Get your hands off of my woman, motherfuuuuhhhh-KER!"
Social Distortion, Sex, Love and Rock n Roll (Time Bomb). Mike Ness has written an eternal adult classic in "Highway 101," and this album plain rocks.
Brian Wilson, Smile (Nonesuch). Didnt think I could leave out the most creative pop music ever made, did ya?
(But please note the advice given by the Accordion Federation of Americas Sylvia Pryor: "If your bellows leak, best to send them to Italy.")
1. Yale Accordion Academy. Not affiliated with Yale University, but run instead by 85-year-old Melba Yale, who will fix your accordion and talk you into lessons, something shes been doing for 50 years. 8721 Crenshaw Blvd., Inglewood; (310) 671-9669.
2. Martin Music Center. While Lawrence Demian re-tunes your stradella, owner Sandy Martin will tell the story of Christmas 2003 when their 23-piece accordion orchestra was invited to perform at George Bushs White House, only they were not allowed to actually bring along their accordions security concerns and had to sing their parts instead. 1101 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton; (714) 447-9163.
By Kate Sullivan
1. My Styx MP3s. Obviously, 2004 was the weirdest year in American history. We know this in our guts not only because of the rise of plastic-surgery reality shows, but also because this year the Styx song "The Best of Times" achieved its full historic potential. I dont think I heard it once on the radio, but downloaded off of Limewire, "The Best of Times" was not just hooky and good it was a prescient statement about the life of every person I know and love. Someone told me the album Paradise Theater was a pro-Reagan manifesto, and maybe its true which only proves how fucked up 2004 was. This year, Reagan whom Baby Bushs buddies in the religious right deemed too liberal actually looked comparatively presidential. Consider this: At least his wordplay was intentional.
2. Eric Gagne. Never got to see Guns N Roses at the Coliseum, but watching pitcher Eric Gagne at Dodger Stadium in 2004 sauntering from the bullpen to the tune of "Welcome to the Jungle" was a rock & roll moment for the history books. Gagnes monstrous streak of 84 consecutive saves felt somehow inevitable as you watched it go down casual, even effortless. As he confessed to Kevin and Bean on KROQ shortly before blowing it, the truth was that he was scared every time. But of course he was you can only tap into the frequency of perfection for so long without feeling a little funky. And though his run may have ended, for fans, it will forever inspire. Dudes a superhero.
3. Howard Stern. 2004 was the year Howard Stern grew up, and proved that the freedom to talk dirty with porn stars is no luxury its a pillar of American democracy. As Sterns battle with Clear Channel, the FCC and the Bush regime proved, "entertainment" is the canary in the coal mine of free speech; censors and fascists always attack the fluff makers first. The irony of Sterns defection to satellite radio alongside his Viacom boss, Mel Karmazin is that Clear Channel would never have become so powerful if media fat cats like Karmazin hadnt lobbied the FCC for deregulation in the first place. At least Stern and Karmazin have the balls to bail on two-timing bedfellows.
4. The Death of On Air With Ryan Seacrest. The market is cruel, the market is fickle, and, sometimes, the market is right.
5. Oldies 1260 and 540 AM/Saul Levine. Standing up to both Clear Channel and Viacom/Infinity, the mom-and-pop "True Oldies" stations (owned by Saul Levine) are reinventing oldies radio for people who actually like music. With a catalog of thousands of songs burned from old 45s, these stations make K-Earth and KOLA 99 virtually unlistenable by comparison. (When was the last time you heard "Pretty Ballerina" by the Left Banke, or "Bongo Rock" by Preston Epps?) Like Indie-103s bosses, Levine doesnt hope to make a killing. He just wants to make good radio. I told you it was a weird year.